Hawkeye – The Avenging Father

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Most people who have seen the Marvel movies will be familiar with the characters in them to some extent.  The heroes who receive the most “press” are Captain America/Steve Rogers, Iron Man/Tony Stark, Hulk/Bruce Banner, and, of course, Thor Odinson.  These characters, known as the “Big Four,” generally hold the attention of most fans, leaving even competent characters such as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff and Falcon/Sam Wilson struggling to maintain a decent presence in the spotlight.

But there is one Avenger who continually gets lost in the shuffle among fans, old and new, of the Marvel Universe.  Hawkeye/Clint Barton is often dismissed as uninteresting or sub-caliber.  He is the only unenhanced member of the team, and his main weapons in battle are his keen eyesight, unerring accuracy, and his signature bow and quiver full of “trick” arrows.  He is more susceptible to injury and pain than his “powered” teammates and, to most viewers, is a seeming lightweight in a group of heavyweight champions.

This perception of the character makes many people ignore him, which is unfortunate.  While the character as a whole is very interesting, ignoring this Avenger for his “lack of power” is a great mistake, especially for conservative viewers.  Why?

It is a mistake because he is the only Avenger who is also a full time father.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, it was revealed to audiences around the world that Clint Barton owned a farm.  He considered it a viable “safe house” where the Avengers could take time to rest after their conflict in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Once there, the weary team – with the exception of Natasha Romanoff – is met with the shocking fact that their sarcastic, keen-eyed teammate has a vibrant personal life.  They meet Hawkeye’s wife Laura and his two children, Cooper and Lila.  They also discover that there is another child – a boy – who is on the way.

In the films, Hawkeye is the lone family man in a team of bachelors and bachelorette.  It is rare in the superhero genre for the heroes to have stable, “nuclear” families.  Threatened on all sides by evil doers who wish them dead or, even better, broken, the dangers of having and maintaining a family are legion.  Many superheroes therefore avoid marrying and raising children.  There are very few successful exceptions to this rule in the genre.

This is not unlike real life, where the pressures leveled against the traditional, normal, and healthy “nuclear” family are almost incalculable.  So this part of Hawkeye’s story, especially in the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, is important for conservatives on several fronts.

Husband and Father first, Avenger second

Since Hawkeye’s introduction in The Avengers was not very in-depth, the character had a certain enigmatic quality to him for most viewers.  The archer’s long absence from the movies between the two Avengers’ films did not help matters.  Most fans assumed the character was single, as he has often been depicted to be in the comics.  But in Age of Ultron, the mystique Joss Whedon left hanging over Hawkeye is dispelled somewhat by the introduction of the archer’s “secret” family.  In this film it is demonstrated that Clint Barton’s main focus is on being a husband and father first and an Avenger second.

During the brief scenes at the Barton farmhouse in Age of Ultron, Clint is shown to greatly appreciate his wife Laura.  He keeps no secrets from her, willingly telling her about the injury he received earlier in the film.  When she states the obvious, that the team is in desperate straits, Hawkeye does not lie to her.  He admits that she has read the situation aright and adds some detail to the picture, telling her about the twin youths Ultron is using in his bid to destroy the world.  Here it is shown that he looks to his wife for understanding and support, as much as any other father and husband in a more mundane line of work would.

Though it is the ideal rather than the reality in all cases, husband and wife are supposed to support each other through life as companions and equals.  The interaction between Clint Barton and his wife in Age of Ultron is a perfect demonstration of this.  Though Laura is indeed afraid for her husband’s life, she does not tell him to give up the fight.  She even adds that she supports his position as an Avenger and “couldn’t be prouder” of his work.

This goes against previously established tropes propounded in other superhero films:  the oft-repeated idea that no woman would maintain a relationship – let alone a marriage – with a man whose job is so dangerous.  The most obvious example in the Avengers’ themed Marvel films would be Pepper Potts, whose relationship with Tony Stark has fallen far short of the promise suggested in The Avengers.  In some Superman and Batman films, the theme is also stated clearly:  the heroes must walk alone, because no woman will understand or tolerate their work.  Or, alternatively, they risk losing the woman they love and any happiness they could find with her.

In a further point of interest, it is also demonstrated that Clint has a strong relationship with his two children.  The scene, though brief, of him hugging and kissing his son and daughter shows he knows them well.  It is subsequently proven that they also know him well and feel very comfortable with him.  Lila Barton, after glaring at Thor for accidentally breaking her LEGOs, immediately goes to her father about the matter.  He promises that they can fix the toys, while also holding no ill will toward the Asgardian for the mishap.  Sometime afterward, the audience sees Clint showing his son how to measure a banister, presumably for some renovation project he has in mind.

Contrast this with the more typical stereotype of heroes who are estranged from their children.  In Marvel’s Ant-Man, Hank Pym and his daughter Hope became alienated from one another after her mother’s disappearance.  Their bond is broken for most of the film; Hope waspishly takes verbal stabs at her father, while Hank sarcastically deflects them.  Scott Lang, another father in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a divorced thief who must pay child support in order to see his daughter Cassie.

