Friday, April 25, 2014

On: The Turnabout & Fair Play

The sleeveless wonder
By Tony C. Asaro

Alright, fine, I’ll admit it.  I never much cared for Hawkeye.  The garish purple-on-purple, the inimitably-funky headgear, the . . bib?  (Is that what that was? Tunic? Smock? Eh, ‘bib’ seems apt enough for the purpose of this confessional.) The utter disregard for sleeves. At no point during my first 34 years on this planet did anything about Hawkeye strike me as interesting, other than the obvious question of why The Earth’s Mightiest Heroes would ever have allowed him to sidle-up to their most-illustrious company to begin with.

From my glimpses of him in the odd comic or two as a wee lad in the 80’s, to my steadfast refusal to play as his character in Data East’s 1991 classic Captain America and The Avengers (be it the fantastic four-player arcade version which offered a slew of avenging heroes to play with, or the somewhat-less-fantastic single-player NES port in which he and Captain America were the only two playable characters), all the way through my heady comic-devouring days of the early-to-mid Nineties, well through my long self-imposed comic-drought of The Oughts, clear up to and beyond his appearances in 2011’s Thor and 2012’s outstanding mega-blockbuster The Avengers (in which he was, admittedly, capably portrayed by Mr. Jeremy Renner), he never, in any way whatsoever, struck my fancy. At all. Not even once. Not even the littlest bit.

To take it a touch further in the service of fully demonstrating my long-standing apathy-turned-full-on-dislike of the character, if, at some point during those 34 years, a non-denominational omnipotent being of indeterminate origin had paid me a visit and offered me the chance to erase one Marvel Comics creation from the minds and histories of the whole of mankind, for ever and ever, Hawkeye may well have been a name I’d have considered, such was the total lack of affection that I’d developed for his amaranthine ways and pedestrian means. “A cheap, shallow, tacky, over-obvious knock-off of Green Arrow,” I might’ve cawed, callously, to aforementioned non-denominational omnipotent deity and/or imp, “The world would be better off without him.”

The Gift of The Turnabout

And so it was that less than three short months ago the mighty Sir Matthew of Fraction gave me quite the precious and unexpected boon, indeed, in the form of a Hawkeye that was blessedly unrecognizable to my eyes, a Hawkeye that demanded further study and cried out for a second (fifth? ninth? twentieth?) chance.  Let us call this The Gift of The Turnabout, and it is a gift for which I shall be forever grateful.

I was tardy coming to know him, this new, substantially-less-violet fellow, this Regular Joe, this wise-cracking Charlie Brown of Marvel’s Manhattan, this “what he does when he’s not being an Avenger” Clint Barton.  I’ve only somewhat recently dipped my toes back into the shimmering four-color waters of comicdom after so very many moons adrift (though the tale of that odyssey is, surely, best told some other time), and as such the word that there was a massively-popular new Hawkeye book making waves took entirely longer than it should have to reach mine proverbial eardrums, and, if I’m being honest, even if I’d heard tell of it a year or two ago when the series was kicking-off, more-than-likely I would have scoffed and thrown it back to the wind without a second thought.

But if the recently-late, great, songsmith Pete Seeger taught us anything at all (and you’d better believe that he did), it’s that there is a time and place for all things (under heaven or otherwise), and after noticing that every “Top 10 _________ In Comics” list of the last two years had at least one commonality, it came to be that January of this year proved the time, Empire’s Comics Vault the place, and writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja just exactly the right people to do The Thing: To conjure a near-miracle out of naught but thought, care, craft, imagination, and no shortage of straight-up awe-inspiring talent, to make the highly-improbable a reality, to make me fall, platonically, head-over-heels in love with Hawkeye, his various unlikely associates, and their hilarious travails.

