Matt Fraction’s run on the Hawkeye comics famously started with a brief text preamble: “Clint Barton, a.k.a Hawkeye, became the greatest sharpshooter known to man. He then joined the Avengers. “This is what he does when he’s not being an Avenger.”
It was a good pitch reinforced by an even better execution. And no, it’s certainly not the first or last time that a superhero comic focused on a protagonist’s personal life instead of world-saving escapades, but Fraction took the archer Avenger and managed to place him in a lovable everyman context. Whether it’s dealing with shitty landlords, with relationship troubles, with injured pets, with the strange half-fame of being one of the world’s lesser-known heroes, Clint muddles through it all with a bow, his bestie Kate Bishop, and a selection of ill-fitting T-shirts. Make no mistake, the good stuff in Hawkeye (2012) isn’t in the action, it’s in our protagonist. Under Fraction’s eye, Clint is a character filled with a deep sense of ennui, seemingly at a loss for what to do with himself whenever he’s not shooting at supervillains. He somehow manages to feel out of place everywhere, looking uncomfortable in expensive galas, dirty alleyways, or even among other heroes. The first time you finally see him looking confident is when he’s part of a frantic car chase, firing bizarre trick arrows at gangsters. It’s an important distinction: Hawkeye is the character who knows what he’s doing, but Clint Barton is barely able to cope on a day-to-day basis.
However, the comics also don’t make a complete mockery of Clint, which is a nice change. Too many stories that try to deconstruct characters end up descending into meanness and cruelty, tearing them to shreds so the audience can get a brief sneer. Instead, Fraction doesn’t hate Barton, he sympathises with him. Too heroic for the normal world, too normal for the heroic world, and overshadowed in the public eye by the larger-than-life vigilantes he stands with.
In a way, I can’t help but get flavours of Persona 5 or the Yakuza games. The street-level issues overlap with sci-fi wildness, seen through the perspective of one man struggling to balance normality with the fact that his office is a flying aircraft carrier filled with colourful demigods. Even as the character prepares to appear in Marvel’s Avengers, I know deep down it won’t be the character we love. It’ll be too much super, and not enough human. Because the fact of the matter is that Hawkeye (2012) takes all the things about the character that everybody makes fun of and just turns them into reasons to love him. His weakness adds humanity, his low self-esteem makes him worthy of respect, and everything normal about him makes him just stand out that much more. If a game captures that right, it’ll do it through storytelling, not frantic action and loot farming, allowing us to live the peculiar life of one man trying to balance two very different worlds.