Matt Fraction on how his beloved Hawkeye comic influenced the new Disney+ series
By this point, EW has interviewed several people involved in the making of Marvel's new Hawkeye show on Disney+: Stars Hailee Steinfeld and Jeremy Renner, producer Trinh Tran, director and producer Rhys Thomas. All of them have pointed to the same shared inspiration for the series: The 2012-2015 Hawkeye solo comic that was written by Matt Fraction with art by David Aja, Annie Wu, and a handful of others.
Originally created by Stan Lee and Don Heck, Clint Barton has never been the most famous Avenger. There had been a couple Hawkeye solo comics before 2012, but they had only lasted for a handful of issues each. By contrast, Fraction and Aja's Hawkeye comic was a genuine bestseller that, as Andrea Towers argued for EW, re-oriented the storytelling of Marvel Comics to be more relatable and character-driven. It topped out at about 23 issues, way more than anyone had expected going in. (It also made our Best Comics of the Decade list in 2019.)
Released in the wake of 2012's game-changing Avengers movie, Fraction and Aja's Hawkeye had a simple but brilliant premise: This is what the archer is doing when he's not being an Avenger. While Steve Rogers hits the gym or Tony Stark builds new inventions, Clint uses his downtime to look after his Brooklyn neighbors, take in a one-eyed dog, and do what he can to help people around him.
In a new interview, Fraction recalls that Hawkeye's human vulnerability is what first attracted him to the character decades ago. As a kid, Fraction read the four-issue 1983 Hawkeye solo series by writer/artist Mark Gruenwald, which climaxes with the hero using a sonic arrowhead to deafen himself so he can overcome the mind-control device wielded by the supervillain Crossfire. The next month, Hawkeye returned to the Avengers for a stunt-y issue where the team was appearing on Late Night with David Letterman — and amid all the hubbub, Clint was still dealing with the partial loss of his hearing.
"I had never seen that before," Fraction tells EW. "Superheroes would always be better the next month. It was a beautiful moment of, 'oh right the regular guy has real and lasting damage.' That endeared the character to me forever."
Years later, while Fraction was working with Aja on The Immortal Iron Fist, the two realized they shared a powerful love for the superhero archer. But though Fraction leapt at the chance to develop a new solo series after Renner introduced Hawkeye to the big screen, he had a tough time cracking the concept. But then he thought of bringing in another character: Kate Bishop, the Young Avenger who had also taken the name "Hawkeye" during Clint's brief absence. Hawkeye thus became a tale of two archers, and the dynamite dynamic between Clint and Kate cemented the comic as an instant classic.
"The double act was what did it," Fraction says. "It was a relationship I hadn't seen before, and hadn't written before. I realized it was about the two of them, and him specifically, being compulsively unable to stop trying to help people, even on his days off, and what it meant for this young woman to fall into his orbit: What a blessing and curse that would be for her. He's not a healthy role model. If you take this good man who's also a damaged person, what kind of a mentor would he make? What could the mentor teach the mentee, and what could the mentee teach the mentor? It took me a while to realize I was writing an abuse narrative, a story about abuse survivors, but before I could articulate that I knew that's what I was writing."
Originally created by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung for their first Young Avengers comic, Kate Bishop has since become one of Marvel Comics' standout 21st century creations. You can see Fraction and his collaborators becoming superfans over the course of their Hawkeye comic: Though the series starts as a double act, by the end about a fourth of its 23 issues are dedicated to Kate's solo adventures in L.A.
Those stories, illustrated by Wu rather than Aja, in turn laid the groundwork for subsequent Hawkeye and West Coast Avengers comics by writer Kelly Thompson that further developed Kate as a star in her own right. Steinfeld's performance as Kate in Hawkeye, bringing the character into the MCU, feels like the culmination of that process.
Fraction cites Kate's "energy, her optimism, her indefatigable anti-cynicism" as the characteristics that made her stand out to him as a writer.
"That was interesting to me: Somebody with an almost Candide level of optimism and faith in the better angels of our nature surviving contact with the outside world," Fraction says. "I had in my head this image of her with her nose busted, with a tooth knocked out, smiling. I knew I was writing to that image. I didn't know where it was coming or what it meant, but I saw her with the crap knocked out of her, smiling because she knew she hadn't lost. That was my moment of 'okay, I know who that is, I know who I'm writing.' And we got to it! It ended up being her mugshot on the first page of issue #20, the last one that Annie drew."
Steinfeld has definitely brought Kate's optimism to the screen. A good demonstration comes in a moment from this week's episode, when Kate finds herself in an elevator with an older man. She's got an earpiece in to communicate with Clint while she investigates the apartment of Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), and Kate just can't help but gush to the man about how excited she is to be working with an Avenger.
"She looks like an Annie Wu drawing come to life," Fraction says of that moment.
In addition to Steinfeld's Kate, one of the elements of Hawkeye that Fraction is happiest with is Clint's experience with hearing loss — since that's what attracted him to the character in the first place all those years ago. Issue #19 of Hawkeye by Fraction and Aja was mostly told through American Sign Language (ASL) as Clint dealt with a new round of ear damage.
"When I got to do the character, I knew I was gonna head back to that, because it was so important to me as a kid," Fraction says. "In parallel to that, my wife and I signed with our children because babies can sign before they can speak, and so I got to glance off the surface of that culture, that language. I felt like 'oh it's a visual language…it's like comics! This is a natural fit.' Then to see it in the show, seeing him and his son signing to each other was cool. Seeing the pictures from set where he had hearing aids in was huge."
Fraction's wife, Kelly Sue DeConnick, was reinventing Captain Marvel at the same time he was reinvigorating Hawkeye, and he has a distinct memory of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making those superheroes worthy of their own star vehicles in the MCU: "I have this memory of she and I, the night before conventions, stuffing bags at my parents' kitchen table in North Carolina. We were the hype department. Both books found their audience very quickly, and it felt like catching lightning in a bottle again and again. I remember the first day of publication when editor Steve Wacker wrote us and said, 'here are words that have never been written before: Hawkeye #1 has sold out!'"
DeConnick had a brief cameo in the 2019 Captain Marvel movie, and Fraction's role in the Hawkeye show also went beyond just being a passive influence. Though he doesn't have a cameo, he was brought on early in the show's development as a consulting producer who gave notes on scripts.
"I talked mostly about the characters, and how I viewed them. I talked about the psychology of surviving abuse, living with PTSD, and ASL/hard-of-hearing culture as I had encountered it in my life and through research," Fraction says. "I gave notes and pitched a line here or there. But for the most part got to encounter it as a fan and talk about what I did or didn't like. They could take or leave my opinion, and I got a credit!"
With a laugh, Fraction adds, "I get to take credit for everything that works. If it works and you like it, that was totally me! If it doesn't, man they just didn't listen to me! It's the best."
The first four episodes of Hawkeye are streaming now on Disney+. A new collected edition of the entire run of Hawkeye by Fraction & Aja, timed to the release of the show, is also available now wherever comics are sold.