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5 essential Hawkeye comics you should read before watching Marvel's new Disney+ series

Before Hawkeye's first solo adventure in the MCU, let's catch up on his time in the comics spotlight.

By Matthew Jackson
Hawkeye #2 Comic Cover

Clint Barton, the Marvel Comics sharpshooter known as Hawkeye, has been part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the days of the first Thor film, when Jeremy Renner made a cameo appearance as the character ahead of his bigger role in the Avengers franchise. It's been a long, strange road since then, but this Thanksgiving Barton is finally getting an MCU story to call his own. In just a couple of weeks the character will star in Hawkeye, a Disney+ series that sees him teaming up with first-time MCU character Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), Marvel's other Hawkeye, in an adventure that includes a Captain America musical, Christmas in New York City, and Lucky, a one-eyed dog who loves pizza.

It's an exciting time for the character on the screen, but if you're a comics reader, you know it's far from the first time that Hawkeye has stepped up from team member in other stories to starring role. For decades now, writers and artists have been putting their own spin on the Marvel sharpshooter, and it's given us plenty of great stories to draw from in preparation for the Disney+ premiere. So, whether you're a first-time Hawkeye reader or a longtime fan just looking for a refresh, here are five essential Hawkeye stories to dig into while you wait for the streaming series.

Hawkeye Vol. 1 (1983)

Hawkeye #1 (1983) Comic Cover

The legendary Mark Gruenwald, whose fingerprints were all over Disney+'s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, both wrote and drew this Marvel miniseries, which marked the first time Clint Barton got a solo title after years of service in the Avengers. While it's not necessarily a story in the same tone of more contemporary adventures (we'll get to shoe in a second), Gruenwald was always a reliable source of straightforward superhero adventure, which makes this a great showcase for the kind of diving-in-headlong tone of a lot of Hawkeye stories that follow. It begins with Hawkeye working as Head of Security for Cross Technological Enterprises, where he's got his own flying motorcycle, then breaks out into a conspiracy thriller centered on a plot to turn Marvel's heroes against each other by way of a brainwashing machine. It's also particularly noteworthy for launching Hawkeye's longstanding relationship with Mockingbird, and for being an early exploration of the character's hearing loss and how he comes to deal with that.

Hawkeye Vol. 4 (2012-2015)

Hawkeye #1 Comic Cover

Though decades of Hawkeye stories came before this one and made the character a Marvel mainstay, this book is arguably the reason we're all here, and Marvel and Disney have made no secret of it. This book is the reason the Hawkeye Disney+ marketing looks the way it does, the reason the series is a Clint Barton/Kate Bishop team-up, and the reason there's a one-eyed dog named Lucky at the center of the show. In 2012, writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja set out to tell a story about what Clint Barton does when "he's not being an Avenger," and in the process changed not just this character, but the whole of superhero comics, for the better. In a landmark 22-issue run that eventually included artists like Annie Wu, Francesco Francavilla, Chris Eliopoulos and more, Fraction took both Clint Barton and Kate Bishop on an adventure centered on a New York apartment building, a group of Eastern European gangsters in tracksuits, a falling-out that sent Kate out to have her own adventures on the West Coast, the return of Clint's brother Barney, and so much more. More importantly, the series brought whip-smart and finely detailed characterization to both Clint and Kate that would shape their presence in Marvel Comics for years to come, and will now shape their presence in a new live-action series. If you have to pick just one Hawkeye comic to read, pick this one.

All-New Hawkeye (2015-2016)

Hawkeye #1 (2015) Comic Cover

The Matt Fraction/David Aja/Annie Wu era of Hawkeye comics was always going to be a tough act to follow, which is why writer Jeff Lemire and artist Ramon Perez wisely went their own way with a story that both retains certain key elements of what came before and pushes things into ambitious new territory. Across two volumes and 11 issues of All-New Hawkeye, the creative team set up a relatively self-contained story that still managed to plumb the depths of both Clint and Kate's pasts and set the stage for a future confrontation that has major implications for who they are as heroes. It begins with the two Hawkeyes on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission to retrieve an asset from HYDRA, but everything changes when Clint and Kate discover that the "weapon" they were meant to secure is actually three young, super-powered children. What the sharpshooters do next, and what it means for both of them, forms the bulk of this weighty, time-spanning story that's well worth picking up.

Hawkeye Vol. 5 (2017-2018)

Hawkeye #1 Comic Cover

If you're looking for a comic that focuses pretty exclusively on Kate Bishop's side of the Hawkeye dynamic, this is the book for you. Written by Kelly Thompson with an art team that included Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh, and Jordie Bellaire, Hawkeye Vol. 5 drew some inspiration from the section of Vol. 4 in which Kate went out to Los Angeles to get away from Clint. This time she's back in the City of Angels trying to make a name for herself as private investigator, and it's not exactly going great, at least until she gets a stalker case that she hopes could break things wide open. Full of beautiful art that encapsulates Kate's own hyper-aware view of the world and rich with Thompson's pitch-perfect inner monologue for the character, Hawkeye is a beautifully developed look at the younger sharpshooter and the ways in which she tries to stand out as a hero in her own right.

Hawkeye: Freefall (2020)

Hawkeye Freefall #1 Comic Cover

You might have missed the six-issue miniseries last year amid the chaos of the pandemic, but it's well worth going back and revisiting for its exploration of how far Clint Barton is willing to go to do what he thinks is right. Written by Matthew Rosenberg with art by Otto Schmidt, Freefall begins with Hawkeye capturing a seemingly low-level supervillain, then growing frustrated when that villain gets off on a technicality. To make things more complicated, someone is going around the city dressing up as Ronin, Clint's old vigilante persona, which makes the other Avengers think that Clint has drifted back to his dark side. What's really going on is better discovered when you actually read the book, but it definitely evolves into a very compelling exploration of Clint's relationship with the Ronin mantle and what it means to his larger superhero career. If you were fascinated by Ronin in Avengers: Endgame and want to learn more about that part of Clint's career, pick this book up.

Hawkeye arrives November 24 on Disney+.