A big part of the appeal of the new Hawkeye series has been the relationship between Clint and Kate, who share more in common with the classic male-female duos of '40s Hollywood cinema than their superhero brethren; Wolverine and Jubilee they ain't. Unlike more standard mentor-ward relationships, Clint and Kate are as often at each other's throats as they are backing one another up, and there's a tension between the two that's hard to peg. In the new Hawkeye annual, Matt Fraction and Javier Pulido play that up immediately, beginning the issue with a kind of break-up between them, as Clint is sulking above a bowl of colored alphabet cereal that spells out “doomed” as Kate walks out on him. To add insult to injury, his dog, Lucky– who has threatened to overtake Clint in the internet popularity contest on more than one occasion and even recently had an entire issue to himself– tags along with Kate for the ride.
A standalone, Kate-centric issue, this Hawkeye annual explores the Clint/Kate dynamic by separating them, giving us a glimpse at Kate in flight, desperate to prove herself away from the interference of father figures like Clint and her real father, who happens to be shacking up in his mansion with a new bride who was only a class or two ahead of Kate in high school. Fraction gives Kate a lot of obstacles along the way, from the reemergence of Madame Masque, who is itching for revenge against Kate, to Kate's seeming inability to be financially independent.
The issue also separates from the grimy yet loveable seediness of New York in favor of the sunny plastic shores of LA, which is where Kate departs to in order to truly stand out from Clint, though he's quick to make a self-deprecating joke about the West Coast really needing a Hawkeye. Pulido's art makes perfect sense for this road trip as his style has always been cleaner than David Aja's; where Aja channels Mazzucchelli's Daredevil for his Hawkeye work, Pulido has pulled from Darwyn Cooke's Parker adaptations, with the cold shadows and vintage style. Matt Hollingsworth's coloring– always an unsung star of Hawkeye— shifts here as well, favoring blues, oranges and greens over the standard purple, black and white of the regular Hawkeye. The result is a California noir of the '60s and '70s variety, or neo successors like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, hip and laid back and eager for trouble. Pulido drew the last Madame Masque adventure, too, which enables him to have fun with callbacks and mirrored layouts, specifically in one sequence that the backmatter reprints to show how Pulido mimicked his own work to give the reader deja vu as Kate herself is experiencing it.
Kate as a character still has some growth to do, and as fun as the issue is, it doesn't quite reach the levels of Hawkeye proper; Kate's background as a rich girl gone rebel makes her a little less appealing when she has the spotlight all to herself, and while Fraction doesn't hesitate to call out her youthful arrogance, she could stand to have a human partner of her own to ground her. Instead, we get Kate the Good Rich Girl battling Madame Masque the Bad Rich Girl with occasional moments of Lucky the Action Dog and not enough of the urban heart that has turned Clint into such a breakout character.
That's a small complaint, though, as there's still more than enough to make the idea of a Kate solo series seem promising, even if just for the opportunity to see an artist like Pulido carve out his own West Coast aesthetic to run counter to what Aja did at the start with the regular Hawkeye series. And Fraction has experience with California superheroics to pull from, as his sorely underrated The Order similarly explored beautiful rich people learning what life can be like when you don't always get your way. It's a smart move to groom Kate to be the next Marvel leading lady and in the hands of a team like this, it would be more than a cash-in, it would be quality comics to boot.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter egos at Fitness and Pontypool.