To start with, I promise that I am reviewing yet another decades-old comic book for kitsch value, but because I find it an important cultural landmark that presents important issues.
First off, a little bit about Avengers Spotlight. Avengers Spotlight, which was launched as Solo Avengers before being renamed halfway through its run, was a comic book that ran for four years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, lasting for 40 issues. The original premise of the book was that it would feature one story about Hawkeye, the archery themed Avenger, and a second story about a second member of the Avengers. To some comic book readers, reading a short story about Hawkeye, followed by an inventory story about Doctor Druid or Tigra would be a lot of fun. But in the competitive comic book world of the late 1980s, where you had angsty X-Men and the murderous vigilante The Punisher, the wisecracking Hawkeye defeating themed villains with trick arrows just didn't have a niche.
This brings us to Avengers Spotlight #30, which was written by Steve Gerber with art by Al Milgrom and Don Heck-- a respectable if not spectacular Avengers creative team. This "Book-Length Thriller" did away with the two stories concept, instead focusing on one story about Hawkeye. Hawkeye and his wife Mockingbird are walking home from a movie: the movie, indeed, being a thinly veiled reference to the then popular Batman movie. Hawkeye, indeed, comments on the rise of violent, amoral heroes. While he is in the middle of this discussion, coming back from the movie theater, a driveby shooting opens up at the crowd, and Hawkeye find themselves in the middle of a group of dead and dying people. This all happens in the first few pages, which seems quite sudden, but as mentioned, this story has some aspects of being a Batman reference, so it makes more sense. Hawkeye and Mockingbird quickly switch into costume and take off on Hawkeye's skycycle, and track down the assailants. They do so, taking out the criminals with an incendiary arrow. But Hawkeye is angry, and goes out to find some information, roughing up gang members in an attempt to find their hideout. When he does so, he is ambushed and shot by the gang. He miraculously recuperates, but now has a mission: to deal with LA's street gang problem. He replaces his new, bullet-vulnerable and festive archer costume, and goes to clean up the streets. The comic ends with Hawkeye bursting into a gang house and capturing the protagonists...with a net arrow.
So for those of you not familiar with the super hero genre, that might all sound like...a standard comic book. And it is. It is somewhat odd that Hawkeye decides to embark on being a hardened crime fighter after already being a super hero for many years. And the comic book even seems to acknowledge this, as Hawkeye exclaims:
"The Avengers have saved the world more times than I can count...but four punks in a Chevy took us by surprise!"
The problem with this story is that both in style
, it fails to bridge the gap between being a standard super hero story and a grim and gritty
90s comic. Hawkeye is at one point ambushed by dozens of people who fire what must be over a hundred bullets at him, and while he is wounded, none of those bullets hit his head. Due to the Comics Code
, there is no blood. To its credit, the story does not depict LA's street gangs as being predominantly black or Hispanic, instead opting for the typical 1980s gang arrangement
of vaguely punk rock
gangs. While this cultural sensitivity is on balance, a good thing, the story manages to skip over the real problems that led to gang membership. And in addition, the gang is apparently led by...a rich Asian woman in a sexy bustier
and fishnet stockings
, who is controlling her scruffy gang of street punks from an opulent office full of abstract sculpture
. Our hero, Hawkeye, tracks down the gang by assaulting and threatening gang members, at one point tying one his Skycycle
and threatening to drop him. Which might make sense from the grim and gritty angle, but is bad practice for an Avenger. Avengers don't kill, as Hawkeye himself repeatedly said
, and torturing or threatening is against the moral framework of The Avengers. And then we get to that Skycycle. And that Net Arrow. And the fact that Hawkeye forgets to bring along his android buddy who can turn intangible to a gun ambush. The story can't seem to decide whether it wants to be a super-hero comic or a violent vigilante story.
This is, also, a problem with the art. Al Milgrom and Don Heck are both cornerstones of the art style of The Avengers, but the problem with the art is that while it would be awesome in a story involving a cosmic or high tech storyline, it looks out of place trying to demonstrate the poverty-stricken underbelly of Los Angeles. I don't object to sexy supervillainess with sexy, impractical outfits, but as long as you got that far, give them a sword made out of a rainbow, don't make them the leader of a street gang.
My summary of this issue is that it was an attempt to switch a fun superhero comic to being more edgy and realistic, and it fell between the two points and failed.
And in general, if an artist (or a society), wishes to go for dark and edgy things, they can't hedge their bets. If you want a realistic depiction of gun violence, you can't have someone hit by hundreds of bullets without drawing blood. If you want to show your hero is so full of rage that he is abandoning his ethics, you can't have him resort to non-lethal means at the last moment. People should know that going down a road has consequences, and Avengers Spotlight #30 fails to acknowledge that.