Marvel is quite clearly taking the opportunity to steadily raise Hawkeye's profile in anticipation of "The Avengers" movie and with that in mind, a guest spot in the pages of "Avenging Spider-Man" #4 seems like the perfect opportunity to promote the character. So far, so sensible -- but here's the problem: the character appearing in this issue doesn't really resemble Hawkeye at all -- and I'm not just talking about the new costume.
It's fair to say Zeb Wells has tried to come up with a legitimately new take on Hawkeye. Typically, Hawkeye and Spider-Man occupy a similar role, kicking against the nearest authority figure -- Spidey with his jokes, Hawkeye with his disagreements. With no authority figure around, Wells comes up with a new angle and a story seemingly designed to answer the question of how Hawkeye maintains his place alongside superhumans when he has no superpowers of his own.
It's a sensible question, and one many "Avengers" viewers will no doubt be asking this summer. Unfortunately, the answer Wells ends up with isn't necessarily a very good one. Without giving away the ending, Hawkeye fans may want to skip the penultimate two pages.
Of course, the issue isn't a total misfire. Wells' script is full of jokes from Spidey and bravado from Hawkeye and is structured perfectly to tell a complete story in a single issue without feeling rushed. Even the art, which comes from the much-maligned Greg Land, is actually rather enjoyable.
Fundamentally, Wells has chosen an interpretation of Hawkeye that doesn't mesh with previous appearances, including those as recent as "Secret Avengers #21.1." There's room for this kind of story. There's even room for it to be told about Hawkeye but it really needs a fuller exploration than a single appearance in a team-up book can offer.
Land's art is -- of course -- replete with his normal idiosyncrasies: an abundance of widescreen panels, stiff poses and manic grins -- but the artist has undeniably begun to dial back on his worst excesses of late. These days, his characters display emotion actually appropriate to the script. There are no female characters in the book, so the model-like stances usually blighting his work are not a distraction. To cap it off, he actually draws an unexpectedly good Spider-Man. Greg Land has his detractors, there's no doubt about that -- but it does seem as though he's actually responding to criticism in this issue.
Even so, he's no Joe Madureira, and combined with Wells' ironically off-the-mark interpretation of Hawkeye, it makes for a disappointing comedown after the highs of the opening arc. It isn't awful, but ultimately, a Hawkeye book likely to upset Hawkeye fans isn't fit for purpose.