Serial Consumer celebrates and interrogates Evan’s relationship to franchised media and his addiction to purchasing its licensed products.
My first thought watching Hawkeye: They better be paying David Aja and Annie Wu royalties for this. Writer Matt Fraction, who co-created the 2012 Hawkeye series upon which this show is fundamentally based, has been featured front and center and even had a planned cameo in the series that was nixed due to COVID-19. But the artists have been persona non grata in all of the marketing, which is absolutely fucking insane. Everything about the show is lifted wholecloth from their visual design and stylistic choices. The opening and closing credits even feature artwork that mirrors their work. I hope they’re being paid. I hope they’re being compensated. This is, without a doubt, the most direct visual lift Marvel Studios has ever done.
It’s also certainly the right choice when approaching a Hawkeye solo project. In the comics, the character has been around for decades, but only Fraction’s series made him feel vital, important and interesting in a modern context. Clint Barton was kind of the last of the major Avengers characters featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be given that facelift. Before Fraction, his depiction was a bit scattershot. Just within the decade of comics prior (2000 to 2010), he had two prominent, wildly disparate depictions: the Ultimate Marvel imprint depicted him as a no-nonsense super-assassin deadly with any object he can throw — including, at one point, his fingernails. In the main Marvel Comics Universe (aka the 616 Universe), Hawkeye was brutally killed by Scarlet Witch before she resurrected him, slept with him and sent him on his way as the anonymous adventurer Ronin. The comics eventually brought back his wife, Mockingbird (also a spy), and gave them a nifty Mr. and Mrs. Smith-style series about which only a small audience seemed to care.
Essentially, there wasn’t much consensus on what to do with Hawkeye, so the MCU initially opted for the Ultimate-style gritty assassin with a dry wit. But then, right after The Avengers, Fraction and company redefined him. They softened him around the edges and gave him an aw-shucks, goofy energy. The key to growing Clint in that direction was introducing the second Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, into his life in a more substantial way. Kate was originally created for Allen Heinberg’s Young Avengers series, but making her the more competant Hawkeye allowed Clint to grow into a real mentor character. It was the kind of platonic chemistry ripe for fandoms to adopt at the time, and the artwork was so distinct from other mainstream comics that a whole lot of fans eager to engage with superhero stories found their standard-bearer.
Among anyone who cares enough about the MCU to postulate what an eventual Hawkeye film or show would look like, it’s always been clear the studio would need to adapt Kate into the franchise. The big hurdle is that the MCU’s Hawkeye is in a much different place, and plays a much different role, than the comic iteration of Hawkeye. It’s a lot more difficult to soft-reboot a movie character than a comic-book character. In 2015, around the time Fraction’s Hawkeye run was reaching its conclusion, Joss Whedon doubled down on his version of the character in the films and, in Avengers: Age of Ultron, introduced the Barton family: A wife, two kids and another on the way, holed away on a farm that Nick Fury kept off the books to protect his star agent. That made it harder to imagine them turning him into a silly bachelor on adventures in the city.
Additionally, the character Jeremy Renner has always played leans into his adulthood. He’s the responsible Avenger, the parent, the one who only comes out of retirement after Ultron because Tony is mistreating Wanda during the events of Captain America: Civil War. He’s the character who goes on a killing spree after Thanos wipes out half of humanity, implying internal darkness we’d never seen before and opening the door to some complex moral questions the MCU has thus far sidestepped about what their heroes can get away with and suffer no consequence. Although funny, Renner has always given the character more of a dry wit, far from what Fraction developed in his comic’s double act with Kate. To adapt his run into the MCU, a lot needs to be changed — and it’s a tough balancing act of tone, character history and scene-setting to get there.
I’m happy to say Marvel Studios’ Hawkeye — debuting with two episodes tomorrow (11/24) on Disney+ and running new episodes weekly through December 22 — succeeds at merging the two. It nails the characters and feels like a natural extension of Clint’s world rather than a weird reversion to fit a more popular iteration of his story. It nails the character as Renner has created him, as well as Hailee Steinfeld’s introduction as Kate and the rapport they share. Renner is allowed to stretch his iteration’s skin a little more, giving Clint more humor without betraying the “responsible father” approach that sets his version apart. Steinfeld, on the other hand, is a Kate who is much more inexperienced (but not incompetent) than her comic-book counterpart. In some ways, their dynamic is switched outright: Clint is the straight man and Kate is the slightly buffoonish one who makes mistakes. It’s different than the book and doesn’t quite deliver the “sharp girl lectures aimless goof energy” that helped sell the book. Thankfully, it’s also not “Clint lectures stupid girl,” which is what it could’ve been 15 years ago.
Frankly, I entered Hawkeye wondering how I could possibly care less about Renner’s version of the character. But after two episodes provided for review, I’d really love to see this same duo carry multiple seasons of holiday-themed adventures. Maybe that will change after the remaining four hours, but I certainly didn’t expect to feel this way about the characters this quickly.
One aspect of Clint’s life never touched upon in the movies is the character’s deafness. They bring that into this show very naturally. Given the cliffhanger to the second episode (and the character introduced), it seems likely to play a larger role in future episodes.
Steinfeld has been a prominent fan-cast for Kate since the character’s resurgence in the new series, and she lives up to all expectations. She’s funny, witty and extremely fashionable. Her costumes are superb. It helps that a decompressed series like this gives her the chance to change clothing and costumes. But even so, the ones she wears are just great. A black suit for a formal gathering (that another character comments on) is particularly cool. She’s avant-garde and embodies the “rich, fashionable girl drawn to the fight” element of the character. Perhaps she’ll eventually grow into the Emma Peel-esque visual inspiration that Aja used to redesign her costume in the comics.
As far as action and cinematography go, don’t expect anything different from the MCU’s offerings thus far. Their street-level stuff, in particular, is shot for efficiency. It feels like TV, even though it has more sheen and more money behind it. That’s not really a knock. It just is what it is, and fans hoping to see something more concerned with creating a tone and atmosphere in its shot compositions might be disappointed. The Christmas setting goes a long way, though, toward feeling unique within the relative confines of the MCU visual palette … except where things are brought in from the comic. Bringing it full circle: There’s a particular set featured here, an apartment that has been re-contextualized for these two characters but as dynamic and colorful as it was in the books. Its presence is painfully short-lived but it’s a welcome sight. I’m hoping the ensuing episodes bring in more and more of that color and life. Previews make it appear they’re going to be re-creating the stellar car chase from the third issue of the comic in a forthcoming episode. Maybe Kate will go to L.A. in Season 2 to solve mysteries? I hope so. I really do.
What I Have Bought
I haven’t bought a whole lot of Marvel toys in the month between the season finale of What If …? and the premiere of Hawkeye — just two Eternals Marvel Legends figures, Ikaris and Thena. I’m hoping to grab more when they hit $10 a pop, but we bought those for their solid face-prints of actors we like more than the characters themselves. I also picked up a few from the What If …? wave — Zombie Cap, Dark Strange and Captain Peggy. At one point, I purchased a $40 Hydra Stomper but returned it to Target because its midsection hinges suck and it’s not nearly as compatible with the Captain Peggy as I thought it would be. Damn thing kept falling over no matter how I posed it. I also got the new Sylvie figure from Loki.
What I Would Buy
A good Marvel Legends 6” Hawkeye (Kate Bishop), which given the line’s fast turnaround will probably be announced for pre-order soon after these episodes air. Hasbro works wonders with the Marvel license, and I wish their Star Wars team could work half as quickly. I’m still waiting on figures from last year’s season of The Mandalorian.