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Staying on Target, Part II

For Those Who Came In Late: Last time, we began our coverage of Marvel Comics’ resident archer and malcontent, Hawkeye the Marksman. As we saw then, Hawkeye got his start as a misunderstood supervillain, repeatedly finding himself in conflict with Iron Man thanks to Hawkeye’s romantic fixation on the Soviet femme fatale the Black Widow. However, Hawkeye’s fortunes were about to take a turn for the better…

By May of 1965, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief (and sole writer) Stan Lee must have been feeling that his company’s second-most-popular team book, THE AVENGERS, was in something of a rut. Because unexpectedly, with issue #16, “The Old Order Changeth!”, Lee and artist Don Heck shook up the team roster like nobody’s business, dropping founding members Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man and the Wasp, and teaming up the lone remaining member Captain America with three reformed supervillains: Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch from the pages of X-MEN, and — you guessed it — good ol’ Hawkeye from his appearances in Iron Man’s book TALES OF SUSPENSE.

Hawkeye probably wins the award for “best way to earn a spot on the team”: he busted into Avengers Mansion, and tied up Jarvis the butler. Let’s take a look.

So the Avengers are sitting around the meeting table one day complaining about how overworked they are, when they suddenly notice smoke billowing under the door from elsewhere in the mansion. Running to investigate, Iron Man notices an arrow stuck to the door, and realizes who they’re dealing with: his old sparring partner Hawkeye.

Hawkeye, however, isn’t looking for a fight, despite the bound and gagged butler slumped in the corner. Quite the contrary, he wants to join up, telling the Avengers that a life of crime was never his intention. Hawkeye explains that it was his love for the Communist spy the Black Widow that had led him into conflict with Iron Man, and that she had recently been critically wounded by her Red masters when she tried to betray them and desert to the West. Determined to make amends for their criminal deeds, Hawkeye elected to offer his services to the Avengers.

To prove his worth to the team, Hawkeye fires a volley of arrows at the bound and gagged Jarvis, severing his bonds in a needlessly hazardous fashion.

Surprisingly, the Avengers jump right on board, immediately offering him a spot on the team, with Iron Man even offering to fetch him an AVENGERS’ MANUAL so Hawkeye can study up on the by-laws.

Hawkeye’s membership in the team is swiftly announced to the press, and even more surprisingly, it’s announced that Hawkeye has been “thoroughly investigated and approved by the federal security agency,” this despite the months he spent actively engaging in acts of treason alongside a known Communist spy. He must have done really well on the interview…

With everyone but Cap soon gone, Hawkeye finds himself on a completely unproven and significantly smaller Avengers team alongside Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, and even he finds himself having doubts:

Of course, Hawkeye didn’t exactly make an easy adjustment to working in a team environment. In what would become a long-running character trait for him, Hawkeye bristled at taking orders and immediately felt that the reins of leadership should go to him, not Captain America:

The first glimpse we got into Hawkeye’s backstory came in AVENGERS #19, “The Coming of … the Swordsman!”, by Lee and Heck, in which the Avengers must contend with the rogue adventurer known as the Swordsman, who, like Hawkeye, tries to earn Avengers membership by busting into Avengers Mansion. He’s not quite as successful as Hawkeye, though, and ends up kayoed by the Scarlet Witch and running away with his tail between his legs. At the news of the Swordsman’s break-in, Hawkeye freaks out, and tells his story.

It turns out it had been the Swordsman who trained him in archery as a young boy traveling with the carnival. (Why exactly a master of swordplay would train the kid in archery wouldn’t make sense for years, until a later writer thought about that and made a slight revision to the origin. More on that later.)

Young Clint Barton worshipped the Swordsman, until the day he discovered that the Swordsman had robbed the paymaster.

When young Clint refused to come in on the Swordsman’s criminal schemes, the Swordsman came after him, chasing up the circus’ highwire and then slicing it with his blade, sending the boy hurtling to the ground below, leaving Clint for dead.

The strange thing was, this backstory wasn’t really utilized much in the Swordman’s first appearance, and if I recall correctly, never played a huge part in his AVENGERS storyline, winding up as little more than an abandoned subplot.

As Cap tried to train and hone his new team, Hawkeye’s temper remained an issue, with the archer often flirting with out-and-out insubordination:

Hawkeye’s weakness for a pretty face also re-emerges, as he finds himself beginning to have feelings for the Scarlet Witch, who herself is carrying a torch for Cap, which doesn’t sit too well with Hawkeye…

As Hawkeye’s tenure with the team grows, we also begin to see the first inklings of what would become his long-running inferiority complex, brought to the surface by the return of Hank Pym to the team, in his new identity of Goliath.

Along with this new insecurity came a bit of maturity, as Hawkeye began to show his respect for Captain America as a leader, as seen in this moment from AVENGERS #29…

…and this one from AVENGERS #32:

Hawkeye’s issues with Goliath came to a head only four months later, when Pym expresses his disapproval of inviting Hawkeye’s recently returned girlfriend the Black Widow onto the team. Hawkeye delivers a particularly wicked zinger to the often-absent Goliath: “You talk pretty big, for a guy who spends most of his time takin’ vacations!”

The question of Black Widow’s membership quickly becomes moot when the Widow disappears once more, accused of treason (although she was in actuality working as a double-agent for SHIELD, in one of the first of many examples of Nick Fury peeing in the Avengers’ Cheerios every chance he gets). However, Hawkeye’s inferiority complex and his issues with Hank “Goliath” Pym would come together in a very unexpected way in the next stage of his AVENGERS career.

But we’ll get to that next time.

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