Is everyone done talking about weddings now? Can we get back to the important stuff — comic books and summer movies?
It’s been an important month for Clint Barton. First, he makes his big-screen debut in a cameo in “Thor” (just one of many reasons to watch it if you haven’t already), then his year-long run as a semi-solo star comes to and end, and apparently he’s starting up a relationship with Spider-Woman (we’ll discuss that in a later update).
In comic book shops this week is the fourth and final issue of the “Hawkeye: Blindspot” miniseries. To recap: Hawkeye and his formerly dead former wife Mockingbird are given their own series. Marvel declares them the “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” of comics. Sadly, no one told Marvel that “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” was not exactly a blockbuster hit and Clint and Bobbi are not as popular as Brad and Angelina. The series is canceled after a measly six issues.
The already scheduled issues 7 and 8 were intended as a crossover with “Black Widow,” a title that had also been canceled. The four issues were repurposed as a miniseries called “Widowmaker.” At the end of that story, Hawkeye is hit in the back of the head by a ninja.
That brings us to “Hawkeye: Blindspot,” in which we learn that Clint’s head injury is causing him to slowly go blind. Tony Stark has jury-rigged some kind of contraption in his mask to deal with the problem but it’s only delaying the inevitable. Meanwhile, old Captain America foe and now Hawkeye foe Baron Zemo has decided to make Clint’s life hell by bringing his dead brother back to life and training him how to become an archer so he can be Hawkeye’s new arch-enemy.
Yeah, sometimes comics suck. In case you’re worried, Hawkeye’s blindness doesn’t stick. Stark and Dr. Don Blake quickly come up with some miracle cure so we can thankfully avoid several months of blind Hawkeye stories before the inevitable cure. No, what really makes this story disappointing is the return of Barney Barton, Clint’s older brother. Barney is the living (well, fictionally living) embodiment of the retcon.
For those of you who have lives, “retcon” is short for “retroactive continuity.” It’s a term that refers to when a writer in the present goes messing around with stories of the past. Some retcons serve a decent purpose but mostly they needlessly complicate things and at worst contradict what was previously written.
Case in point: Barney Barton. Hawkeye first tells his origin story to Captain America in “Avengers 19.” In Stan Lee’s version (and he created the character so he should know), Clint was an orphan who joined the circus and was taught archery by the Swordsman. When Clint finds out the Swordsman is a crook, their partnership ends. Clint later becomes Hawkeye. Simple. Straightforward.
Four years later Roy Thomas rewrites Hawkeye’s origin, this time adding big brother Barney. When Clint breaks off with the Swordsman after learning he’s a thief, Barney gets upset and runs off. When he turns up for the first time in “Avengers 64,” he’s a New York crime boss.
He comes to the Avengers to help them stop Egghead from destroying the world with his orbital death ray. The story ends with Barney heroically stopping Egghead but being killed in the process. The Avengers take Barney’s dead body from Egghead’s space station and it is last seen under a sheet on a slab in the following issue.
Now, while this story contradicts the earlier story, it’s not a crime against comics because you can make a fair case that when Hawkeye originally told the story to Captain America, he left out the part about his brother because he didn’t want Cap to know about his crime boss brother. So, I’ll let that one slide.
Almost 40 years later, Fabian Nicieza writes a story that reveals that Barney wasn’t really a crime boss — he was working undercover for the FBI. A fairly harmless retcon given that Barney’s been dead for four decades and no one cares about him anymore, if they ever did. It does diminish the earlier story as Barney’s last-minute heroic act and his dying speech to Clint about finally doing the right thing doesn’t make much sense if he was working for the feds.
But this latest retcon is a crime against comics. In Jim McCann’s version of the story, the Avengers leave Barney’s dead body behind on Egghead’s spaceship (which they wouldn’t do — and they didn’t do) and Egghead finds the body and — in Monty Python fashion — discovers he’s not really dead! Egghead puts Barney in a tube, fills it with healing fluid, and leaves it there for Zemo to find years later (Egghead was killed in the interim — by Hawkeye, coincidentally).
You see the problem, right? This directly contradicts Avengers 64 in ways that can’t be written off. The Avengers didn’t leave the body behind for Egghead to find. The Avengers aren’t so stupid that they wouldn’t know a live body from a dead one. The only way McCann’s story works is if Egghead broke into Avengers mansion, stole the body, replaced it with a dummy body and no one noticed the switch. And why would Egghead sneak into Avengers mansion to steal a body that he couldn’t have known was alive since he never saw it before the Avengers took it away?
Zemo revives Barney and kidnaps Trickshot to teach Barney archery (I don’t have the time or strength to get into the whole Trickshot retcon. Let’s just say there’s no element of Hawkeye’s past that hasn’t been needlessly screwed with). Barney becomes the new Trickshot and is brought down by Hawkeye, because even though he’s blind, he’s been fighting crime with a bow and arrow for about 50 years and Barney’s been an archer for about two weeks.
And so ends Hawkeye’s latest brief run as a solo star. It started off strong but sadly missed the mark in the end.