Comics Vitae: Matt Fraction Part II, Iron Man through Sex Criminals

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Illustrated by David Aja, Others
Published by Marvel by Marvel from 2012 to Present

Paste: What was the original pitch for Hawkeye?
Fraction: It was going to be much more like James Bond, with international travel and exotic locales and tuxedoes and women in gowns, and stuff like that. I realized that was a story, but wasn’t really a book. I withdrew from the pitch process — I pitched it, got a provisional green light, and started to work on it and realized I was barking up the wrong tree and had to bow out, to everyone’s great frustration. And at some point, for some reason — I don’ remember why I thought of it — but the picture of him with tape over the bridge of his nose popped in my head. And then I had the book. I knew what the book was. I had to reinsert myself into the pitch process and repitch and blah blah blah.

Paste: With a book like this, with the movie coming out, was Marvel actively looking for people to make a Hawkeye, or…
Fraction: Yeah, they do that sort of… several times a year we have these editorial summits and there are always conversations generated or spawned by this list of Marvel media activity, in six to twelve months, and there are characters that are going to be in these films or on TV or cartoons or here and there, and people might be coming into comic shops looking for these guys, so these are characters we can feature.

I’ve never been told “this is going to happen, put these people in your book,” but Hawkeye was on the list because of the Avengers movie, and I didn’t have any more information than anyone else had about the Avengers movie, but I always liked the character as a kid. Then I figured out the book, being about the Avenger with the tape on his nose. I realized I had never read that book before. I realized I could do a book that would honor the stuff I loved when I was a kid, especially the Mark Gruenwald stuff, as silly as it might be now; but I could honor that character work, I could honor who that guy is. Who is the regular man that gets to be with the Avengers? I’d read a book on what he’d do on his day off, this idea that somebody compulsively can’t stop doing good. He’s like Fred from Scooby Doo all grown up. He just can’t stop meddling.

As a character, that’s really interesting to me. What does that say about somebody? He’s like the opposite of Batman. The older you get, the more you live in the world, it’s impossible not to look at Batman through class and race. Batman is a rich white billionaire who beats up poor brown people and the mentally ill. That’s weird, right? Kinda weird. A billionaire, punching poor people. But the idea of a guy who came from nothing and stayed just a couple steps away from it, but can’t not help you move a couch, that’s interesting. I found my way into the book and the character and everything else grew out of that.

Paste: You mention the original pitch was a James Bond, tuxedo deal — that sounds like the Madripoor story.
Fraction: That was my pitch. Two years ago I did a comic for GQ about the killing of Osama bin Laden. I did a ton of research. It was like journalism. Everything was triple-sourced. It was more sourced than Zero Dark Thirty. I was deeply entrenched in that night, that moment, that operation, the information that had been made public by multiple independent sources that could piece together what happened. It’s in my head, just there. Thank God I took a couple years of journalism at school, because I had to rely on all of it for the story I put together. I had all this stuff in my head, and the idea of what if Hawkeye did it, and there was a tape that got out. That was just a cool hook for a story. My initial pitch was ‘Hawkeye killed Osama bin Laden, and the tape gets out.’ That’s a cool cold opening. That’s a great opening. Fuck, I’ll read that. And then he has to track the tape down and go to the auctions… it was a big James Bond adventure. It’s a cool Bond movie: Bond kills a world leader, the tape gets out and he has to track it down.

It was a cool story, and I didn’t want to let it go, so I found a way to retrofit it into the rest of what the book became. But in a way, issues #4 and #5 were the first issues that I wrote. And then issue #2, which Steve [Wacker, Hawkeye’s former editor,] and I both liked, but we agreed it was a second issue and not a first one, so I wrote a new one. Everything about this book is a fucking headache.

Issue #2 started with a picture of Hawkeye running away with a woman over his shoulder, and everybody shooting at them, and he’s jumping over the balcony saying “I know this looks bad.” I wrote that on the back of a receipt in my car. My kids were in the car and they were both at an age where naps were important to the sanity of our home life. My wife had left the car to shop, so I stayed in the car with them to let the kids sleep. While she was shopping, I grabbed a receipt out of the armrest. I sat there and banged out the issue as a really rough outline on the back of this receipt.

Paste: The whole Madripoor story is about an Avenger killing. In the second issue you have Clint and Kate point out that the guys they just shot in the face with arrows were going to live…
Fraction: They weren’t arrows, they were needles. And I’m not done with those guys, those guys are coming back.

Paste: But do you feel constrained by “no killing” rules when you’re writing a character whose only power is a bow and arrow?
Fraction: No, I like it. Comics are too dark. They’re too grim. Dark and grim are fine, but when it’s the standard operating procedure, it bums me out after a while. It’s the challenge of getting back to the Stephen J. Cannell-ness of it all.

