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2013.07.11

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Even as far as Hawkeye issues go, I didn't think 11 was all that great (mostly, 10-11 are stalling the inevitable Jason Statham-fight scene I think Fraction and Aja are building towards), so I was surprised to find out it had this "best comic ever!" hype surrounding it. At least, until you guys brought up Claremont's "downtime" X-Men issues. In that respect, it kind of fits into the same tradition as those issues of The Spirit where Eisner focuses on people other than the protagonist (which also ended up being the most lauded of the series).

None of this really makes Hawkeye 11 deserving of that much hype, but I do think there's something...pleasant, maybe?...about a comic embracing that traditional, populist approach when a good chunk of Marvel/DC is myopic and gross.

That got fucking intense guys, thank you.

It's an interesting question though - is it important to make an effort to try and show people how much more comics have to offer? Or is it pointless because the "monkeys" who eat that shit up have firmly set their boundaries and are too uncomfortable to venture into foreign territory?

As for Matt's writing, I personally engaged with it because he had a unique voice and his insights into page and panel compositions totally dwarfed anything else I could find. He was the first person I noticed making a big deal of old newspaper strips and waving a big flag screaming "hey morons, look at all this amazing stuff you're missing out on!" I know there are others who've been screaming that message too but Matt was the one I really noticed first.

I have to say though that his raw, unapologetic, "fuck you" attitude played a part in the appeal, but at the end of the day it was the actual content and intelligent insights that kept me coming back.

I think, more than ever, that people who experience comics are clustered into self-sufficient mini-communities defined by a particular set of preferences, like-minded enough that the individual can enjoy their fill of camaraderie and discussion and reinforcement without needing to venture outside that bubble. At the same time, comics lacks the wider appeal necessary to justify much in the way of sustained, focused delineations of history. Remember: it wasn't long ago that the history of comics -- Golden and Silver ages -- was defined specifically in terms flattering to the superhero genre. Even today, if you asked me to hand you 'the' English-language book on the history of Franco-Belgian comics, I couldn't do it, because that book does not exist.

What I am saying is that comics is especially vulnerable to factional manipulation as to the very boundaries of history and form. And it does not take much more than one or two well-placed, interested parties to drive the whole of any semblance of a wider conversation. It used to be that comic book readers were expected to fall away from the art every five years to be replaced with new, naive readers. This is not true for readers, but it could be for critics. We need to remain vigilant, to prevent accidents of perspective from prosecuting limitations on Comics Itself.

This is one reason only.

Look. To a degree I agree. Hawkeye wasn't really _that_ great. I still think it was miles ahead of some other shit that Marvel is putting out and let's not mention DC... Chris when you say that you want to bust in through the bathroom door and tell everyone that their favourite comic is SHIT I think you're missing a very important element of discourse. I think it's respect. If you don't show people that you respect them at some level and value them then why the hell are they going to listen? I agree that there should be a discourse between super hero comics and the rest of the comics world. Both sides are guilty of ignoring the other though. I mean come in last time you guys reviewed Hawkeye you said the bad guys catch phrase was "guy" as far as just fundamental background research goes that's pretty weak. I also think that you guys still haven't realised that the relationship between the female Hawkeye and Clint is totally plutonic (IIRC you were complaining that the romance' between te two was badly done last time Hawkeye was discussed).

Like I said I totally agree that there should be an exchange by that doesn't happen by kicking in someone's door and going "I read one of ten issues of Eagleguy and it fucking SUCKED. Read fucking BUILDING STORIES You RUBE"

How about "I see why you like this. It wasn't my favorite but the way he plays with time, the call back humor, the non-marvel house art and the willingness to play with the format are all kind of fun. Give Cassanova a read you might like that too"

I mean yeah it has its shortcomings. Fraction is a bit precious and sometimes his dialogue sucks but I'm pretty sure sometimes Ware is just boring and depressing and Maruo underhooks the line of 'transgressive' and is just drawing women being raped in a vat of shit.

I haven't even really touched on the gender issue but I'd rather leave that to a woman.

Anyway I fucking love this podcast I've been listening to the backlog for weeks and don't want to come off as a whiner but seen as you guys didn't seem to have any issues coming across as whiners this episode I thought I'd throw in my two cents.

