How much, exactly, is too much of a good thing? I imagine it depends on the thing in question, and the person you ask. Let’s say the thing is Marvel’s newish Hawkeye. And the person is me.
I really like this comic, which is something that came as a great surprise to me, as I don’t really have any feelings about Hawkeye beyond, perhaps, preferring the super-archer with the facial hair and the green costume. And I don’t really like reading Marvel comics serially any more, given how hard the publisher strives to make that experience an unpleasant one, with the ads and the variants and the cover prices and the AR phone applications and the random switching and the renumbering and title changing and the funny numbering schemes (“Superior Spider-Man #6AU“…?) and the irregular shipping schedules.
I bought the first issue on a whim, though (it was a light week), and despite a little confusion as to why artist David Aja was to aping ’80s-era David Mazzucchelli, it impressed the hell out of me. Writer Matt Fraction and Aja make a great team, and the idea of focusing on what Hawkeye does “when he’s not being an Avenger” — recasting the movie star/cartoon character/toy as a more-or-less everyman action hero — is interesting, as was the decision to make every issue a done-in-one complete story (for the first three issues, anyway).
Each story has had elaborately constructed plots that spring open, move fluidly and then snap satisfyingly shut, the script and art are paced to encourage a slower, more appreciative reading process that makes each issue seem twice as long as most other Marvel comics, and even Matt Hollingsworth’s old-school but understated color and generous use of purple (to compensate for the lack of costume) has been impressive.
I started to worry when Issue 4 shipped, though, and worry still more when I read Issue 5, and worry still more when I saw Issue 6 arrives next Wednesday.
The first issue shipped in August, and the fifth issue last week, so, in a way, it’s still a monthly comic, if you count the issues and months on your fingers. But that fifth issue shipped Dec. 5, the first week of the month, and the sixth issue arrive Dec. 19, the third week, making the book biweekly in December.
Which is nothing to complain about, of course, as it’s an extra issue of a comic I really like, right? The thing is, artist Aja apparently couldn’t keep up with the 20 pages-and-a-cover schedule, and a fill-in artist was needed for issues 4 and 5. That fill-in artist was the immensely talented Javier Pulido, and even if you’re not familiar with his work, a quick flip-through of the book will reveal that Pulido art isn’t anything to complain about either.
(In fact, while I was surprised not to see Aja in Hawkeye #4, I didn’t miss him over the course of these two issues, the series’ first two-part arc, either).
Still, it’s a cause for concern. What’s the point of using a fill-in artist to give the regular artist a break and some breathing room to catch up and get ahead, and then cut that break in half by double-shipping? Why is Marvel double-shipping the book in December, instead of having saved Issue 6 for January?
I’m sure there are business reasons, and that it all makes sense to the businessmen at Marvel. As a comics consumer, though, it kind of confounds me, as it’s not like there’s a dearth of Marvel comics on the stands, and if I have more issues of Hawkeye every month to buy, I’m less likely to pick up a new Marvel book on a whim, a book that might turn out to be my next Hawkeye (and I hear they’re publishing an awful lot of books that they would like new readers to maybe pick up on a whim right NOW!)
The last Marvel comic I was this excited about was the Mark Waid-written, Marcos Martin-drawn Daredevil. It launched about a year ago, but has already published 21 issues (plus an annual, and a couple stories spilled into a couple issues of Amazing Spider-Man and an issue of The Punisher). It also burned through artists pretty quickly, with Martin drawing exactly one issue before the art team of Paolo and Joe Rivera came in for the second issue.
Over the course of its 21 (or 20 plus .1, or however Marvel counts its books now), Daredevil has had seven different artists, with Martin drawing four issues, the Riveras five, Khoi Pham two, and Kano, Marco Checchetto and Mike Allred all providing one issue a piece. The current artist, Chris Samnee, has drawn the most, with seven issues under his belt, and it looks like the book has finally found a stable artist, as opposed to a stable of artists.
All — well, almost all — of those artists are great ones, and some of them are among my favorites working in super comics. Daredevil survived the creative team chaos, and is not just as good as it was for its first half-dozen or so issues, but it got pretty rocky there for a while, and it seemed to survive despite the accelerated scheduling, not because of it.
I’m sure there’s something to be said about the rise of the writer as the primary creative force at Marvel instead of the artist, and what a reversal that is from the publisher’s various heydays in the 1960s and 1990s. Through no fault of their own, it’s thought of as Mark Waid’s Daredevil now, and depending on future scheduling, Hawkeye is on track to become Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye rather than Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye (Actually, there was a copy of a Daredevil trade on the stands this week, and on the Diamond shipping list it was called “DAREDEVIL BY MARK WAID TP VOL 02”).
Let’s not get into all that now, though — I’m sure this post is long and meandering enough as is. At this point, I’m just sort of concerned about Hawkeye. As easy as it should be to publish great comics in this day and age — the formula for the two I’ve discussed in this post basically amounts to Great Writer + Great Artist = Great Comic — they still seem sort of rare.
These great super-comics are like hothouse flowers, and it can be worrying to watch the gardener behave perhaps irresponsibly around them. You know, you don’t own them, and they can do what they want with them, but damn it, you still want them to be around long off to continue enjoying them.
For now, at least, Hawkeye is still a really good comic. Hope it stays that way.