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Comics Watch: How Hawkeye Can Atone for His 'Endgame' Sins

Hawkeye Freefall - Publicity - H 2019
Marvel Entertainment/Kim Jacinto
The new comic 'Freefall' provides clues for Jeremy Renner's Disney+ series.

Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big (and small) screen.

For Marvel Comics, the new year is starting off right on target. This week sees the release of Hawkeye: Freefall No. 1 by Matthew Rosenberg and artist Otto Schmidt. The five-issue miniseries finds everyone’s favorite archer, and go-to punching bag, caught in a feud with demonically powered crime boss The Hood. And if that wasn’t enough of a headache, there’s someone running around in his old Ronin costume, brutally murdering government agents. Clint Barton, teamed with Winter Soldier and Falcon, who are already weary of his behavior, is forced to confront his legacy and the consequences of his actions that have left him caught in a revolving door of superhero versus supervillain antics.

While Hawkeye has long been a fan-favorite character, it was Matt Fraction and David Aja’s 2012 Hawkeye solo series that really launched the character into the modern age and increased his fandom. That series was notable for not only pairing Barton with protégé Kate Bishop, who also took the name Hawkeye, but approaching the superhero as just a dude in New York. The approach grounded the character, highlighted his flaws and sarcasm through internal monologues, and broke a number of the rules regarding the Avenger in a way not so dissimilar in its effect on the status quo of the character as Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil in the '80s. Rosenberg and Schmidt’s miniseries follows through with this interpretation of the character, with a Hawkeye who’s just a guy, and perhaps the least respected member of the Avengers. The book is more dialogue heavy than Fraction’s run, but filled with the same kind of energy and snap humor that makes for a gratifying reading experience. And Schmidt, who is known for drawing comics’ other most famous archer, Green Arrow, brings his highly animated artistic sensibilities to the book, providing kinetic action sequences and highly emotive characterizations.

What’s most interesting about this opening salvo of Freefall is how it deals with Hawkeye’s accountability, something infrequently addressed in superhero books. Hawkeye’s bust of The Hood’s operation ends with The Hood being let off by the corrupt Mayor Fisk, and his lackeys, poor crooks hoping to make it big so they can feed their families, getting sentenced to jail. “Sometimes it seems like this system was built to punish people for being poor.” As a former criminal left orphaned and impoverished as a child, Barton’s perspective is an interesting one. And his place in the world of superheroes is made all the more interesting through his conversation with The Hood, who reminds him that superheroes of his scale aren’t elected officials. They aren’t accountable, but merely people who operate outside of the rules of society because they choose to.” The emergence of a new Ronin, whose methods don’t fit any of those who have worn the costume before like Echo, Red Guardian or Blade, further drive home The Hood’s point to the thin line between street-level heroes and street-level villains, whose efforts only contribute to the social cycle already in place.

When reading Freefall, or any of Marvel’s contemporary Hawkeye stories, it’s easy to see a clear difference between the comic book character and Renner’s take on the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While some filmmakers, like Joss Whedon, have attempted to bring some of Barton’s sarcasm to the character in the films, they still feel very different. And the difference between the two Hawkeye’s is made all the more apparent by the fact that the Marvel Studios version has a wife and kid, while the comic book version struggles to maintain relationships. Still, it will likely be Fraction’s run that most influences the upcoming Disney+ Hawkeye series starring Renner, with Hailee Steinfeld being approached for the role of Kate Bishop. The series is currently set to premiere in late 2021, though with the release date for WandaVision moving from 2021 to 2020, it’s possible that we see it sooner. The series is said to focus on Barton passing the mantle on to Bishop, and training her to be part of the next generation of heroes. While that may suggest Bishop’s character will take the lead, there’s some unfinished business with Barton’s character.

Given how closely intertwined Marvel Studios and Marvel Comics have become in terms of drawing inspiration from each other, their bond will likely grow even tighter given Kevin Feige’s new role as Marvel’s chief creative officer. Freefall comes right ahead of next month’s five-issue Falcon and Winter Soldier series. These miniseries, which will undoubtedly precede a new Scarlet Witch and Vision mini, can certainly be looked at as serving the dual purpose of expanding Marvel’s current publication output and priming readers for the upcoming Disney+ series. The reemergence of Ronin in the comics has me thinking about the character’s role in the series. Hawkeye may have put the mantle of Ronin behind him, but that doesn’t mean it’s done with him.

Avengers: Endgame (2019) introduced us to a broken Clint Barton, one who traveled the world for five years, brutally murdering crime bosses as he went. It was a dark turn for a character whose lethal methods were only previously utilized on aliens and AI like the Chitauri and Ultron drones. Barton was given a chance to redeem himself by Natasha and see his family again, but now he has red on his ledger, just as she once did. It would seem like a cheat for Barton to not have to face the consequences of his actions in his solo series. While there is undoubtedly a strong desire to see Barton imbued with more of the humor of his recent solo books, and bond with Kate Bishop and Pizza Dog, as “Hawkguy,” there is also a narrative and thematic need for his vengeful war to be addressed.

How can he train the next generation when he crossed the line an Avenger never should? While Freefall has yet to reveal who is behind the new Ronin mask, the idea of someone taking the broken fragments of Barton’s legacy and using them to wage their own bloody war, is such a weighty and interesting concept that it feels like something any series involving Barton needs to tackle. There’s a lot of potential for both Hawkeye as a character and Renner as an actor to explore the multifaceted nature of a character who has never really gotten his due in the movies, but the most interesting path to explore may be to have Hawkeye physically and mentally battle Ronin, and emerge as the fully formed Hawkeye fans have been waiting to see onscreen.

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