And that's Matt* not Chris and Maruo undershoots* iPhones are a bitch to type on

Argh, I kinda cringed when I listened to my Real Life Autobiographical Story part where I never actually come to the point. Concise version: the reason I stopped doing comics crit was that I felt like I was contributing less good than evil... doing less to push people in the direction of good stuff or force them to reconsider their views of comics than I was to justify the stuff that was already popular by doing deeper analysis of it than is common. I'm super glad others got more out of it than that, but that was the feeling my couple years of writing about comics left me with. So when something like the reaction to this comic comes along, I feel all the more impelled to slap it across the room a couple times. That's it, that' all I wanted to say there.

Also: I don't like Building Stories very much either.

I've only just started listening to the actual episode, but I read the comments here and had to chime in.

It strikes me that the problem here doesn't really have much to do with "the Big Two", or "superhero comics", or "the mainstream" or whatever.

The problem is the readers. And it isn't even so much that readers aren't willing to expand their boundaries as it is that readers aren't able to retain information or remember the value of anything that's even slightly off-the-beaten path. As soon as something's off the radar for a second, they forget about it, and forget what was good about it, and are ready to judge the next work of art they encounter without any of the lessons they might have learned from anything previous. They seem to only remember, retain, and regurgitate what's put in front of their faces in the media on a daily or weekly basis.

For example:

The mainstream five-star acclaim of Scott Snyder's Batman has annoyed the piss out of me. I'm not annoyed by the fact that people buy the book or like the book; *I* buy the book and like it *okay*. But I'm annoyed that so many people seem to think that it's a classic run and that every issue is nearly perfect. They're not 11-year-olds buying Spawn comics; these people should no better.

The crux of the problem is this: I'll listen to Comic Geek Speak or whatever, and hear them call Batman #5 (with the rotating pages) the most innovative comic book of all-time... even though just a few months previous they read Promethea and several early volumes of Cerebus as Book of the Month selections... and Promethea and Cerebus are both about a hundred times more innovative than Batman #5. But Batman and Snyder are seen in the media a lot now, much more than Promethea much less Cerebus are, so you get all these people who should know better overrating Snyder's Batman simply because they're so locked into the "NOW" that they can't even remember or value what they've read before.

Then, just a week or two ago, I went to iFanboy and saw a review for Hawkeye #11 that started off with:

"This issue will definitely be nominated for an Eisner. It’s the most creative thing I’ve read in a comics format."

How fucking stupid. It makes me want to bang my head against a wall. I've seen the reviewer's name before and I'm pretty sure that he's read things like... let's say... Sandman and Watchmen. Does he actually think that a cute little issue about a dog is more creative than Sandman and Watchmen? Or is he just so locked into the NOW that he gets off on indulging in hype for whatever's critically acclaimed in any given week? I think it's the latter.

On the one hand, I have to constantly remind myself that, of all the things to complain about regarding mainstream comics, Snyder's Batman and Fraction's Hawkeye shouldn't even rate in the top (or bottom) 100. They're far from perfect, but they're quality comics that talented people actually put effort into. Even when Snyder goes overboard with the hammy prose, or when Fraction's hipster dialogue gets annoying, you can tell that at least they're putting real effort in, which is more than I can say for most other Big Two comics. It's true that effort doesn't automatically mean quality; but what I'm saying is that even at their worst, titles like Batman and Hawkeye still have effort oozing out of them.

The problem, I think, is that comics like Batman (#5 particularly) and Hawkeye (#11 particularly) cause people to lower their ceilings for what rates as a 5-star comic. The problem is that a vocal section of the audience is so locked into the NOW that they make a ton of hyperbolic statements that, for inexperienced readers, could corrupt the entire critiquing culture or whatever. In some ways I think it's more dangerous for decent to good art to be rated as GREAT, than it is for awful art to be rated as GREAT. There were plenty of people in the early '90s who said that Spawn and Youngblood were GREAT comics; but those statements were easy to dismiss. Now, however, in the 2010s we have fairly thoughtful reviews that call good comics GREAT, and that kind of critical influence is a lot harder to overcome, for us as a culture or whatever.

This sort of thing is the reason why there were a ton of grown adults who followed Bendis's Avengers for several years; because these people came of age right when Bendis's (decent, fairly good) indie stuff was getting overblown critical love; so their idea of what a GREAT comic is has been permanently thrown off, and to this day you get them defending Age of Ultron.

Anyway. I'll stop rambling and listen to the rest of the episode.

Excellent discussion on this week's episode.

