Hawkeye: Season 1 — a review (Disney +)

My street cred as a comic book geek is mostly nonexistent.

My personal slice of the space/time loaf—the timespan in which I actively purchased and collected comic books—was in the 1970s until the beginning of the ’80s. There was some Silver Age influence, especially on the DC Comics side of the equation where I cut my superhero teeth, but I made mine mostly Marvel, and primarily Bronze Age, even before becoming a teenager. When you catch me waxing eloquent about superhero comics, those are the ones I’m usually talking about.

I dropped in from time to time over the years. Occasionally, I read an issue of Wizard magazine (which ceased publication more than a decade ago now). In the 1990s, I invested in Image Comics until I lost interest. These issues remain bagged and boarded, something I never did when I was kid. I had also dabbled in the Death of Superman con game (knowing full well, as every comic book reader did, that it was a con), and the relaunch of the X-Men with Jim Lee and Scott Williams.

But, I was no longer a part of any comic book continuity. I heard some rumors about what was happening at DC and Marvel, but I didn’t have firsthand knowledge. I picked up a few issues from other companies as well, such as Valiant. I remember having issues of X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Turok and Solar, Man of the Atom. I even played Turok: Dinosaur Hunter on the Nintendo 64. That was a quarter century ago, even if it still feels like yesterday to me.

Any knowledge I have about what’s happening in superhero comics in the twenty-first century has mostly come to me through cultural osmosis. Sam Wilson has become Captain America? Well, it’s about time. The Barry Allen Flash returned to life after being dead for twenty-three years? That took longer than I thought it would. A female Thor? Right on. Iceman comes out as gay? I didn’t see that one coming, but that’s okay, too. The Human Torch would have made more sense to me: he was flaming on since the ’60s.

I apologize for this and all of my feeble attempts at humor. Mea culpa.

This is all my characteristically long-winded way of saying that I had no idea who Kate Bishop was before watching this Disney + streaming series.

Here’s the part where I get to sound like the curmudgeonly old man who says, “My Hawkeye was always Clint Barton.” While this is true, it’s even more true to say that my Hawkeye was the Clint Barton of the 1970s, drawn by various artists, though most memorably by George Perez and John Byrne. He was the hot-headed hero whom Henry Peter Gyrich replaced on the Avengers with Sam Wilson, the Falcon. Even back then, I chose to ignore the time Barton became Goliath on the Avengers for a while, and I really had no idea what happened to him in the 1980s, after life intervened and I dropped out of the continuity. West Coast Avengers were after my time.

So, I was familiar with the character Hawkeye when Jeremy Renner began portraying him in the MCU. While I’ve never been an active proponent of change, I have learned to adapt over the decades. I liked the Renner Hawkeye, even though he wasn’t really “my” Hawkeye and he evolved over several years from cipher/villain to non-powered all-around good guy and family man. He is a reminder that, in the MCU, that it isn’t necessary to be bitten by a radioactive spider or to be born a Norse god to become a superhero.

He also remained a junior varsity superhero, just as I remembered him from the comics. He was no Iron Man, Captain America or Thor, certainly. Feel free to disagree with me, but it’s no accident that he is the last of the original Avengers to get his own solo project.

Except it’s not really a solo project, is it? Enter Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld).

According to my research (okay, one Google search), Kate Bishop made her initial appearance in 2005 in the first issue of Young Avengers, a Marvel comic I didn’t even know existed before today. Therefore, not really a new character in the wider world out there, but a new character to me. Miss Bishop has also assumed the mantle of Hawkeye in the comics. Or is sharing the superhero name with Clint Barton, perhaps. It’s all kind of hazy to me.

Since I had no preconceived notions about Kate Bishop, it was easy for me to accept the gifted Hailee Steinfeld in the role. I don’t know how her performance compares to her comic-book counterpart. I don’t need to know, in fact. She seems perfect as the very young and naive Kate, a slightly goofy stand-in for every MCU fan who witnesses the actions of the Avengers and wants to emulate them. This first season of Hawkeye is as much her story as Clint Barton’s. Perhaps even more so. She is the catalyst for much of the story action in this season.

