Read This Comic Before Watching HAWKEYE
The new Disney+ show is finally going to put Hawkeye on center stage, but it is building off of a legacy with which you might not be familiar.
Hawkeye has been one of the MCU's weirdest inclusions since his first appearance in Thor all the way back in 2011. He's been kicking around for longer than Bucky/Winter Soldier, longer than Mark Ruffalo has been playing Bruce Banner. And yet, the movies have never really had room for him.
After all, mere months after the release of Marvel's The Avengers, SNL was already poking fun at how little Hawkeye contributed to the movie's climax.
Hopefully it's not too cutting to say that if SNL is making jokes about your character being useless, it's not exactly a niche observation. It was easy to poke fun at the MCU's Hawkeye: when you have a Norse god, a tech billionaire, a super-soldier and a hulk, what's the point of the archer?
So Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye was always the side-kick and never the bride. But now, after a full decade of playing the character, Hawkeye is finally getting a project of his own in the shape of a Disney+ show. Has the MCU finally figured out how to put this character to good use? Only time will tell, but judging by the comments on the show's trailer, people are excited.
However, if you've been following comics for a while, you were probably struck by the connection between this Hawkeye and an earlier Hawkeye. If you missed those connections, don't worry about it. You're in luck. Today, I'm going to tell you about one of the greatest comics of all time, and if you like Hawkeye, you will love...
Hawkeye, Vol. 4 (2012)
Clint Barton opens the comic with what will become his catch-phrase: "Okay... This looks bad."
The scene is familiar. Hawkeye falls backwards out of a building, firing his grappling-hook arrow up towards the point of view. The scene is ripped right out of Marvel's The Avengers. Turn the page, and you see the twist: Hawkeye's cord snaps. By the end of page two, this Hawkeye is in a hospital bed.
Barton explains in narration: "You cowboy around with the Avengers some. Guys got, what, armor. Magic. Super-powers. Super-strength. Shrink-dust. Grow-rays. Magic. Healing factors.
"I'm an orphan raised by carnies fighting with a stick and a string from the Paleolithic era."
An Avenger On His Off-Days
It's fair to assume that the comic wants to go in a different direction from the movies. Rather than try to make Hawkeye hold his own alongside demigods and superhumans, this Hawkeye calls attention to Clint Barton's limitations and uses that to heighten the drama.
Early on, we're told, "Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, became the greatest sharp-shooter known to man. He then joined the Avengers. This is what he does when he's not being an Avenger. That's all you need to know."
The MCU tells a story of escalation: first the planet was invaded by Loki, then the planet was under attack from Ultron, and finally the whole universe was in danger from Thanos.
Rather than just repeat that pattern, this comic swung in the opposite direction. The stakes here are low. The planet will not end if Hawkeye succeeds or fails in this particular mission.
So why did this take on Clint Barton end up winning many of the most prestigious awards in comic books?
Let's step away from the story for a moment to focus on...
Cards on the table here: I think that Hawkeye features some of the best art in comics from one of the best art teams a comic has ever had.
David Aja drew the world with a focus on simple lines and a minimalist style. The "comic look" of exaggerated features (think oversized muscles, oversized breasts, bodies contorting in shapes that would be impossible for anyone with a spine) was completely avoided in favor of something far more real. The little details bring the world to life in a down-to-earth way. Hawkeye regularly sports bandages over his body, and little lines on his face suggest the exhaustion he often feels. Placed on a shelf with more "plastic" looking comics, Hawkeye stood out for just how life-like it appeared to be.
And then there's the color: following suit, Matt Hollingsworth used an extremely limited color palate on Hawkeye. Rather than being flashy by being extravagant, Hawkeye's art stood out by being restrained.
Remember: the series was pitched as the life of Clint Barton when he isn't being an Avenger, so this restricted style fit perfectly. It was inspired. They won awards for their art, and they deserved every one they got. Hawkeye was capable of being one of the most interesting comics on shelves, and it's no wonder that fans fell in love.
Unfortunately, David Aja's incredible work took time. Hawkeye didn't release on a monthly schedule, and alternate artists had to fill in the gaps from time to time. I wish I could say they all lived up to the standard set by the original team, but in my opinion no one reached Aja's artistic genius. Some got close. Others did not.
But when you look at the style that the Hawkeye show is going for, take a moment to appreciate the artists who brought them there.
With that said, let's turn to...
