“I never miss!”
Prior to Avengers: Age of Ultron, I kept up with every tidbit that slipped out to the Internet regarding the film. As you know, those rumors, spoilers, and theories made it to my blog in the form of posts titled Prognostications for Avengers: Age of Ultron.
In the third or fourth post, I told everyone who was chanting “Death to Hawkeye!” to back off. And no, I will not change that statement!
Because the World’s Greatest Marksman got short shrift in The Avengers (and because some people just plain have it in for him), many Marvel fans were hoping he would get the axe in Ultron. As a fan of the bow-wielding Avenger, it was infuriating and distressing to have to sift through at least a dozen different Marvel fan reports claiming that Hawkeye would die in Age of Ultron. Some relief came when Jeremy Renner reportedly stated that Clint Barton lived through the film. But the haters never stopped gnashing their teeth and howling for the Hawk’s head to get chopped off.
Well, in this post, I am telling you why Hawkeye is my favorite Avenger, only a few inches behind Captain America.
As I said elsewhere, once upon a time I had no idea who the Avengers were. I knew Cap came from World War II comics, I thought Iron Man was a robot, and if you had asked me what I thought of Thor, I probably would have replied with, “Why are you asking me about some ancient Norse deity nobody cares about anymore?”
Then I discovered a few Avengers comics amidst a pile of other Marvel fare and I started reading them. One of the Avengers comic books I enjoyed a great deal featured the Avengers – consisting of Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch – facing off against Dr. Doom on his home turf of Latveria.
I was left trying to make sense of Cap and Hawkeye, especially the latter character. Not only was the text written for another era (which presented its own problems, since terms and references that were “hip” in that day have since become obsolete), I had no idea who two of the protagonists were. That was beyond frustrating!
At that time, I could have said whatever you Hawkeye haters would have loved to have heard. He was a brash, overconfident, snarky jerk who was riding Cap like a car he considered to be secondhand and out of date. It was irritating to read his replies to Cap’s statements, his smart-mouth rhetoric, but not the least bit satisfying when he ended up getting his just deserts for being an uber-confident smart alec. All I could think whenever that happened was, “You wouldn’t be in this mess if you had been a little nicer about voicing your opinions, you jerk!”
As annoying as Hawkeye appeared to be in the Avengers titles I had (the ones wherein he had a part, anyway), it was more aggravating not having the faintest knowledge of his history. Heck, none of the comics I had that included him even mentioned his real name! He was an unknown, and I could not figure out why I did not know anything about him.
Finally, I decided I was fed up with not knowing who these two men were. So I got on the all-knowing Internet and typed in “Captain America” first. The last Spotlight! post on this blog described how I reacted to what I found on Cap. My reaction when I looked up Hawkeye not too long afterward, however, was somewhat different.
The articles made a point of mentioning that he was a smart-mouth jerk in his first appearances, of course. But there was something else underneath all that, and it has taken me a long time to figure out exactly what. Something about his history, from the sixties to the present, made me sit up and pay more attention to him. I went back and reread a couple of articles about him after that, trying to make sure I had everything straight.
Now, you haters who know that Hawkeye was an abused kid who became an Avenger can say that that is the reason I like him so much. For all I know, you would be right. Maybe that is the reason I have a soft spot for him.
But I am not so sure that simple answer is the real answer. After all, I like Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games trilogy just fine, and not because his mother slapped him for burning a couple of loaves of bread. (Read “The Hunger Games: Peeta Mellark” for the reasons I like him.) So, readers, to paraphrase the Red Skull (he will not like this), “What makes Hawkeye so special?”
He has no super powers; no super soldier serum like his teammates Captain America and Black Widow; no sixth sense; no heightened hearing (in fact, last time I checked, he is almost completely deaf); no super strength (though the last time I looked, his bow had a two hundred-fifty pound draw!); no telekinesis – just a bow and a quiver full of trick arrows. He makes wisecracks, has made several stupid decisions, and yet he is part of the team which has proclaimed that it is made up of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” – and despite his faults, most of his teammates respect and value him highly.
Reading those articles, not only on Hawkeye but on other Marvel heroes, I always read between the lines that say “he did this, decided to do that, was injured here, left the team at this point, returned at this time,” and the like. What a character does is informed by their personality, their nature. Actions themselves are indicators of characteristics and traits – for our nature is usually exposed through our actions.
You cannot say that someone is heroic unless they were faced with a choice – do something good, or do something bad – and they chose to do something good. Weaknesses and strengths are exposed and tested in this way. This is how characters (and real people) grow and stretch their wings. This is how one learns their limits and what they are capable of accomplishing.
I have listed some of Hawkeye’s weaknesses; both his physical limitations and his character weaknesses. Now I will list what makes him strong.
