On its surface, “Hawkeye” #16 seems like just another investigation. Matt Fraction and Annie Wu take Kate Bishop through an adventure involving a never-completed song being stolen, and her attempt to find the culprit and bring them to justice. But what makes “Hawkeye” #16 work so well, ultimately, is that it takes a slightly different route than expected.
It’s hard to not see the immediate analogy between “Hawkeye” #16’s Bryson Brothers and the Beach Boys, with Will Bryson standing in for Brian Wilson. And with “Wish” being the Marvel Universe’s version of the infamous “Smile” album, that’s the first sign that this isn’t going to be a typical sort of story. Because just like the real world and all of the problems with “Smile,” there isn’t a Gordian knot that you just slice through and fix everything in the blink of an eye. This is something where there isn’t a clear villain, someone with whom to throw in jail or steal things back from.
And of course, that’s how life itself operates more time than not. “Hawkeye” has always dwelt more in the real world than the fantastical Marvel Universe; problems that need to be solved don’t have easy solutions. Kate Bishop’s struggles in Los Angeles have been to get enough money to buy groceries, after all; the glamorous life of a superhero cut off from all resources has turned out to be anything but. And so, as Kate tries to reassess what’s going on with “Wish” and Los Angeles in general, it’s easy to see her frustration. She’s up against something bigger and older than her, and while there’s a glimmer of happiness at the end of the issue, even that is ultimately pushed aside as the rest of the world comes roaring up to pull her back down. It’s a deliberately frustrating and slightly depressing issue, one that is as much about creating art as it is solving a crime, and it’s masterfully pulled off.
Wu’s art in “Hawkeye” #16 is enjoyable. I appreciate that she’s not trying to ape David Aja’s style here; instead she’s tackling it in her own manner, with much more standard page layouts and panel sizes. Don’t take that as any sort of condemnation, though. When we cut from Will in his prime to Will in the present day in-between the first two pages, Wu completely nails the shift in time periods. His hair is different, he’s got a huge beard, there are wrinkles under his eyes, and he’s gained a little weight… but at the same time it is instantly recognizable that these two images are the same man. I also love that she’s able to make 46-years-ago Will crying with joy and present day Will crying in pain, and while the two images mimic one another they’re most notably not the same sort of tear at all. Even the little moments, like the upside down Will as Kate’s hanging from the roof talking to him are executed wonderfully thanks to Wu; she’s a real find and with each contribution of hers to “Hawkeye” it makes me eager to see more of her art in general.
With references to the nonsensical line-up of the L.A.-based Champions to a hideous traffic jam on the 405, I love that “Hawkeye” #16 really feels like it’s in Los Angeles, not just a generic location with a few palm trees. However much longer Kate’s sojourn on the west coast lasts, it’s going to be a lot of fun thanks to Fraction and Wu. Who cares that “Hawkeye” #15 isn’t out yet? “Hawkeye” #16 is a winner and a half.