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‘Hawkeye,’ a Primer

The next MCU series finds Clint Barton coping with survivor’s guilt after the events of Endgame, as well as a shady vigilante past. Oh, and it’s essentially a Christmas special? Here’s everything you need to know.

Disney/Ringer Illustration after David Aja

Back in 2019, Avengers: Endgame didn’t open with the customary Marvel Studios animation, but rather a cold open centered on a man named Clint Barton and his family. Clint is giving his daughter Lila an archery lesson on their farmstead property in Missouri, his wife and two sons close by. Moments after she hits the bull’s-eye, though, Lila vanishes. Clint searches with a growing sense of panic, only to realize the rest of his family has suddenly vanished too.

In the five years following the Snap that wiped out half of all life in the universe, Barton gave up his title as the arrow-slinging Avenger, Hawkeye, and became the violent vigilante known as Ronin. Donning a hooded black-and-gold suit, Clint took on crime syndicates in New York City and across the world, earning himself quite a few enemies in the process.

With next week’s two-episode premiere of Hawkeye, the third MCU TV show to be set after the events of Endgame, Barton will face the consequences of his time as Ronin. Thanks to a talented young archer named Kate Bishop, an overzealous fan who decides to fight crime in New York while wearing the same black-and-gold Ronin suit, Clint’s Christmas plans are interrupted and he’s pulled back into superhero life. Together, this new duo of archers is forced to take on the city’s criminal underworld, with Clint’s only wish being to make it back in time for the holiday with his family—who were resurrected by the Blip.

With a creative team led by head writer Jonathan Igla (Mad Men) and director–executive producer Rhys Thomas, Hawkeye will run for six episodes on Disney+ over the holiday season, with the events of the show taking place over the course of a week leading up to Christmas. The series marks Hawkeye’s first solo project after Jeremy Renner’s appearances in five films dating back to his brief cameo in 2011’s Thor, and it draws inspiration from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Eisner Award–winning comics that ran for 22 issues from 2012 to 2015. Perhaps more than any other MCU title before it, Hawkeye seems to faithfully adapt the comic book source material. Between Fraction’s witty writing and the incredible artwork from Aja and Annie Wu, Hawkeye (2012) is one of the most beloved Marvel Comics runs of the past decade.

Ahead of the marksman’s return on Wednesday, here’s everything you need to know.

Phase 4 and the MCU’s Post-Endgame Era

Following Loki’s multiversal adventures this past summer, Hawkeye becomes the fourth live-action TV series to land on Disney+. Like its predecessors, the new show uses the traumatic events of the Infinity Saga as a launching pad into the future—a storytelling model that has quickly become the go-to formula for Marvel in Phase 4.

Similar to Wanda Maximoff dealing with the loss of Vision in WandaVision, Hawkeye reckons both with Clint’s past as Ronin and his survivor’s guilt after Natasha Romanoff sacrificed herself in his place in Endgame. (To Clint’s credit, he and his mohawk nearly died trying to fight Natasha for the right to sacrifice their life for the Soul Stone on Vormir.) At the time of the blockbuster’s release, some fans were upset by Marvel’s decision to let Clint live instead of Natasha, but Hawkeye’s Thomas recently defended the choice in an interview with Insider. “I think, dramatically, it was the right thing to do,” Thomas said. “Clint, he’s a family man. I think selfishly for our show, it does set you up with a character. That he did these dark things as the Ronin but then, yes, had someone sacrifice herself even knowing that so that he could have his life back with his family. And that was an interesting entry point for me.”

Hawkeye takes place two years after the events of Endgame; despite the dramatic tone suggested by a show about survivor’s guilt and shame from being a murderous vigilante, here’s where I should remind you that Hawkeye is also a six-part holiday event centered on Christmas. This is also a show about the guy who famously said: “Look, the city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots … and I have a bow and arrow—none of this makes sense.”

Thomas has experience on comedy series like Documentary Now! and Saturday Night Live, and it’s clear that Hawkeye will aim to carry over the comedic (and holiday) spirit of Fraction’s comic book run. Fraction—who served as a consultant on the series—helped redefine the character by leaning into the fact that Clint Barton is just a regular human being working in a crime-fighting industry dominated by gods and super soldiers. While Clint’s injuries often send him to the hospital, his colleagues are pretty much always able to get killed and walk it off. Based on the amount of bandages and frozen products Clint piles onto his body in the trailer alone, it seems as if Hawkeye is headed in the right direction on that front.

Between its lighthearted tone and dedication to a Christmas setting, Hawkeye will mark a shift for Marvel Studios’ emerging television division as it continues to experiment with a new medium. But in addition to how the show will deal with the emotional trauma of the Infinity Saga, Hawkeye will also pull on a recurring Phase 4 thread of the old-guard heroes passing the torch to a new generation. Which brings us to ...

