Ever since it first launched Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios has been able to cleverly side-step some of its more famous comic book story lines when creating its films and, now, TV shows. Though some of the film titles—like Avengers: Civil War or Captain America: The Winter Soldier—invoke comic story lines, Marvel always has found a way to twist and turn the familiar book plots into something new. WandaVison, for example, played brilliantly with popular Marvel comics like House of M and Vision. Whether this tactic is to ensure audiences will be surprised or to avoid having to pay the authors of the original comics for their work is the subject for another article, but Marvel decided to break with tradition when it lifted very heavily from Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Annie Wu’s award-winning stretch from 2012 to 2015 for the new Hawkeye limited series. Even the logo is the same.
Fraction and Aja were compensated for their influential work, with Fraction even serving as a consulting producer on the Disney+ series. (Disney could not confirm whether Annie Wu was also compensated for her contributions.) That means that now, more than ever, we have something of a road map for what to expect from a Marvel TV show. There will still be surprising twists and turns in the six upcoming episodes, especially given how Fraction’s version of the down-on-his-luck bachelor Clint Barton differs from Jeremy Renner’s competent family man. Speaking with The Ringer-Verse podcast, Fraction outlined some of the more important similarities between these Hawkeye stories and how they will play out for a whole new audience. So, in a spoiler-free way, here are a few important comic book knowledge arrows you can put in your quiver to help you prepare for Marvel’s action-packed holiday adventure, with input from both Fraction and series executive producer Rhys Thomas.
Who Is Clint Barton?
This seems like a safe space to start. In the comics, as in the films, Clint is potentially the least powerful, most breakable Avenger. He is, at minimum, the one most likely to be nursing cuts, bruises, and scars due to his complete lack of superpowers. In the comics, Aja draws Clint as constantly covered in bandages, which is something the Disney+ series will have some fun with.
The concept of Fraction and Aja’s comic centers on what Clint gets up to when he isn’t getting battered trying to save the world. “This is what happens when he goes home to do laundry,” Fraction says. “You have two and a half hours to go run an errand? I can do a Hawkeye issue in that two and a half hours.” One of the books’ most enjoyable issues—which the show riffed on heavily for the recent Disney+ Day footage—is what happens when Clint tries to buy some tape to label all his trick arrows.
Fraction’s Clint is a hapless single guy who spends his off-days trying to protect the other tenants of his apartment building in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Obviously, that premise won’t work for the Clint who, as we discovered in Avengers: Age of Ultron, has a wife and kids on a farm in Missouri. So the Hawkeye TV writers engineered a story in which Clint has come to New York City to celebrate Christmas with his three kids. That family field trip, Rhys Thomas says, connects back to Natasha’s sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame. Nat died so Clint could be with his family, and racked with guilt, Clint overcompensates by trying to ensure his family has “the best Barton Christmas ever.” Then, maybe, his best friend won’t have died for nothing. Clint’s desperate desire to get back home to Missouri for Christmas puts a nice, propulsive ticking clock on the Disney+ story compared to the aimless after-hours vibe of the Fraction-Aja book.
So what does this responsible family man have to do with the train wreck bachelor of the Fraction-Aja comic? Fraction sees the two as not that dissimilar. “[Age of Ultron] gave him a family and a heart that ran around that side of his body,” Fraction says. “They made him the real guy on the team and that movie entirely functions because Hawkeye says, ‘I think I saw a couple more people out there’ and he gets up and starts moving before Cap and Thor. The spirit of the character was honored, if not the continuity.” Still, Renner’s version of Clint can’t be the chaotic loose cannon of the comics so enter …
Kate Bishop, Who Is Somehow Also Hawkeye?
