Comics/Graphic Novels

First Appearance Flashback: Hawkeye

Superheroes have been around a long time, and most of the characters and genre conventions are pretty well established. But did every character always look and act the way we expect them to today? In this series, I’ll be looking at the first appearances of iconic superheroes to see what’s familiar, what’s fallen by the wayside, and what’s goofy as heck. Today: Hawkeye!

…Specifically, the first Hawkeye, Clint Barton, who debuted in Tales of Suspense #57 (September 1964) and was created by Stan Lee and Don Heck. Though arguably B-list at best, Clint is a longtime member of Marvel’s top tier superhero team, the Avengers, and Jeremy Renner’s version of the character has been kicking around the MCU since all the way back in 2011’s Thor. He’s now appearing alongside the other Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, in their eponymous show which looks to be largely inspired by the beloved 2012 comic by Matt Fraction and David Aja. But was Clint always the lovable loser of the Fraction run? Or the…uh…okay, surely the MCU version has a personality trait somewhere in there, but I can’t think of one right now. Whatever, let’s look at his first appearance!

The cover of Tales of Suspense #57. The logo reads "Tales of Suspense featuring The Power of Iron Man."

Iron Man is in the center, with four drawings of Hawkeye menacing him, one from each corner. Above him is a caption reading "How can one man with a strange bow and arrow harm Ol' Shell-Head? Don't try to answer till you've seen the sensational Hawkeye."

At the bottom, another caption box reads: "Watch the sparks fly when handsome Hawkeye teams up with the Black Widow!" There is a picture of Black Widow, with black hair and wearing luxurious evening clothes.
Please let Renner wear this exact costume at some point on the show.

Originally a sci-fi anthology series, Tales of Suspense was by this time headlined as Iron Man. And so when Clint first appears, it’s as a villain to Iron Man, much as Black Widow had been when she debuted five issues before. As we’ll see, though, his heart isn’t really in it.

Our story begins with Iron Man rescuing one of the workers at Tony Stark’s weapons factory from a potentially deadly accident, which is the only time in this story Tony will accomplish anything at all. Then we spend a little time on the obligatory Marvel Silver Age love triangle between Tony, his secretary Pepper Potts, and his chauffeur Happy Hogan, complete with angsty thought balloons all over the place.

The upshot of all this thwarted romance is that Tony and Pepper end up on a date at Coney Island, where one of the acts is Hawkeye, “the world’s greatest marksman,” who is dressed like Davy Crockett for some reason:

Two panels from Tales of Suspense #57.

Panel 1: Pepper and Tony walk along the midway at Coney Island. A carnival barker is shouting.

Narration Box: Later that night, on the midway at Coney Island...
Pepper (thinking): This isn't the Stork Club...but at least I'm on a date with Tony Stark!
Tony (thinking): I don't dare trust myself to take her to any place more romantic than this!
Carnival Barker: Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Step right up, folks! See Hawkeye, the wonder of the age! The world's greatest marksman!

Panel 2: Hawkeye, dressed in fringed buckskin, stands on a raised platform and shoots arrows at a pinwheel of spinning targets. The audience is mostly bored.

Tony (thinking): This is perfect! At least it'll keep her from suggesting a ride in the Tunnel of Love!
Audience Member 1: Big deal! So he hit the target!! What a crummy act!
Audience Member 2: C'mon! Get that bum off the stage and bring on the dancin' girls!
King of the Wild Frontier (of Brooklyn).

Everyone hates Hawkeye, because this is the Marvel Universe, where the population at large is ready to randomly hate anyone at the drop of a hat in order to set up a good origin story. (Or even a middling and very silly origin story. Ahem.)

While Hawkeye’s in the middle of his act, one of the rides suddenly breaks. As a Brooklyn native, I can tell you that this is extremely plausible for Coney Island. Naturally, Tony switches to Iron Man and saves the day, much to Hawkeye’s unreasonable irritation:

Three panels from Tales of Suspense #57.

Panel 1: Iron Man hauls on part of a carnival ride to bring it to a halt.

Narration Box: For long gruelling seconds, the Man of Iron holds on grimly...knowing that human lives hang in the balance! And then, slowly, excruciatingly, the giant machine grinds to a halt...

Crowd Member 1: Iron Man did it! He prevented a disaster!!
Crowd Member 2: But how did he get here so quickly??
Iron Man (thinking): Uh-oh! I'll have to think of an answer to that one, fast!!

Panel 2: Iron Man flies away.

Iron Man (thinking): I know...I'll tell Pepper I went to find Iron Man...I'll say he had orders to follow us to Coney Island! She's sure to believe it! Most everybody thinks Iron Man always tags along behind me anyway!

Panel 3: The crowd gazes adoringly after Iron Man, facing away from a sulking Hawkeye.

Narration Box: Meantime, there is one observer who feels no joy at what has happened! The only emotion he experiences is one of burning, blazing jealousy!
Hawkeye (thinking): I'm the greatest marksman the world has ever known! And yet they ignore me!!
The most hilariously implausible secret identity cover of all time? Probably!

