By Jeff Jensen
Updated April 29, 2012 at 02:00 PM EDT
Credit: Zade Rosenthal

Unsure who Black Widow is? Having trouble deciphering the Hulk’s roar? Can’t tell the difference between Iron Man and the Iron Giant? In anticipation of the release of The Avengers on May 4, EW’s team of super geeks is here to help guide you through the mythos with our seven-part series of superhero primers, the recently declassified “Avengers Files.” It doesn’t matter if you’re a comic book connoisseur or a Nick Fury newbie — follow along this week as we deconstruct Earth’s mightiest heroes and pose the question: Which Avenger is the mightiest?

Name: Hawkeye/Clint Barton

First comic appearance: Tales of Suspense #57 (September, 1964), written by Stan Lee, penciled and inked by Don Heck.

First appearance in The Avengers (comic): Issue 16 (May, 1965), written by Lee, penciled by Jack Kirby.

First movie appearance: To set the stage for Hawkeye’s bigger role in The Avengers and to cultivate greater continuity among its movies, Marvel squeezed the the bow-twanging lone wolf agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (that’s Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division in Marvel movie lingo) into last summer’s Thor (gross $449 million worldwide), where he came thisclose to giving Thor the shaft in his brief cameo.

Actor: Jeremy Renner, two-time Oscar nominee (The Hurt Locker; The Town), and most recently seen assembling with Tom Cruise’s team of world-saving spies in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.

Origin story: When he was a wee lad, Clint Barton ran away from the orphanage to join the circus and became the protégé of the carnival’s resident trick-shot archer. He took naturally to the weapon and developed into an ace marksman. Inspired by Iron Man, Clint became a costumed crime-fighter, but he was initially mistaken for a bad guy while foiling a robbery. Hawkeye joined the Avengers after the founding members decided to take a leave of absence. He proved his mettle in unusual fashion: By successfully breaking into the team’s well-defended mansion. Now, you should know that almost none of this comic book-derived backstory is one bit relevant to the new movie, which merely presents Hawkeye as a longtime S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (albeit one with questionable loyalties) with some shared history with fellow spy Black Widow.

Weapon: Recurve and/or collapsible compound bow. And a tube of bolts which are topped with different high tech tips that can produce an array of effects, from piercing sonic screams to billowing smoke to explosions and more. In the movie, Hawkeye’s juiced arrows aren’t pre-fabricated. His quiver includes a joystick-activated mechanism that can cap each shaft with a specialized head. The film also tackles the question: What the Don Heck does Hawkeye do when he runs out of arrows?

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Outfit: In the comics, Hawkeye rocked an ab-flattering sleeveless muscle tunic and matching tight pants with purple trimmings and accessories and a pointy mask with a big old H emblazoned on the forehead. His movie togs are more muted, tailored, zippered.

Secret identity: Clinton “Clint” Barton has historically been portrayed as something of a hothead in the comics, as well as possessing a deep longing to belong: His defining characteristic is that he’s always joining and quitting and re-joining teams of colorfully clad characters and adventurers. Maybe it’s the whole orphan thing: His parents died from a car crash when he was six. In addition to The Carson Carnival of Traveling Wonders and the Avengers, there’s been the Defenders, Avengers West Coast, the Great Lakes Avengers, Thunderbolts (a band of reformed villains that he led), S.H.I.E.L.D. (which in the comics is Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division) and back to the Avengers again. In the process of accumulating such experience, Hawkeye has evolved from restless follower to restless leader to semi-lost soul. He had a brother, who grew up to be a criminal (died), and when he isn’t being a superhero, he’s usually wandering the country, searching for himself. Sometimes literally: At one point, Hawkeye was killed (sacrificed his life to thwart an alien invasion), came back to life in an alternate reality with no memory of his past life. Oh, and one time, when he quit being a masked man, he worked as a security guard. No wonder he’s always hanging out with other heroes: The itinerant soul needs the HQ for a place to squat. The movie Hawkeye — merely a S.H.I.E.L.D agent — can only hope to ever be this interesting.

Sidekicks: He’s partnered with many heroes over the years, but Hawkeye has never had a “sidekick” the way, say, Green Arrow had Speedy.

Love life: If he ain’t hooking up with teams, Hawkeye’s hooking up with the ladies. Or trying to. At various times in his comic book life, Hawkeye has been sweet on another Avenger named Scarlet Witch. This hasn’t always worked out well for him. Scarlet Witch was responsible for that aforementioned alien death thing. Hawkeye got her back by shooting her in the back… which only got him briefly negated from existence by one of Scarlet Witch’s kids. Hawkeye has also had frustrated romances or flings with the likes of Black Widow, Moonstone and the Wasp. But most fanboys will tell you that the love of his life was Mockingbird, whom he married, then divorced. In Marvel’s movie universe, Hawkeye has a deep connection with Black Widow. But romantic? Unclear.

Sample tweet: Hawkeye doesn’t Tweet! He TWANGS. Anyway, his hands are usually too busy yanking his bow to be fiddling with Twitter.

Trivia! At one point, the comic book Hawkeye was the longest active serving Avenger in team history, although his original stint included a brief period in which he assumed the identity of Goliath, with the ability to grow reallyreally big via a serum created by fellow Avenger Hank Pym. Hawkeye has adopted or experimented with other identities, including Ronin and even (oh, so briefly) Captain America.

Why Hawkeye might be the best Avenger: If the movie Hawkeye evolves into anything like the comic book Hawkeye, then he’ll be the best Avenger because he’s blood, sweat and tears-committed to actually being an Avenger. After all: It’s not like he has his own franchise.

Why he might NOT be the best Avenger: Well, look at him! You wouldn’t pick him first, second, third, fourth, or even fifth for your playground kickball team, let alone your ass-kicking world-saving superhero squad. But if he can score some of that Goliath juice in future movies…

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

Read more:

Iron Man

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 125 minutes
  • Jon Favreau