In the Fraction-Aja comic, Clint is saved again and again by a young and incredibly competent protégé named Kate Bishop, who’s also known as Hawkeye. Right before Fraction-Aja’s run in the comics started, Clint Barton had died. (Listen, characters will do that in comics.) Young Kate Bishop then took over the mantle in his absence. When Clint came back (again, characters will do that in comics), he happily shared the title with Kate, one of the comic’s many refreshingly inclusive aspects. Kate Bishop is a rich girl with years of combat training under her belt: Batman with a ponytail. Unlike Bruce Wayne’s dad, Kate’s father is alive and well in the comics and not always on the level.
In the book, Kate and Clint get into several scrapes in which he inevitably screws up and she swoops in to save him. (Only occasionally is it vice versa.) But with Renner’s Clint slipping into the more responsible, dad-like role in the Disney+ show, Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate now gets to be the agent of chaos. “In the Fraction run Clint’s life is definitely out of control,” Thomas says. “Kate’s this wonderful voice of reason and maturity. In this show, MCU Clint has a family and responsibilities.” Steinfeld’s version of Kate, Thomas says, is closer to the version of the character we get on the West Coast when she leaves Clint to have her own adventures and adds that Steinfeld plays a “peppy, energetic version of her.”
Given Marvel’s Phase 4 focus on seeding a new generation of young heroes into its properties like Wanda’s kids, Speed and Wiccan, or the upcoming debuts of America Chavez in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel, it’s likely that Steinfeld’s version of Hawkeye has a long future in the MCU. Thomas and the rest of the show’s team, then, had to be sure they nailed her introduction. “Enthusiasm can quickly teeter into annoying and unsympathetic,” he says. The Kate portions of the scripts underwent heavy rewrites; Jenn Kaytin Robinson, who knows her way around a rich girl vigilante thanks to her brilliant MTV show Sweet/Vicious, was one of many writers brought on to fine-tune Kate. The end result is a young woman who can alternate between a highly trained fighter and a Hawkeye fangirl in the blink of an eye. Her boundless enthusiasm may exasperate Clint, but that’s part of the fun of the show. Notably, though, this version of Kate Bishop has a single mom instead of a dad—which takes us to …
The Villains … So, So Many Villains
The Hawkeye comic had a nice long run, which meant that Kate and Clint clashed with all kinds of villains on both the East and West Coast. The Disney+ show will make use of some of their most memorable foes including a pack of vaguely Slavic, comically inept henchmen known as the Tracksuit Mafia. You’ll know them by their … tracksuits, and also their frequent use of “bro.” The show will also employ other villainous figures from the Fraction-Aja book, like the Swordsman (a.k.a., Jack Duquesne, played with chilly smarm by Better Call Saul’s Tony Dalton) and a psychotic mercenary known as the Clown (a.k.a. Kazi, played by Fra Fee). In the comics, Kazi has a brief flirtation with Kate Bishop and Free, intriguingly, is the fourth-billed actor in the first episode despite appearing only briefly. He pauses to stare at Kate and Thomas confirms: “Obviously that lingering look usually does forecast further involvement down the road.”
A significant villain from the Fraction-Aja run missing from the cast list is Madame Masque, a glamorous crime boss who tangles with Kate again and again. Some fans of the Fraction-Aja book wonder whether Vera Farmiga, who is playing Kate’s mother Eleanor Bishop, might actually be the show’s top villain in disguise. It must be said: A threat coming from inside the house would make perfect sense given what we’ve seen from the villains-hiding-in-plain-sight like Agatha Harkness, Mysterio, and Sharon Carter in Marvel’s Phase 4.
Another villain in the Disney+ show who has nothing to do with the Fraction-Aja comic is Maya Lopez, a.k.a. Echo (played by newcomer Alaqua Cox). Maya isn’t traditionally a Hawkeye character, she’s a Daredevil character. Her closest in-book connection to Hawkeye is that at one point in the comics she held the title of Ronin, the vigilante mantle the MCU’s Clint Barton took up after Thanos snapped his family away. Another connection between Echo and Clint is the fact that she’s deaf and he’s hard of hearing due to trauma from his many Avengers adventures. (Just another joy of being the most breakable Avenger.) Fraction and Aja published a groundbreaking issue of Hawkeye using ASL in the comic book frames, and Thomas confirms Maya and Clint will connect over their hearing loss. Echo also already has her own Disney+ spinoff show in the works, which leads many people to believe ...
