I was in a sad mood already when opening Matt Fraction and David Aja's "Hawkeye" #13, but wasn't prepared for the book to be as sad as I felt. The issue, titled "The U in Funeral" has Clint reeling from everything in his life being pretty terrible, most notably the aftermath of Grills' death.
Fraction and Aja deliver a quiet, well-paced, somber issue that feels utterly fitting for the sad meandering tale of grief. There is a truth and an almost oppressive gloom to this issue that I appreciated, and it takes real insight to not only be able to convey the depth of feeling you get in "Hawkeye" #13 but also to take a character that is already so down on his luck and take him to a deeper and even more hopeless place. And yet, amidst all the sorrow, the book is not without tiny rays of hope: Kate's speech to Clint in the car belies the true depth of her affection for him; Barney's appearance in Clint's life; an unconventional family that continues on even in the face of loss; all of it adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
All in all it's one of the best comics I've ever read about grief, in part because it does not overreach. It doesn't try to solve anything -- it just lets itself wallow. Sometimes that's exactly what we need.
Aja's art on this title continues to set the example of the absolute perfect pairing of creative team with subject matter. Aja knows just how to draw Clint down-on-his-luck as humanly possible, but with a matter-of-factness that is startlingly true and at once both depressing and humorous. It takes a writer and artist working in near perfect sync to deliver such finely tuned and nuanced work in a comic book. The pacing in this issue is perfection. Every page is a simple nine panel grid format and it gives the book a stillness that resonates deeply. By containing (and constraining) the visuals to that format, the reader, like Clint himself, cannot help but stare into the abyss. There is nothing left to distract him from it. Matt Hollingsworth on colors delivers a perfect palette, whether it's the dull grey of the funeral scene or the subdued blues of an evening sky. In truth, there's a muted tone to the entire book that is fitting and relentless.
Death in comics can be such an easy cliche. The sideways angle that Fraction and Aja use to approach this issue is like a quiet revelation. Kate's inspiring but melancholy speech to Hawkeye (who sleeps through the whole thing) is the kind of desperate and wonderful missed connection and agonizing humanity that "Hawkeye" is all about.