Well, the problem begins (as problems often do) with comics.
See, comics are a sort of ‘soap opera with capes and tights.’ Comics are ‘fanfic but written by mostly straight white guys who are chosen by other straight white guys.’ Comics are a never ending arms race of suffering, and that’s the problem.
So it’s hard to pin down a character. Because it’s not one character.
Every writer wants to make their mark. They want THEIR version of the character to be the one that people point to and say, “THIS. THIS is the quintessential Hawkeye. THIS is the reason I love Hawkeye.”
Because they’re not going to write the character forever. That’s comics. There’s always someone right behind them, nipping at their heels, someone who wants nothing more, in most cases, then to sweep their careful work aside and make THEIR mark on the character.
There’s not much you can do to stop that from happening. You can write a really good book, you can be clever and creative and still not hit the readership the right way. You can write A GOOD BOOK and you’ll still end up in the trash heap of the 25 cent bin, because the promotion team or the movie schedule or the competitor’s event cycle screwed you over.
It’s much easier to make a lot of noise. To be remembered, rather than beloved. To get people tweeting and talking and protesting and fighting, because that means when you tossed off this book, there’ll be another one waiting for you.
Don’t believe me? I mean, someone keeps giving Nick Spencer new books. (shrug)
So there is no one Hawkeye. The Hawkeye of the early West Coast Avengers has little in common with the Hawkeye of Fraction and Aja’s solo book run. The Hawkeye of the most recent Secret Avengers by Ales Kot would be unrecognizable to the Hawkeye of the Ultimates verse. Movieverse Hawkeye is almost a mirror image of Hawkeye of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
When you love a character, the question is, which one? Because even if you take fandom interpretation and fanon out of the equation, there’s a lot of them to choose from. And while canon feeds fanon, fanon bleeds back into canon.
Describing the character you love takes some effort, some cherrypicking.
For me, it’s this:
On the surface, he’s ordinary. And his awareness of his ordinariness is part of what makes him so extraordinary. He’s raised himself to his current position by sheer force of will and a refusal to stop. He’s bullheaded and snarky and has a chip on his shoulder the size of the island of Manhattan. He’s not as stupid as he thinks he is, and he’s not as good as he believes he is, and both of those facts are a little heartbreaking.
He’s a man who destroyed his own hearing, because he knew if he didn’t, he was going to hurt someone he loved. He’s also a man who entered canon trying to rob Tony Stark, which was universally regarded as a very bad idea, since that’s how a lot of people end up dead.
He’s not a god or a genius or a super soldier.
He is a man who looked at the end of the world, and said, fuck you, I’ve got a COUPLE OF STICKS AND A PIECE OF STRING and I’m still going to KICK YOUR ASS. There is something comforting about that, for most people.
We want to believe, after all, that if push came to shove, if things got bad, then we would stand up. With all the risk, and all the fear, and a very good chance that we would not win, we want to believe, that we would still stand.
So all the other stuff, the ragged ends and the bad choices, the stupid plots and the OOC moments, the embarrassing contradictions in canon and the writers who can’t figure him out or don’t want to bother trying, it melts down to one truth at the core of his character, every time.
He is a man that doesn’t feel too different from you or me. And he stands. He makes bad choices, he screws people over, he ruins relationships and cheats on partners and girlfriends, he does stupid, stupid things, because this is a soap opera, and half the writers don’t remember what the last one did and the other half don’t care.
For all the parts of him I don’t like, he’s still my favorite. Because he shouldn’t be there. He has no place there. He’s outgunned and outflanked. Everyone around him is smarter than him, better trained than him, better equipped than him.
And still he stands. With a bow. He stands.
And says, come at me, bro.