Somehow, in movies filled with larger-than-life, super-powered characters, the totally regular dude with the bow and arrow still managed to become a fan favorite. It’s pretty unlikely, when you think about it, that Clint Barton better known by his superheroic alias of Hawkeye would ever become so popular. But that’s exactly what happened, and his upcoming return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Avengers: Endgame is generating tons of hype among the MCU’s most ardent fans. Who cares about that whole “beat Thanos and resurrect half the universe’s population” thing?
Hawkeye’s back, and he’s got a new outfit! But sometimes what a character wears in a movie is nearly as important as what the character actually does, and Hawkeye’s no different. That’s why it’s interesting to imagine an alternate universe where Hawkeye had a different look on the big screen. For that thought exercise, we turn to our exclusive interview with Charlie Wen, former head of visual development at Marvel Studios, who dropped some knowledge about the direction he and his team almost went when designing Hawkeye’s threads. Believe it or not, Hawkeye originally started in the masked adventuring game not because he wanted to make a difference in the world, not because of some kind of trauma that forced him into a life of archery, and not because he was bitten by a radioactive arrow.
No, it was because he was working at a carnival sideshow and got jealous of how much people loved Iron Man. That’s seriously it. Now, with that kind of origin story one in which a guy decides to be a costumed crimefighter purely out of spite it’s no surprise that the first version of the outfit he put together leaves a lot to be desired. That original outfit eventually morphed into the more or less classic blue and purple costume that the character is best known for. But let’s be real: neither of these outfits ever had any hope of making it onto the big screen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of Hawkeye’s most influential changes occured in 2002, when Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch launched The Ultimates sort of a modern version of the original Avengers team. Ultimate Hawkeye wears a sort of tactical espionage outfit and a pair of shades. There isn’t anything particularly iconic or even memorable about it, but it does look much more realistic… and far less ridiculous than his traditional comic book purple.
Charlie Wen explained that when designing Hawkeye’s cinematic appearances in Thor and Avengers, the art from the first two Ultimates runs penciled by Bryan Hitch, served as an overall inspiration. Wen explained that the work he was doing for Avengers was a departure from the comic books we all grew up reading even though the movies of the MCU are well known for how close they stuck to the source material. “The kind of stories that I was telling was definitely a lot more grown up stories, right? Not the kind that we grew up with. So were the costumes, it was a little bit more gritty, a little bit more earthy.” “In Avengers, I was creating the Hawkeye for something that was more urban.” “It’s not like he was in this whole superhero world at all. He’s a normal guy.” About a year after The Avengers hit theaters, another long-awaited superhero project started gathering steam: the Netflix series Daredevil, starring Charlie Cox.
And while Wen didn’t actually work on the Daredevil project it seems that great minds really do think alike. According to Wen, he thought his approach to Clint Barton’s cinematic design managed to find its way on-screen anyway, just in the form of Netflix’s take on Matt Murdock. “So in a way, maybe I was envisioning a little more of what eventually became Daredevil, for the Netflix series much later. That’s kind of the feel that I was thinking about when I was doing that version of Hawkeye.” Crucial to Wen’s approach, he said, were the qualities that definitively make Hawkeye less “super” and more “human”: “You know, I wanted to make sure that I also portrayed a version that was more urban and more about a family guy. Who is Hawkeye as a person?”
That vision of the character eventually appeared along with Hawkeye’s wife and kids by the time Avengers: Age of Ultron hit theaters in 2015. Funnily enough, that movie featured a costume design that hewed even more closely to Hawkeye’s classic, non-Ultimate comic book design. Throughout the character’s existence, not only has Clint Barton changed outfits with some regularity, he’s even changed identities. In the ’70s, he got mixed up with Hank Pym’s size-changing gizmos and took on the identity of Goliath. And in the 2000s, Hawkeye took on yet another super-alias: Ronin, a black-clad martial artist who’s as good at using a sword as he is a bow and arrow. Meanwhile, the MCU’s version of Hawkeye seems to have been fully reinvented yet again. The trailers for 2019’s Avengers: Endgame revealed that Clint Barton seems to have shed his Hawkeye identity in favor of what appears to be the cinematic debut of the Ronin outfit. While we don’t yet have much information about what may have prompted the character’s latest change of clothes, it goes without saying that Wen’s work designing a grounded, realistic version of Clint Barton undoubtedly had a huge influence on the Hawkeye we’ve grown to know and love.