Like just about everyone who reads Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye, I’d been looking forward to issue #11 (also known now as “The Pizza Dog Issue”) ever since it was announced. Hawkeye has already been a book at the top of most people’s lists, and the concept of an entire issue from the dog’s point of view was nothing less than intriguing. Pizza Dog has been a fan favorite and a personal favorite ever since Clint rescued him in issue one, and I was curious as to how Fraction and Aja would pull off an issue where the narrator cannot hold an actual conversation with any of the other characters.
The answer, of course, is flawlessly. Hawkeye #11 takes the idea of a dog’s sense of smell as its primary sensory input and runs with it, and we as readers get to experience the world through Pizza Dog’s nose. Each character, including ones we’ve yet to meet who live in Clint’s building, are identified by Pizza Dog’s sense of smell. Sometimes Clint smells of coffee and beer, Kate of perfume, an older lady in the building of tea. But that’s not to say that the dialogue in this issue isn’t important, we as readers just only understand what Lucky the Pizza Dog understands. Words like “good boy” and “come” and “bro” (of course) are what we pick up, bits of speech that would be familiar to a dog. The whole issue is a great concept that never comes off as a gimmick, and it’s yet another example of this book in particular taking regular comic conventions and pushing them as far as they’ll go. The attention to small detail kind of blows my mind here as well. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the very fact that the issue is in shades of blue and yellow (the color spectrum that dogs can see) absolutely amazes me.
A book like Hawkeye #11 (which I can already say will be one of, if not my top issue of 2013) also piques my interest as a book that pushes the boundaries of what comic books can be. That isn’t to say that I’m not a fan of the traditional book. I am, obviously, and a good splash page will get my attention any day. But lately, I’ve noticed more and more books taking creative risks in the same way that Fraction and Aja are with Hawkeye. Maybe it’s just the books I’ve personally been reading, but the most recent run of Young Avengers tends to play with layout in the same way, with clearly defined panels, but the characters set outside of them, or with action splash pages that outline the action instead of showing it panel by panel.
Jamie McKelvie’s layouts in Young Avengers have been a breath of fresh air recently, and not to diminish anyone else’s work, but they’ve made me stop and take second and third looks at the book. It’s books like Young Avengers and Hawkeye that make me wonder just how far comics can go, and if this sort of unconventional approach to comics is going to become more and more mainstream. Personally, I hope this is the way things are going, that we’ll get more and more comics that look at their subject matter from different angles, forcing us as readers to pay more attention and giving the creators more room to play around with the format. When last year’s Batman #5 found Batman trapped in the Court of Owls’s labyrinth, the page layouts rotated to mimic Bruce’s disorientation. It was a choice on Capullo and Glapion’s part (or perhaps Scott Snyder’s) that added that much more to the story, and conveyed Bruce’s state of mind much more than a traditional layout ever could. I’m more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan, but this one creative choice cemented Batman #5 as one of my favorite issues since the New 52 launch. Snyder’s writing on this title has been brilliant all on its own, but the choice of making the reader actively have to rotate the book to follow the action complements it in the best way possible. It’s this kind of stuff that reminds me a bit of Watchmen, which is still remembered as a groundbreaking piece of work, a deconstructed superhero story that also managed to push the genre with its bits of prose interspersed throughout.
I hope the fact that these unconventional choices are being made by creators, accepted by mainstream publishers and embraced by the general public will mean even more of these types of issues are produced. Books like Hawkeye are really a testament to just how far comic books can go, and I can’t wait to see what these guys come up with next.