Hawkeye the archer has always been one of my favourite Marvel characters. I like the fact that he can be a hotheaded jerk, that he's got a chip on his shoulder which comes from being the "bow and arrow guy" in a team comprising thunder gods, armoured millionaires and WWII super soldiers, and that despite all this, he always tries his best to be a hero. I even like his names - both superhero (which always makes me think of Alan Alda in M*A*S*H*) and alter ego... Clint Eastwood meets Dick Barton.
The character has been treated somewhat shabbily in recent years, killed off for shock value during the Avengers Disassembled storyline, clumsily resurrected in House of M, handing over his Hawkeye identity to a teenage girl while he slums it as Ronin, even forced to watch as a psycho like Bullseye sullies his name and costume in the Dark Avengers.
His sometime partner, in crime-fighting and love, Bobbi Morse aka Mockingbird has been treated even worse. Captured, held prisoner and raped by an 19th Century ghost in the old West Coast Avengers book, murdered, then retroactively replaced by a Skrull, before being returned to a world she hardly even recognises.
The road to their reunion has been a long and clumsy one, but as Hawkeye is one of those crazy characters who keep me reading superhero books long after I should have grown out of them, I've been long awaiting this new collection. It was preceded by another book, New Avengers: The Reunion, by the same creative team, which was hampered by having to sort out all the convoluted continuity that had come before. With that out of the way, writer Jim McCann and artist David Lopez are finally able to kick loose and start forging ahead, and they do this with style now, reinventing the duo as Marvel's answer to "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (a movie I haven't seen, so I prefer to think of them as a more kick-ass Jonathan & Jennifer Hart - or Nick & Nora Charles from The Thin Man). Dramatic tension is added to their relationship by the fact that Mockingbird is a SHIELD-trained License To Kill type while Hawkeye still espouses that rather old fashioned superhero virtue of "nobody dies on my watch".
Given Hawkeye's chequered history of being unable to support his own title for long and the fact that this is McCann's first ongoing Marvel assignment, the writer appears to know that the odds are stacked against him from the outset. That said, he's obviously a huge Hawkeye fan, and determined to have as much fun with the characters as he can before the axe falls. There's a lot of story packed into this book - twists and turns, cliffhangers, shock character revelations, a solid supporting cast (including Marvel's old mercenary hero Dominic Fortune) and two strong arch(er)-nemeses in Crossfire and Night Rider. Rarely does a page feature less than 6 panels and often McCann goes for the full 9, though the art never seems crowded thanks to the smooth and kinetic artwork of David Lopez, whose style is both modern and classic. There are times he reminds me of Carmine Infantino at his best, though I couldn't quite put my finger on why. He's certainly more exciting than a lot of the manga-influenced artists working in contemporary comics, and if there's any justice he's on his way to greatness.
Sadly, it doesn't seem that greatness will come with further Hawkeye and Mockingbird adventures since this book has already been cancelled due to low sales. Another case of one of Marvel's better books not getting the attention it deserves, I'd still recommend catching this while you can if you enjoy your superhero blancmange mixed with spy-flavoured intrigue and a sprinkling of sexy, sparky banter.
Hawkeye & Mockingbird: Ghosts has an rrp of £12.99. I pre-ordered my copy from Ace Comics and got a 25% discount. It's currently available on The Book Depository for £8.34, though you might be able to find it cheaper.