One of the big traditions of superhero comics is the legacy name – a superhero identity that gets passed from character to character, either permanently or (more commonly) until its original owner returns to duty. There’s also a tradition of the gender-switched version of a famous name, such as Supergirl, which is often interpreted as a sexist gesture and a copycat character when in fact it’s often a sensible business decision in an industry where association with iconic status counts for a lot (as well as being at least partly a sexist gesture, but what are you gonna do?).
Batman, Superman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Spider-Man, Captain America, Black Widow and the the Hulk have all had someone else try out their name or costume at least once, and/or had at least one younger or gender-switched version of their own character spun off from their famous name.
But it usually comes back to the original being, well, the original. The one with enough nostalgia mileage that they can be used at any point to sweep the universe back to the status quo. The most ‘iconic’ version of the character. When the original makes a return, the stand-in always steps aside, or is conveniently killed, or takes a new name with a certain amount of good grace.
And then there’s Hawkeye.
Thanks to Jeremy Renner and a smart script, Hawkeye (Clint Barton) was one of the revelations of the recent Avengers movie. Who would have thought that the archer character with no superpowers who wears a daft purple suit in the comics and had spent most of the last decade officially dead would have emerged from that movie a fan favourite? And that he would get his own book before Black Widow did?
But the really interesting part about Hawkeye for me personally is that the character is also a girl.
Back in 2005, Kate Bishop joined the Young Avengers, a book which was all about the legacy and new generation of heroes in the Marvel Universe. A trained martial artist and expert archer, she encountered the junior team as a civilian and later tracked them down to their headquarters. She borrowed costume items from believed-dead former Avenger Hawkeye and his estranged wife Mockingbird, took Hawkeye’s bow for herself and invited herself to join the team.
While she had no particular connection to the not-actually-dead-as-it-turned-out Hawkeye, Kate took the name to honour her fellow archer. Many of her teammates were actually the children of or younger relatives of original Avengers, and it mad sense at the time. She also had a lot of personality traits in common with Clint Barton, as revealed since her introduction – she is snarky, confident and comes from a privileged, moneyed background.
Also, she shoots arrows super good.
Kate first met the “real” Hawkeye when Clint (still I believe pretending to be dead) was impersonating the recently dead (but he got better later) Captain America in the middle of the Civil War event, which pitted superheroes who supported government regulation against superheroes who supported privacy of information.
While Kate had no idea who Clint was, she was furious at him for taking on Cap’s persona, especially to fight for the ‘government knows best’ side, when the real Captain America had been assassinated while fighting the other side.
She declared that she would never have worn the original Hawkeye’s costume, and also that she was honouring, not mimicking a fallen hero herself. “If Hawkeye were alive, I’d call myself something else.”
Ashamed, Clint returned Captain America’s costume to Tony Stark and ditched the whole Civil War plot. He later approached Kate and tested her abilities before revealing who he really was. And that he wanted his bow back, please.
Kate rose to the challenge but lost, surrendering both the bow and her codename. Clint then insisted that she keep and use both. They can both be Hawkeye. Why the hell not?
The new Hawkeye series, written by Matt Fraction and drawn by David Aja, is one of the best new titles I have read in years. It’s so damn good. Clint is interpreted as a cranky urban noir anti-hero, dealing with petty crime and mobsters. His lack of superhero powers only serves to make the story more credible, and his unrelentingly macho voice works beautifully with the elegant, purple-toned illustrative art.
Yes, I actually love a bit of macho noir, especially when it’s done intelligently. I was raised on Spenser novels and Phillip Marlowe, you know!
But there’s more to this comic than meets the eye. Matt Fraction, one of the sneakiest feminist writers in the business (this is the man who gave Pepper Potts her own battle suit), not only put Kate Bishop squarely into issue 2, he made her a protagonist equal to Clint. So yes, you know how we’ve been counting all the new Marvel titles with female leads? Hawkeye is actually one of them.
The Hawkeyes are fantastic together. They have one of those gorgeous unromantic male-female friendships that is such a rarity in stories (and I hope, hope, doesn’t get stuffed up by one of them getting a crush, there is one line of dialogue that worries me). The two of them banter their way through the hardboiled storylines like they are living in a Thin Man movie marathon, and neither of them have any illusions about such realities as Clint’s ridiculous sexcapades, the life expectancy of any car they happen to acquire, or what the hell use a collection of trick arrows is without a comprehensive labelling system.
I love them so much, the Hawkeyes. Most of all I love that Clint is now being portrayed as one of those blokes who respects his female comrade completely, and trusts in her competence (while she trusts him only as far as she can throw him, which is fair enough given the known facts about his general behaviour).
I’ve had my eye on Kate Bishop for a long time, and it’s exciting to see her being handled in such an excellent way, in a high quality title that I think will stand for a long time as an example of how to write great female comic book characters.
Kate’s Hawkeye will also be appearing in the Marvel Now new title of Young Avengers, written by Kieran Gillen (Generation Hope) and drawn by Jamie McKelvie, who both talk about the new book here. I’m glad to see how much respect they have for the current Fraction & Aja Hawkeye title, and that they plan to continue the visuals and characterisation of that series.
Here’s hoping that the popularity of the Jeremy Renner movie version of Hawkeye spills over not only into the comics, but into support for Kate Bishop too. We don’t have to get into flamewars about which Hawkeye is best, when ‘best’ is obviously having both!
Oh, and despite fans’ best efforts, she’s not ‘Girl Hawkeye’ or ‘Lady Hawkeye’ or ‘Ms Hawkeye’ and frankly I don’t think it’s even credible to call her ‘Hawkeye II.’ He’s Hawkeye, and so is she. Deal with it.
Where the Wonder Women Are:
1: Black Canary
4: Black Widow
5: Wonder Girl
6: Captain Marvel
8: Abigail Brand
15. Jean Grey
17. Emma Frost
19. Lady Sif
21. The Wasp
23. Misty Knight (and Colleen Wing)
25. Kitty Pryde
26. Crimson Fox
27. The Invisible Woman
28. Dr Light