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Staying on Target, Part VII

For Those Who Came In Late: We’ve been continuing our jaunt through the storied history of one Clinton Francis Barton, perhaps better known by his nom de voyage: Hawkeye the Marksman. Last time we explored Hawkeye’s first solo effort, which left him with a new costume and a new bride. Let us continue, shall we?

Hawkeye had only just returned to the Avengers with his new wife Mockingbird in tow, when he and just about the entire superhuman community were whisked off to deep space by the Beyonder, in the pages of the 12-issue miniseries event MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WARS.

While Hawkeye didn’t have a pivotal role in the story, it was good to see the character considered big-league enough to be included in the lineup. Still, ol’ Hawk wound up mostly played for comic relief, with him soon running out of arrows and being forced to carve some new ones just to stay on the battlefield. After all, as he tells Spider-Man, “without arrows, I’m just a guy in a funny suit.” We even see him approaching combat differently, with nothing but lethal arrows in his quiver:

So maybe the Secret Wars weren’t all that significant for Hawkeye, but it was after his return to Earth that things really heated up for him. When Avengers chairman the Vision found himself with a Mansion full of Avengers following the Secret Wars, he appointed Hawkeye Chairman of the Avengers’ new West Coast team, and sent he and Mockingbird out to California to set up shop and recruit members, Hawk and Mock’s adventures out on the Left Coast commenced in the October 1984 WEST COAST AVENGERS four-part miniseries, in which he recruited then-current Californians Tigra, Simon “Wonder Man” Williams (then out in Hollywood pursuing his acting career) and James Rhodes, who was at the time wearing the Iron Man armor while working for Tony Stark’s new Silicon Valley start-up Circuits Maximus, while Stark dried out from his most recent and most serious alcoholic bender.

Hawkeye’s new team acquitted themselves well in their inaugural outing against old Avengers nemesis Graviton, and the reception to the WEST COAST AVENGERS miniseries was strong enough that Hawkeye and company were soon given their own monthly series a few months later, in October 1985.

Hawkeye remained front and center in the WCA monthly, leading the team and constantly in search of his next “big get,” the perfect recruit that would show up their East Coast counterparts, a role that was very briefly filled by Ben Grimm, before Grimm had to leave the team due to the latest round of cosmic-ray-induced metamorphoses to his rocky hide. Still, Hawkeye thrived in his role as leader of the West Coast Avengers, ably commanding such heavyweights as Wonder Man and the original Iron Man (with Stark having returned to the roster at the outset of the monthly series), and expanding the roster to include such members as Hank Pym (then operating in an non-costumed persona), Moon Knight and Firebird.

Response to the WEST COAST AVENGERS series was so positive that a third monthly AVENGERS series was begun, SOLO AVENGERS, a throwback to Marvel’s split-books of the 1960s, which featured two stories in every issue: one a rotating feature starring an Avenger who didn’t currently have their own book, and the other featuring our boy Hawkeye.

Probably the most notable of the Hawkeye storylines in SOLO AVENGERS went back and fleshed out Hawkeye’s origin, revising his days in the carnival to include a second criminal mentor other than the Swordsman, one who actually taught him archery, a rather chubby bowman calling himself Trick Shot. Hawkeye initially freezes up at the return of Trick Shot, then later faces his fears and faces him in an archer’s duel, after which he learned that his former mentor was dying of cancer and had been hoping that Hawkeye would give him a mercifully quick death in combat.

Naturally, the principled Hawkeye refused to kill his mentor, despite their troubled past. The Trick Shot story, from writer Tom DeFalco and artist Mark Bright, certainly wasn’t bad by any stretch, but I never really warmed to the notion that Hawkeye had a secret mentor that had never been mentioned. While it had never been logical that the Swordman would train young Clint Barton in archery, I always preferred the notion that Hawkeye was essentially self-trained, through sheer will and determination.

