“The High, Hard Shaft: Part 6—Resurrection”
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Stefano Raffaele
What began as a gritty crime-noir story-arc, now ends as a superhero tribute to Indiana Jones—complete with exotic locations, non-stop action, religious fanatics, and sacred treasure. In “The High, Hard Shaft: Part 6—Resurrection” by Fabian Nicieza and Stefano Raffaele, the HAWKEYE series’ first story-arc reaches its exciting pinnacle, a thrill that’s mostly due to Hawkeye’s return to “classic Hawkeye” action.
Readers may have been critical about Hawkeye being out of costume and in an urban setting for much of this arc. Yet here, Nicieza more than compensates for earlier low-action issues. And, the keen contrast between prior issues and this final installment craftily highlights the exhilarating finale. Issue 5 ended with a seemingly impossible challenge for the street-level archer featured in this series; accordingly, issue 6 begins with Hawkeye’s cynical ally, Scully, echoing readers’ concerns that the plain-clothed Hawkeye was finally meeting his demise: “Some hard-headed circus bowman is gonna take down a hundred archers?” Freshly donning his costume and charging into battle, Hawkeye replies: “No—but Hawkeye will!” Here, we are reminded of the character’s vast range—being equally suited for street- and cosmic-level settings. Thus, as Hawkeye switches into superhero-mode, it’s no surprise that he actually does defeat what had earlier seemed a daunting trial. And at last, readers can revel in Hawkeye’s portrayal as a confident, cool, and resourceful superhero. Also, the dialogue continues to be sharp, allowing Hawkeye to deliver his trademark quips. And as a bonus, readers are treated to cameos by the Avengers and their butler.
Where the issue fails is partially in the conclusion of the actual case. The big mystery is a little too big for its own good; Hawkeye uncovers a secret that is so valuable that he must immediately cover it back up. (Another aspect reminiscent of Indiana Jones and his attained, yet unattainable, treasures). And while this concept of a-secret-best-left-unknown is often a tantalizing device, it feels like a slight cop-out here. Another problem occurs in the opening flashback where readers learn that Hawkeye’s brother, Barney, was never actually a bad guy; he was an undercover FBI agent, infiltrating crime syndicates. Now, this is a problematic retcon because Barney’s death has traditionally served to reinforce Hawkeye’s chief character theme—redemption. Himself an accidental villain, Hawkeye has always been Marvel’s champion of second-chances; but when in an early AVENGERS issue, Hawkeye’s crime-lord brother dies during a last-minute change of heart (saving the Avengers), it’s evident that Hawkeye had failed to give his own brother a second chance. Instead, Barney must redeem himself through death. Thus, the theme of redemption, tinged with a tang of guilt, burrows deeply into Hawkeye’s character, and eventually begins to actively direct the archer, especially when he chooses to lead the Thunderbolts. This forty-year path that Hawkeye’s journeyed has, indeed, been remarkably consistent in building and maintaining motivation in the character’s fight for redemption. But now, he loses one of his prime motivations—his need to make amends to and for his brother. And where Barney used to serve as a poignant reminder of Hawkeye’s failures and as a powerful prod for the character to never again fail, Barney’s now simply a good guy.
The art, though, movingly conveys the tragedy of Barney’s death with a gloomy, rainy funeral scene that features some of Hawkeye’s Avengers friends. A mood equally well-captured concerns the tension at the temple where readers are rewarded with an exciting archer vs. archer fight sequence. Here, Hawkeye flows through battle, almost effortlessly. Much detail is given to this battle—allowing Hawkeye to use his bow as a shield, something that he has never before done. In fact, rarely has Hawkeye’s archery been so effectively emphasized in its diversity, speed, and ability to defeat an entire army. Thus, it’s with great creativity that Raffaele ends his tenure on HAWKEYE, as Joe Bennett is slated to illustrate the next arc.
The story concludes in a light-hearted manner. Hawkeye says good-bye to his Myrtle Beach hot-tub friends (warning them to “lay off the KFC”); and Belinda Mathius, the story’s villainess, is appropriately punished for her fanaticism. And in this end, Fabian Nicieza and Stefano Raffaele have successfully delivered a fresh and fun story-arc, at the heart of which is a fabulously spirited archer.
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