Recent trailers for Avengers: Endgame have confirmed the longstanding plot rumor that Clint Barton – a.k.a. founding movie Avenger Hawkeye – will take on a new identity in the film (and no, we're not talking about his midlife crisis look from the latest footage ).
Though the exact hows-and-whys of the change in Jeremy Renner’s character remain to be revealed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, his new costume and codename of “Ronin” have a long Marvel Comics history of their own.
That legacy – and Clint Barton’s history of changing identities and powers - may point to clues about Hawkeye’s Endgame motivations and his seemingly amped-up extreme sword-slashing measures (though there’s no explaining that hair). Yes, that means the comic book Clint Barton isn’t the first Ronin – and becoming Ronin isn’t the first time Clint’s changed his codename and place among the Avengers.
Who is Ronin?
Marvel’s first Ronin was a silent ninja who showed up to fight the Hand alongside a ragtag group of newly formed Avengers in writer Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch's New Avengers.
Throughout Ronin’s introduction, the character’s true identity was kept secret, with the knowledge that it was a previously-known character - leading to rampant speculation.
Though plans originally called for Daredevil to be the hero under the Ronin mask, that changed when editorial plans for Daredevil’s title shifted, and so Maya Lopez/Echo, a deaf ninja with photographic reflexes and a history with Daredevil, was slotted into the role.
How did Clint Barton become a ninja?
To understand how Clint Barton became Ronin, you’ve gotta understand how he died.
That’s right – Hawkeye once died and came back to life, as superheroes often do.
Though the tale of his actual death is complex, the TL;DR version is that he was killed by his fellow Avenger Scarlet Witch when she went on a rampage with her reality altering powers in the “Avengers: Disassembled” story, which led to the break-up of the Avengers.
Following this, Scarlet Witch also used her reality-altering powers to resurrect Clint (again, it’s a little complicated and involves multiple realities) – but given that the Avengers had since reformed with an all-new line-up (that ragtag team the original Ronin was a part of), Clint didn’t return to the team right away.
Instead, he waited until after the superhero Civil War, when the Avengers fractured again leading to the death of his mentor, Captain America – this time joining the team under the Ronin identity, which he had assumed from Maya Lopez.
Clint stayed in the Ronin identity for some time – he didn’t actually go back to being Hawkeye until after Cap’s return from the dead a few years later.
The other Ronins
There have been two other characters to take the Ronin codename and costume – one a villain, and the other yet a third previously established hero adopting the role.
First up was Alexei Shostakov, a villainous KGB spy with ties to Black Widow with a short-lived career in the role.
Second (and perhaps more interesting) is Eric Brooks a.k.a. Blade, who donned the Ronin identity to briefly join Luke Cage’s street level Mighty Avengers team. Oddly, Blade adopted the Ronin persona after wearing a knock-off Spider-Man Halloween costume to first disguise his identity.
This final version of Ronin played into the traditional mystery of established characters taking on the Ronin identity.
Clint Barton’s OTHER other identity
Back in the late 1960s, the Avengers had to go into space for the first time during the Kree/Skrull War (sound familiar?). Feeling outclassed fighting alien warriors with a bow and arrow, Clint Barton borrowed some of Hank Pym’s Pym Particles and briefly became the super-strong size-changing hero Goliath.
Though this change didn’t last long, the Goliath version of Clint Barton played a key role in Avengers Forever, a story where a team of cross-time Avengers fight to stop a reality-ending menace (that probably sounds kinda familiar too).
What does this say about Avengers: Endgame?
If there’s one thing history has proven about Clint Barton, it’s that he can adapt. His changing comic book identities show this – and Endgame may be simply following in the footsteps of its comic book roots. But there’s a little more than meets the eye.
One recent Endgame clip showed Clint Barton teaching his unnamed teen daughter the art of archery (though there may be more to that scene than meets the eye), and given he retired to be with his family after Captain America: Civil War, it would take a lot to get him back on the Avengers in any capacity.
Something like “the Snap.”
We’re not gonna pretend it’s a secret and go out on a limb and call this a theory, but it seems strongly likely that Hawkeye’s Endgame change to Ronin could be driven by the collective deaths of his family as a result of Thanos’ actions in Avengers: Infinity War. After all, great personal tragedy accompanied his comic book change to Ronin.
So what does a fully unleashed Clint Barton with a couple of katanas and a Travis Bickle hairdo have to offer in the fight against the Mad Titan?
We’ll find out when Avengers: Endgame hits theaters April 26.
And oh yeah – we’ll be thinking about that Pym Particle connection in the theater too. Hmm…