Growing up, I never felt a connection with the superheroes I saw on screen. Something about them put me off, removed me from really getting to know them. What did they have to do with me?
I got my answer one night a few years ago whilst scrolling through the internet. Somehow, I stumbled upon a series of comics about a superhero that tends to get tossed aside, both in our world and his own: Hawkeye. Intrigued by the spellbinding, minimalist art of David Aja and almost-too-lifelike humor of writer Matt Fraction, I fell down the rabbit hole of this 2014 series, consuming it as if it were a precious taste of an entirely new form of food.
And it was — I had never even imagined comics could be like this one, so grounded and open and laugh-out-loud funny. Just as there had been some unnamable quality that pushed me away from other superhero stories, something about this one pulled me further in. Hawkeye, also known as Clint Barton, is a perfect shot, an Avenger, and … a com- plete and total mess. He drinks coffee straight from the pot, can’t figure out how to plug in his own TV without help from Iron Man, and loses his pants in the middle of battle. He’s fully aware of his position as the least “super” of the Avengers, and it’s one of the biggest contributors to his cripplingly low sense of self-worth, second only to his childhood spent as the subject of abuse both from his parents and the foster care system.
In short, he’s human. His skills are earned through practice, and his sense of right and wrong isn’t bestowed upon him by some mystical mandate but is a deliberate choice to do good. He is the reader in this world of magic hammers and Spidey-senses, a reassuring reminder that we, too, can hold our own among the super.
Though Clint is close to my heart, this comic gave me another character who has since become my favorite of all time: Kate Bishop, the other (and, as she might say, better) Hawkeye. Kate is the daughter of an often-absent and sometimes-villainous New York publisher who, after being sexually assaulted, takes up self-defense and becomes an even more skilled archer than her namesake. She’s lived through many different comic conceptions since her first appearance in 2005, namely as a member of the original Young Avengers and, in the Fraction/Aja run, as Clint’s snarky partner-in-crime-fighting. Kate keeps Clint both alive and in line, eventually spreading her own wings on the West Coast in the third volume of the series, where she is drawn by the spectacular Annie Wu.
In 2016, this L.A. Kate got her rightful turn in the spotlight with her own series, Hawkeye: Kate Bishop, written by Kelly Thompson and drawn primarily by Leonardo Romero. Thompson carries Kate’s candle with expertise, providing dedicated readers with plenty of Kate’s classic cynical charm whilst refusing to complacently dwell on the character’s surface. These comics mean so much to me — beyond my love of Kate as a character, the fact that the series is all about the adventures of a complicated, hilarious, human young woman represents to me a positive shift in the overall direction of comic writing and representation.
Since even before the Fraction/Aja run, comics featuring both Hawkeyes have been commonly acknowledged as some of the most forward-thinking and inclusive: Clint is Deaf and wears hearing aids, occasionally using American Sign Language to communicate, and most of the Young Avengers are LGBTQ+, with some also being people of color. This trend has continued into Thompson’s run, which prominently features both interracial LGBTQ+ relationships and, in the latest issue, Clint’s deafness.
Unfortunately, this series, along with many others featuring minority leads, has been canceled, and the upcoming Mar. 7 issue will be its last. Though this particular series’ time might be coming to a close, I encourage you to dive into the world of the Hawkeyes — you just might find you’ve plunged into the most fun, intriguing, and dysfunctional ride of your life.
P.S. Please, support your favorite creators while you can. Like Clint and Kate, you don’t have to have superpowers to make a difference.