One of my eternal disappointments with the MCU is how Clint Barton turned out. I am a HUGE fan of Hawkeye in the comics, and despite a pitch-perfect appearance in Thor way back in 2011, the Clint we ended up with in the movies is the most boring, least fun version of that character. Hawkeye is supposed to be the smartass sidekick, the one regular guy on a team of gods, whose tragic backstory peeks out from the shadows at times, but mostly he’s the guy keeping himself together with Band Aids and zingers. The secret family version of Clint isn’t a popular version in the comics, it’s not even the prevalent version. The secret family pops up only in the “Ultimates” continuity, which is a divisive run of the comics that is known for its realistic artwork—this is where Nick Fury was drawn with Samuel L. Jackson’s face—and overall gloomy, un-fun approach to the Avengers. The secret family also exists only to be murdered to further the plot, but whatever. We got stuck with this sh-t in the movies.
I do understand where the decision came from, though. Clint’s secret family was introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Avengers film that most intensely wrestles with the Avengers as men with the problems of gods. Clint and his family are meant to contrast to the larger-than-life characters Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and Thor. The problem? It doesn’t work! There are a hundred different ways to use the character of Hawkeye to contrast with the “Big Three” to make that point and the secret family is the dumbest of those options. Much more effective is Clint’s attitude toward Avengering in the final battle, when he gives a pep talk to Wanda Maximoff. He basically says, “Because I can do this thing, I do this thing.” It’s the kind of practical, unglamorous approach to heroism that contrasts perfectly with the greater dramatics of Steve, Tony, and Thor. But for Clint it’s not a big, angsty moral dilemma. It’s just a job he’s good at, so he does it. More effective than springing a secret family on everyone would have been hinting at the dark past that put Clint on SHIELD’s radar in the first place, and tracing a from-there-to-here journey that shows how he became the most practical guy on an impractical team.
But with the first trailer for the upcoming Disney+ series Hawkeye, we at last have a look at a better, truer, more interesting version of the character. I am IMMEDIATELY FURIOUS at how much better this version of Clint looks, borrowing heavily from Matt Fraction’s stellar Hawkeye series from the early 2010s. The tracksuit mafia! Lucky the pizza dog! Trick arrows everywhere! (Something the boring version of the character has barely played with in the movies.) Clint going for spectacular stunts and wiping out every time! Kate Bishop! THIS is the version of Hawkeye I have been longing to see. THIS is the Clint Barton nerds got excited about back in Thor, the smartass who doesn’t give up even when he messes up. Repeatedly.
Of course, we’re still stuck with the secret family. The kids are there, post-snap in New York with their Avenger dad, going to Rogers: The Musical—a GREAT F-CKING JOKE—and spending their first Christmas together since, I assume, the events of Endgame. But there is trouble! Someone is wearing Clint’s old Ronin costume from his bad old days during the blip, and so he must send his family away and figure out what is going on with this new Ronin (are we to believe no one ever connected Ronin to Clint Barton?). I love the chemistry Jeremy Renner has with Hailee Steinfeld, who looks, at least in 90 seconds, like a perfect translation of Kate Bishop from page to screen. At this point, I will just be happy if we can get a good version of Kate on screen and let her be the glorious messy Hawkeye we have deserved all along. There is also a here-and-gone glimpse of Alaqua Cox as Echo, and in several shots you can see hearing aids in Clint’s ears. This is another overdue character beat—Clint should have been deaf all along. Not only is it a meaningful inclusion in the MCU, but it’s yet another way they could have contrasted Clint with the other Avengers. There were SO many ways to show Clint as a normal dude among gods, I will never get over it.
The secret family does change the context of all this, though, in a way I am not convinced is going to work. I hope the complete series can integrate the worst version with the best version of Clint, but even in this trailer, I’m not really feeling the “gotta get home for Christmas” vibe. I like the holiday setting—I always like glimpses of regular life in the MCU, which is the angle Clint is good for—but it changes Clint’s messiness from endearing to wildly irresponsible when you account for the children he is actively raising. It also changes his relationship with Kate Bishop, who has family problems of her own (Vera Farmiga plays her mother). Their relationship in the comics isn’t exactly paternal, but the two Hawkeyes form a little found family—the Kate Bishop series written by Kelly Thompson from 2016-2018 includes an issue titled “Family Reunion”—and that doesn’t really work when Clint actually has a functional, nuclear family of his own.
Indeed, comic Clint’s entire deal is that he loses everything, including his brother in the nastiest way possible, but he emerges an irrepressible asshole who cobbles together a new family from the misfits and weirdoes he finds along the way. I’m not saying the movies had to do a 100% true-to-canon version of Hawkeye, but the best Marvel characters in the MCU are the ones in which they get the core character details right, like Tony Stark, and they never got the core of Clint Barton right. And now that he’s stuck with a stupid secret family, they never can get it right, because they’ll always be adjusting for that one decision (not unlike how they had to keep calibrating Natasha around the idea that she fell for Bruce Banner).
But, honestly, they struggled with the original Avengers. They got Steve and Tony right, but Thor, Clint, and Natasha were a mess from the jump. They eventually got Thor on track, but Natasha was a case of too little, too late. I fear the same will end up being true of Clint, too. If we can get a working version of Kate Bishop out of this, I won’t say it will be worth it, because my Clint-loving heart will always be sore, but at least we won’t have to go through this again with the other, better Hawkeye. Just give me Kate and let me try to forget about the rest.