In Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth's "Hawkeye" #22, it's Clint Barton's showdown with the Tracksuit Draculas, and he gets some much-needed and long-hoped for help. The series finale has been long delayed, but its arrival is well worth the wait, as the creators team up to deliver a tense, emotional and satisfying conclusion that exemplifies what the entire series has striven to do: make full use of the sequential art form to tell a story in a way only comics can. Just as Fraction has also done throughout, he tells the story of Clint, not as a larger-than-life superhero but merely an extraordinary one in a setting that's all too real. Clint is a flawed hero, sure, as are his everyday allies around him and -- while Hawkeye might not be the greatest Avenger ever -- Fraction makes a very compelling case to the contrary.
Clint has spent pretty much the entire series broken, battered and bruised, both physically and emotionally. This issue is no exception, as Clint is taken down yet again, though he also manages to not only rise, but heroically prevail. Not only does he succeed, Kate Bishop does as well, and even Pizza Dog gets his licks in, so to speak. The elevation of these characters contrasts with the actions of the bad guys, making the Tracksuit Draculas et al seem even more villainous; the Clown's cool, calculated demeanor seems even more chilling against the backdrop of such emotionally driven heroes and -- if nothing else -- the Tracksuits are all that much easier to revile after three years and hundreds of "bros" later. Fraction pulls the heroes to the edge of the abyss and, just when he convinces readers that they're about to plunge into it, he takes the high road and pulls them back in. As brutal, dark and ominous as the issue gets, Fraction keeps his heroes heroic, ensuring that the light at its center -- as dim as it gets -- never goes out completely.
The largely happy ending is not one that would seem likely midway through the issue; more than once, a bullet conveniently finds its mark -- and just as conveniently also manages to miss it. Fraction's story is brutal to its main characters, and he comes dangerously close to largely ignoring the impact of that brutality by leaning just a little too much on the notion that one doesn't have to be good if one's lucky. Nonetheless, such a tactic is one that has been used throughout literature for generations, and Fraction at least puts it to good use here, evoking both shock and later relief that doesn't stretch his story's credibility too far.
Perhaps the greatest gift that Fraction gives the issue is stepping back to let Aja artistically do his thing. Long stretches of story are executed with scarcely any dialogue and, for the most part, none is required, as Aja excels at wordlessly bringing the emotion of Fraction's story to life. Letterer Chris Eliopoulos interjects a few sound effects as needed, but also steps back when required to let Aja's art convey the necessary emotion, either by way of his panel layouts or the character expressions within. Aja often employs a panel structure that mimics a series of still images, which is extremely effective at choreographing the fight scenes and starkly portrays both character emotions and reactions.
As he has done in every issue he's illustrated, Aja foregoes any kind of fancy panel layouts and instead relies on a traditional structure, filling each individual panel with a kind of minimalist detail; likenesses, textures and lighting are all deftly inked with a light-handed finesse that keeps even the more densely populated panels from looking bogged down or overly crowded. Hollingsworth's colors collaborate nicely with Aja's technique.
As a series, "Hawkeye" has been a rare success for a character that's struggled to maintain an ongoing title, and the final issue punctuates the heroic nature of Clint Barton and goes a long way towards establishing a modern-day incarnation of the character that has some real staying power. "Hawkeye" #22 is a wonderful wrap up to a wonderful series that sets the stage for the character's next ongoing series.