Numerous superhero tales – inside and outside of comic books – show superheroes that are subject to the same strained relationships with sons or daughters.  Sometimes this is because they never knew they had a child; sometimes, it is because they knew but were not allowed to interact with the child.  In other stories, the strain comes of the hero’s “never being around” when the child felt he should have been.

In the films revolving around the Avengers, this classic plot point has been “marvel”-ously upended and replaced with a picture of actual life by the story arc of one particular character.  In the manner of the standard American soldier, Hawkeye has decided to serve and defend his country.  That is his job.  But it is not his life.

In a time when both marriage and family life are under heavy fire, Disney/Marvel Studios have – perhaps unintentionally – given audiences a look at what real married life is like.  Despite jetting off to save the world from aliens, neo-Nazis, and a robot with radical views on “management” of the human race, Hawkeye demonstrates that he is a husband and father first and foremost.  His job as an Avenger is the adjunct to that primary focus.

A Countercultural Father

“Yeah, we would have called ahead, but we were busy having no idea that you even existed,” Tony Stark said after being introduced to the whole Barton family.

Clint admits that he “asked” Fury to keep his family off of SHIELD’s files.  Aside from Director Nick Fury and his friend/fellow agent Natasha Romanoff, Hawkeye has kept the fact that he has a family a secret from everyone around him.  He has done the job so well that even the Avengers, whom he considers trustworthy friends, have never put two and two together prior to this moment.

In addition to this, Clint’s whole house is off the grid, though there is electricity of some kind running through the building.   This is made plain by the fact that there is power for the lights and the operation of the toaster.

But there is no sign of a television, a computer, or so much as a set of ear buds in the Barton house.  Unless this author is mistaken, there is also no display of either videos or DVDs.  No iPads, iPods, or MP3 players are visible or even mentioned.  There are modern toys for the children to play with, but they are hand and imagination powered.  Batteries are not included.  Most intriguingly, there is no mention of the children’s school schedule.  This suggests that Cooper and Lila may be homeschooled.

Clint Barton and his family are not simply living off the grid.  They are living a countercultural lifestyle.  Most will see this for what it is: Clint and Laura are taking no chances with their own lives or the lives of their children.  Ostensibly, and sensibly, Clint Barton kept his family out of the SHIELD archives to protect them from the enemies he made on the job with the Avengers.  This also protected his family from SHIELD’s many adversaries.

This is certainly true, and very rational.  Homeschooling would also be a smart choice, since it would keep the children from being tracked down by their father’s determined enemies.

In doing all of this, however, the Barton family has “practically cut themselves off” from contact with most other people.  The farm is secluded, and there is no hint given that Cooper and Lila have ever played with any children their own age.  According to those who frown on homeschooling and try to discourage it, the Barton children should be miserable, unfriendly, and socially inept.

Yet that is not the impression the audience receives from the farm scenes at all.  Though the Barton children do not directly interact with their father’s friends onscreen, they also show no fear of them.  Raised by loving parents and enjoying visits from their “Auntie Nat,” the children know they have nothing to fear from anyone their father brings home.

And, in Lila’s case, she is not afraid of getting too close to someone far older than she is.  Thor broke Lila’s LEGOs and, if anything, the Barton children seem to have been raised to be polite.  While she said nothing to him directly, she still made her displeasure known with the fierce glare of a wronged child.

In the evening, Clint and his family are shown cleaning up after dinner.  Throughout these scenes the children do not speak directly to the other Avengers, likely due to politeness more than anything else.  The Avengers are only staying for the day.  They will be going back out into battle very soon.  They cannot stay to play and have long conversations with the children, who will naturally want to grab as much time with their father as they can.  And since Laura is seen shooing the two off to bed while Nick Fury informs the team of Ultron’s activities, it seems they were accustomed to going to sleep about that time.

Amid these quiet moments, the benefits of homeschooling and an “off the grid” lifestyle are glowingly displayed.  The presentation is so natural and easy that it takes time for one to notice and appreciate it.  Whether by intent or accident, Whedon and Marvel/Disney have provided the world with a positive picture of this lifestyle.  The scenes prove that homeschooling and living “the simple life” are as fulfilling – if not more satisfying and rewarding – than the naysayers would have the public believe.

“But I’m going back out there because it’s my job!”

With the evidence of the domestic happiness he has left behind fresh in viewers’ minds, some may wonder what possesses Clint Barton to remain in the fight against Ultron – not to mention return to active duty as a superhero in Captain America: Civil War.

The answer is given in the final battle which precedes the close of Ultron.  Fighting alongside Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, in her home city, Hawkeye at one point saves the girl from an Ultron drone which falls out of the sky toward them and explodes.

Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the destruction, which she in part helped to sow the seeds for, Wanda breaks down and blames herself and her brother for Ultron’s actions.

Hawkeye, seeing her beginning to cave under the pressure, tries to calm her down.  When the two are shot at, however, the moment of calm is shattered for both.  Hawkeye’s patience flies with the bullets, and he tells the Maximoff girl, “… I’m going back out there because it’s my job! Okay?  And I can’t do my job and babysit.”

