Tom Brevoort once told me that Hawkeye was “the Wolverine of his day” (he was actually talking more about The Thing and using Hawkeye as a supplementary, but as said supplementary example better serves this post, that’s what I’ll be going with). Basically what he meant is that when the Avengers weren’t far from their founding and Marvel hadn’t gone too long into the Silver Age, Hawkeye was the rebellious voice questioning Captain America’s more conservative values in the same way Wolverine would later chafe against Cyclops and so on as this is a dynamic you’ll find in just about every super hero team past the Justice League from the 60’s.
Like Wolverine, Hawkeye was the loose cannon who did what he wanted despite the rules and did so with a brash tone, loud mouth and often disregard for the safety of himself and the property around him (he’s always been pretty good about shielding teammates and civilians though). Also like Wolverine, Hawkeye became pretty popular as a result of this; not three or four ongoing solo series at once popular (he’s had his books here and there, but I’d say general consensus is the character works better with others to play off of in a team setting), but he did ok.
Unlike Wolverine and his more modern ilk, Hawkeye was the bad boy of a more traditional time, so he talked a big game, but he still adhered to a relatively traditional moral code that excluded killing and extreme violence; in the recent past, some writers have had him walk the line of violating that, and an argument could be made that his experiences have led him that way, but I believe deep down Clint Barton still finds murder to be anathema, regardless of the reason why.
I think the combination of Hawkeye’s similarities to the loose cannon characters he’s something of the godfather to with the contrast against those that came later is why I like him so much. I’ve always been partial to the wisecracking smartass super hero, but I also like the swashbuckling romantic vibe of years gone by; Clint Barton combines the best of both worlds on that score. He will always speak his mind, he falls in love too easily and he’s far from fully matured emotionally, but he’ll also do the right thing when the chips are down, and even though he’ll drive Captain America nuts, he’ll also be the first to come to his defense when anybody else does it.
Gotta love the guy.
I should offer the disclaimer that I was not an avid Solo Avengers or West Coast Avengers reader growing up and have never really caught up on either, so I’ve got a pretty sizable Hawkeye blind spot (though I have read Hawkeye: Blind Spot), but here are my favorite stories featuring the Avenging Archer that I’d recommend to anybody looking to learn more about that dude with the bow and arrow who Jeremy Renner is playing.
HONORABLE MENTION: AVENGERS #223
A classic to be sure, as Hawkeye heads back to his old carnival stomping grounds and clashes with Taskmaster, who’s holding the show hostage, leading to the seminal shrunken Ant-Man on an arrow routine. It’s a fun story, and I’m a fan, but I think it’s actually a better Ant-Man and even Taskmaster yarn, not quite capturing the essential Hawkeye.
AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES
I love this series on the whole, and every character gets their time in the sun, but really Hawkeye’s story is my favorite part. Joe Casey really nails how the bulk of the early Avengers were good guys (and one girl), but thrown together by circumstance as a team and in many cases only acting as heroes because an accident led them to their situation (Iron Man and his shrapnel, Thor and his exile, Hulk and his…being The Hulk); even Captain America became an Avenger mostly because they found him and he needed guidance in a strange world. Hawkeye’s the one guy who actively seeks to become an Avenger, because even though he started as a villain, it’s never what he wanted. Casey’s story captures the driven desire of Clint Barton to do the right thing even when conventional wisdom stacks the odds against him, plus there’s an excellent relationship between him and Jarvis, and Scott Kolins draws one of my favorite Hawkeyes.
Hawkeye gets tossed off the Avengers by Henry Peter Gyrich in order to fill a government quota (also, Gyrich doesn’t really like Hawkeye since the first time they met Clint tied him up, thinking he was an intruder in Avengers Mansion), but rather than mope for too long, he decides to show them it’s their loss. He swoops into Cross Technological Enterprises and auditions for their Head of Security gig by foiling their current system. Clint kicks back and looks forward to a relatively easy new occupation, only for Shi’ar super villain Deathbird to show up looking for trouble. Hawkeye is totally outclassed against a cosmic-level threat like Deathbird, but that’s when he’s at his best, using his wits to get through the situation, smiling as he does it and then stealing a kiss from the alien cutie when he’s done. This issue is basically a capsule bio for everything cool about Hawkeye (plus great John Byrne art).
The first true solo Hawkeye adventure, both written and drawn by the late, great Mark Gruenwald, who it turns out was a heck of an artist! Uncovering corruption at CTE, Clint investigates alongside former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Mockingbird and runs afoul of the dude who would become his archenemy, Crossfire. It’s a fun caper that packs tons of action into only four issues and allows Gruenwald to widen Hawkeye’s range a bit, playing him as devil-may-care adventurer and hothead, but also delving into his deeper emotions and giving him a deep romantic subplot. Speaking of which, the chemistry between Hawkeye and Mockingbird is dynamite right from the start; you’re rooting for them from the get-go, and the end result doesn’t disappoint.
AVENGERS & JLA/AVENGERS BY KURT BUSIEK & GEORGE PEREZ
When Kurt Busiek and George Perez brought Avengers back from Heroes Reborn, establishing Hawkeye as a key member of the team was clearly a top priority. When everybody gets mind wiped and sent to Morgan le Fay’s crazy Camelot world, Clint is the first guy Captain America “wakes up” because he recognizes that Hawkeye is the heart of the Avengers. During the roster-building issue, you get the great thread of Hawkeye taking Firestar and Justice under his wing, and then doing the double take when Cap messes with him by offering them his spot on the team. And from there, the Avenging Archer departs in pretty rapid fashion, shuttled over to Thunderbolts by Busiek, where he did more great stuff with him and stayed true to another core element of the character: he goes where he is needed, not necessarily where he wants to be. Busiek and Perez reunited years later on JLA/Avengers and made this fan smile by having Hawkeye and Flash (not Wally West, but still) be the guys to pull the classic against all odds save when all seems lost.
HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD
I don’t feel it’s favoritism at all to put my buddy Jim McCann’s series on here, because his passion for the character of Hawkeye (and of Mockingbird) in my mind created a fun arc that will hold up nicely in an evergreen sense, and the best thing is it was born out of love. You won’t meet a bigger Hawkeye fan than Jim, and his desire to do right by the character, not only telling the kinds of stories he loved but that can spread the appeal to a new generation, went a long way in my book. It’s a nice bookend to Mark Gruenwald’s series, with lots of callbacks, plus several love letters to the Marvel Universe along the way. It also doesn’t hurt that artist David Lopez is a gem and that Mockingbird’s brother’s name is Ben Morse; a great easy-to-acquire gateway to Hawkeye.
CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE AVENGERS
Hawkeye’s video game debut! Super fun, tons of characters, rad graphics, and the suspension of disbelief that Hawkeye’s bow when held horizontal is an equally powerful protector to Captain America’s shield, Iron Man’s armor and the Vision’s intangibility. Also: sky sleds!