Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth's run on "Hawkeye" is finally coming to a close, with the first half of a two-issue finale appearing in "Hawkeye" #21. Trust me when I say that it's suitably apocalyptic.
The plot for "Hawkeye" #21 is -- in many ways -- fairly simple, as the Tracksuit Draculas lay siege to the building, while Hawkeye, Barney and the rest of the residents do their best to defend their home. For the most part, that's what we get: a massive battle between the organized crime group and the locals who just want to live in peace.
Fraction, Aja, Hollingsworth and guest artistic assistant Raul Allen don't hold back when it comes to this fight, either. It's chaotic; it's violent; it's awe-inspiring. When a fiery attack from above rains onto the Draculas, for example, it's hard to look away from those panels even as the burning coals sizzle onto its victims. Aja shifts between long vertical panels to show the attack plummeting downwards and short little panels that focus carefully in on each impact. Aja's an amazingly gifted artist who understands how to lay out a page perfectly, and he succeeds marvelously.
The sequence where Hawkeye has been clocked and isn't quite able to focus is even better. Hollingsworth strips the colors down to a very limited palette, and Aja and Fraction flip between blacked out panels and those at dizzying angles as Hawkeye's vision fades in and out. Add in some disorienting narration from Hawkeye, who can't tell what they're saying, and some slightly rougher edges to the characters that adds to the confusion, and you get a series of pages that provides an emotional rollercoaster. It's a bleak and chaotic series of pages that pummels the reader alongside Hawkeye himself.
That's not to say that there's nothing but a fight, though. There's a particularly wonderful scene between Clint and Jess, which works well on so many levels. There's the overall awkwardness between the two exes as Clint tries to say important things before the battle that could end his life, with each of them not quite hearing what the other has to say. Add to that a literal deafness with Clint's hearing still shot, and we end up with lip reading that mangles some words and blanks other word balloons out entirely when Jess is at an angle where Clint can't see her face. It's a smart one-two punch of a scene that works on both literal and metaphorical levels about people trying to communicate with one another.
"Hawkeye" #21 is a dark issue, one that puts its characters through the wringer. Yet, even as tragedy strikes Hawkeye and the attempt to stop the Tracksuit Draculas crumbles all around him, there's a moment of hope on the last page that is so perfectly timed that I suspect a lot of readers will give a little gasp; I know I did. It's the perfect cliffhanger, that moment that makes you desperately want to see the conclusion. I'm sad to see Fraction, Aja and Hollingsworth on their way out, but they're giving us one hell of a ride in doing so.