Clint, buddy, no one loves superhero archers more than I do, but you were target shooting from four feet away, and he just saved dozens of lives. A little perspective, please. (This issue, by the way, takes place during the lengthy period in which Iron Man’s cover was that he was Tony Stark’s bodyguard, which makes absolutely zero sense and thus I love it.)

Hawkeye reasons that all Iron Man has going for him is gadgets, and gadgets could probably very easily be put on arrows, and then everyone would think Hawkeye is just as cool as Iron Man, wouldn’t they? He proceeds to whip up a costume and a bunch of trick arrows:

Three panels from Tales of Suspense #57. Hawkeye dons a medieval-inspired costume and examines his arrows.

Narration Box: Night turns to day, and back to night again, and still the fanatical man works with a desperate zeal...
Hawkeye: But a costume is only part of it! I'll need weapons! ...And what better weapons than my infallible arrows?!! Each with a specially-fitted tip of its own! Never again will people snear at my "performance"!
Killer pantaloons, though.

Maybe he’s overcompensating for something else.

Hawkeye’s initial plan is to compete with Iron Man as a fellow superhero, though he’s not particularly motivated by, like, helping people or anything like that. His first night on patrol, he spots a thief robbing a jewelry store and startles him into dropping his loot:

Three panels from Tales of Suspense #57.

Panel 1: An arrow pins the thief to a telephone pole by his jacket.

Thief: For the luvva Pete!!
SFX: TWANG!
Hawkeye: A perfect shot!! As always!!

Panel 2: Hawkeye lowers himself on a rope while the thief runs away.

Hawkeye: Now to make the capture and...wha...? He's getting away! That's what I get for taking pains not to injure him!!

Panel 3: Hawkeye kneels by an open bag full of jewelry.

Hawkeye: Well, I'll catch up with him in a minute! First, I'll just inspect what he dropped! No wonder he ran so fast! This is quite a haul! Diamonds...rubies...
Clint is absolutely stunned to discover that the guy robbing the jewelry store stole jewels.

My favorite thing about this issue is how Hawkeye is just constantly talking about how awesome he is inside his own head. Would that we could all have such confidence.

The police arrive on the scene and assume that Hawkeye is the thief. He flees on foot until a coincidentally passing car offers him a lift:

Two panels from Tales of Suspense #57.

Panel 1: Black Widow and Hawkeye, inside her car.

Narration Box: ...the daring, dazzling, dangerous Black Widow!!
Hawkeye: Lady, whoever you are, don't pinch me! This is one dream I don't ever want to wake up from!
Black Widow: I assure you, my costumed friend, this is no dream!

Panel 2: They drive past a country landscape.

Black Widow: If you are as adventurous and powerful as your appearance would indicate, you might be the very ally I've been seeking!
Hawkeye: Whatever you're lookin' for, gorgeous, you can bet your bottom dollar...I'm it!
Narration Box: Thus, smitten by the Black Widow's fatal beauty, the man called Hawkeye enters into a dramatic alliance which is to change the course of both their lives, and Iron Man's as well!
They always tell you not to get in a stranger’s car, but they never say it’s because she could be a glamorous Soviet spy.

Why, it’s the Black Widow! Not yet a redhead or a hero, already extremely glam, definitely ten times smarter than poor dumb Hawkeye, bless his heart. She takes Hawkeye to the cutting edge laboratory in her subterranean lair in the suburbs; the only part of this that he thinks is odd is that she’s too pretty to be a scientist. She gives him a non-explanation that definitely doesn’t mention that whole thing where she’s a Soviet spy, and offers to help him make fancier arrows, with the object of defeating Iron Man.

With his new arrows, Hawkeye heads off to the Stark Factory to confront Iron Man, and shoots him with…rust arrows…

Two panels from Tales of Suspense #57.

Panel 1: Iron Man flees from an arrow.

Iron Man (thinking): Whoever is responsible has found my weak point! I can't fight rust!! I've got to get away...shed my armor before it's too rusty to remove!

Panel 2: While hiding, Iron Man removes his armor like it's fabric. Though we only see discarded boots and gloves, he's no longer wearing pants. It's very unintentionally funny. Hawkeye searches for him in the background.

Hawkeye: Running won't help you, Iron Man! I know you're here somewhere! You can't escape Hawkeye, the marksman!!
Iron Man (thinking): So that's my mysterious attacker!! Well, he gets the first round, but the fight isn't over yet! No one takes me by surprise twice!
These two panels are the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I want a tattoo of all of it.

“Rust! My one weakness!” God I love comics.

Tony runs off to find another suit, while Hawkeye steals the discarded pieces of the first one and flees. We spend a full page on the earth-shattering tension of Tony not being able to find his right boot. This may not have been Stan Lee’s best work.

Tony tracks Hawkeye down, but unfortunately for him, Hawkeye has somehow figured out his other weakness…

One panel from Tales of Suspense #57. A flying Iron Man struggles with a rope that has just been released from an arrow and is now tangling around him. Hawkeye stands below him on a dock.

