Under the Radar: A Second Look at “Avengers Solo”

With so many comics shipped every month, it’s not a surprise that some get lost in the shuffle. Thanks to the New 52 publicity wave, even DC’s lowest-selling titles are being discussed and debated. Much of the attention directed at Marvel, however, has been toward upcoming events or mid-selling ongoings threatened by cancellation. It’s with that in mind that we’re taking a second look at Avengers Solo.

A Hawkeye book with a potentially more marketable name, Avengers Solo is one of a healthy number of titles positioning Clint Barton in a featured role right in time for Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of the archer in this summer’s Avengers movie (including the recently announced Captain America and Hawkeye series). While the central conspiracy of Avengers Solo involves a certain super soldier, don’t expect the sort of team-up antics of Jim McCann and David Lopez’s 2010 Hawkeye & Mockingbird series. In fact, Bobbi Morse barely gets mentioned in the first three issues, as we see Clint skirting flirtatiousness with a number of tough female characters.

The book is written by Jen Van Meter, the woman behind the excellent 2010 Black Cat miniseries with artist Javier Pulido (as well as her own Eisner-nominated Oni Press series Hopeless Savages). Van Meter’s approach to the book is to throw the reader right into the conflict with little reliance on complicated continuity, making this five-issue series ideal for fans turned off by overly interconnected Avengers outings.
The classic Clint Barton attitude is on full display here, as the independent hero walks a fine line between respecting his fellow Avengers and going behind their backs to investigate a conspiracy in which they may play a role. There are moments in the first three issues that recall Hawkeye history as far back as his origin without miring the book in back-story.

This classic-yet-contemporary feel is complimented by the art of Roger Robinson, a comic veteran whose recent work includes the short-lived 2009 DC series The Web. Here his work looks somewhere between Howard Chaykin and Thunderbolts artist Declan Shalvey, with a very heavy use of halftones and other bold texture choices.

Robinson swaps out for issue #3 with Al Barrionuevo, an artist who has had sporadic recent work with Marvel, as well as an early fill-in on DC’s new Stormwatch title. Here Barrionuevo’s work takes on a very Bryan Hitch-ish quality that, while a decent departure from Robinson, fits the tone of the book just as well (although Hawkeye’s extended mask occasionally looks one palette-swap away from Wolverine’s).

While the primary story stands on its own, the appeal of the book is heavily bolstered by the inclusion of Jim McCann and Clayton Henry’s Avengers Academy back-up feature. The story addresses the Academy’s recent West Coast relocation with a nostalgia-baiting villain that makes perfect sense for the team, and the conflict is so fun and relevant that it feels almost criminal that Avengers Academy fans might be missing out on it.

Readers have had few opportunities to see other creators tackle Christos Gage’s troubled teens, and former Hawkeye scribe McCann does not drop the ball, providing recognizable, lively, and entertaining voices to the cast. With the main title expanding to include a much larger set of characters, it’s a welcome break to have the focus narrowed here to Hank Pym, Tigra, Stiker, and Finesse. Henry handles them all with ease, providing some of the crispest super hero art around. Avengers Academy has had a consistently talented rotating team of artists, and this former Spider-Girl artist would make a great fit should the need arise.

While it might not tie in to any mounting events or retcons, Avengers Solo is definitely worth a second look for fans of classic Hawkeye action, hearty self-contained stories, and bombastic back-ups. The first three issues are in stores now, with a cover price of $3.99 for 25 pages of story. Issue #4 releases January 25th, followed by issue #5 on February 22nd and the TPB in March.

For more on the series, check out MTV Geek’s interview with writer Jen Van Meter.

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