Meanwhile, Hawkeye was going through some more trials and tribulations back in WEST COAST AVENGERS, thanks to some sketchy characterization by writer Steve Englehart. In a giant 8-part storyline taking place in issues #17 through 24, the Avengers found themselves lost in time, first in the American Old West, and later in ancient Egypt. While in the Old West, they met up with the Western vigilante Phantom Rider, a friend of Hawkeye’s old buddy the Two-Gun Kid. Unfortunately, turns out the Phantom Rider is a real whack job, who drugs and brainwashes Mockingbird into being his adoring wife, while relegating Hawkeye and company further back in time through circumstances too complex to sum up here. Left alone with the Phantom Rider, Mockingbird eventually manages to regain her senses, and, enraged at the sexual assault and violation by the Phantom Rider, attacks him and eventually leaves him to die, hanging by his fingertips from the edge of a cliff and refusing to help as he plummets to his death.

Mockingbird doesn’t tell Hawkeye at first upon their reunion, and when the truth eventually comes out, Hawkeye furiously rebukes his wife, screaming at her that “Avengers don’t kill!”

Excuse me?

Hawkeye’s wife is drugged and raped by this maniac, and he’s more upset that she didn’t save his life? And this from the same guy who fired an arrow down Egghead’s pistol to prevent him from shooting Hank Pym, and never showed a moment’s regret for killing the villain in the process? The only thing Hawkeye should be angry about here is that he didn’t get the chance to push the Rider off the cliff himself. This spun off into a lengthy storyline about Hawkeye and Mockingbird’s now-rocky relationship, a miscalculation from which the character, and really, the series, never quite recovered.

The SOLO AVENGERS series faltered as well, with a lengthy run about Hawkeye adopting a heavy, bulky armored suit after being beaten up mercilessly by urban street gang members. Later still, when John Byrne took over WEST COAST AVENGERS, he had Hawkeye fired from his position as chairman by the government and replaced with the U.S.Agent, and later moving to Milwaukee to lead a group of wannabe super-hero freaks calling themselves the Great Lakes Avengers, which pretty much ended Hawkeye’s moment in the spotlight.

Hawkeye continued to show up sporadically in the pages of AVENGERS over the next few years, but never in the starring leadership role he’d enjoyed in his WCA heyday. It wouldn’t be until the AVENGERS got their high-profile revival in 1997 that Hawkeye would get another chance to shine.

When writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez took over the re-launched AVENGERS, it was clear that Hawkeye was a favorite of both creators. Not only did Hawkeye get a front-and-center role in the series’ premiere storyline, with Hawkeye being the first Avenger Captain America attempted to awake from Morgan le Fey’s mystical brainwashing…

..but Hawkeye also makes the cut in terms of the revitalized team’s new membership, even though he almost managed to talk his way out of that spot on the roster that meant so much to him:

Before long, though, Hawkeye was right back to form, chafing against Cap’s leadership and longing for the command position once again. Eventually, this led Hawkeye to leave the team once more, but this time with an actual plan: Hawkeye went on to infiltrate the team of ex-supervillains turned renegade superheroes called the Thunderbolts, eventually revealing himself and making an offer: allow him to lead the team, and he’d shepherd them to respectability and a life on the right side of the law.

Hawk’s run with the Thunderbolts was lots of fun and far too brief, with such high points as his stand-off with an enraged Hercules…

… and Hawkeye’s unexpected (but considering his longtime bad-girl fixation, totally logical) romance with the manipulative Moonstone.

Eventually, Hawkeye would find himself back on the Avengers, just in time for everything to go to hell with Brian Michael Bendis’ AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED, which saw Hawkeye killed off in one of the most hated character death scenes in comics history, blowing up an alien ship in a suicide attack when the explosives in his quiver are accidentally activated, as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, taking off the quiver.

Eventually, Bendis and Marvel bowed to public pressure and returned Hawkeye to the land of the living, thanks to a little mystical deus ex machina from the Scarlet Witch. These days, he’s more high-profile than ever thanks to his appearances in the Marvel Studios films, and in recent years had a critically acclaimed solo series from writer Matt Fraction, although I confess I still have little affection for his new T-shirt and sunglasses look. Give me swashbuckler boots and an “H” on the forehead any day.

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