Yeah, Hawkeye was an abused kid. His father was a drunk who took out his temper on his sons (Clint has an older brother) and his wife; but Hawkeye has never abused someone weaker than himself. He can be a jerk, and he can lose his temper with most anyone, but he has never deliberately chosen to hurt someone simply for the fun of it. Unless you count taunts to the bad guys as abuse, in which case Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Tony Stark, and other Marvel heroes are all in hot water.
Hawkeye goes up against bad guys who range from the least scary (such as Batroc) to galactic villains like Loki, Ronan, Thanos, and Galactus. He has no superpowers, no suit of hi-tech armor, no healing factor. He has nothing to protect him from one good punch – or the equivalent thereof – from these people, some of whom have smashed entire worlds to dust. And he gets tossed around, beat up, bruised, bones broken, etc., when he gets into these kinds of fights.
But what does he do after all this? He stands back up (sometimes he forces himself to stand back up), shakes his head, draws back another arrow, and growls, “Is that all you’ve got?!”
If Cap is a character who is based in hope, then Hawkeye is a character based in courage, and the best kind of courage. He knows he has none of the superpower assets of even the least of his teammates. He knows he could get killed very easily in a battle against Thanos, Ronan, or Galactus. He is confident – sometimes overly so – in his shooting ability and other skills; but he knows his limits, he knows how far he can go.
This is one of the reasons why he is always picking on somebody. Depending on the situation, you can tell when his banter is teasing and when he is really pressing it. The teasing is almost always there – it is part of who he is, and a natural instinct we all have. Come on, we all enjoy a good tease every now and then!
But when Hawkeye starts pressing someone hard, when he starts getting insulting and begins questioning them incessantly, there are only two reasons he would do it. One, he is angry for some reason at whoever he is talking to at the moment. Two, he is angry at them because he can see – or thinks he sees – that whoever he is speaking with is making a bad decision or is getting too proud of themselves. “Pride goeth before a fall,” and Hawkeye will not let his friends drag him into a dangerous situation, run the risk of getting killed, or accidently destroy the world for no other reason than to assuage injured pride. He will not fight for someone else’s vanity, and he will say that to their face – even if they are bigger, stronger, and more powerful than he is.
And as I said before, he knows his limits. He is perfectly aware of what he can and cannot do, of what he can and cannot take – physically, anyway. This is the best courage, and as G. K. Chesterton said, “For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point — and does not break.” (Thanks to Cristian Mihai for introducing me to that quote!)
Hawkeye – Clint Barton – takes everything dished out to him. Every blow – emotional or physical – every taunt, every insult; he takes it all, usually on the chin. A lot of people could and would break after dealing with half the things he has dealt with as an Avenger. But he has not broken. He has made mistakes, wrong choices, and stupid decisions. And he knows it. He knows his weaknesses as well as his strengths.
But he has not broken, even in a lot of alternate Marvel universes (the possible exception being the Ultimate Marvel Universe – ugh). These are the reasons why his teammates value him and why his enemies hate him. He was not called Hawkeye just for his keen eyesight, but for the fact that he sees more about his teammates and enemies than they realize. Sometimes he sees it and does not realize it, but when he figures it out, he is ready to do something about it.
There is one last thing I would like to mention about Hawkeye before I end this post, readers. One of the things I always look for in a character is how they treat people weaker than themselves. I can remember watching Hercules, The Legendary Journeys TV show as a child. My memories of the series are dim, but one scene from the opening of one or two seasons of the show will probably stay with me until my dying day.
In the clip I mention here, Hercules in charging through his house. He has a child – his daughter I think – with her arms around his neck and a boy under each arm. These are his three children, and he is roughhousing and playing with them. Hercules, in almost any story, is insanely strong. But he has not hurt his children.
That scene told me that Hercules was a gentle man (time has shown that the actor who portrayed him, Kevin Sorbo, is also a gentle man). No matter what happened, he would not hurt someone weaker than himself.
In The Avengers film, Natasha Romanoff tells Clint after he has had a drink of water that they have to stop Loki. He agrees and she says, “Now you sound like you.”
“But you don’t,” he answers. “You’re a spy. Not a soldier. Now you want to wade into a war. Why?” His voice softens a little as he asks, “What did Loki do to you?”
Natasha tries to cover it up, but Clint won’t have it. He says her name, once, very quietly, his tone pleading with her to tell him what she will not tell anyone else. And this is after he himself has been through an absolute nightmare, from anyone’s point of view!
There are some things you always look for in a real warrior: courage and gentleness toward those weaker than himself. Hope helps, too, and I will not say that Hawkeye lacks for hope. He may give up on himself, but he will not give up on much else. And that, readers, is why Hawkeye is my favorite Avenger, right up there with Captain America.
Until next time!
The Mithril Guardian