Renner’s Hawkeye comes off more favorably when played against another character. While this may sound like a sexist comment to you, I think he is at his best when paired with a female character, whether it’s Scarlett Johanssen’s Black Widow, Linda Cardellini’s Laura Barton (Agent 19 and possibly Mockingbird?), or, now, Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop. Clint is all-too-human, far-from-invulnerable, and imperfect-though-highly-skilled. This makes him relatable, and his interactions with all the women in his life adds wonderful layers to his characterization.

There is an impressive snarl of plot threads weaving their way through these six episodes. All of these are grounded in something more closely related to reality than WandaVision or Loki, if I must compare the series to other Disney + Marvel shows. Plus, the stakes seem less world-threatening than those of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. That makes these events no less engaging or affecting, but the personal and emotional route seems to be the correct path to take with Clint Barton.

In case we’ve forgotten, the viewer is reminded that when Barton’s family disappeared during the Blip he dressed up as Ronin and killed a bunch of gangsters with a sword. That factors into the story, of course. Clint is also dealing with the loss of Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow. He’s also trying to show his family a good time in New York City at Christmas time, until Kate Bishop comes into his life and he has to assume the role of her protector. He has to deal with the Tracksuit Mafia, a mostly bumbling gang of eastern European criminals whose secret big boss is someone you might remember from a previous Netflix Marvel series.

A high-ranking member of the Tracksuits is a deaf young woman named Maya (Alaqua Cox), who has perfectly valid reasons to hate Hawkeye. Since Clint Barton is also hearing-impaired (something I’m not sure I knew before this series), there is a bit of a connection between the characters. Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), whose breakout appearance was in the Black Widow feature film, is also on hand to assassinate Clint Barton. Yelena, a product of the Widow program like Natasha Romanov, was led to believe that Hawkeye was responsible for her foster sister’s death.

But, Yelena isn’t really a villain. Neither is Maya, in my opinion. On the Kate Bishop side of the story equation, there are characters who seem villainous who turn out not to be, and others who seem friendly who may not be. If I have to make a complaint about the season, I’d say that the story’s villains seem a bit underwhelming. Well. . . except for the last one revealed.

Hell, there’s no reason to be coy here. If you’re a fan of these shows, you already know that Vincent D’Onofrio returns to the MCU as Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, at the end of this season. Is he the same character we came to know and fear in Daredevil? I’m thinking so, especially since I’ve heard rumors of Charlie Cox reprising his role as Matt Murdoch in future projects. The Kingpin is no lightweight villain, and D’Onofrio’s performance, as always, is praise-worthy.

I not going to ruin anything else for you about Hawkeye, if I can help it. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed the series. Today, I would call it my favorite of the Disney + MCU series so far. Those who wish to write action-adventure for the screen, big or small, should study this series to see how it can be effectively done. On-screen danger and violence carries more impact when we’re emotionally connected to the characters, and the writers on this show know how to pull this off. Even the character motivation of our series villains is easy to understand.

Now, about Kate Bishop, who may or may not be my Hawkeye also: I liked her. She was plucky and brave, and very skilled with a bow. Her hero worship of Clint Barton was also touching, even when her attempts to improve his “brand” seem a bit misguided. I accept her entry into the MCU canon, even if I complete missed her genesis in the comics. She seems like a perfect fit.

In the spirit of honesty, I also must admit that I didn’t know who Jessica Jones was before she had her short-lived Netflix series. My introduction to the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel came in the video game Marvel’s Avengers. I think I remember Captain Marvel as a male superhero, while Carol Danvers was Ms. Marvel. She must have been promoted to captain after my time.

All I’m saying is that while, yes, I remain anti-change in spirit, in practice I’ve proven myself to be accepting of new things. As long as the source material is treated with respect, something at which the MCU as a whole has been adept.

Welcome to my own personal Marvel head canon, Kate Bishop.

Firewater’s 22-Year-Old-Vigilante-Shouldn’t-You-Be-in-School? Report Card: A

This is good stuff. You already know if you’re down with the MCU. If you are, this was made for you, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.