“Hawkeye” #20 is not a cheerful comic.
If you flash back to March and the last time we checked in with Kate Bishop in “Hawkeye” #18, you might remember how it looked like everything was finally under control and how for one brief shining moment Kate was a winner. Then her home burnt down, and her friend Harold was found dead with one of Kate’s arrows in his chest. Now, Matt Fraction and Annie Wu turn to the west coast for one final story as we watch Kate struggle against impossible odds.
There’s a melancholy, almost resigned note to Fraction’s script for “Hawkeye” #20. This is winding everything down for not only Kate, but also Fraction and Wu. This is Wu’s last issue, and Fraction departs after issue #22. So in telling Kate’s story and how despite her best attempts everything came crashing down around her, it’s easy to see how they would understand what it takes to tell a story of this nature. Fraction’s script eases us through the big confrontation, as Kate’s arrest results in her taking one final, desperate attempt to stop Madame Masque.
Fraction wisely mixes the somber notes of the comic with some cheerier, more up-beat moments. Early on we get a fun montage of Kate interviewing prospective clients, for example, and hearing the problems and Kate’s responses makes me wish that we could have had years of Fraction and Wu creating Los Angeles adventures for Kate. She’s got a lightness to her character (when circumstances allow), and her various comebacks have a nice, wry nature to them. It’s the perfect transition to her talking with (presumably) one of her Young Avengers teammates, with a wistful nature entering her dialogue. It’s a glimpse of Kate’s own mask slipping, seeing what’s behind the confident and sassy front that she puts on when out in public.
But as things get worse and worse, and we start to see just how large of a reach Madame Masque really has, that’s where it starts to sink in to the reader. Kate’s in not just a little over her head; she’s sinking towards the proverbial ocean floor. It’s not due to any shortcomings on her part, save that she’s only one person. In many ways that’s one of the big themes of the issue, with strength in the families that we form for ourselves. Kate ends up in trouble not because of who she is, but rather because of how she walked away from her family-of-choice — Hawkeye and the Young Avengers — and had no one else to help her. It’s no coincidence that the people with whom we see the most emotional connection to Kate are also the only ones who manage to help Kate in “Hawkeye” #20. Her new, west coast family members save her on several occasions in this issue; the people whom she thinks will help her show instead that they have their own best interests in mind, not Kate’s.
Wu brings Fraction’s sad story to life in what is easily her best issue on the series to date. The mug shot page is a great example; those two panels in isolation could have easily been larger, each taking up half a page. But instead as they float on a white background, your eyes are instantly drawn to them; you can’t look away or miss any of the details because there’s nowhere else to go. And so as you see the bandages on her face and the gap-toothed smile, you can see how it’s one again a mask that Kate has put on. Staring at the camera she’s grinning away, her eyes pulled open as far as they can go. But when we get the side profile, her face is slumped, the energy draining from her even as her head tilts forward. Her eyes are no longer bright, they’re just tired and weary.
Contrast that image of Kate with the montage of panels on the next page, with her smirking and even flirting a bit. Wu’s gotten really good in her short time on “Hawkeye” with the pages full of panels, each one perfectly focused to give us just the right amount of detail. The dashed lines in the air as Kate draws diagrams for Gary in the greenhouse, for instance, fit in perfectly within a small area even as we can follow the motion well. She’s able to balance the imaginary connections of the flow-chart with Kate’s hard, steely gaze as she tells Gary that he’s the sucker in the middle. It’s short and sweet, all moving well towards the final panel of the page as Kate wears the mask of sushi and leaves.
The most heartbreaking moment of the comic for me, though, is near the end when Kate quietly says whom she’d like to call. Wu draws it wonderfully, with Kate unable to look directly whom she’s talking to — and more importantly, the reader — as she turns her head away in defeat. Surrounded by darkness that’s enveloping her more and more with each panel, she looks so lost and alone that Wu makes that final panel on the page feel huge and empty at the same time.
“Hawkeye” #20 is the sort of comic that you could talk about all day long and still find little sparks that jump out at you. This isn’t the comic where you want to read it over and over again because it makes you feel so good; rather, you want to re-read it because you need to re-live those moments being at Kate’s side. A part of her new family, so to speak, being the support that she needs. I’m sad to see this story at an end now — but what an ending it was. Hopefully this won’t be the last time we see Fraction and Wu work together, because this was amazing.