Clint Barton’s main mission is thus clearly stated.  He is not fighting simply for the sake of fighting.  He is not fighting for glory or personal gain.  He is fighting for God, duty, honor, country – and the fate of the world.  This motivation is represented by, and summed up in, the family he left behind hours earlier.  Laura and the children are safely going about their routine on the farm at the very moment Clint is fighting in a flying city against an army of robots with nothing but his skills, his courage, and a tricked-out bow and arrows.

No, he is not an enhanced human being.  And he is fighting in an arena that seems to most rational people to be far out of his league.  He is not bulletproof, nor is he as strong as Thor and the Hulk are.  He has no protective suit such as Tony Stark wears; he possesses no super soldier serum like Captain America’s.  He was not trained in the arts of combat and espionage from childhood, as was his partner Natasha Romanoff.  He lacks the powers Wanda and her brother were awakened to through HYDRA’s experimentation.

But, more than any of them, Clint Barton has a reason to fight.  He is fighting to protect his family.  He is fighting so that his children will have a future where they can be free to decide who and what they want to be.  They will, of course, have to fight for the future of their own children someday – if they have any.  But that will be their concern when it comes.  His focus has to be on their safety, or they will never grow up to become the people God made them to be.

This is the battle real fathers who love their wives and children face every day.  Though the majority of them may not have to face arms dealers, neo-Nazis, and certainly not murderous robots or aliens (of the outer space variety), fathers are engaged in a war every day.  Fatherhood is a daily job of sweat and toil, not only to provide the necessities of life for the family, but to protect it.

Countercultural, conservative fathers are more keenly aware of this than other fathers.  These men are forced to watch as the traditional values of the civilized society they believe in are torn down over time.  Some traditional beliefs are wrecked slowly over many years, others in a single night.  While fathers who send their children to public school worry for the safety of their young ones in public spaces where they can be kidnapped or abused, countercultural fathers fear as much for the souls of their children.  For even homeschooled children or those who have been raised off the grid must one day become adults who will go out into the storm-tossed societies of the world, fighting on the battlefields their fathers now inhabit.

Will they be prepared? These countercultural fathers worry.  Will they be strong enough?  Will I, their father, be able to protect them until they must go to war themselves?

Yet every day, in spite of these worries, these fathers still go out, as Hawkeye does, to face the demons prowling about the world.  Some fathers, such as those who are policemen or soldiers, will face the physical proof of evil many times over the years.  But many will be faced with the more trying war of the spirit, as they fight to maintain their beliefs while passing those traditions and understandings on to their children.

Going Home

At the end of the battle in Sokovia’s flying city, Hawkeye tries to protect a civilian boy from a barrage of bullets.  Instead, he and the boy are rescued by the timely shove of Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver.  The fleet young hero, with whom Hawkeye had a clear rivalry, sacrifices his life for the life of Clint Barton and the boy he is holding.  This allows Clint to return home to his family in the film’s finale.

The scene of his return is a touching one, as his wife pauses in her work when she somehow detects his presence in the house.  It is later revealed that the full name of the family’s third child, Nathaniel Pietro Barton, is in honor of both his “Auntie Nat” and the youth who saved his father’s life.

Why is Clint Barton allowed to live and not Pietro Maximoff?  It is a valid question.  Whedon, a professed atheist who has said he “kills off characters willy-nilly,” could just as easily have written the story so that Hawkeye did die at the end of the film.  Yet he chose to have Pietro sacrifice himself to save the life of a family man.

The reasons for Whedon’s decision are his own.  Nevertheless, viewers are left with the definite understanding that Pietro’s death is worthwhile because not only is Clint saved, but his family is assured of more time with him.  Pietro’s sacrifice not only preserves Clint Barton’s life, but the life of his whole family.

The message which an astute viewer should impute to the character arc of Hawkeye/Clint Barton in Age of Ultron is that fatherhood is a meaningful occupation for a man.  But the father is not the only one who must defend and protect the family.  It is the duty of society to defend the family as well, for the family forms the society.  Having lost his own parents at the age of ten, Pietro unwittingly ensures by his heroic death that the Barton children will not be left fatherless.

In light of these facts, it is hard to ignore the impact of Clint Barton’s part in the Marvel films.  Where the other heroes fight for truth, justice, and the lives of others because it is the right thing to do, Clint Barton fights because he is a husband and father.  The others care about saving lives, while Hawkeye fights to save lives because he cares about his family.  He cares so much that he keeps his family a secret even from his friends, shielding them from prying minds and eyes in an off-the-grid house, and apparently homeschooling his children to keep them in a place which he and his wife know is safe.

The merit of this presumed “lightweight” character in the films cannot be underestimated.  Though he is not given much screen time outside of Age of Ultron, the effect of his part in that movie should not be ignored.  In an “Age of Darkness,” the Avenger codenamed Hawkeye is a bright point of hope in American cinemas…If viewers are able to understand him that way.