Although all the heroes of the MCU differ from their comic book counterparts, no hero changed more from his portrayal in classic Avengers comics than Hawkeye. So far, master archer Clint Barton has the least in common with his main Marvel Comics inspiration than most of his comrades do, minus the sarcastic attitude. And the mastery of the bow and arrow of course. But with the Hawkeye series soon upon us on Disney+, some elements of his original comics history might yet come into play. Here’s a brief rundown of the Marvel Comics history of Clint Barton, the Avengers’ archer extraordinaire.
Running Away and Joining the Circus
As a kid, Clint Barton grew up in a dysfunctional home with little hope for the future. His father was physically abusive towards not just Clint, but also his older brother Charles, nicknamed Barney. All Clint dreamed of was running away from his life in Iowa. When Clint’s parents died in a car crash, he saw his opportunity to leave. He and his brother joined a traveling circus, the Carson Carnival of Traveling Wonders. There, they worked for little, but learned the tricks of the trade. But the performers known as the Swordsman and Trickshot trained him, and Clint became an expert marksman.
When Clint found out that the Swordsman was embezzling money from the circus, he planned to turn in his mentor. But they beat him nearly him to death, so he never had the chance. Both Trickshot and Barney felt as if Clint betrayed his mentor. Feeling abandoned by Trickshot and even his own older brother, he ran away again, and became the archery attraction for another circus. This is when Clint officially took on the name Hawkeye, “the World’s Greatest Marksman.” His brother became an archer himself, trained by Trickshot, eventually taking his name. He and Clint would maintain an up and down relationship over the years.
Hawkeye, the Reluctant Criminal
Eventually tiring of the circus life, Iron Man’s arrival on the scene inspired Clint to take his archery skills and become a hero. This occurs in Tales of Suspense #57. But a misunderstanding occurred during his first superheroic mission, and they accused Clint of theft. Deciding “if they think I’m a criminal, I’ll just be a criminal,” he winds up a fugitive from justice.
During this time, he met and became infatuated with Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. the Black Widow. Using his amorous feelings to her advantage, the Russian super-spy convinced Clint to embark on several capers with her, including stealing tech from Tony Stark. Together, the deadly duo of Hawkeye and Widow fought everyone from Iron Man to Spidey. They became romantically involved, but eventually end up as platonic friends, once Natasha became one of the good guys.
Joining the Avengers
But a life of crime is not what Clint signed up for. He always wanted to be a hero. He convinced the Avengers he was serious about reform. Believing in him, Iron Man sponsored Clint in his bid for Avengers membership. He, along with Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver, became the first new lineup after the founders retired. Under Captain America’s leadership, this oddball squad of Avengers was known as “ Cap’s Kooky Quartet.” Soon, Clint developed feelings for the Scarlet Witch, but she rebuffed all of his advances.
Clint quarreled frequently with the Avengers’ new leader, Captain America. His rebellious nature was the exact opposite of Steve Rogers’ “by the book” ways. Interestingly, Hawkeye’s counterpart at DC Comics, Green Arrow, was also the contrarian voice of the Justice League at the same time. As the least super-powered members of their respective teams, they felt they had something to prove. Eventually, though, Clint gained Cap’s respect. In fact, he was his right-hand man in many ways.
Hitting the “Big Time” and Meeting Mockingbird
Hawkeye served as a stalwart Avenger for years, staying on the team when many others came and went. Because of this, many think of him as one of the most iconic Avengers of all time. For a brief period, he even abandoned the Hawkeye persona, and started using Ant-Man Henry Pym’s growth particles, and became Goliath (in Avengers #63). This new super-powered career was relatively short-lived, and Clint soon returned to Hawkeye mode. In his own words, he was always more comfortable with bows and arrows anyhow.
Still, given his hot-headed attitude, there were many instances where Clint quit the group. During these times, he’d wind up on other teams, like the Defenders. But he’d always eventually come home to the Avengers. During one of these absences, Barton became the head of Cross Technological Enterprises. There he met Bobbi Morse, the adventurer named Mockingbird, and fell head over heels in love. They married and became crime-fighting partners together. Sadly, he suffered what seemed to be permanent hearing loss during one of their missions together. (It later returned thanks to the powers of mutant Franklin Richards).
The West Coast Avengers
Hawkeye and Mockingbird formed the West Coast Avengers, a team that he led. But the exciting days of the WCA wouldn’t last long, as during a mission, Mockingbird allowed the villainous Phantom Rider to die. This same criminal had kidnapped and assaulted her months before. Seeing that act as a breaking of their heroic oath, Clint separated from Bobbi. And when the US Government forced the U.S. Agent on the team, Clint quit in disgust. He even wound up as a member of the C-list Great Lakes Avengers for a time. He also briefly led the Thunderbolts, a team of reformed criminals. Hawkeye felt best equipped to understand them, seeing as he was once a criminal too.
Death and Resurrection
Hawkeye’s bleakest moment came thanks to the woman he once loved, Wanda Maximoff. The Scarlet Witch broke down the walls of reality during a grief-ridden breakdown. Suddenly, nearly every villain the Avengers had faced off with attacked them at once. During this attack, Hawkeye died in an exploding alien ship. The Avengers broke up soon thereafter, partially because losing Clint, the heart of the team, was too much to bear.
When Wanda remade reality during the event known as House of M, she undid Hawkeye’s death. In this new reality, Clint couldn’t remember ever having died. When the mutant Layla Miller restored his memories of his previous existence, he became enraged at Wanda. He shot her in the back with an arrow, but she survived. Her mutant son then undid reality again, erasing Clint from existence. But when Wanda came back to her senses, she restored the world to the way it was. And Clint was alive once more.
A New Protégé
Lost and confused, and with the world believing him dead, Clint took up the masked identity of Ronin. (Another Marvel character, known as Echo, once utilized the name and costume). It’s not long after this that Clint met his namesake, the Young Avenger/archer named Kate Bishop. After his death, she took the name Hawkeye in his honor. But upon his return, he agreed they could share it.
Clint began training Kate, in the hopes that she would surpass him. Together, they shared an adventure together in New York City, fighting off a gang of criminals known as the Tracksuit Mafia. This adventure, from creators Matt Fraction and David Aja, provides much of the source for the upcoming series starring Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld. In fact, everything from the series’ logo to Clint’s new costume seems inspired by this seminal comics run, considered by most as the greatest Hawkeye story ever.
The Ultimate Hawkeye
In the Ultimate Comics universe, Hawkeye has a very different backstory. And it’s one that should sound far more familiar to MCU fans. The Earth-1610 version of Clint Barton was an Olympic athlete, falsely accused of murder. He’s saved from Death Row from SHIELD Director Nick Fury, who recruited him into the organization. It’s there that he becomes close friends with Black Widow.
Unlike his Earth 616 counterpart, Clint was a married man, and had three children with his wife Laura. When a rogue agent kills his whole family, he loses his moral compass and doesn’t even want to be called “Clint” anymore. To make matters worse, the rogue agent was actually the Black Widow, who he believed to be a comrade. Torn apart by grief, he becomes even more brutal. All of this informs his portrayal in Avengers: Endgame. Minus the Widow’s betrayal, of course.
Will any of these comic book elements come into play in the new Hawkeye series? We know little of Clint’s pre-Avengers past in the MCU. So don’t be surprised if a lot of these details inform the Avengers’ archer supreme in his solo series. There is nearly sixty years of comics for Marvel Studios to draw from after all.