We finally get a little taste of the next Avengers tale with that Avengers: Endgame trailer. It doesn’t tell us too much and the glimpses we get only ask more questions. It also gives us a quick look at what’s up with the two biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes to skip out on Infinity War in Ant-Man and Hawkeye. Both were described as being under house arrest in the last movie, but now we see Hawkeye’s back in action…albeit not in the most mentally healthy way.
In his scant seconds in the Avengers: Endgame trailer, we see Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton cleaning off a used sword while standing over a handful of goons who are probably dead. Instead of his SHIELD uniform, he’s dressed in an armored ninja costume. He’s no longer Hawkeye, but Ronin.
But who is Ronin, exactly?
Originally, Ronin had little to do with Clint Barton unless you considered him a red herring. Brian Michael Bendis was writing Avengers in the mid-2000s and gave us Avengers: Disassembled, a chaotic storyline that killed off a handful of Avengers members. Hawkeye was one of those victims, getting blown up in a fight against a Kree invasion that was ultimately conjured up by an insane Scarlet Witch.
Shortly after this story, Bendis started up a new Avengers series…New Avengers. Rather than go for a more classic line-up, he got a bit unorthodox. Captain America and Iron Man returned as representatives of the old guard. Spider-Man and Wolverine were brought in due to Bendis’ belief that if the Avengers are Marvel’s Justice League, then they should have the most popular characters. Spider-Woman and Luke Cage acted as Marvel mainstays who needed a day in the sun. Then you had the two wildcards in the Sentry – an X-factor of a hero who had only appeared in a miniseries at that point – and Ronin.
Ronin appeared on many New Avengers covers despite not showing up until the eleventh issue. In the speculation, many felt that Ronin was supposed to be Daredevil in a new disguise for some reason. After all, Bendis was also in the middle of his legendary Daredevil run at the time. Bendis later admitted that that was the original plan, but it wouldn’t have worked out.
Instead, when they finally got around to telling Ronin’s story, they made hints that this mysterious ninja was not just a woman, but Elektra. She was an associate with Daredevil, Captain America said he didn’t approve of her history with the Kingpin, and we got to see what looked like her hair from behind. Also, her mission involved taking on the Hand, which is totally an Elektra thing to do.
But there was a bit of a hint of Ronin’s true identity. An army of ninjas was able to sneak up behind her. Sure, they’re supposed to be stealthy, but there were so many of them that you’d have to be deaf not to notice. Sure enough, by the time the Ronin storyline finished up, she unmasked to reveal she was Echo, otherwise known as Maya Lopez. A former flame of Matt Murdock’s and adopted daughter of Wilson Fisk, Echo was introduced in the Daredevil comic right before Bendis took over (David Mack and Joe Quesada were the creative team at the time, and they created Echo). Much like Daredevil, she had enhanced abilities despite a physical handicap, only it was deafness instead of blindness.
That quick Ronin story was about all there was for Echo’s relevancy, though. It was the hazard of Bendis’ writing. He would write interesting scenarios for the New Avengers, but he’d stretch it out so long that he was too busy catching up with the big Marvel events going on to really explore his ideas. That plot thread would rest for a while as Marvel books dedicated themselves to House of M and Civil War, two other major storylines.
During yet another big Marvel event, House of M, Scarlet Witch rewrote reality so that mutants were in charge. She also magically brought Hawkeye back to life with no memory of the original timeline or his death. He eventually regained those memories and it put him on a dark path that would last for several years, including a couple attempts to straight-up murder Scarlet Witch in the name of revenge. When the world returned to normal (albeit with most mutants depowered), Hawkeye remained alive, but went on his own path.
While they’re a bit more open to it these days, having two superheroes share the same name at the same time in Marvel is something they usually go out of their way to avoid. One of the two has to die, be taken out of commission, or simply change their name. Since Marvel had just introduced a new Hawkeye in Young Avengers (Kate Bishop) and Clint was no longer dead, that meant a new identity.