When the MCU revealed that their Clint Barton had a family and a farm, comics fans were surprised. See, in the comics, Clint Barton is less of a family man and more of a walking disaster who is somehow still alive through sheer stubbornness. The man drinks coffee directly from the coffee pot, for instance.
And again, that was part of what made the Hawkeye comic from Matt Fraction, David Aja, and others work so well.
Even when he's not being an Avenger, Tony Stark still isn't that relatable. Without his suit, Tony Stark is still a billionaire inventor and genius. Clint Barton was a different story.
Along with his dog and Kate Bishop, Clint Barton gets caught up in a battle with some landlords with connections to organised crime. It's not a story that would be terribly dramatic for Steve Rogers, but it's calibrated to Clint Barton's level. Much of the struggle is his against his own self-destructive behaviour.
In my previous Vocal story, "Can a Story Save Your Life?" I talked about my love for art that allows people to see themselves, and this version of Clint Barton was someone who audiences could connect with. So it's not a huge surprise that, years after that dream-team stopped making Hawkeye, Disney is now using their run on Hawkeye as a template for their new show.
Towards the end of the trailer I've embedded above, Clint and Kate are in the run in red muscle car. It's a cute scene, and there's some banter that suggests what kind of relationship the show will demonstrate between the two leads. It's also lifted pretty directly from issue #3 of the Hawkeye comic run.
Of course, it can't be lifted too directly. Part of the reason why Clint is in danger in that sequence in the comic is self-inflicted. He's making some reckless choices, and the consequences of his actions catch up with him. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that there's an iconic sequence where Clint's crotch has to be censored with a cartoonish Hawkeye head that I doubt Disney will be using in their take on the character.
Will it work? Only time will tell. However, the writers on the TV show have a tall order if they're going to fill the comic's legacy.
And speaking of the comic...
Is it fair to say that it casts a pretty large shadow over this TV show?
Why Should You Care?
Did you know that the character of the Winter Soldier is actually pretty new?
Not Bucky Barnes, mind you. Bucky goes way back. However in 2005 Ed Brubaker brought Bucky back from the dead, reintroducing him to the world as the Winter Soldier. Did Brubaker create the Winter Soldier? I would say yes, but that's not a legal claim. After all, Brubaker was building off of the legacy of Bucky, and Brubaker did not create Bucky.
However, when you check out any MCU property dealing with the Winter Soldier, you're looking directly at the result of Brubaker's work. And that would be great, except Brubaker doesn't own Bucky, so he hasn't really been compensated for that effort.
In Brubaker's own words...
I have made more on SAG residuals than I have made on creating the character for my one line that got cut.
That's right: Brubaker made more money filming a cameo for the MCU (even though it didn't make it into the movie) than he did for creating the character of the Winter Soldier.
In Other Words...
If you've ever read the Vocal FAQ, you see that they make creators on their site a promise: "You keep all the rights of your stories once they’re published—the copyright always stays with the creator."
So, hypothetically, if I create a team that investigates mysteries along with the help of their possibly-demon-possessed cat, those characters belong to me. If I decide to try to write a screenplay or a novel about those characters, they still belong to me. Vocal puts that front and center because it's really important that creators know who will own the outcome of their work.
Here on Vocal, we own what we make.
Now, would I actually create a team that investigates mysteries along with the help of their possibly-demon possessed cat? Who is to say.
But the point is: in the case of the writers and artists who work for Marvel, they own nothing of what they create. This isn't a legal loophole; this is just the law. Marvel owns their characters and allows some people to use them. That's it.
So the end result is that a team like Fraction, Aja, and Hollingsworth are a bit like renters who renovated their apartment. They added a ton of value to the property, but the property still doesn't belong to them. It belongs to the home-owner. They went into this deal with their eyes open, but I still intrinsically feel like it's unfair. Disney is making millions of dollars off of ideas that originated with these other artists, and these artists are not being compensated accordingly.
The wikipedia article about the Hawkeye show mentions Matt Fraction 4 times. It never mentions David Aja or Matt Hollingsworth at all.
I can't change Disney's corporate policy, and you probably can't either. But what we can do is actually name these people and credit them with their work.
Matt Fraction is a hell of a writer. He's gone on to create indie comics like Sex Criminals.
David Aja is a hell of an artist. He's gone on to create indie comics like The Seeds.
Matt Hollingsworth is a hell of a colorist. He's still doing incredible work all across the industry.
These people collaborated to make something beautiful, so I hope that when you check out the Hawkeye TV show you remember: this comic was made by people, and they deserve recognition for what they created.
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