I'm with Kim Thompson on this one. The fact that large swathes of the US comics crowd is so enamored with mediocre-to-completely-fucking-horrendous superhero comics baffles me to no end. I get that there are all sorts of historical and sociological reasons for it, but still. I guess the online hype around Hawkeye 11 is the equivalent of middle-brow newspaper critics swooning over Stieg Larsson, because he was a marginally better writer than Dan Brown or Lincoln/Child or whoever that guy who writes the Jack Reacher novels is.

I was listening to the debut album by 80's hip-hop group Ultramagnetic MCs today and I was thinking: That's what the Comics Books Are Burning In Hell guys did! They issued a 'Critical Beatdown'!

I'm sure Hawkeye 11 is every bit as mediocre as you guys say it is. But if you are going to talk about such a non-entity, it would at least be useful to bring in some good comics as a point of comparison. I thought the Chris Ware comparison was too casually brushed aside in this discussion. It's worth asking why Chris' diagrammatic comics are great and Hawkeye isn't. Also, given the comics erudition you guys have, the Richard McGuire analogy should have been pursued. Look at The Thinkers from Raw volume 2. That's the ancestor right there.

I generally like your podcast and have listened to almost every episode, but it continues to bother me how you guys (particularly Joe) will just start yelling over each other to try to drown out the other speakers so you can get your own thoughts across. It makes for a very unpleasant listening experience and comes off as being unprofessional. Just wait for your friends to finish their thoughts.

You guys spend an awful lot of time railing against some straw-man critic who purportedly said, "Hawkeye #11 is the greatest comic OF ALL TIME! Better than Chris Ware!" It sounded a bit hysterical to me, so I looked up Laura Hudson's review, whose title begins "The Best Superhero Comic of the Year." The strongest claim she makes, at the end of the article, is that "this is the best comic of 2013," which I'd agree is both premature and likely to be false, but she may well have simply forgotten to add a qualifier there. The very next sentence refers to "any superhero comic." The article as a whole makes it abundantly clear that the point of reference is recent superhero comic books. There's really no reason to get worked up over a perceived slight to George Herriman or the best of South American comics.

I can see she risked your ire by even mentioning Ware, but to be fair, her claim is only that this comic "bears more resemblance to Chris Ware than Jack Kirby," which is at the least debatable, and possibly even true. I don't see a huge amount of Kirby in Aja's work in this issue.

I didn't look up any other reviews, but I gather most of the other excited adulation occurred in the realm of fan sites that mostly review newly released pamphlet-style superhero-or-similar-genre comic books. It should be understood that the comic is being judged in that light, whether or not the name of Ware is dropped.

Is Hawkeye 11 over-praised? Almost certainly. Even within the small slice of the world of comics where it has been singled out, I can't see that it's so much better than the best of Waid/Samnee Daredevil, or Marcos Martin's work, or even Capullo's Batman when Snyder isn't too much in the way, such as the opening scene of that recent issue you guys praised. (It may be that this Hawkeye is an easier issue to hand off to a casual or non-comics reader, which seems to be part of the intent of Hudson's Wired piece). It's okay for these just to be competent, stylishly told entertainments, not transcendental works. But when you arrive at the point of calling Hawkeye 11 a piece of fucking bullshit comic, I think you've lost all perspective. Even competence, occasionally elevated by smart design or dragged down by easy sentimentality, is far better than bullshit.

Which leads me to say that your tone in much of this discussion is condescending and noxiously snide (which I do understand is part of your style). Your starting point seems to be to attribute the worst motivations to the creators and the readers of this comic. Could it not be that Fraction and Aja, in the midst of their paying work, simply take a more-than-strictly-necessary interest in the construction of a page of comics and of a story? Could it not be that many of the readers of this comic, while enjoying it well enough, actually understand it is not the greatest product of civilization? You guys have obviously read more and developed better opinions about comics than these other readers (and me), but if you genuinely want to engage them (which is optional), I can only echo Julian's comments above and recommend a bit more circumspection and respect.

Sorry I addressed the four of you en masse--I'm not familiar enough to keep everyone's comments straight.

Chad -- Rachel Edidin's review played a large part in our wanting to discuss the comic, and she's the one who does say it has "more heart" than Ware.

http://comicsalliance.com/hawkeye-11-review-marvel-fraction-aja-pizza-dog-storytelling/

You guys certainly hit a nerve in provoking inarticulate mile long comments.

Please do an episode on Saga. I would enjoy hearing that.

Chris--Sorry, I missed Edidin's name. I should have looked it up. Yeah, I'm not going within a mile of defending that review. But at least even there, many of the commenters call her out for her hyperbolic praise.