Clint gave up on his revenge plot, but was less than thrilled to hear that Captain America died in the aftermath of Civil War. Even for a guy who was brought back from the dead, Clint was about to have a string of bad times. Stark offered him the shield as the new Captain America, but Clint refused. It wasn’t for him and he wasn’t exactly pleased with Stark in general.
Meanwhile, Echo’s adventures against the Hand got her captured, killed, and resurrected by their new leader Elektra. The anti-Stark Avengers team went on a mission to rescue her and with them was a new Ronin. We didn’t get many hints on the identity this time other than it not being Matt Murdock.
A flashback showed the truth: Clint visited New Avengers member Doctor Strange and came across the rest of the rebel team, all confused that he was alive. He offered to join them in their Echo rescue mission, but didn’t want to be Hawkeye anymore. Wolverine instead gave him the Ronin costume.
It worked out, though. Yet another flashback revealed that in their early Avengers days, Captain America taught Hawkeye how to fight with more than a bow and arrow. Kicking ass with katanas and martial arts was Clint’s own way of honoring his fallen leader. After Echo was safe, she let Clint keep the identity, seeing as she didn’t need it and she felt that he did, at least for a little while.
Then the bad times really started to kick in.
Secret Invasion was going on and that meant there were heroes all over who were secretly shape-shifting Skrulls meant to take over the planet. This included some that weren’t aware of the truth, such as one posing as Hawkeye’s dead wife Mockingbird. She knew some incredibly intimate facts about their relationship, but she was just another fake. Clint, in an act of rage, gunned down the confused alien and ranted about how he was going to go genocidal on the invaders.
He does manage to kill a few Skrulls, and in context, that’s kinda good. The end of the invasion means that Norman Osborn is now in charge of everything military and superhero-related in the government and that’s bad. The real Mockingbird turns out to be alive after all and that’s good. She does point out that she divorced him before she was abducted by Skrulls and that’s bad.
Ronin would lead the New Avengers, who were more of a rebel team than ever before because Osborn had his own team of Dark Avengers wearing their identities and every good guy was on their shit list. Osborn being in charge – not to mention mass murderer Bullseye dressing up as the new Hawkeye – drove Clint to wanting to straight-up assassinate the weird-haired dickhead. He went on a one-man mission to just that and failed because Osborn had crazy plot armor back then.
Clint didn’t die either because, come on, they weren’t going to kill a guy so fresh from stepping out of the grave.
Luckily, good things started happening for our man Clint. Steve Rogers came back from the dead and led the team again, including putting an end to Norman Osborn’s reign of terror. The Superhero Registration Act finally died. Clint and Mockingbird started having fun adventures together. He started dating Spider-Woman. Being an Avenger no longer had a scummy stigma to it. Scarlet Witch even chilled out a bit. Things were back to normal enough that Clint could be himself. He was alive and he could live his life.
And so, there would be two Hawkeyes coexisting. The grim, katana-wielding ninja would find his stride as a dopey archer with a sidekick and a one-eyed, pizza-loving dog.
As for “Ronin,” the gimmick got used plenty more in the main Marvel universe and beyond. The Red Guardian and even Blade wore the mask. In the Ultimate Universe, it was just another identity for Moon Knight. Even on the Japanese cartoon Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Ronin ended up being a secret identity for Nozomu Akatsuki, benevolent scientist and father of the protagonists, who was mind-controlled by Loki.
While Ronin is a fun way for Marvel to add mystery to their stories, it truly found the most meaning in its Clint Barton days. He didn’t truly need to wear the black costume. It simply represented that he was going through a very bad time. Experiencing death, having your heart broken, losing a close friend, being vilified for being a good person, and seeing the world go to Hell could break a person.
Gavin Jasper writes for Den of Geek and remembers that Hawkeye was a major player in saving both universes in the JLA/Avengers crossover. Even against Thanos, he shouldn’t be underestimated. Read more of Gavin’s stuff here and follow him on Twitter @Gavin4L