Hawkeye: Now i've got you!!
Iron Man: Strong nylon rope strands!! Tangling me up!! Can't repulse them in time!!
Can’t repulse them in time!! But can still yell multiple sentences!!

Some rope! Curse that dastardly marksman!

Tony defeats the dreaded rope and pursues Hawkeye onto a pier, which he destroys. We then reach my absolute favorite incidence of this comic’s sheer disdain for the laws of physics:

Three panels from Tales of Suspense #57.

Panel 1: Hawkeye clings to a wooden pier support.

Hawkeye (thinking): What got into him?? He's like an avenging tornado!!

Panel 2: Iron Man pulls on the top of the support, making it inexplicably bend like rubber.

Hawkeye: Look out! Stop! What are you doing?!!
Iron Man: Just trying to keep you from getting bored, Robin Hood!

Panel 3: Iron Man has clearly released the support, catapulting Hawkeye into the water. All we can see are Hawkeye's feet as he plunges in.

SFX: TWANNG!
TWANNG!

Absolutely livid that this wasn’t in any of the Avengers movies.

Hawkeye pulls out a last-ditch effort: the DEMOLITION BLAST WARHEAD ARROW:

Three panels from Tales of Suspense #57.

Panel 1: The blast bounces off of Iron Man's shoulder in a brilliant flare of light. It pretty much just looks like a beam of light - there is no explosion or anything.

Narration Box: But, Hawkeye is wrong! There is one thing that can save Iron Man...and that is the protection of the strongest, most skillfully made flexible iron armor in existence, tempered to the highest degree of resiliency ever attained by any metal! And, although the demolition blast ricochets harmlessly off the shoulder of the Golden Avenger, the tremendous impact is hurled away in another direction...right towards the startled Madame Natasha, before she can save herself!

Panel 2: Black Widow is struck in the head by the blast, which again only looks like light so it's very funny that it knocks her down.

Black Widow: Ohhh! Hawkeye!! Save me!

Panel 3: Hawkeye cries out in horror.

Hawkeye: You!! What have I done?!
I like that this strongly implies that Clint doesn’t know Natasha’s name.

Unfortunately for Hawkeye, while Iron Man is vulnerable to rust and rope, he is immune to explosions. The DEMOLITION BLAST bounces off of him and hits Natasha, somehow(???), and she promptly faints, because she is a woman in a 1960s Marvel comic written by Stan Lee.

In a panic, Hawkeye carries her to the safety of her waiting boat, declaring that “She’s the only one I’ve ever loved!!” You have known her for three hours, Clint. Iron Man is unable to pursue the boat because they’re too close to LaGuardia Airport and he doesn’t want to cause a plane crash, which is both remarkably responsible for Tony Stark and astonishingly lukewarm as an excuse to end the story with the villains still on the loose.

But there are two panels left to the story, in which our creative team hastily remembers that this is a Marvel comic and so we have to end on a note of a tragic hero nobly suffering, even though the worst thing that happened to Tony in this story was that Pepper and Happy went to the drive-in without him:

Two panels from Tales of Suspense #57.

Panel 1: Back at the empty factory, Iron Man removes his helmet.

Narration Box: And so, the iron clad avenger returns to his factory on Long Island Sound, and, in the privacy of his locked office, prepares to become wealthy, handsome Tony Stark again...never suspecting how close he had been to his former arch-foe, Madame Natasha, better known as the beautiful but deadly Black Widow!

Tony: Pepper and Happy must still be at the movies! Nobody's here except the skeleton night shift! Nothing more I can do now, except wait for morning!

Panel 2: Tony trudges down the beach alone.

Narration Box: Thus, one of the wealthiest men in the world slowly trudges through the sand outside his world-famous weapons factory! Not daring to confess his love to the girl he cares for...not knowing when the mechanical chest device he wears will fail, ending his life in an instant...nor does he know when or where his next deadly threat will come from! This is Tony Stark, rich, handsome, successful Tony Stark...one of the most tragic heroes the world has ever known! The End.

A final narration box across the bottom of the page reads: Note: For the thrilling "Origin of Iron Man" don't miss "Marvel Tales Annual"...now on sale!
It’s so hard to be rich, handsome, and successful!

Truly, he walks a lonely road.

And that’s it for Hawkeye’s first appearance! There is very little in the way of personality here, and most of it is villainous: he’s self-involved, vengeful, and dumb as a brick. He doesn’t even have a real name yet!

He would appear as a villain twice more in Tales of Suspense before making a heel-face turn and joining the Avengers the following year. He’s been strongly associated with the team ever since, a fact the movies have obviously compounded, but as noted above, proved he could hold his own (well, with Kate Bishop and Pizza Dog’s help) in the 2012 comics series. Will the Hawkeye show do the same for Renner’s version? We’ll find out soon!

And if not…back to the Davy Crockett outfit, I guess.

Want more Hawkeye? Check out his sartorial history in my Fashion Disasters profile of him here.


Catch previous Flashback Fridays, including SupermanCaptain AmericaHarley QuinnArchie Andrews, and Wonder Woman.

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