Marvel wanted to time the release of this series with the new Disney + series Hawkeye, and if we assess a comic solely on the premise that its purpose is to bring in new comics readers and capitalize on the popularity of that character, then this series gets an A+. Based on the costume alone–which is the much-needed redesign Kate Bishop fans have been waiting for — it’s clear that this comic is intended for people who watch the TV show and have no background knowledge of Kate Bishop. Unfortunately, the comic itself is difficult to read on a technical level to the point that it could extremely hinder those potential new readers’ ability to get into comics.
Hawkeye: Kate Bishop #1
Marieke Nijkamp (Writer), Enid Balam (Penciler), Oren Junior (Inker), Brittany Peer (Color Artist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letterer)
November 24, 2021
Nijkamp’s narrative task, in my view, was quite daunting. With one five-issue limited series, they had to reconcile the old Kate(s) with the new Kate, and bring Kate back to New York to presumably rejoin and reform the Young Avengers. We learn that Kate is in touch with America, Cassie, and Jessica Jones (which is a callback to the first Heinberg/Cheung run of Young Avengers). I give Nijkamp credit for picking up dropped continuity points. Kate Bishop’s sister, Susan, is another dropped continuity point. Kate is at Susan’s wedding in the first issue of Young Avengers, and was given a page of screen time in the Young Avengers Special #1 in 2005, and was never seen again. Unfortunately, the reintroduction is so poorly handled it feels fake, especially since Kate spent a lot of time in both Kelly Thompson series (Hawkeye and West Coast Avengers) dealing with her parents, and there was no mention of Susan.
Nijkamp seems to have picked through all the Kate Bishop canon to try to come up with a cohesive Kate Bishop, but the end result lacks cohesion, and that’s partly because of the text-heavy nature of this comic. Nijkamp is a young adult writer, and the heavy use of inner monologue, dialogue, and text messages makes sense in a medium that cannot rely on visuals to communicate ideas. But there is only one panel in the entire comic that does not feature text in some way. I went back and counted. If it’s not dialogue, then it’s inner monologue, or text messaging, or sound effects, or text on the screen. Every. Single. Panel. Except one. I want to ask letterer Joe Caramagna if he’s okay.
The heavy text emphasis is not just technically difficult to parse, but distracting and unnecessary to the point of feeling out of character. Kate banters with bad guys, quipping her way through fight scenes like Peter Parker. Her constant inner monologue feels more like the fourth wall breaking rather than her actual thoughts, which reminded me of the one issue of Gwenpool I read (and didn’t like). She is constantly texting with Cassie and America, and the effect of that, on top of the reintroduced continuity and overwhelming amount of text, is a comic that reads like how I feel when I forget to take my Ritalin. I have been reading comics for a long time, and I’m familiar with the characters and the canon of this series, and even I had a difficult time following the story and what was happening. If I imagine this as the first comic someone reads, I would not fault that person for walking away from reading comics immediately thereafter. That’s a problem that the creative team and editorial should have a serious conversation about.
Aside from the technical problems with the book, the characterization is also difficult to follow. Kate Bishop has been my favorite character since she debuted in 2005, and I’ve been reading her comics, in real-time, for the past 15 years. This internally manic and outwardly dramatic characterization of Kate Bishop is far from where we started. I loved that her origin was as a person, without powers, who joined in the fight with superpowered heroes because she felt she had to. She was a talented archer who had stepped up to the role of Hawkeye because Clint was dead. She was never his apprentice or his partner. She never had to grow into the role of Hawkeye because she’d claimed it over Clint’s dead body, literally. In the iconic David Aja/Matt Fraction/Annie Wu Hawkeye run, Kate was the opposite of Clint in every way. She was serious when Clint was goofy. She grew up rich when Clint grew up poor. She had her shit together. When Lucky left with Kate instead of staying with Clint there was a collective understanding of why that was the right call.
While I hate to call out a single person as being responsible for a change in characterization that has taken us to where we are now, it’s in Kelly Thompson’s handling of the character that you can trace the journey from serious, mature, grounded superhero calling out Clint’s immaturity turned into….well, Hailee Steinfeld in Edge of Seventeen. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Hailee Steinfeld, but based on the clips and promos for the Hawkeye Disney+ series, the character she’s playing is Kate Bishop in name only. And while I might be disappointed in the show, I expected to be able to go to comics to find the Kate Bishop I love. I wanted to like this series, but Hawkeye: Kate Bishop feels like a money grab, and it shows.