Marvel Studios’ Hawkeye stars Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, who teams up with another well-known archer from the Marvel comics, Kate Bishop, played by Hailee Steinfeld. The cast also includes Vera Farmiga, Fra Fee, Tony Dalton, Zahn McClarnon, Brian d’Arcy James and newcomer Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez. Hawkeye is helmed by Rhys Thomas and directing duo Bert and Bertie…
Reviewed by Tim Robins
Perhaps it’s the Christmas-time setting, or perhaps it’s the series’s intermittently goofy sense of humour, or perhaps it’s because there are scenes that involve an adorable, one-eyed mutt named ‘Lucky’ being rescued from on-coming traffic but Hawkeye is the most ‘Disney’ of TV series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So this is not the mean and moody street fighting story Hawkeye’s “Ronin” identity might lead you to expect.
The six-episode mini-series stars Jeremy Renner, reprising his cinema role as Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye, and Hailee Steinfeld as Hawkeye-in-waiting, Kate Bishop. Inspired by a view of Hawkeye in action during events of the first Avengers movie, the young Bishop (Clara Stack)grows up obsessed with the super-archer first introduced in the MCU as “The Hawk” in Thor (2011).
In the world of actual comic books, Hawkeye’s finest hour was in a relatively recent, 22-issue series written by Matt Fraction and drawn at first by David Aja, having made their names in an excellent run on The Immortal Iron Fist. Panini UK published a Hawkeye Omnibus containing the 2012 Hawkeye series back in July 2021, which can still be found clinging to shelves in all good local comic shops. Hawkeye: My Life As A Weapon was released last month. A collection of the 2016 series, Hawkeye: Kate Bishop, is out in January.
Fraction’s Hawkeye provides a lot of characters and incidents in the TV mini series, although the plot is rather different. In particular, the series introduces the character of Kate Bishop to a wider audience. In the comics, Bishop’s Hawkeye was established back in The Young Avengers (2005). In contrast, the show covers her origin, before moving to the present where she is still honing her archery skills.
Bishop’s family life becomes central to the first two episodes and, I guess, the entire series. Kate’s mother, Eleanor (Vera Farmiga), decides to marry the strangely sword-obsessed Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton); strange, that is, unless you recognise the name as the civilian identity of the often villainous Swordsman. Dalton is wonderfully smarmy in the role, only equalled by Simon Callow in a short-lived guest appearence as the deliciously rude Armand III.
Of course, Renner’s Hawkeye is who we are all here for. Without Renner making the role his own, the character might well have had a more marginal role in their universe, and, perhaps, the Fraction Hawkeye comic may very well never have been commissioned.
Here, Renner plays Barton as jaded and slightly shell-shocked, and there’s a very different energy to the series than his appearance, post ‘snap’, in Avengers: Endgame. Hawkeye’s “Ronin” days are over, and too many explosions in his past have left him hard of hearing.
There’s a scene where Barton endures a family trip to see Rodgers: The Musical in which the Avengers’ first adventure is set to song and dance. All Barton can do is point out that Ant-Man has mistakenly been included in the action. It is a poignant and funny moment, although it would have been funnier if it hadn’t played to the most obvious of cliches i.e., musicals are a bit “gay” – evinced by the musical’s camp costumes and its cast’s excessive gestures and dance moves.
(The featured song “Save the City” was written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, composers for Hairspray, and Mary Poppins Returns, and is being released by Marvel. Whoopie?)
Hawkeye Episode Two saw Barton visit a Live Action Role Play (LARP) in Central Park. The motivation for all this was Barton’s quest to recover his old “Ronin” costume from his vigilante days. Of course, the players all want to take a whack at Barton and he is set upon by medieval fantasy types, wielding faux swords. The scene was a little baffling because we had been told that the rules were that a blow to the torso was instant “death”. Barton did seem to be the only player in armour, so maybe that helped.
It’s possible that the musical and the LARP-ing were felt to bring a thematic unity to the opening episodes around more-or-less theatrical representations of violent contact. But there’s really only one thematic unity in the Marvel Universe – violent action, delivered with a cynical sense of humour. Episode Three delivered this with aplomb.
