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After a short career as a supervillain, Clint Barton, alias Hawkeye the Archer, has been a nearly constant fixture in the Marvel Comics firmament. His first appearance was in the Iron Man strip in Tales of Suspense #57 (1964), which relates how he leaves a successful career as a circus archer for the newly fashionable occupation of superhero. Stumbling across a jewelry heist, he is mistakenly taken by the police to be the gang’s ringleader. Embittered by the experience, he turns to crime, spurred on by the deadly Russian spy, the Black Widow. Following several attacks on Iron Man, he sees the error of his ways when the Black Widow is seriously injured by her communist masters. As luck would have it, the Avengers are advertising for new members, and he is duly welcomed into the team. And so began Hawkeye’s decades-long association with this superteam.
With his troubled background as an orphan (brought into the circus by the treacherous Swordsman), Hawkeye was something of a rough diamond—initially hot-headed, arrogant, and prone to wise-cracking. Inevitably, readers took him to their hearts, and he was one of the Avengers’ most steadfast members for a good ten years. While not physically as imposing as his colleagues, he possessed a perfect aim, and with his seemingly inexhaustible supply of trick arrows (acid spray, power blast, suction, deafener, flare, knock-out gas), he made a valuable contribution to the group. However, throughout the 1960s, the ever-present Black Widow (whom he gradually convinced to defect) was a regular presence in the comic and on his mind. At the end of that decade, in order to rescue his beloved, Hawkeye took a swig of growth serum and became the giant-sized Goliath, a role he kept for the next several years.
The next Hawkeye to hit the comics scene was a villain from an alternate Earth and a member of the Squadron Supreme (Avengers #85), a kind of anti-Avengers based satirically on DC Comics’ Justice League; this Hawkeye later became known as Golden Archer. Despite his own formidable abilities, Clint Barton/Goliath was always vulnerable to a sudden loss of growth serum, and when that finally happened during the renowned Kree-Skrull War (in 1971), he found that his old skills as an archer had not deserted him. Although he was briefly happy as Hawkeye once more, the ensuing decade (and indeed his subsequent superhero career) was a restless one, which saw him leave, rejoin, and leave the team again. During his various absences from the Avengers, Hawkeye joined the Defenders, briefly adopted the Golden Archer’s name to pose as a villain and coax a disillusioned Watergate-era Captain America out of retirement, and rode off into the West with the time-displaced cowboy hero the Two-Gun Kid.
In the late 1970s, following yet another stint with the Avengers, he was rejected by a government-appointed advisor and quit superheroing in disgust, ending up as chief of security at Cross Technologies. This period is later described in Hawkeye’s first solo outing (in a 1983 miniseries written and drawn by Mark Gruenwald), which was followed by starring roles in Solo Avengers and Avengers Spotlight. Inevitably, Cross Technologies turned out to be a front for organized crime, but during the ensuing ruckus Hawkeye fell in love with and married Barbara “Bobbi” Morse, a.k.a. the costumed adventurer Mockingbird. Together, the pair recruited their own team, the West Coast Avengers (featuring Iron Man, Tigra, and Wonder Man), which contributed to making the 1980s probably Hawkeye’s finest hour commercially.
Perhaps reasoning that nothing breeds apathy more than contentment, Marvel then decided to wreck poor old Hawkeye’s life. The West Coast Avengers began to fall apart and his beloved Mockingbird was killed by the evil demon Mephisto (an uneven contest if ever there was one). The rest of the group split off to form the Force Works, while Hawkeye retreated to the wilderness to indulge in some serious brooding. Feeling the need for human company, he drifted back to the Avengers before becoming restless once more and deciding to throw in his lot with Marvel’s newest team, the Thunderbolts. This was one of the surprise hits of the 1990s, and its premise of a group entirely made up of masquerading ex-criminals was clearly as innovative and tempting to an ex-baddie like Hawkeye as it was to its many fans. In 1998, his second solo comic hit the stands, but by 2003, the Thunderbolts concept was in trouble and the title was radically reworked into a supervil-lain equivalent of David Fincher’s film Fight Club (1999). Hawkeye was out of a job once more, though yet another solo series (and Avengers slot) continued through 2004.
Hawkeye sacrificed his life in combat against an alien Kree spacecraft, But as a result of the Scarlet Witch’s alterations of reality, Hawkeye was resurrected. Eventually, Clint Barton joins the New Avengers, but adopts the new, costumed identity of Ronin. (The previous Ronin was Maya Lopez, the member of the New Avengers who is known as Echo, Though she has the handicap of deafness, she possesses “photographic reflexes,” enabling her to copy the movements of other people, such as their acrobatic skills.) Clint gives his blessing to Kate Bishop, a member of the Young Avengers who is a skilled archer and has adopted the name “Hawkeye.” Clint is reunited with Mockingbird, who turns up alive; the “Mockingbird” who died was an alien Skrull impostor. When Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, organizes a new team of Avengers, Barton joins, reassuming the name of Hawkeye.
Hawkeye has starred in several new series, including Hawkeye & Mockingbird #105 (2010); Widowmaker #1-#4 (2010–2011), Hawkeye: Blindspot #1-#4 (2011), and the five-issue miniseries The Avengers: Solo (2011). On the silver screen, Jeremy Renner first played Hawkeye in a cameo appearance in Thor (2011) and returned in the role in The Avengers (2012).
In an age where the cosmic is commonplace, the notion of a hero armed with nothing but a bow and arrow is almost impossibly quaint, but at the same time rather refreshing. Hawkeye’s combative persona may have been a blueprint for generations of dysfunctional anti-heroes, but his essential honesty and charisma will doubtless inspire future writers and readers. —DAR & PS