Story Title: “Hawkeye, The Marksman!”
Published: 1 September 1964
Writers: Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
Artists: Don Heck and Larry Lieber
In November 1941, Mort Weisinger and George Papp introduced readers to Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, a crimefighting archer heavily influenced not just by Robin Hood and The Green Archer (Horne, 1940) but who also borrowed more than a few inspirations from Bruce/Wayne/Batman. In perhaps one of the more blatant borrowings from their competitor, Marvel Comics later introduced an archer of their own, Clint Barton/Hawkeye. Created by Stan Lee and Don Heck, Hawkeye was initially portrayed as a villainous character but would soon repent his mercenary ways and go on to not just be a member of the Avengers, but even lead his own off-shoot, the West Coast Avengers. Despite sharing a similar gimmick, Green Arrow and Hawkeye couldn’t be more different in terms of their personalities and status; indeed, while Hawkeye may have been a D-list hero in the grand scheme of Marvel Comics, he was involved in some of their most prominent storylines and became a household name thanks to Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Consequently, for many, the character is one of Marvel’s most relatable and inspirational heroes since he lacks any kind of superpowers and he’s even become a symbol of representation for the deaf community in recent years, and it all started here with his first appearance as an antagonist for ol’ shellhead himself, Tony Stark/Iron Man.
It’s hard to say definitively, but I’m fairly certain that I’m far more familiar with the exploits of Green Arrow than Hawkeye. To be fair, it’s probably about 50/50; maybe weighted a little more towards Hawkeye as he tends to show up in the Avengers stories I’ve read. I mostly know Hawkeye from his appearances in the first season of the under-rated Iron Man cartoon (1994 to 1996) and from being a playable character in Captain America and the Avengers (Data East, 1991), both of which were firm staples of my childhood. I’m also relatively familiar with his background and characteristics, but have always been somewhat…meh about him. I don’t really care that he’s an archer or that he doesn’t have any superpowers, as plenty of superheroes get by just being regular people with extraordinary gifts, and I’ve never really questioned his capability as an Avenger, I’ve just never had much of an inclination to seek out any of his stories even though I’m a fan of Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thus, I went into “Hawkeye, The Marksman!” without any real expectations and with an open mind, ready to see how Marvel handled his debut story, which opens with Iron Man heroically saving a factory worker from being doused by molten steel. This story is set during the time when the official line was that Iron Man was Tony Stark’s personal bodyguard, so no one really questions what ol’ shellhead is doing flying about one of Stark’s weapons facilities, but this also means that Harold “Happy” Hogan has no idea that he’s pouring his heart out to Stark himself when he asks Iron Man to grease the wheels with Stark’s secretary, Virginia “Pepper” Potts, to get him a date.
While Stark now has a reputation as a womaniser, at this point he’s reluctant to get serious with any female since he’s entirely dependent on the transistor-powered device permanently grafted to his chest to keep him alive from the deadly shrapnel lodged dangerously close to his heart, and yet he longs for a more intimate relationship with Pepper and can’t help but feel jealous at Happy’s advances towards her. However, when Stark attempts to raise the subject with Pepper, he makes a poor attempt at it and she immediately assumes that he’s asking her out so she readily accepts, much to the heartache of Stark’s faithful footman. Rather than try and explain things to Pepper, or give her the brush off, Stark decides to take her on a date but not to a fancy theatre show or to dinner; instead, he takes her to Coney Island, where an archer known as Hawkeye fails to impress the sceptical crowd with his perfect marksmanship. While Stark is desperately hoping that Pepper doesn’t suggest riding the Tunnel of Love or moving on to a more intimate setting, fate intervenes (as it so often does in Marvel tales) when the Flying Pinwheel suddenly goes out of control, endangering the lives of its passengers. Seeing the crisis, Stark excuses himself with a paper-thin white lie (“I’ve got to call the factory!!”) so he can clamber into his Iron Man suit (which he generally carries around in a briefcase, though the artwork doesn’t show him holding it here…) and save the day, much to the adulation of the crowd. One man who’s not so impressed, however, is Hawkeye; annoyed that the audience dismisses him in favour of Iron Man, he sulks off to a “basement workshop” to put together a garish outfit for himself in order to emulate the Golden Avenger’s reverence as a costumed adventurer. Armed with little more than a quiver full of specially-made arrows and his unmatched marksmanship skills, Hawkeye vows to show up every other masked hero out there even without any superpowers and immediately feels the thrill of swinging across rooftops using his roped arrows and stopping a jewel thief with a perfect shot.
Unfortunately, Hawkeye’s decision not to deliver a fatal shot to the thief results in the crook getting away and, as the archer is investigating the loot of precious stones the man stole, he’s discovered by the cops and immediately pegged as the perpetrator. Choosing to run rather than waste time explaining himself, Hawkeye is randomly picked up by none other than alluring Russian superspy Natalia Romanova/Black Widow, herself also a recurring femme fatale for Iron Man during this time. Instantly smitten by the captivating spy, Hawkeye willing allows himself to be taken to her luxurious estate, where Black Widow is easily able to charm him into going up against Iron Man in exchange for upgrading his arsenal and the implied promise of winning her over if she’s able to defeat the Avenger. Speaking of whom, Stark’s personal life continues its drama as, when he goes to apologise to Pepper for leaving her high and dry, he finds that she’s soured on him and has finally agreed to date Happy (although she does this purely to make Stark jealous. Poor Happy!) To lure out his foe, Hawkeye easily sneaks into one of Stark’s factories and causes an explosion with one of his trick arrows; sure enough, the Avenger flies in to investigate and is startled when Hawkeye fires at him with arrows laced with a rust-inducing chemical. Realising that the substance is quickly hardening, Iron Man swiftly takes cover and removes his boots and gauntlets (and, as ever, I remain in awe of just how cloth-like Iron Man’s “armour” is). Hawkeye discovers the discarded pieces of Iron Man’s armour and is elated, hoping that analysing them will allow him to learn the Avenger’s secrets and increase his threat ten-fold; while he’s able to escape from the factory unopposed as Stark is frantically (and literally) re-arming himself with spare parts from the facility, it’s not long before Iron Man has tracked the archer down and run him off the road with a blast from his “Power Ray”.
