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[This story contains spoilers for Hawkeye episodes one and two.]
Hawkeye has always made for something of a hard target in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From his brief introduction in Thor (2011), to his recent stab at redemption as Ronin in Avengers: Endgame (2019), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) has always been the most underexplored of the original Avengers. Chalk it up to Avengers filmmaker Joss Whedon’s decision to keep him brainwashed for the majority of The Avengers (2012), a nod to his comic counterpart’s villainous origin, or the fact that a guy who shoots arrows is always going to have a more difficult time standing out amidst monsters, gods and super-soldiers, Hawkeye has never been anyone’s favorite Avenger.
Despite the character’s long comic book history as the onetime leader of the West Coast Avengers, and a former carnie forever trying to live up to Steve Rogers, even if that meant butting heads with him, much of that history never made it to the screen. Renner, who imbued the character with a sense of warmth and weary doggedness against ever-escalating threats, has been given a handful of memorable moments in the MCU, but rarely a chance to sink his teeth into the character in the way his other performances have suggested him capable of. That is, until now.
In head writer Jonathan Igla’s Hawkeye, Clint Barton is not only given the chance to define himself outside of world-ending threats, but also gets to stand in the spotlight, or at least share it, as someone’s favorite Avenger.
The first two episodes of the six-episode, Christmas-set, Disney+ series, introduce Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) into the MCU, and she has the designation of being a Hawkeye fangirl. Yes, there is something inherently silly about the idea of a 22-year-old woman idolizing the Avenger who gives off the biggest dad energy, but silly also bridges the gap to sentimentality as the series’ opening flashback sequence, set during the Battle of New York in 2012, depicts Kate losing her father and being saved from the Chitauri by Hawkeye within minutes. In the present, Kate is dealing with her overbearing mother, Eleanor (Vera Farmiga), and her new fiance, Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton), who both play villainous roles in the lives of Clint and Kate in the comics. Simultaneously, Clint is in New York with his kids for the holidays, struggling to keep his promise of giving them the Christmas of their dreams when his actions as Ronin during the five years post-Blip come back to haunt him. What’s apparent from both Clint and Kate’s stories, even before they collide at the end of episode one, is that Hawkeye is shaping up to be a series about parents and mentors and what happens when responsibilities to family conflict with past mistakes and larger ambitions.
Clint’s role as a father and husband came as a shock when it was revealed in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). The decision proved to be somewhat controversial, though it still drew from the comics. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates version of Hawkeye, who was a black-ops SHIELD agent working alongside the Avengers, became a much darker character after his wife and kids were killed by his traitorous partner, Black Widow. While Whedon’s Avengers films borrowed from Millar and Hitch’s The Ultimates, Clint’s arc took on a lighter direction, though Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo would later take a stab at depicting a vengeful Clint Barton, while still keeping Natasha as an ally, family friend and path toward redemption. Just as the MCU was cementing Clint’s role as the responsible and stable member of the Avengers, with a life outside the costume in 2015, the Ultimates line was closing shop, and Matt Fraction and David Aja were redefining the character in the pages of his eponymous Marvel comic series.
So for comic readers at the time, there were three wildly different versions of Hawkeye in circulation, a far cry from the attempts at synergy with MCU that define many of Marvel Comics’ current titles, for better or worse. Even if Fraction and Aja’s Eisner-winning Hawkeye was given the go-ahead because of reignited interest due to the movies, the book quickly became the defining depiction of the character, and almost immediately fans longed for a closer analog in the MCU’s take. Fraction, who served as consulting producer on the Disney+ series, and artist Aja handled their Hawkeye comics like a creator-owned title, eschewing crossovers, events and the tropes of superhero books in a grounded character study that saw Barton and the Young Avenger, Kate Bishop, defend Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, from a tracksuit-wearing crime organization with a predilection for calling everyone “bro.” In this book, Hawkeye wasn’t responsible in the least, and the idea of him having kids was too alarming to contemplate. This Clint Barton was a well-meaning himbo with a long history of bad decisions, failed relationships, and a hell of an inferiority complex who was caught in a nebulous mentor/friend/maybe romantically interested but it would be weird kind of thing with Kate. Fraction and Aja’s Clint Barton was a mess in a book that was nothing short of perfection.
The Disney+ series, which visually and narratively borrows primarily from Fraction and Aja’s run, as well as Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez, and Kelly Thomson and Leonardo Romero’s runs, is an attempt to synthesize the Ultimates-inspired MCU Hawkeye with the most beloved and contemporary comic book depiction. The result is a more cynical yet humorous depiction of Barton than the MCU has seen before, and a less responsible and mature version of Kate Bishop than the comics. The buddy dynamic that exists in the comics is still there, but the relationships have changed. Kate is a lost puppy looking for a father figure, and Clint, still feeling the loss of his best friend, Natasha, is struggling to reintegrate himself into a world where his family and civilians see him as a hero, unaware of his past as Ronin.
Like the three previous live-action Marvel Studios series before it, Hawkeye is clearly invested in legacy and passing the torch. The comics sought to explore Clint and Kate’s ability to share and define the terms of their partnership. The series sets itself up to tackle Clint’s ability to come to terms with his legacy as both Hawkeye and Ronin, and whether he can be what his children, Kate, and the world need him to be, as a father, mentor, superhero, and vigilante. As one of the last remaining original Avengers, the boundaries between the four identities become harder to distinguish, we’re left to wonder whether Clint Barton can hit all his marks — and if he even should.
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