Kingpin Is Coming
Is he? Hard to say. The popular Daredevil villain was voiced by Liev Schreiber in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, played by Michael Clarke Duncan in the 2003 Daredevil film, and, most memorably, embodied by the great Vincent D’Onofrio on Netflix’s Daredevil. Kingpin, a.k.a. Wilson Fisk, is all over the Fraction-Aja comic book run as the crime boss pulling some major strings behind the scenes. For his part, D’Onofrio has given some indications on social media that he might be part of the Hawkeye cast.
This would be a huge moment for the MCU bringing the Netflix shows into its continuity. Before Disney gave Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige a 2019 promotion that put him in charge of both Marvel film and television, there was a real separation between what was happening in the MCU and what Marvel was doing over on Netflix. Some fans wondered whether the Netflix Marvel roster of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, etc. might just cease to exist in Feige’s Marvel TV world, but things are looking up for the devil of Hell’s Kitchen at least.
In the comics, Maya Lopez is a Kingpin protégé until she switches sides to train with Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil. If (and that’s a moderately-sized if) Kingpin shows up in Hawkeye and again in the Maya Lopez spinoff series, it’s very possible Charlie Cox’s Daredevil might follow him. In fact, some fans wonder whether Echo might serve as a soft reboot of the popular Netflix series. Though Marvel Studios likely won’t be bringing all the Netflix heroes into the MCU (sorry, Iron Fist), it’s starting to look very likely that Matt and some of his friends will come to play. Speaking of playing …
Who’s a Good Boy?
In the first issue of the Fraction-Aja comic, Clint rescues and adopts a golden retriever named Lucky after the dog is first beaten by bad guys and then hit by a car. Clint, ever the responsible bachelor, feeds the pup some pizza, leading many comic books fans to refer to Lucky as “Pizza Dog.” When asked about Lucky in the show, Matt Fraction answered quite simply: “He’s a good boy. I just hope he stays grounded.”
Fraction’s thoughts about Lucky in the comic are a bit more complicated. He’s referred to the dog as Clint’s “anima,” employing Carl Jung’s word for an external projection of one’s soul. Lucky’s origins are very personal to Fraction. “They didn’t know what to do for the first issue [of Hawkeye],” he says. “Then my dog died and I wrote it. So it’s this continuing communion with this anima, right? It keeps talking to me and I keep listening and now look: it’s going to be an action figure. My anima has an action figure. Beat that, Carl Jung!”
In the show, it’s not Clint who rescues Lucky (and feeds him pizza), it’s Kate. And, in fact, the show gentles the circumstances of their meet cute from the harrowing introduction Lucky gets in the book. This, Thomas says, was a choice the writers made to give Lucky (who becomes a pretty important character in the comic!) a bit more agency. It also happens to make the show much more palatable for the Disney+ audience.
What Does the Future Hold?
Like all of the Marvel shows on Disney+, Hawkeye has to serve a few different functions, but chief among them, it seems, is launching Kate Bishop into the MCU. Phase 4 has seen its share of passed torches, whether it’s Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson picking up Captain America’s shield or Yelena Belova potentially sliding into the hole left by her sister Natasha Romanoff. But Hawkeye, Fraction says, isn’t exactly about passing torches (or bows). “It feels like a sharing-of-the-torch story,” he says. “I think as long as Jeremy Renner’s knees hold up, there’s always a reason for Hawkeye to get up to some kind of business. [The show] is about the price you pay to be an Avenger and squaring up your bill at the end of the day. It’s not all cool arrows and trick shots, right? There’s a karmic thing that [Clint and Kate] have in common: They can’t stop helping people.”
If Marvel has its way, young heroes like Kate Bishop (and possibly Maya Lopez), will continue to save the day for years to come and help us forget all the heroes we lost in the Infinity War.