“The High, Hard Shaft: Part 5—For Your Sins”
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artists: Stefano Raffaele (p), Scott Hanna (i)
“He’s packin’ some serious mojo in that quiver!” says James Scully as Hawkeye lets loose a barrage of classic trick arrows into the thick jungles of Laos. Action is the top element in “The High, Hard Shaft: Part 5—For Your Sins,” by Fabian Nicieza, Stefano Raffaele, and Scott Hanna. Having finally reached a mysterious hidden temple, Hawkeye begins to wrap-up his investigation of a Vietnam War massacre and rises to meet a challenge more in line with his Avenger status—fighting in a jungle that seems as densely packed with enemy archers as it is with plant-life.
There is absolutely no downtime in this issue. The plot progresses quickly with cleverly integrated re-caps and a series of wartime flashbacks that run smoothly alongside present-day action. The storytelling is remarkably tight and any deceleration of momentum is strictly prohibited by Nicieza—and by Hawkeye. For example, there is a moment when one of Hawkeye’s traveling partners, Bailey Mathius, lingers in the trauma of his gory Vietnam flashbacks; and just when the flashback begins to teeter on the edge of tedium, Hawkeye does exactly what the reader wants—impatiently seizes and shakes Mathius, thrusting him back into the present-day action. Thus, the story swiftly continues and hilariously leads to Hawkeye performing a borderline-ridiculous but classically-comic-book impossible shot.
But although the action is rousing and Hawkeye’s return to trick-arrow battle is welcomed, the strong character moments (which this series always excels in) is a little sparse. Hawkeye’s clever quips and odd quirks are noticeably thin. Also, previous issues have opened with a short story concerning Hawkeye’s youth and influences; and these short stories always clearly tie into the main story. However, here the opening story isn’t as obviously relevant to the main story. This may be because, for the first time in the series, this issue is less about Hawkeye and more about his mission. Depending on tastes, it could be argued that this is actually a change for the better. Hawkeye is a superhero, not just a man. But for better or for worse, in this issue Hawkeye’s skills—both in archery and tracking—are showcased above his personality.
With Scott Hanna as new inker, the art is less harsh while still retaining Raffaele’s edgy style. Also, Raffaele’s Hawkeye has slowly evolved and is now more appropriately bulky. The only glitch in Hawkeye’s portrayal is in the opening story where the character is a teenager but has a lip scar that he would acquire much later in life as a Thunderbolt. This is a faulty detail that would probably only be noticed by ardent Hawkeye fans, yet is slightly jarring. Still, the art’s action is impressive, the best examples occurring in the cinematic, in-and-out flashback sequences. As Mathius narrates the massacre, we are given images of the brutality which are then replaced by the remains of skeletons as either Hawkeye or Scully snap Mathius out of his flashback and into today’s reality. The effect is that readers simultaneously experience two stories, a very smooth and innovative storytelling technique. A final noteworthy item is the cover by Carlos Pacheco, which beautifully reflects the high-action content of the book even though the costume is again missing.
Overall, this story delivers the action many readers have been waiting for. The art and writing are tighter than ever, and although Hawkeye’s personality is overshadowed by his mission, readers are likely to be filled with anticipation for the upcoming finale of this first story-arc.
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