After reading this issue, it's hard not to feel like Lemire rushed the ending of this arc. However, it's also hard to identify any way that rushing actually hurt it. Both stories -- past and future -- wrap up logically and unexpectedly at the same time.
In the past, a curious Clint plays in the Swordsman's trailer, discovering a trunk full of guns and nude photos of his underage girlfriend. When Barney returns from the job that he pulled with the Swordsman and the girl, Clint demands that they leave. Lemire does a brilliant job here of writing Clint as a little boy, showing how he's dealing with emotions and feelings that he's incapable of articulating or really understanding. The confrontation with the Swordsman is equally brilliant, as Jacques tells Clint that he's not perfect but he's also not the enemy. He assures Clint that he won't hit him like his father and foster father did, because Clint doesn't deserve it. But, he can teach him a lot if he'll let him. Again, Lemire scripts and plots this interaction beautifully. Clint may surrender part of his innocence in becoming a thief under Jacques' tutelage, but he also regains some of it by finding the father figure that he's been lacking. The Swordsman is equally complicated, showing real affection and compassion for Clint even as he prepares to lead him into a life of crime. Lemire really embraces these paradoxes, highlighting a complicated morality that comic books rarely embrace. (It's usually "good guy smash bad guy.") In fact, this entire tour through Clint's childhood really has become the definitive take on that period of his life.
That said, the present is also a great story, even if it's a little more muddled. After the kids kill the HYDRA agents, Clint tells Katie that she can't keep claiming that they don't know what they're doing. He dismisses them as "things" and "weapons," and, when another wave of HYDRA agents arrive, he refuses to help her protect the kids. After HYDRA takes them, he tells Katie that being Hawkeye means making hard decisions and she tells him that everything would be different if he actually made hard decisions. Burn! In the future, Kate arrives at "old man Barton's" door to tell them that they were wrong about the kids and need to rescue them. Intriguing! Initially, I was skeptical that Clint would give up so easily on the kids. But, honestly? It actually feels right. In a way, Lemire is implying that Clint has been through so much lately that he really can't take on board some weird kids with the ability (and apparent inclination) to commit mass murder. That said, Katie also isn't wrong in implying that Clint isn't exactly making the "hard" decision that he thinks that he is here.
Taken together, these two stories really put us on solid footing in Hawkeyeland. Given the delays and narrative failings of the preceding series (even if I'm the only one that felt that it had said failings), it was unclear where Hawkeye was. He had launched and won his war on the bros, but it was hard to tell what that victory meant. In fact, for the amount of energy and time that he put into it, it's hard to see it really resulting in any identifiably good outcome. He kept a building, but lost the money that he could've used to move everyone in said building to a nicer one. It was a Pyrrhic victory at best. Now, Lemire has shifted his focus to the sort of work that a superhero -- even a conflicted one -- should be doing. It's not just Clint getting too involved in petty feuds anymore. With the past and present settled, it's definitely time to take a look at the future!
**** (four of five stars)