Avengers: A.X.E. Grudge Match
Writer Mark Russell pits Hawkeye: Clint Barton against his greatest foe in a philosophical showdown that cuts to the core of the Marvel mega event!
In AVENGERS (2018) #60–on shelves in comic shops from writer Mark Russell and artist Greg Land—Earth’s Mightiest Marksman, the erstwhile Hawkeye: Clint Barton, faces off in final combat with a foe he never expected: a New York City mailbox.
“The premise of the issue is Clint’s life being evaluated against a mailbox,” explains Russell. “He has to prove that he brings at least as much meaning and joy to the world as this random mailbox that’s outside the window when he’s having a conversation with a Celestial.
“It’s not until he really thinks about what it is he does on a daily basis that he realizes this is actually stiff competition. The mailbox is very useful! It does a lot of good for a lot of people.”
We spoke with the scribe for this unique AVENGERS outing about pulling the story together and a number of other topics both deep and surface level.
How did the deal for you to write AVENGERS during the JUDGMENT DAY crossover come together?
MARK RUSSELL: I was approached for it. [JUDGMENT DAY writer] Kieron [Gillen] had thought of me as somebody whom he wanted to contribute to this crossover, which was amazing for me, because he’s someone whose writing I’ve always loved. I read everything he does, I think he’s stellar. I knew I had to bring my A-game.
Where did the idea to use Hawkeye as the lead character in your story come from? He’s not currently an Avenger, but it all fits nicely.
MARK RUSSELL: Tonally he felt right for the kind of story I wanted to tell, which was about a guy who just didn’t want to hear it, who didn’t feel [the Celestials] had any right to judge him, who was not taking his judgment very seriously. Of all the characters I could use, Clint I could picture the most in my head saying the things that I would want to say to the Celestials.
I also liked the idea of taking arguably the least powerful Avenger and putting him in a position to justify his existence. I thought Hawkeye having to do it was a little meatier than, say, Thor having to do it.
Building off that, this is a story about the Celestials judging humanity via Hawkeye specifically—what kind of larger themes does that allow you to explore?
MARK RUSSELL: I wanted to explore somebody for maybe the first time considering the ethical implications of what they’re doing. A lot of what you do when you’re a hero is circumspect. What you do does as much bad for somebody as it does good for someone else. It really forces Clint to think in a way that he hasn’t before about what he does as a hero. In the end, even though much of the story is told through his internal monologue, I think it allows him to grow as a character.
On the surface, “Hawkeye vs. a mailbox” sounds kind of silly, but in reality it’s an opportunity for some pretty deep introspection.
MARK RUSSELL: I think that’s one of the reasons I gravitated towards Hawkeye as a character. In this almost insulting competition between him and an inanimate object to see who has a more valid existence, he seemed like somebody who would realize he’s actually in trouble.
Why involve Black Widow in this issue? What does she mean to Clint in the context of this story?
MARK RUSSELL: Black Widow is somebody he really respects. The Celestials thought he’d take it seriously if they approached him and said he was being judged coming from her.
Why I chose as a writer to use Black Widow is that I’ve always liked her dynamic with Hawkeye. I really like their banter. I like the witty back-and-forth dialogue from the characters and I wanted to write that. It was meaningful for me to use her both as a writer and as a character who makes sense in the story. He’ll listen to her.
There’s a great action sequence in this issue involving Crossfire, but the bulk of the story is discourse, people talking. What do you feel is your wheelhouse? Do you prefer the quiet moments or the loud?
MARK RUSSELL: I don’t like to do a lot of big action, it feels kind of phony or performative to me, like “insert action scene here.” I liked doing it here though, because of the juxtaposition, because Clint’s mind is elsewhere, thinking about ethics and his value to the world against that mailbox, but he’s also having to stop Crossfire from carrying out an assassination, proving to himself he’s worthwhile and doing good in the process. I like that juxtaposition of him engaging the action scene while thinking about ethics on the inside. He’s also expressing his thoughts out loud, which is really confusing to Crossfire. “Let’s see a mailbox do this!” I like the idea of mixing philosophical discourse with unphilosophical violence.
What are the unique challenges of doing a story like this that ties into an event such as A.X.E.: JUDGMENT DAY? What separates this from, say, a self-contained limited series?
MARK RUSSELL: It’s entirely different, you’re not able to just do carte blanche what you want to do. You have to be respectful of the premise that has been laid out for you. But that’s also exciting! I’m not just responsible for thinking of something out of the blue. I have to work within these guidelines, these parameters that have been given to me. Sometimes that sort of prompt forces you out of your artistic comfort zone, it forces you to come up with a story you normally wouldn’t come up with.
I think this story reads the way it does because it’s not something I would write if I were doing my own series. It’s something that was coaxed out of me by this great premise that Kieron came up with.
On that note, how closely were you able to work with Kieron and the editorial team guiding JUDGMENT DAY in the process of putting together this issue?
MARK RUSSELL: I didn’t get to work too closely with Kieron, unfortunately, because he’s the conductor, he’s the mastermind and is busy. I worked very closely though with my editor, Tom Brevoort, to make sure this is going to fit. We all knew it was going to be a bit idiosyncratic, as it always is when I try to do one of these tie-ins, but he seemed happy with it. We wanted to make sure I was doing justice to the premise and also that it was just a fun comic to read.
How was it working with Greg Land? He’s a pretty well-established artist on traditional Super Heroes, again, doing something totally different here.
MARK RUSSELL: He did great. He really captured the nuances of Hawkeye and him not entirely being on board with being judged, he doesn’t take this entirely seriously. I think my favorite part of his work though is the fight scene, because of the facial expressions and the way the action works, as an action scene but also as Clint is having a philosophical brainstorm at the same time–the art works equally well for both.
What would your final pitch to anybody sitting on the fence in regards to picking up AVENGERS #60 be?
MARK RUSSELL: It’s Hawkeye versus a mailbox—the matchup everyone has been waiting for! I’m really glad I got the chance to do this and hope people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
See if Hawkeye can win out against this mailbox, plus much more terrific A.X.E.: JUDGMENT DAY action in AVENGERS #60 by Mark Russell and Greg Land, out in comic shops now!
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