This freaking book, my god.  What could I possibly say about it that hasn’t already been said so much more eloquently and indisputably more comprehensibly elsewhere?  The lulz (oh my, the lulz), the constant, uncontrollable smirk on my face while reading it, the instant fondness for the previously-unknown-to-me supporting cast (has there ever been a more instantly-loveable pet in all of comics than Pizza Dog?), the boundless mirth . . it’s one thing to find oneself saying, “This is a great book; I’m really liking it,” or, “No, really, trust me, it’s better than it looks, I promise.  You should really check it out,” but it’s quite another to find yourself in the middle of a dizzying 180° Turnabout, suddenly awash in a torrent of sentiment for a character that you’d previously counted a C-list scrub barely-hero.

And that’s what makes it more special to me than it otherwise would be: The Turnabout. That’s the fix, the jam, the sparkly pixie dust of legend that makes everything shine a little bit brighter when you’re in its sway.  Surely there’s a parallel universe out there, only ever-so-slightly different than our own, where I was always, let’s say, “kind-of fond of” Hawkeye for whatever unfathomable, alternate-reality rationale.  The Tony in that universe reads this book as well, and he finds it very funny, and satisfying, and enjoyable (for it is most definitely all of those things), and he looks forward to the new issue of it every month or so because it’s an outstanding book, regardless of my particular history or perspective in any universe.  But what That Tony doesn’t quite understand is the deep, additional, inestimable joy of The Turnabout, and he’s a little poorer for it.

It’s mystical, and innately surprising, The Turnabout.  It’s puckish, and delightful, and mercurial.  It seems impossible to capture or manipulate or replicate it at will, and it is flighty and not to be counted on under any circumstance.  It’s capable of transforming a simple smile into a tingly epiphany.  If you try to grab at it, more often than not it’ll slip right through your too-desperate digits and dissipate before you can say “overwrought metaphor”.  And certainly it’s something that I’ve encountered a handful of times before, and each time it’s left a mark.

The Turnabout Hath Cometh Once More

An even-more recent example, if you’ll allow it.  Not more than five weeks ago while perusing shelf after shelf of trade paperbacks and graphic novels and such, I guffawed a deep guffaw which I’d guffawed several times before, that there was such a thing in existence as the chunky collected tome titled The Essential Moon Knight.

“Who would buy this?” I japed, “I mean, ever?  Who would ever buy this?  I guess there’s somebody out there, one poor, sad soul, surely, whose life’s ambition at this moment amounts to acquiring this, but . . god.  I can’t imagine.  Moon Knight?  Moon Knight!?  Really?  Too funny.”

Little did I know, that same titular-white-robed-vestige-of-a-bygone-era would soon be starring in a new series.  A series -penned by Warren Ellis and drawn by Declan Shalvey- that was about to debut to much acclaim, every inch of it deserved.  The first issue proved to be remarkable, and while I flipped through it’s starkly-beautiful pages I once more felt a small twinge, a little tang on the back of the tongue with that recognizably-sweet, ethereal aftertaste.  The Turnabout hath cometh once more.  Not all the way, not quite the full Monty; just a hint of it, but oh it was succulent nonetheless.

Similarly, and keeping with recent and medium-appropriate examples, one of the most stunning and most captivating books that I’ve been picking up since my long-overdue, headlong dive back into comicbookland has been Image’s Pretty Deadly, and the undeniable, startling quality of what I was seeing and reading within its pages immediately sent me off on a quest to find out what else its creators have done.  Googles, podcasts, Youtubes, interviews galore . . I sought and devoured everything I could find about the writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick (who also happens to be married to one Matt Fraction. Coincidence? YOU BE THE JUDGE), for whose work I found I was developing quite the burgeoning adoration.

Most of what came up in my search seemed, at first glance, to fall flat in the face of my now-feverous expectation.  “A mini-series about Norman Osborn? Ghost, whatever the hell that is? One of the 30 Days of Night books? A bunch of manga translations, a handful of seemingly random one-shots, and one of the plethoric multitude of Avengers titles that Marvel’s been flooding the market with since the billion-dollar success of the movie? Ehhhhh. Where’s the meat? Where’s the rest of it?  What am I missing, here?”

*(Sidenote: Many assumptions were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

Carol Danvers? Miss Marvel? Captain Marvel?