Sean--happy to entertain.

I'm not sure I get the backlash in certain circles. It was still a good issue. Yeah, it wasn't the Great American Novel of comic book writing. However, it pushed the boundaries of the superhero comic and that can be fun, too. Essentially it was a good episode of the Rockford Files, and sometimes we need that, too. Is the Rockford Files as artistic or lasting as the Sopranos? No. But that doesn't mean it can't be lauded as something exciting. There are episodes of Magnum PI that stick with me just like the best episodes of the Wire. I know from reading some of the film reviews on this site that you have no problem enjoying well-made genre stuff when it comes to images that come at you in constant motion, so I don't know what the problem is here.

I love stuff like Copra, and I don't see a massive distinction between something like Copra (which I love) and Hawkeye #11 (which I liked) as just being a really well done superhero comic.

The 'kicking' in the door aspect and trying to raise standards by trashing something like Hawkeye #11 and labeling it a piece of crap is counter-productive. People aren't going to jump from Ultimate Super Avengers to the Hernandez Bros. or especially Chris Ware without taking the intermediate steps in between. And Hawkeye #11 is a step in the right direction for the majority of readers. So is Copra. It's OK to say something is 'really good' and not "great" without resorting to hating when people like the merely good stuff a little too much.

Simply put, you're not going to get more educated readers of the medium by denigrating everything that isn't the peak of the art form. Balanced criticism is the key to education. Not overpraising, but not swinging back to underpraising either.

Colin - I agree this is a problem, and it's something I try to work towards resolving... personally, I'm always flummoxed by being unable to see Matt's or Tucker's body language while they're talking, which I know isn't (and shouldn't be) an issue for most contributors to most remote podcasts, but it's a constant struggle for me... I think we've gotten a little better at it lately, but this episode was pretty heavy with over-talking... I do hear you, though!

Let me try to address the rest of you en mass - Jeet in particular!

First and foremost, I do agree that Hawkeye #11 is above-average for a superhero comic. Frankly, I'm not sure *any* of us disagree with that sentiment (except for Chris, who didn't read it, and would presumably abstain from comment). I, specifically, would call it a pretty good comic, and Tucker previously deemed it "relatively entertaining" over at the Journal; Matt is the only one who appears to have severely disliked the comic as a comic, even a genre piece, although the off-the-cuff nature of the episode probably served to intensify the sense of negativity - particularly insofar as Tucker (very reasonably) wanted to talk more about critical standards than the comic itself.

(Obviously, the answer to this is for me to shout over everyone even more. Sorry, Colin, I take it all back!)

BUT ANYWAY:

Why is Hawkeye #11 not as good a comic as name-your-favorite Chris Ware/Richard McGuire piece or, I dunno, Mazzucchelli's & Karasik's City of Glass (which I also found to be a pertinent point of comparison)? The answer, I'd say, comes down to depth and thematic integration.

To be brief -- and feel free to shout at me if I'm simplifying things -- the purpose behind the formal inquiries of Hawkeye #11 is to demonstrate the endearing failure of cute-ass Pizza Dog to comprehend the intricacies of human affairs. He is not an emotive creature; instead, he navigates the world through a system of sensory prompts which he associates with past sensations and fragmented memories, inevitably becoming distracted by whatever piques his animal curiosity most directly (generally "food" and "pain," and maybe "I'd like to fuck this other dog").

These prompts are primarily depicted as (1) snatches of recognizable human language and (2) chains of smartphone/airline emergency card-like panels, so as to track his simple thought processes in the way Chris Ware typically depicts the passage of aloof time (see, Jimmy Corrigan, et. al.). In this way, Fraction & Aja do ascertain a sense of inhumanity about (to maintain my analogy) this aspect of Ware's approach: where Ware emphasizes the ephemeral nature of human life by exploding notions of sequential time, Hawkeye ladles on poignancy by depicting Pizza Dog as similarly removed, but ultimately supplicant to the human experience, which is greater than his animal brain.

In other words, where Ware (AND MCGUIRE, JEET) typically seek(s) to emphasize the limitations of the individual human experience by forcing pages outside of traditional considerations of time's passage, Fraction/Aja toast the unknowable complexity of the wide-open future by casting their own page compositions as funny, endearing, sometimes teary little limitations on comprehension itself. Hawkeye loses his Pizza Dog! Because he too could not grasp the entirety of the situation! It's sad!

