Avengers: Endgame largely wasted Clint Barton’s Ronin arc, but the Hawkeye spinoff Echo can truly develop the concept as a Punisher-like figure.
Marvel’s Hawkeye spinoff can tell the Ronin story Avengers: Endgame failed to deliver on. When Thanos snapped his fingers in Avengers: Infinity War, he instantly erased half of all life in the universe. No superhero suffered more than Clint Barton, whose entire family was reduced to dust. In the wake of Thanos’ snap, Hawkeye went rogue, adopting the identity of Ronin and killing those he believed didn’t deserve to have survived.
Sadly, Avengers: Endgame wasted the Ronin story. Clint’s actions were first mentioned in a holographic team briefing, with War Machine reluctantly telling Black Widow what her old friend had been up to in Mexico. Natasha then managed to track him down to Japan, where she was shaken by the sight of him killing a Japanese crime lord. Unfortunately, for all Clint had essentially transformed into the MCU’s version of the Punisher, that whole angle was largely forgotten. You’d have at least expected War Machine to give him a side-eye, having visited the site of one of Hawkeye’s Ronin massacres, but that didn’t happen. The film’s resolution gave Clint his “Happily Ever After” moment with his family, seeming to ignore the fact he’d basically become a serial killer for a five-year time period. Everything was forgiven and forgotten far too easily. However, the Hawkeye TV show looks to correct this issue by forcing Clint to confront his legacy – both as Hawkeye and Ronin. The series will introduce two comic heroes, with Hailee Steinfeld as the next Hawkeye and Alaqua Cox as Echo, a woman who became the next Ronin in the comics.
The first trailer for Hawkeye saw Clint literally facing down his past as his identity as Ronin, and what he did during that time, came back to haunt him. He’s first introduced to Kate Bishop, who is shown wearing Clint’s Ronin costume instead of his Hawkeye costume, before facing his past actions that were brushed aside during Avengers: Endgame. While the Hawkeye trailer only offers a glimpse at Cox’s Echo (aka, Maya Lopez), it’s possible she is being set up to takeover the Ronin moniker before using it in the Hawkeye spinoff series – with Etan Cohen and his wife Emily Cohen writing the scripts – that will be centering her and her story. It’s unclear why Kate is seen wearing the Ronin costume at first, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be given to Echo eventually.
Giving Echo the mantle is a brilliant opportunity to really develop the Ronin legacy by making Echo a very different character, one who chooses to embrace the more brutal kind of vigilantism Clint himself took up during the Blip. The spinoff will be on Disney+, so it won’t be R-rated, but it’s worth noting The Falcon and the Winter Soldier already proved Marvel’s PG-13 content can explore surprisingly mature themes. With the right handling, Echo could therefore become the MCU’s Punisher figure, taking down criminals with ruthless efficiency and someone who is hunted by heroes as well as villains.
This would make Echo a unique figure within the MCU, because – with the brief but understated exception of Clint Barton himself – no hero has actually occupied this role yet. The key point would be to use Echo to explore the morality of superheroism by contrasting her with more typical heroes, and indeed with smart writing the antagonist could actually be a more traditional hero who is just as sympathetic as Echo herself. This would be the kind of approach Marvel typically takes in stories where they have Captain America and the Punisher team up; tense, awkward affairs that shine a light upon the heroism of Captain America and the brutal methods typically employed by Frank Castle. The dynamic between these two contrasting moralities is one writers have enjoyed exploring time and again.
Marvel would be smart to use Echo in telling this kind of story. The Punisher brand is a little tarnished of late, to the extent Marvel Comics came under pressure to retire the Punisher character and his logo. By shifting these themes to such an appropriate character, they explore the same ideas without any controversy. Meanwhile, the thematic connection between Echo’s Ronin and Clint Barton’s Hawkeye means the story feels like an organic development in the MCU. Hopefully this will be the approach Marvel takes, finally doing justice to the Ronin concept they teased so effectively in Avengers: Endgame.
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