However, there was one other name that kept popping up over and over as I rummaged through Kelly Sue’s portfolio and listened to her gleefully chat-up cookie-cutter interviewer after cookie-cutter interviewer, yet it was a name that I’d never respected nor had any reason to respect, and it was a name that I’d long-since filed under “Don’t know; don’t care”, and because of this, it was a name that just didn’t in any way spark my interest.

“Carol Danvers?” I said to no one in particular, as is so often the case, “Miss Marvel? Captain Marvel, now, seems like, whatever that’s supposed to mean? Whussat? I dunno . . it rings a bell, I guess?  Sort of? Maybe? Wasn’t she in some of my old X-Men books? Binary, or something like that? Fire for hair and lots of angst? I want to say Rouge stole her powers at some point? Never made an impression, never did anything for me; a somewhat obvious Wonder Woman knock-off with a ludicrous soap-opera past that I could never get a handle on, if I remember right? I just . . meh. Mehhhhhhh.”

"Old" Carol Danvers
But, unsatisfied, I refused to give up the search. I knew there had to be something in there, something that I was missing. A couple dozen fly-bys later and I’d finally noticed a tiny, mysterious, nearly-imperceptible nagging itch in the deepest recesses of my brainpan that’d probably been trying to get my attention for some time. Something substantially more intimate than mere hype was telling me that there was more here than I’d previously assumed, and so, with new eyes and a fresh lungful, I decided to give it another go. After all, there was a new Captain Marvel #1 out, and if you’re not at least somewhat curious about new #1’s when they drop, then . . you know . . [insert marginally clever zinger here].

So, obscenely-long-story-slightly-less-obscenely-long, as it turns out, Pretty Deadly (as phenomenal and mesmerizing as it continues to be), isn’t nearly as strong a testament to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s abilities to deftly pluck ones heartstrings as Captain Marvel is. Who knew? Not giving two cares in the world about the character going in, and carrying a raging backache’s worth of doubts, I came out only a single issue later having laughed, and smiled, and sharply intaken (intaken? . . you know what, I’m going with it) breath, and by the last page I was having to hold the book at an awkward angle out in front of me so as to avoid the stream of suddenly-welled-up tears from falling on the pages.

In 20-some-odd short pages, she’d completely flipped my perception of Carol Danvers on its head in the most unlikely and dramatic of ways, and knocked me square in the gut to boot. In the handful of minutes that it took to read, the character of Captain Marvel went from being a half-remembered scoff and a joke, to being a vibrant, fleshed-out, sympathetic, damn-near-real person, whose well-being and upcoming adventures I suddenly found myself caring deeply about. That’s one seriously impressive magic trick. That’s why people read comics. Strike that . . that’s why people produce and consume art of any sort, full stop. It’s no mean feat, crafting a renaissance of that sort. It’s not something you encounter every day, and as such it’s worthy of your attention.  Take note, and savor such experiences when you find yourself in their midst, I beg you, because that, my friends, is The Turnabout.  And it is glorious.

So keep a look out, one and all. Affix mind’s-eyes to the back of your skull, try to think in 360° panorama if and whenever possible, and don’t you dare allow yourself to fall prey to dogmatic nay-saying and the bits of your brain that derive comfort from cynicism and doubt and derision. All too often, preconceptions are poison. Don’t let “Feh” make you miss out on some of the sweetest ambrosia that life has to offer just because you “had it That One Time at That One Place and it wasn’t all that great.” Clint Barton and Kate Bishop and Pizza Dog helped teach me that, Moon Knight (of all people, fictional or otherwise) is helping to teach me that, and Carol Freaking Danvers (again, who knew?) is teaching me that, via the miraculous, bountiful imaginations and pens of the Fractions and DeConnicks and Warren Ellis’ of the world, and, as I said before and will enthusiastically say again now, for that lesson I will be forever grateful, because if there’s anything better than finding joy in reading a great comic, it’s finding joy in reading a great comic that you were 100% sure was going to be absolutely terrible.

By Tony C. Asaro
Freelance Philosopher
Sacramento, CA 

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