Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hawkeye Versus Captain America

As I have discussed in the past, heroic characters in the Golden and Silver Age for the most part didn't require a motivation. They fought against crime and injustice simply because they were heroes. This is part of what makes Batman and Spiderman so unique; they did have strong personal motivations. Hawkeye, on the other hand, did have a motivation, but it was an odd one: He wanted the acclaim that comes along with being a hero. Remember, the first we see him is when he's simply a carnival side-show act:
When a carnival ride goes haywire, Iron Man appears to save the passengers, and Hawkeye experiences the green-eyed monster:
So he puts together a uniform and some gadget arrows and goes into the hero business. But things go off the rails almost immediately, as the cops mistake him for the accomplice of a smash and grab artist. While getting away, he is picked up by the Black Widow, who recruits him to the cause of international peace:
Which turned out to mostly involve attacking Tony Stark's industrial plants.

Awhile later, after the apparent death of the Black Widow, Hawkeye decided to try out for the Avengers. He showed his suitability for the team by breaking into their HQ and tying up Jarvis:
But as it happened, the Avengers were in no position to turn down new recruits, as in that same issue, Iron Man, Thor, and Giant Man all decide to take a leave of absence from the team. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, reluctant former members of the gang of Evil Mutants also join up, with Captain America assuming the leadership role. It was this last factor which grated on Hawkeye:
And over the next year or two, Hawkeye frequently bickered with Captain America, questioning both his decisions and his right to command the group. Indeed, it often seemed as though the only reason Steve Rogers kept his position was because Quicksilver also wanted to lead and the Scarlet Witch, with the deciding vote, formed a crush on Cap. Oh, and no particular surprise, Hawkeye didn't have the noblest of reasons for wanting to run the show; he sometimes admitted to himself that he just wanted the glory of being known as the leader of the Avengers.

There was another aspect of the quarrel between Hawkeye and Cap that was interesting. Despite appearing physically the same age, Cap was from a different generation. Hawkeye was brash and arrogant, while Rogers was cautious and a bit stodgy.

At first, I confess that I found their verbal jousting a bit tedious. Stan Lee's arguing characters tended never to resolve their differences. JJJ always hated Spiderman and the feeling was mutual. The Thing constantly bickered with Johnny and Reed.

But then a funny thing started to happen. Gradually, over a period of several years, we began to perceive that Hawkeye was starting to appreciate Captain America. Here's a hint of it:
And when Hawkeye failed to stop Powerman and the Swordsman from escaping because he didn't want to risk hurting the Black Widow, we got this scene:
That's characterization done right, because it's positive for both characters. We see Cap's understanding and Hawkeye's guilt at having treated him badly. In the next issue, Cap agrees when Hawkeye asks to tackle the Widow and her henchmen alone.

And while Hawkeye did not give up the occasional jibes about Captain America being Methuselah, you definitely began to get the feeling that it was pro-forma; that there was no real antipathy between the pair.  It was a nice moment of growth and change.


Scott said...

He wasn't called "The Man" for nothing!

Whalehead King said...

You nailed this observation.

James N. said...

Apologies for coming to this post late, but note how efficient this bit of characterization is.

One of the great puzzles of the early Avengers issues is whether Lee & Kirby (or Lee & Heck) really intended Captain America to come off as such a total dick. From the moment he comes out of the ice, he's a humorless, grief-stricken nutcase. Understandably, since Normandy was like two weeks ago for him!

In the year after his revival, he's literally hallucinating that Rick is Bucky, that Zemo is in the Avengers HQ, etc. He's got this homoerotic hot-and-cold relationship with Rick Jones, at one point referring to Rick as his property, offering to train him, then completely freaking out when Rick puts on Bucky's costume. It may be PTSD, but the dude is completely nuts.

And check out how he treats Rick in Avengers 16-17: kid's been training with you for a year, the rest of the team has cleared out, and not only do you refuse to promote from within, you drag in super villains to fill the slots, and deliberately leave one slot open in case the Hulk wants to join! WTF! Is Rick invisible?! No wonder he cuts out to return to the monster who kept trying to kill him every issue--it beats spending one more day with Captain America!

Yet the other Avengers cannot stop gushing about how great he is. It's so weird and off-putting that you really end up disliking the dude.

So when Hawkeye shows up, and is being such an ass every issue ("It's the first of the month, gotta make my pitch to lead the team"), it actually makes Captain America a much more sympathetic figure since Hawkeye's so annoying. Furthermore, it's okay for Hawkeye to be a little annoying, because Captain America deserves to get hassled for once.

You'll note that as soon as Hawkeye and Captain America kiss and make up in Avengers 29, in the very next issue Hawkeye goes on a solo adventure and defeats his archenemy the Swordsman, the Avengers' single most powerful foe Power Man, and smooches the Black Widow back into loving democracy.

It's a really well-done arc. It works so well that the characterization of Captain America must have been deliberate, but boy what a statement.

(Also, check out the Scarlet Witch! Captain America in this early period isn't too dissimilar to Silver Age Magneto, who is just a loony martinet. I think she's got something for domineering older guys.)