This is perfectly fine. I think it's a bit of a bromide, to be honest, but that's a subjective consideration. Your mileage may vary.

It is also, however, very much the entirety of what Hawkeye #11 has on its plate. Compare this to ACME Novelty Library #20, the opening pages of which, in all candor, capture virtually everything Fraction & Aja are after in its depiction of the limitations on a baby's ability to process sensory information. But then Ware continues to build and build from that foundation, expertly complicating his art so as to depict the evolution of the maturing human mind, retaining certain key images and signals of infancy, while demonstrating how adult human thought is comparatively sophisticated. Nonetheless, Ware's protagonist is ultimately revealed to be as blinkered as anyone, his own perspective on his life revealed to have obscured terrible transgressions, which are detailed by the sudden imposition of a totally different art style on the narrative: an outside force, well-equipped with its own perspective, memories and biases.

To my mind, this is a much greater, more humane, moving, incisive, emotional display than Fraction/Aja has to offer; frankly, I found Hawkeye #11 to be a little cold, a little too immersed in the minutiae of the dog experience to communicate the feelings they're obviously trying to hammer - ironically, this was a common knock against Ware years ago, and I think the Fraction/Aja evocation of such underscores how very difficult it is to work in this very specific manner.

(Incidentally, I reject any notion that comics readers typically observe intermediate steps between superhero comics and Chris Ware - it probably isn't ascended genre fans that put Building Stories up above every Marvel/DC release on the BookScan sales charts in 2012; it's a product of different audiences accessing comics from different directions, given a multitude of options.)

But still, let's compare Hawkeye to another superhero comic.

Witness Promethea #32: the product of, in large part, an experienced Batman family artist and a writer who's logged as many pages of Spawn and WildC.A.T.s as you'll ever need for genre street cred. It is a traditional comic book, published by a DC studio. I will rank it against many top 'art' comics, however, because it is a marvelous work of intuition, taking the form of an illustrated essay that gingerly explicates the themes of the remainder of the series, while guiding the reader frontwards and backwards through a comic you must physically manipulate, hands-on, to finish. And even then, the reader is asked to literally DESTROY the comic they've purchased: taking out the staples and reassembling the whole into a big poster, which itself offers an alternate means of navigating the text, and moreover connects to the apocalypse-as-enlightenment theme promulgated by the series as a whole, by way of confronting the collector's impulse central to so much of superhero comic book collecting.

Outside, inside, conceptually, referentially: it is a deep comic. Hawkeye #11 simply does not compare to this. It does some interesting things, yes, and it probably represents some expenditure of political capital to simply get made, sure, but when you're aiming high like this, begging comparison to works outside the genre corral, it is perfectly appropriate to compare it with those other models and say: no, THIS IS NOT AS GOOD. To only compare it to other superhero comics is to observe limitations that foreclose on the very outside perspectives that shaped its creation.

Thank you, I love you all.

Fuck, since I'm on a roll: Fraction's Satellite Sam #1! JUST as much an evocation of other works as Hawkeye #11, but here it's an application of Howard Chaykin's & Ken Bruzenak's '80s wall of sound approach from American Flagg! and Time2 to an Altmanesque ensemble drama set in live television, communicating less fantastic traumas through the instruments of SF world-building... I found it all to be much smoother and more effective than Hawkeye #11, though I'm sure it helped that Chaykin & Bruzenak themselves handled the issue's visuals...

Maybe this isn't adding much to the discussion, but I'm reminded of something Matt said on the Podcast way back (I think when he gave his defense of Geoff Johns): That sometimes there is an interaction between superhero comics and "fandom" that is on a passionate level that I can't even begin to understand.

Now why Hawkeye 11, I don't know. I'd join the hate crowd, but really, I'm a little jealous because I'm not sure if I ever once felt that level of affection for any one single issue.

Ron, I'm with you, but the short memory span is a problem in nearly ever "nerd genre".

My particular interest is fantasy. Look at the popularity Game of Thrones is enjoying, with people quick to declare it the best fantasy novel series of all time, or to act like the grit of Martin's work is some sort of completely novel innovation, when Gene Wolfe and Michael Moorcock have been writing for decades. The memory span and literacy of both fandom and many critics only seems to stretch back a decade at most.

I think it's a combination of the previously disposable nature of these genres and the idea that some people have that for something to be worth bothering with or recommending, it has to be exceptionally innovative. It's not merely good enough for it to be enjoyable.

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