This would be an easy comic to pass up. The first five issues have seemingly declined in quality from issue to issue, as various writers have tried their hands at spotlighting the members of the Young Avengers team. Ed Brubaker’s opening issue looking at Patriot was quite good, but the rest haven’t lived up to that standard. They’ve been simplistic, for the most part, and failed to provide new facets to the personalities of these characters. The series seemed designed just to trot the characters out in public view, so readers wouldn’t forget about them between the last “Young Avengers” series and whatever creator Alan Heinberg has planned for the distant future.
But when you see Matt Fraction credited as the writer on “Young Avengers Presents” #6, you have to realize that this one might be special. And, indeed it is.
Remember that “Spectacular Spider-Man Annual” Fraction wrote — the one where he came in for a single issue and proved how vibrant and powerful the Peter Parker/Mary Jane marriage could be? The approach he took there, with its mixture of nostalgia and emotion, is similar to the one he takes with the new Hawkeye character here. He doesn’t literally retell story bits from the past like he did in that annual, but he does hit all the right beats, and he turns one of the least-developed Young Avengers characters into someone the reader can care about. In short, this is everything a superhero spotlight issue should aspire to.
Before I get to the details of the story, and a bit more explanation of what makes it so good, I can’t ignore Alan Davis’ contribution on the artwork. Although I was ultimately disappointed with his writing on the recent “Clandestine” series, I’ve always thought Davis was one of the premier pencilers in mainstream comics. He can compose a dynamic page and emphasize emotional moments. He knows how to maximize subtle facial expressions, and he is as brilliant with the fast-moving moments as he is with the calm ones. There’s also a sexiness here — not a lascivious sort as seen in Benes-drawn “Justice League of America” issues — that provides a bit of subtext that enhances Fraction’s script.
But what about Fraction’s script? What does he do here that’s special? He takes Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, who was basically a one-note character (a sassy, spoiled rich kid), and shows the complex matrix of doubt, confidence, brashness, and reluctance that lies beneath the surface. The impetus for these character revelations is her meeting with Clint Barton, the “real” Hawkeye. (Although he’s known as Ronin now, of course, a role that Fraction pokes fun at when Kate Bishop refers to him as a “Central Park carriage ninja” — a line that made me laugh out loud.)
Barton shows Bishop what a real archer can do, and the key to the whole sequence — the whole comic — is that Barton and Bishop are perfect outlets for Fraction’s natural wit and sarcasm. If anyone was born to write Hawkeye — either one — it’s Fraction, who can balance underlying sincerity with outward sass and verve as well as anyone in comics today. Barton and Bishop are great together, but only because Fraction expresses these two characters perfectly.
By the end of the issue, Kate Bishop has not only rightfully claimed the Hawkeye identity, but, through Barton, she’s validated the entire existence of the Young Avengers. This is a group not so unlike the team Barton once joined, many, many years ago.
“Young Avengers Presents” #6 isn’t going to change the direction of the comic book industry, but it’s the model for what a great single issue can be. It’s tightly focused, it’s funny, and it’s touching. It’s Matt Fraction, injecting the Marvel Universe with new life, one issue at a time.