It has been pointed out to me, on occasion, that I spend many of my blog posts (here and elsewhere) complaining about things that frustrate me and irritate me about comics. This is, to some extent, a fair criticism; I do spend more time talking about the things that I want to stop than the things that are doing perfectly well and continuing to delight me. But since I’m starting to worry about my potential for becoming known as nothing but a curmudgeon, I thought it might be a good idea to occasionally write posts that are nothing but positive. Things that I love about comics. Like, for example, Hawkeye.
Why do I love Hawkeye? Because he’s absurd. It is fundamentally a crazy idea that a glorified carny would one day wake up and decide to show off his archery skills by becoming a full-time superhero. It’s something that shows off just how wildly implausible a superhero universe is; men in powered armor and Norse gods are actually easier to suspend one’s disbelief for, because there’s no way of knowing how the real world would react to a figure of myth showing up in the modern world. But we all know how it works in the real world if you decide to practice archery until you can hit the bullseye every time, and then proceed to decide to glue bombs to your arrows and fight criminals (while wearing what looks, let’s face it, like a purple dress), and the answer is, “YOU FUCKING DON’T.” The very existence of Hawkeye is a sign that you have left real-world logic behind, which absolutely infuriates some people but evokes in others a sense of giddy delight.
I’m with the giddy delight crowd. Hawkeye is wonderful because he is impossible and plausible all at the same time. It’s plausible that someone could be an extraordinarily gifted bowman, but good enough to hang with gods and sorcerers and aliens and twenty foot tall super-scientists? That’s wonderfully impossible. Hawkeye becomes mythic not despite his Everyman status, but because of it. He’s absurdly talented, literally. Even the look of his costume contributes to this effect. It’s the exact opposite of a realistic costume that a real human being would wear when fighting crime, which is exactly what a character like this should wear.
And it comes out in the text. Hawkeye is perpetually dismissed by villain after villain. “An ordinary man with a bow can’t be a threat” is a common refrain over the decades, despite the fact that for the majority of human history, ordinary men with bows were difference-makers on the battlefield. And time and time again, Hawkeye makes bad guys pay for overlooking his talents, because he’s not ordinary at all, even though he has no powers or abilities. He succeeds time and time again, simply because he refuses to acknowledge how out of his league he is. I could name a few favorites…his battle with Imus Champion, where Champion decides to show how amazingly skilled he is by shooting a bomb that Hawkeye is standing next to from a range that would challenge even a champion archer, only to have Hawkeye shoot his bowstring in half from the same range…his fight with Crossfire, which ends with Crossfire dismissing the “weakest Avenger” by preparing to shoot him with his own bow, only to discover that the pull on Hawkeye’s bow is more than he can draw…or his ‘fight’ with Scarecrow. “What kind of arrow is that? Acid? Explosive? What?” “No, I’m all out of trick arrows. This is my old stand-by, the ‘very sharply pointed, if I shoot you with it, it makes a big hole’ arrow.” “Why don’t I just get that cell door for you.”
But more than all that, I love that Hawkeye is a fundamentally straightforward, honest, and decent human being. He’s someone who found direction in life by joining the Avengers, by becoming one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and who wound up epitomizing their code of ethics better than perhaps anyone else. Hawkeye doesn’t believe in having an Avenger like Wolverine around to do the dirty work that the other Avengers can’t or won’t do, because he believes that you can’t call yourself an Avenger if you forget about your ethics when they stop being expedient. He’s someone who believes that there really is a better way of doing things, that you believe in justice even when it’s hard because it’s meaningless if you only believe in them when it’s easy, and that you really can show people a better path in life, and they’ll take it. (That’s why it worked so damn brilliantly when he became the leader of the Thunderbolts, BTW.) (It’s also why, in the interests of staying relentlessly positive, I am not discussing Brian Michael Bendis’ handling of the character.)
I love Hawkeye because he’s bold, brash, and uncomplicatedly heroic, and because that actually works for him despite all of the cynicism in our hearts that says it shouldn’t. And if none of that stirs your heart, I will leave you with Tom DeFalco’s words: “This bow is a work of art that should never be used like a common baseball bat! **WHACK** But I guess it’ll do in a pinch.”