"All-New Hawkeye" #2 is a book with a slightly misleading title when you think about it; Jeff Lemire, Ramon Perez and Ian Herring are actually delighting in exploring Clint Barton's childhood, but "Flashback Hawkeye" #2 doesn't have quite the same ring to it. While the creative team makes sure to mix a present-day storyline into the book, it's the flashback portion that ultimately sings.
The sequences in the past are drawn in a rich, fluid style by Perez. From Barney and Clint running through the field up to the circus tent to the Swordsman pointing his blade at the Bartons' father, everything comes across smooth and natural here. The smeared technicolor across the art (I'm guessing by Perez, although it could just as easily be from Herring) makes every scene almost explode onto the page, and Lemire's script finishes off the effect by capturing the sheer excitement and wonder that Clint and Barney are feeling as they find an escape from their lives in a living, breathing carnival.
The present day sequence, by contrast, is drawn in a flatter style. The colors stay inside the lines and standard panel borders, perhaps as a nod towards adulthood. The attempt for children to become free from their captors carries into this story here, linking the two times, although now Clint (and Kate) are the saviors, not the captives. The experimental children seem a little generic for the moment, although that seems quite deliberate; we don't really "know" them at all and the others working at the facility hint that the kids aren't as trustworthy as one might think. Perez and Herring make the kids both weak and also slightly creepy looking, with their gray skin and cybernetic implants. In many ways, they remind me of the three Esper children from "Akira" (Kiyoko, Takashi and Masaru) and anyone who's read Katsuhiro Otomo's infamous manga will know how dangerous that trio turned out to be.
It's nice to see that Lemire hasn't magically fixed or removed Clint's deafness that returned near the end of the previous "Hawkeye" series. His battle against the Hydra agent after his hearing aid had been removed is fun, in part because of how Perez and Herring have the rest of the world drop out and turn black and white while Clint's one sense has been negated, and also because it's about the best way to have Clint logically miss information about the children that would no doubt otherwise send "All-New Hawkeye" spinning in a different direction.
In the end, it's hard to keep from feeling like a comic set firmly in the past with the Barton brothers as children would be a great thing from this creative team. Since we probably won't get that, this is the next best thing. For a series that could have been creatively dead on arrival following Matt Fraction, David Aja and Annie Wu's time on "Hawkeye," what we have instead is a book that's definitely worth reading on its own merits. Sometimes lightning -- admittedly very different bolts of lightning -- really can strike twice.