The Simple Brilliance of David Aja

As usual, I am late to the party: Fraction/Aja’s run on Hawkeye is one of the best things Marvel has done in the past few years.  I had already owned a few issues that I quite like, but sometime between the weekend Matty Frac-fracs was matching donations from his Welovefine shop to Futures Without Violence (wherein I purchased a sweet Hawkguy messenger bag) and a sale Comixology had on Hawkeye issues, I finally partook of the series as a whole.

And holy sweet shit Aja is brilliant.  I had read Fraction doting on the guy, and obviously I read #11 and knew that anybody who could throw together that issue was special, but my goodness he’s clever.  There are just too many examples, too many small things to focus on, so let me just take you through a few pages in Hawkeye #6.

Here’s page 9, not counting the cover and the credits:

This is as close to a perfect comic page as you are going to see: writer, artist, and colorist, all firing on all cylinders.  I mean, we’re talking about a page covered in the word “bro,” where Clint gets called “Hulk-Guy” but dismisses it with a sentence containing the term “joyous-ass Kwanzaa.”  Delightful.  Not to mention Hollingsworth, who is always solid, making that panel where the arrow hits the bat just purple enough so that you know what’s up.  Ugh, so good.

But Aja is on another level here.  Literally.  Because what do you think this page is about?  The arrow hitting the bat?  Nah.  The punk girl coming out and letting him know about the bros?  Nope.  This page is about Clint seeing what’s downstairs.  That’s it.  It’s not about him being a hero (at least not directly, not yet), it’s not about nobody knowing how to say “Hawkeye,” and it’s not about him being ready to pew-pew some bros: it’s about seeing the bros, and then acting accordingly by going downstairs.  

It’s a page about… well, about downstairs.  And what does Aja do?  He gives you that fifth and, especially, that sixth panel.  That glorious fucking comics move where an artist uses a gutter to divide time but not space.  Specifically because he does that, we get the exaggerated effect of really feeling like Clint and Co. are running to the side of that building and then looking over: it gives the reader a little bit of extra vertigo, and it completely determines how you ought to read this page.  As the sixth panel descends to ground level, we get the seventh panel of the bro shouting “HEY, BROOOO.”  And then, as the sixth panel cuts off before the ground, the eight panel puts us at ground level, looking at the bros, just before Clint’s arrival and the extra dose of juxtaposed silhouetted genius.

Do you know how boring this page could have been?  That sixth panel giving all that gravity to the page is a very specific and effective artistic choice, one that 9/10 artists don’t make, even if a couple of them make pretty good choices.  Aja does this constantly: he takes something simple and he makes it wonderful in a way that only comics could make something wonderful.  Here’s the page immediately after:


Okay, what is this page about?  A confrontation?  That happened last page.  An ass-beating?  That happens on the next page.

This is a page of a story that is about people getting out of fucking vans.  That’s it!!!  Imagine reading something akin to this page in a textual narrative: “Two vans pulled up.  The doors opened.  A bunch of reinforcement bros got out of the vans and charged at Clint, bats at the ready.”  Who the fuck cares.  Sure, it builds supsense: obviously setting up a bunch of people about to kick the shit out of someone and then ending it before the beatdown will build suspense.  But that doesn’t really make a bunch of dudes getting out of a van interesting.

But Aja does.  Aja actually makes a page about men climbing out of a fucking vehicle interesting.  How?  Symmetry, bro.  Mirroring, bro.  Clint comes out, across from the bros.  Next beat, we see him talking with a bro, juxtaposed next to the bro.  So we get distance, and then closeness.  Then we see the vans pull up across from each other (distance), then we see that mirrored, flipped around (closeness) yet still divided by white space in order to give Clint’s words prominence (which creates distance), and then end the page by seeing the bros close the distance between them and Clint.

The best part of this symmetrical mirroring juxtaposition stuff that Aja’s got going on here?  Clint is in the center of the page the entire time.  The page is about dude’s getting out of vans, but obviously we ought to be considering the fact that the object of their vodka-fueled ass-kickery is one Clint Barton.  The only time he’s not right in the middle of the page is when his words are the only thing in the middle of the page, which allows for an extra beat of suspense.

It would be one thing if Aja only turned in these two pages, but the dude is consistently making simple actions and interactions seem like magic on the page.  I just hope that every writer, like Fraction, recognizes how special this guy is and hands him Marvel-style scripts.  AJA IS BETTER THAN YOU, WRITERS.  HE IS BETTER THAN YOU.