While already a mainstay of the Avengers franchise, Clint Barton’s solo adventures were often removed from the rest of Marvel’s continuity. In fact, for a few years there, it seemed like Clint didn’t even have a personal life. Some of that came from Brian Michael Bendis’ interpretation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and how they interacted with each other, but mostly, it was because there wasn’t much of a demand for a solo Hawkeye book. One of the best things about Hawkeye is the openness under which Matt Fraction is allowed to write—it’s like developing a new character with a general backstory everyone already knows. Fraction is able to pick and choose the elements of Clint’s past that are best suited for the street-level narratives he’s been writing and incorporate those elements with his own brand of storytelling that has proven to be one of Marvel’s best ongoing series. Hawkeye #8 is a turning point for the title, one that starts the process of moving away from the more jovial attitude Fraction has been presenting to a more serious tone.
Character development is the name of the game this month as Fraction brings back Clint’s favorite redhead, Penny, to show our Hawkguy the lines he’s willing to cross for her. Unlike almost any other featured character in Marvel’s lineup, Clint Barton doesn’t really know what he’s doing and it shows. This isn’t a bad thing. Too often, writers get so bogged down by plot and continuity that characters become stiff; little more than another prop in the setting of the story. Fraction, on the other hand, does the exact opposite—his characters define the narrative. Penny’s run-in with the Russian Tracksuit mafia brings her back into Clint’s arms and into his head: the Tracksuits have something of hers, and she needs help getting it back. Problem is, she’s already shot their leader’s son. Against his own logical sensibilities and against the express wishes of the Avengers’ leading ladies, Clint agrees to assist Penny in recovering her pink safe; but why?
Clint’s exact internal justifications for helping Penny aren’t expressly stated. There is no page or panel where Clint explains why he’s decided to put his reputation on the line, or why he’s willing to risk his tenants’ safety to challenge the Tracksuits once again. All that being said, Fraction doesn’t need to tell us why because he shows us—it’s Penny, through and through. Clint’s schoolboy crush on the exciting redhead who only makes his life more complicated is a indicative of the archer’s emotional instability and loose grip on his place in the world. He decides to help Penny break the law and only worries about it for the few moments she isn’t encouraging him to keep going. Like a drug addiction, Clint just can’t seem to say no to Penny, and that gets them both in more trouble than they ever anticipated.
Obviously, Clint’s moral compass leads him astray because he’s dealt with the Tracksuits in the past, and in a way, it’s become personal. It’s just Clint whose made it personal. However diabolical or mean-spirited the Tracksuits have been over the course of this series, it’s always about business for them. When Clint ran them out of his apartment building, they eventually gave up because there wasn’t any money or power to be harvested from going after something they’d already lost completely. They cut their losses and moved on. Sure, there have been a few other run-ins, but again, it’s all out of a sense of responsibility, not vengeance or retribution. Clint, on the other hand, hears that the Tracksuits are involved with Penny’s situation, and immediately jumps into action without thinking about the consequences. The consequences, of course, being handcuffs and a night in jail while his redheaded cohort gets away free and clear.
The final pages of Hawkeye #8 point to a future direction for the series. Clint waxes poetic about the scolding he receives from Captain America and Iron Man about the moral and ethical guidelines to being an Avenger, we get to see Penny’s true colors when Clint becomes expendable, and a meeting of New York City’s most powerful criminals results from Clint’s unique brand of urban justice cutting into their illegitimate business plans. The ongoing development of Clint Barton isn’t really about making him grow or change—it’s about defining what’s already there and discovering truth behind the definition.