“The High, Hard Shaft: Part 4—Like a Hole in the Head”
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Stefano Raffaele
No more hesitations. The costume’s back. The trick arrows are readied. And eager to go, Hawkeye asks: “So what is Laos like this time of year?” “Like an armpit,” answers his new partner. “Good,” says Hawkeye, “I’ve been wonderin’ when I’d finally break a sweat…” Action mounts in Fabian Nicieza and Stefano Raffaele’s “The High, Hard Shaft: Part 4—Like a Hole in the Head.” After more tragedy, Hawkeye’s investigation of a Vietnam cover-up leads to the search for a hidden temple in Laos. And an angry and determined archer prepares to finally end this deadly mystery. No more hesitations.
Hesitation is the central theme to this issue. It begins with a flashback of Hawkeye’s only living relative, big brother Barney, asking Hawkeye to join the army with him. But uncertain about leaving the circus, Hawkeye lingers indecisively and, as a result, is left trying—with a broken leg—to run after his brother’s bus. It’s a sad, lonely scene—a defining scene that perhaps accounts for Hawkeye maturing into a brash, impulsive character who hates to be left behind. Yet in the main story, Hawkeye again waits too long, this time when dealing with an armed, drunken acquaintance. Here, hesitation costs a life. And so it is with this second hesitation that Hawkeye decides to accelerate the pace of his investigation, unpack his costume, and attach trick arrowheads onto his Wal-Mart shafts.
But despite the heavy memories and deaths surrounding the investigation, this issue remains remarkably humorous as the thugs bemoan their humiliating nicknames, the butler’s jaw strangely continues to swell from Hawkeye’s previous assault, and ruthless Belinda is delightfully venomous. Most enjoyable is a scene where Hawkeye has contacted his new librarian lover to help bail him out of jail. At her arrival, Hawkeye leans against the cell bars and wryly says, “I did say I’d call you…” The dialogue is polished and the pacing is smooth. And although the mystery behind the hidden temple is teetering on confusion, the story is progressively compelling.
The art is also developing. The costume—the same design introduced in AVENGERS #77—is a welcomed, familiar sight. Also, Raffaele is mastering the portrayal of Hawkeye’s speed. A particularly impressive scene is when Hawkeye confronts one of the veterans. Arrows and a stapler fly as Hawkeye shoots out the lights, pins the veteran to a chair, and gags him with the stapler. The speed is thrilling, and the force of impact is intimidating. But the most noteworthy art is in the detailing of Peppermint’s distress. Raffaele’s great attention to the stripper’s ever-changing expressions and dripping mascara heightens the tragedy of her situation and finally establishes her as a sympathetic character.
Great attention, in fact, is given in every detail of this issue by both Nicieza and Raffaele. In art, pacing, characterization, and theme—this is a thoughtful story that begins with a boy missing his bus and ends with a man embarking on a mission.
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