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As 2021 draws to a close, Disney+ has now kicked off its fourth MCU television series of the year in Hawkeye — and while it might seem like old hat at this point to have a few Avengers pop up on the small screen — this series has something going for it that none of those other shows could claim: Hawkguy.
No, that’s not a typo, it’s an endearing nickname spawned from Matt Fraction’s acclaimed, award-winning run on the Hawkeye comic from 2012 that inspired the TV series from its storyline to aesthetics. Where most Marvel Comics based on A-list (or, okay, maybe B-list) heroes focused on their exploits to save the world and rub elbows with other major heroes, Fraction’s Hawkeye comic operated largely from the exact opposite side of the spectrum. It was about Clint Barton when he wasn’t off saving the world, and instead showed a slice of life for the non-super powered hero dealing with neighborhood thugs and just trying to stay out of trouble between Avengers events.
Fraction’s run had a quick wit, more jokes than you could cram on the page, a purple-hued palate, great action, and most notably, gave Young Avenger Kate Bishop equal billing alongside Clint as the other (and arguably better) Hawkeye. Marvel has made billions at the box office in adapting and remixing its comic hits for the big screen, from Civil War to Infinity War and all the Extremises in-between. But even though fans adored Hawkeye, the trajectory of the MCU made it a tough fit for live action adaptation.
The Clint Barton of the Hawkeye comic was a single guy living in a loft apartment in New York City, serving as friend and somewhat-reluctant mentor to fellow hero Kate Bishop. With Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye revealed to be a married father with a secret farm and family in Avengers: Age of Ultron, it kind of threw any hope of a direct adaptation of the Hawkeye run out the window. Well, barring a tragic divorce storyline that, yeah, would’ve definitely put a damper on the street-level shenanigans.
It took a few years, but with Disney+ now providing a fresh canvas for a different way to tell big Marvel stories, it seems the studio finally found a way into telling this one. The key ingredient? More Kate Bishop — which thankfully is always a good thing.
Kate is brought to life in the Disney+ series by Hailee Steinfeld (Dickinson, Bumblebee), and the trick to telling this saga in the MCU revolved around recasting her backstory into one that weaves into the MCU history we already know, from Loki’s attack in The Avengers to the dark days Clint spent roaming the world as the assassin Ronin during the Avengers: Infinity War era. Kate has always been inspired by Clint, and in the series we get to see Hawkeye literally save her life as a young girl during the events of The Avengers, which inspires her to become a hero all her own with martial arts classes, fencing, and plenty of archery to top it all off.
Instead of Clint being the way into this story, it’s Kate.
One of the key elements of the Hawkeye comic was its street-level vibe, which after the multiverse-shattering stakes of Loki, is a welcome palate cleanser on the small screen, at least in these first two episodes. It’d be weird to have Hawkeye go off to fight a Thanos-level threat on his own. Local mobsters wearing tracksuits? That’s more his speed.
The two episode premiere introduces recurring comic baddies the Tracksuit Draculas (aka Tracksuit Mafia), recasting them as former foils of Ronin who pop up when his suit resurfaces after being stolen at an illegal auction (and subsequently worn by Kate). Since they think Ronin has returned, they’re out for revenge. They just don’t realize it’s Kate under the cowl, and not the OG Ronin. In the comics, the Tracksuit Mafia were simply thugs trying to pull off some real estate scams and causing trouble at Clint’s apartment complex. But regardless, it’s a largely seamless tweak that still gets these “bro” shouting baddies into the story.
Lucky the Pizza Dog, one of the most beloved supporting characters from the comic run (he even solved a murder on his own one time!) also makes an appearance, and it seems he’ll be sticking around for the series’ duration. The reframing of the story around Kate even presents an opportunity to bring some of the designs and locations from the comic to life in a new way, with Clint’s comic apartment now reimagined as Kate’s loft hideaway, with quivers and arrows scattered around the scene.
Though the MCU is obviously inspired and built upon the framework of the Marvel Comics Universe (technically the Ultimate Universe if we’re getting specific there), it’s grown and evolved into its own thing over the course of more than two dozen movies and now almost a half-dozen Disney+ shows. Continuity in comics has always been more nebulous, which offers up a bit more creative freedom to break off and tell stories that don’t fit the larger mold. That balancing act is trickier in the MCU, where you still have to explain where something fits into continuity and get the right actors back to bring it to life.
But if the two-episode premiere of Hawkeye is any indication, Marvel Studios has another hit on its hands, and is more than capable of finding innovative ways to tell some of its more offbeat and unique comic stories in live action — while still making sure they neatly fit into the MCU, too.
The first two episodes of Hawkeye are now available on Disney+, with new episodes dropping every Wednesday for the next month.