Mostly a two-hander between Renner and Steinfeld, with Bishop finally getting to grips with Hawkeye’s special weapons arrows, much non-lethal action follows, as the pair are pursued by the Red tracksuit gang.
Despite some reservations on my part, Hawkeye is entertaining and engaging. I luxuriated in the scenes set in the posh appartments of wealthy New Yorkers. There’s intrigue aplenty, including a murder mystery, and nods to enthusiasts’ fannish knowledge, notably an end of episode appearance by Echo (Alaqua Cox), the adopted daughter of the Kingpin.
Marvel’s productions wouldn’t be as successful if it weren’t for their scripts. Episode Three deftly weaves the action with a poigniant sub plot about Echo growing up deaf, and having to learn by closely watching the fight moves of others. Her abilities are contrasted with Barton’s hearing impairment, and his relance on a hearing aid. This rather relies on the falacious trope that individuals with a sensory diability develope super senses in other areas. At least Matt Murdock, in the original comic, at least, needed radiation.
Marvel is also confident to work-in nods to their cinematic universe. So we get a Pym Industries arrow that changes size in a convenient manner.
There’s already been enough stuff to whip fans into a frenzy of speculation about what other characters could guest in Hawkeye, as if the characters that we already have aren’t good enough. I’m mystified by audiences inability to enjoy the “here and now” of episodes, but Marvel seem to only benefit from this-never-ending sense that tomorrow could be an even better day. This time, speculators have put their money on guest appearances by the Kingpin – and even, Kang. I am pretty sure that the mini-series will not end with Shuma-Gorath popping up to wish us all a Happy Christmas.
Although Hawkeye has been well received, there has been a Twitter storm over the lack of recognition for Hawkeye artist David Aja. Fraction was made a “consulting producer” on the show, while Aja only received “special thanks” and apparently no money despite the fact that, as fans have pointed out, the show makes use of a lot of Aja’s imagery, including panels and page design.
Typical of the tweets supporting Aja is one from “Aniq”… “The influence, style, and aesthetic of David Aja’s art within the whole show is so strong, especially with the beautiful opening and closing credits of the episodes. Why on Earth has Marvel not paid and credited him? He deserves much better”.
Whether Disney + pays any attention to fans is another matter. I guess Hawkeye is putting the idea of “fan service” to the test.
Panini Comics UK Collections
Available here direct from Panini UK…
The critically-acclaimed Hawkeye series by Matt Fraction and David Aja in omnibus format, collecting ‘My Life as a Weapon’ and ‘Little Hits’ in one fell swoop. Featuring Clint Barton and fellow archer extraordinaire, Kate Bishop as they fight for justice… and good rooftop BBQs!
Contains Hawkeye (2012) #1-11
Get ready for double the archery action, as the two Hawkeyes team up to deliver twice the justice! Clint Barton’s plan for some downtime from the Avengers is about to take a back seat as he runs into a heap of trouble, courtesy of Russian mobsters, Madame Masque, the Circus of Crime and more. But with ex-Young Avenger Kate Bishop by his side, a whole bunch of trick arrows in his quiver, and a new canine companion, these heroes should just about be ready for whatever comes their way – assuming they can stop arguing first!
Collecting Hawkeye #1-6 and Young Avengers Presents: Hawkeye by writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja
• Hawkeye: Kate Bishop, re-presenting Hawkeye (2016) #1-12, is out in January
The comic that inspired the Disney+ show… It’s the dazzling Kate Bishop – making her solo comics debut.
Kate is heading back out west and returning to Los Angeles, with her bow and arrow and P.I. badge in tow. There are crimes to solve and she’s the best archer to handle ’em! But is she ready to face the ghosts of her past? The City of Angels has a new guardian angel. This is Kate Bishop like you’ve never seen her before, in a brand-new saga that really hits the mark.
Collecting Hawkeye (2016) #1-12 in bumper 272 page Marvel YA digest size
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide.
His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip with Mike Collins. Since 1990 he worked at the University of Glamorgan where he was a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Media Studies and the social sciences. Academically, he has published on the animation industry in Wales and approaches to social memory. He claims to be a card carrying member of the Politically Correct, a secret cadre bent on ruling the entire world and all human thought.