Introducing: Kate Bishop

While Hawkeye will give one of the original Avengers his first chance to shine, the series will also welcome a new Hawkeye into the MCU: Kate Bishop. Played by Hailee Steinfeld, Bishop comes from a wealthy Manhattan family and is the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest archer.” In the comics, Kate takes up the mantle of Hawkeye following Barton’s death, and—since death is almost always a temporary state in the Marvel universe—holds onto it after Clint is resurrected and becomes the katana-wielding Ronin. Later, in Fraction’s Hawkeye series, Clint returns to being Hawkeye and begins working alongside Kate, with the two sharing the mantle.

Marvel Comics

Although Bishop became a more popular character in Fraction’s series, she first appeared as a breakout character in 2005’s Young Avengers. Like DC’s Teen Titans, the comic introduced a new superteam of teenaged heroes, most of whom are descendents of Avengers and other superheroes. Bishop’s debut in the MCU makes her the latest Young Avenger to appear in a Disney+ series, in what has become a trend for Marvel Studios’ live-action TV shows. Following the appearance of the Maximoff twins in WandaVision, Elijah Bradley in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Kid Loki in Loki, Kate is the fifth member of the team to be introduced. Her arrival continues to suggest that Marvel is gearing up for a project that will bring them all together in the future, though nothing has been announced yet.

Steinfeld, the actress who earned an Oscar nomination at the age of 14 for her performance in True Grit, seems in line to take over the Hawkeye mantle in Phase 4, with or without Renner’s Hawkeye in the picture. It remains to be seen whether that means Barton will pass the torch and ease back into superhero retirement with his family, or whether the Avenger won’t survive past the conclusion of Hawkeye. Whatever fate lies ahead for Barton, Bishop’s story is just getting started.

Christmas Grinches

Fraction’s comic series features a wide range of villains, including Kingpin, Madame Masque, and a number of other original characters; Clint and Kate manage to piss off a lot of dangerous people. For Hawkeye, the show’s creative team found a clever way to weave in Fraction’s story lines within the context of the MCU and the aftermath of the Infinity Saga, with Clint’s five-year stint as Ronin providing a convenient backstory for the army of villains he now faces. “The past has caught up with me,” Clint says in the show’s first trailer. “When I wore this suit, I made a whole lot of enemies.”

Among those enemies is an important newcomer to the MCU: Maya Lopez, otherwise known as Echo. Played by Alaqua Cox, Maya is a deaf Native American superhero who has the ability to imitate her opponent’s fighting style. In the comics, her father was one of Kingpin’s henchmen, and when he died while Maya was only a child, she was taken in by the villainous Kingpin himself. After Cox makes her debut in Hawkeye, she’s already set to star in a TV series of her own, with Echo announced during Disney+ Day this past week.

Marvel Studios

Along with Echo, Hawkeye will integrate Natasha Romanoff’s successor, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), into the wider MCU following her introduction in this summer’s Black Widow. The only time the movie ever acknowledges Natasha’s death is during its post-credits scene, in which Yelena stops by her adopted older sister’s grave before receiving a surprise visit from Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Val remains a mysterious presence after showing up for just a couple of scenes in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but she appears long enough in Black Widow to explain how Yelena will tie in to Hawkeye. After Yelena tells Val that she shouldn’t be cutting into her holiday time, Fontaine tells her, “I’ve got your next target,” while presenting her with an image of a Ronin-era Barton. “Maybe you’d like a shot at the man responsible for your sister’s death,” Fontaine says.

Marvel Studios

It seems likely that both Echo and Yelena will find themselves on the same side as Clint and Kate after they all fight through their respective differences and misunderstandings. However, the same probably can’t be said about the other villains who are set to debut in Hawkeye, including the Tracksuit Draculas, hitman Kazi the Clown, and Jack “Swordsman” Duquesne, a character that serves as both a mentor and an ally to Hawkeye in the comics, in addition to being one of his longtime enemies. And though each of these characters have either appeared in trailers or have otherwise been confirmed ahead of the series’ release, there are still any number of villains that might want a piece of Barton in Hawkeye. Based on his presence in Fraction’s series, his comic book ties to Echo, and the never-ending rumors of Matt Murdock’s appearance in the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home, there’s been growing speculation that Kingpin will make his long-awaited MCU debut. (Even Daredevil’s Vincent D’Onofrio is out here tweeting about the show, so one can dream he’ll be reprising his role as the infamous Wilson Fisk soon enough.)

With Bishop, Lopez, and Belova all set to appear in Hawkeye, the upcoming series will usher in a new era of superheroes as Marvel Studios reshuffles its leading characters in Phase 4. But before then, Barton has his own Christmas story to tell, and after a decade of serving as a side character, he has a chance to be the star for the very first time.