There are a couple of super hypnotists in that circus, and they blind them, which is how they stop them. They’re coming back. When your power’s in your eyes and somebody just shot them out with needles… But it was a deliberate, conscious choice. As [editor Steve Wacker and I] were banging it out on a phone call, we said “do we kill people?” And we both wanted to say no. And that was our book. It cemented the Rockford-ness of it. Rockford never killed anybody.

Paste: And that was always a firm part of Hawkeye’s character in the past.
Fraction: Brian Bendis did a really great Clint story during Norman Osborn’s reign where he tried to assassinate him, and it was a really cool Clint story. It was Clint at the end of his rope. It caused a lot of trouble and complications. But I think him not killing is as important to his character as Sabretooth or Wolverine killing people. I remember Wolverine’s first issue; he was literally standing on a pile of corpses. That was its selling point — he kills 300 people in the first issue. I remember an interview with Chris Claremont declaring that.

Paste: Another recurring theme is parallelism: you have multiple versions of characters running around in Casanova, and in Hawkeye you have two Bartons, two Hawkeyes. You also have Kazi, who has a similar background to Clint. Is this a theme you really like playing with, or just a coincidence between the two books?
Fraction: I hadn’t really thought about similarities with Casanova. But it’s definitely a thematic decision in Hawkeye. We have the cast page with Kate and Clint listed as Hawkeye, and when Barney Barton popped up in the cast page, they made him Trickshot, but I fought to have him listed as Hawkeye too, because he pretended to be Hawkeye for a while. To me, he’s Hawkeye. Everyone’s Hawkeye. If you’re in the book, you’re Hawkeye. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it reinforces the everyman nature of the character, I think, and how easy it is to have the life that Clint had and, unlike Clint, come out totally wrong.

Paste: Of those two main Hawkeyes, which one do you like writing better, Clint or Kate?
Fraction: They are a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup to me. They are chocolate and peanut butter. Either is great, but together they’re unbeatable. And that was the pitch, that was the hook. I wanted the Steed and Peel of them at the heart of the book. I love writing them together. I love that at no point have they had to have a dick measuring contest about who gets to be Hawkeye. I love that it’s a non-sexual male-female relationship, that it’s a mentor-mentee relationship. Who is the mentor and who is the mentee on any given day changes. Between the two of them, they’re a whole person. Between the two of them, they’re alright.

And based on the stuff in Young Avengers, she had to leave New York. Kate was at a point where she really could get set up and take off, and the idea that I could do stories of her on her own — trying to find her own two feet and her own identity — on the other coast made sense to me.

So we’ve split the book where we’re alternating artists and Hawkeyes, a Clint issue and then a Kate issue for a few months. Monthly and Hawkeye are words that need to be taken with a grain of salt, but they’ll alternate for a while. And in the end, we’ll have a separate Kate collection, the annual and four issues telling a story of Kate having a summer of discovery in California, away from the Young Avengers and away from Clint, just trying to stand on her own two feet and seeing what she’s made of.

Paste: I reread up through the first thirteen issues before we talked, and I noticed that the first six issues or so there’s no clear timeframe, whereas the last six seem to happen in a day or two.
Fraction: I did an issue last December, a holiday issue, like an advent calendar, but all shuffled up. And then I wanted to see if I could do an arc like that. So basically, the six days after that. From issue #8 you see six days across six issues, all scrambled up. I wanted to show how that death (there’s a death) impacts everybody, how it just completely shatters everything. It’s so devastating to this book that’s about small, quiet character moments. There’s a big, violent comic book moment that shatters everything, even our sense of time and space. It’s the same kind of trick we’ve been doing in the book all along, when we told a story over what should have been six months, but ended up being about a year. Everything gets all blown up and broken and mixed around and scrambled, and slowly comes back together.

Paste: So about the death: the Hurricane Sandy issue came in the middle of the post-advent calendar period, and that death would not be as powerful as it was without that issue. Were you planning on working that backstory in there already, or was it this moment where real life let you flesh this character out before killing him?
Fraction: Yeah, the Sandy episode came out in January of 2013. Issue 6 was done, it was in bed. That was how I spent my Thanksgiving in 2012, writing the Sandy issue. So we were scrambling around getting the art, getting Steve [Lieber] and Jesse [Hamm] on board, and figuring out the logistics, and seeing if we could squeeze a comic out in three weeks. So I knew what was happening, I knew what was coming with Grills, and I took the opportunity to make it hurt more. It was cruel and manipulative.

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