Friday, August 7, 2015

Higher Stakes for the Archer (Pt.1)

When I was younger, I would often accompany my mom to the grocery. Yeah I liked pushing the cart and going through the aisles in search of junk food, but the real highlight was when we would check out and I would get to see the latest comics available at the comic book rack nearby. At this point I wasn’t a serious comic collector, I would literally pick up whatever looked interesting that week and that was that. One day I picked up a comic I was vaguely familiar with. Now I knew who the Avengers were….but the West Coast Avengers? That was something new.

The West Coast Avengers were basically a spin off book of Marvel’s Avengers. From the start the Avengers (along with pretty much most of the Marvel Universe) were based in New York but as their ranks grew, they decided to form a second team to set up shop in Los Angeles and so the West Coast Avengers or WACOS as they often called themselves were born. The original team was composed of Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra, Mockingbird and their leader, Hawkeye.

At the start, these guys didn’t look like the ideal team. Iron Man played the role of the “old guard” who needed to prove he was still relevant. This was waaaaaaaay before Robert Downey Jr. redefined who Tony Stark was, so back then he was kinda boring. Wonder Man was an egomaniacal blowhard who thought he was better than everyone else. Tigra didn’t really appeal to me much at first, she was just kinda there. And ex SHIELD agent Mockingbird was great eye candy with her costume that any teenage boy would find irresistible, but the main draw of the team for me was their leader, the avenging archer, Hawkeye.

Ever since I was young, when it came to my favorite characters in cartoons or comics, I always gravitated towards the leaders, whether it was Steve from Voltes V or Luke Skywalker from Star Wars, I always liked the leaders the most. So it came to no surprise that I immediately took a liking to Hawkeye. While the rest of the team would constantly bicker over anything under the sun, Hawkeye was the steady rock that kept them focused and together. He was the superhero that taught me that what made Avengers unique and special was that “AVENGERS DON’T KILL” (unfortunately this noble definition of an Avenger would forever tarnished years later when a certain hairy, clawed murderer would be admitted into their ranks…).

After this first issue, I was immediately hooked and eagerly sought out the following issues to follow the story, which was one I remember fondly up to this day (ok I admit I just recently bought and read the trade paperback). The WACOS fell victim to a trap and were shot back in time to the wild west. During their attempt to return back to present day Mockingbird was kidnapped and separated from the group by a supposed ally, the Phantom Rider who had gotten majorly infatuated with her. While she was his prisoner, he drugged her into “loving” (you can define this however way you want) him. Eventually she regains her memories and confronts him, and in a fit of rage after being violated by him, allows him to fall to his death.

In the end, she is reunited with her team in the present day and all seems well, until Hawkeye finds out what she did and s#&t hits the fan. In the end, the team splits up into 2 factions based on their beliefs on the necessity of killing. But more importantly, Hawkeye and Mockingbird split up, which really stressed me out because for me they were the perfect couple. For me, they were the original Ross and Rachel :P

Although some may argue that Hawkeye was being pig headed and narrow minded, I really admired his conviction in what he believed was right. And that characterization catapulted him over to my number one superhero to this day.

I think what really makes Hawkeye special is his character journey. Before he was an Avenger, Hawkeye was a criminal, but he worked hard to go beyond his villainous past and succeeded ten times over.

One notable period in his fictional history was when he became the leader of another “superhero” group called the Thunderbolts. The Thunderbolts made their debut in the late nineties and presented themselves as alternate heroes to the Avengers whom everyone thought had died. In reality though, the Thunderbolts were actually super villains posing as heroes to take advantage of the real heroes absence. Eventually they realize that they actually like being heroes more than villains and decide to be heroes for real. As a former villain himself, Hawkeye volunteers to lead the group and help them reach their full potential. In the end, to help them gain full pardons, he allows himself to get arrested and serve time in their place.

These days, some may argue that he Hawkeye is portrayed differently in the comics.  Visually, his superhero costume has become less...super-heroish and more practical.  And instead of being that mature leader, he is more often than not portrayed as an arrogant womanizer.  Well I wouldn't so far as to call him arrogant, but he's always been cocky, which adds to his appeal. And I'd like to think that despite some negative portrayals, the noble hero that I grew up reading about is still there.  He is after all one of the most iconic and longest running Avenger in Marvel history.

In the modern superhero world many have questioned his usefulness in the Avengers. In a group with a lineup composed of an Iron centurion, a Super Soldier, a Hulk and a God, exactly what use is an archer?

Ok to be fair, he isn’t JUST an archer. He is also a master swordsman, marksman and acrobat. Most importantly though, he one of the original students of Captain America and has been expertly trained by Cap in tactics, martial arts, and hand-to-hand combat.

However, despite all that training and skill, the fact that he is still human is what makes him more interesting than the rest. The fact that he is the Avenger most likely to be injured or die in any given mission makes him the most relatable and appealing I think. Hawkeye’s personal stakes in being an Avenger are higher than everybody else and still he continues avenging with the rest of them.

to be continued...