Since he’s run out of his special rusting arrows, Hawkeye is forced to rely on the rest of his quiver, which Iron Man is easily able to deflect with his magnetic Repulsor Beams. However, realising that his transistors can’t power his weapons forever, Iron Man tries to swoop down and subdue Hawekeye and ends up ensnared in nylon rope strands that restrain him for all of one panel. By the next panel, Iron Man is not only free but crashing into a wooden pier and flinging Hawkeye into the water, which effectively renders the archer unconscious. As the Black Widow looks on with unimpressed disgust, Hawkeye tries one last trick to complete his mission and win over the gratitude of the gorgeous Russian spy: a “Demolition Blast” arrow that he hopes will conquer the Armoured Avenger once and for all. Unfortunately, the arrow simply ricochets off Iron Man’s armoured hide and the resulting energy blast injures the Black Widow with a glancing blow. Grief stricken and aghast at having injured the “only one [he’s] ever loved”, Hawkeye ignores the stunned Iron Man in favour of spiriting the hurt spy to safety on her nearby boat. Thanks to a convenient fog descending, and the fly zone of La Guardia airport, Iron Man is unable to pursue the two and is forced to return to his factory to brood over his complicated social/love life and to wonder where and when his next threat will arise.
“Hawkeye, The Marksman!” actually ended up being a pretty decent little Iron Man story. I should also point out that I’m not massively familiar with Iron Man’s comics either, though I’ve read a decent amount thanks to the various Marvel Platinum complications that Marvel have published. Consequently, it was interesting to see Stark portrayed as a conflicted and lovelorn man who desperately wants to confess his love of Pepper but dare not because of his dependence upon his armour to stay alive. It was also interesting seeing him torn between his feelings for her and his loyalty towards Happy; he wants to do the right thing by his friend, however difficult and tragic that is for him personally, but at the same time he willingly takes Pepper to Coney Island on what she naturally assumes is a date since she’s also besotted by him. This paints Stark as a morally grey individual since he could have easily just given Pepper the brush-off, but he’s got eyes for her so of course he wants to spend time with her, though he also doesn’t want to step on his friend’s toes (even though he already did…) so he takes her to the least romantic place he can think of. If anyone looks really bad in all this, though, it’s Pepper; she’s infused with that besotted obsession that was all-too prevalent in comic books of this era so she naturally jumps at the chance to date Stark and then only agrees to go out with Happy because she wants to make Tony jealous.
Thankfully, all of this is just a brief distraction from the main focus of the narrative, which is the introduction of Hawkeye. Here portrayed as a talented but underappreciated circus marksman, Hawkeye provides an interesting and little-seen glimpse into another side of Marvel’s fictional world. In Marvel Comics, the public are generally very fickle, easily forgetful and emotionally chaotic people who will laud the accolades of the Avengers one minute while hating and fearing Mutants and the likes of Peter Parker/Spider-Man the next while also tuning on them in either positive or negative ways on the flip of a coin. In a world so readily populated by super-powered individuals, what chance does a simple archer have of impressing the crowd? Thus, it’s no surprise that Hawkeye should feel jealous that Iron Man stole his thunder, consciously or not, and it’s somewhat understandable that he chooses to craft a brightly-coloured outfit for himself in order to share in some of the glory afforded to other costumed heroes. Unfortunately, his first tentative attempt at masked heroics ends with him being labelled a thief and then being manipulated by Black Widow; it really doesn’t take much more than a sultry glance and some irresistible charm from Madame Natasha for him to not only join her cause but to fall in love with her at first sight and, very quickly, Hawkeye’s initial plan to usurp his peers has been twisted into battling Iron Man on the urging of his newfound partner. The result is a surprisingly layered character; we don’t learn much about Hawkeye (his name and full origins are a mystery here) except that he craves acknowledgement of his unparalleled skills and is easily manipulated by a pretty face, and yet I find myself completely relating to his plight. While you could argue that he’s a naïve buffoon who allows himself to be manipulated, I see him as angry and misguided and trying to do the right thing but unable to resist the allure of the gorgeous Black Widow. Even more amusing his how completely clueless Iron Man is to all of this; he doesn’t even realise Black Widow is involved in the plot, treats Hawkeye as a mere annoyance, and is more concerned about his personal troubles than the archer’s threat. In the end, this was an entertaining introduction to Marvel’s most famous archer, who would go on to show additional layers to his personality and motivations in subsequent appearances, and I think the main takeaway from this was the tragedy that Hawkeye wished to be a celebrated hero like Iron Man and was quickly and easily led down a darker path mere moments into his debut as a costumed avenger.
Did you read “Hawkeye, The Marksman!” when it was first published? If so, what did you think to it at the time and what were your thoughts on Hawkeye? Did you enjoy his portrayal as a spurned archer looking for adulation or did you find him perhaps a bit corny? What did you think to Stark’s personal drama and did you enjoy Black Widow’s repeated attempts to defeat Iron Man during this time? What are some of your favourite Hawkeye stories and moments? Do you think he’s earned his place as an Avenger or do you find him to be a bit pointless? Whatever your thoughts on Hawkeye, feel free to sign up and leave them below or drop a comment on my social media, and check out my review of his Disney+ series.