Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Stefano Raffaele
“You don’t rat on your family.” This is a lesson Hawkeye rejects as a child being raised in a crime-infested circus, and it’s a lesson he continues to reject as a “straight arrow” superhero in “The High, Hard Shaft: Part 3—Rat-A-Tat-Tat,” by Fabian Nicieza and Stefano Raffaele. Appropriately partnered with a flashback account of Hawkeye’s corrupt mentor (The Swordsman), this story tackles the conflict between blind loyalty and doing the right thing. Here, Hawkeye gets dirtier, darker, and more determined in his investigation of a mysterious group of Viet Nam veterans—and accidentally drives a man to suicide.
Active and full of spirit, this issue is a satisfying read. It opens with a flashback of Hawkeye suffering the Swordsman’s vengeance, then swiftly progresses to a spicy encounter with a librarian, a headstrong confrontation with the target veteran, more hot-tub socializing, violence in an elevator, and a tragic culmination of events that includes suicide and the promise of future deadly betrayals—this time possibly directed towards Hawkeye. The pacing of this story is flawless, resulting in a fast yet fulfilling experience.
The only glitch is that Nicieza repetitively and excessively emphasizes Hawkeye’s brash nature. Though known for his impulsiveness, Hawkeye often appears sloppy in this issue. He enlists a public librarian to hack into military records and then is seduced by her; he continues to tell any willing listener (including under-aged teenagers) about his case; he railroads his way into yet another person’s life; and he tosses his full name about as if trying to remind everyone that he is, indeed, unmasked and exceedingly proud of it. Inevitable legal and personal hassles must loom in his future. Because here, the disciplined and calculated style—seasoned with a touch of imprudence—with which Hawkeye usually conducts himself is overpowered by unnecessary recklessness. Still, the character shines brilliantly, especially when promising to call his librarian in the morning, assisting a family with car trouble, jamming an elevator door with an unconscious thug’s body, and chewing arrow feathers to create makeshift trick-arrows.
Concerning the art, Raffaele’s feel for the character is noticeably strengthening. Hawkeye is looking more appropriately aged and robust, especially when donning archery gear. Also, the mood of the book continues to be strongly flavored in the film-noir style. This adds to the dark tension of the story, while still maintaining a fanciful comic book feel, particularly through Hawkeye’s archery and mannerisms. These combined styles are further emphasized by colorist, Ben Dimagmaliw, who offsets the predominately drab setting with an occasional punch of vibrant color, most notably in the characters’ eyes and atmospheric lighting.
In art and in story, this is a perfectly harmonized creative team. As a result, HAWKEYE has consistently delivered a fast, funny, and highly-stylized package that highlights morality and human relations. And in spite of Nicieza’s tendency to exaggerate Hawkeye’s brash side, Hawkeye remains a strong and familiar character whose rich history continues to impact his stories.
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