Since superhero comics are typically about the clash between good and evil, a character's morality is often their defining trait. But morality is an interesting thing in that it can shift and change, sometimes rather drastically, over the course of one's life. In the Marvel Universe, Clint Barton, the bow wielding Avenger known as Hawkeye, is practically the poster child for this sort of personal change. Barton began his costumed career as an enforcer for the Soviet agent known as the Black Widow who used his love for her to manipulate him into attacking Iron Man. After a number of defeats, the duo parted ways, both of them abandoning their lives of crime and espionage. Hawkeye joined the Avengers and the Widow defected to the United States where she became part of the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and later joined the Avengers as well. Hawkeye was not done switching aspects of his costumed persona, though. At different points of his career he's abandoned the Hawkeye identity for other costumed guises including Goliath, Ronin and, for a very brief time, even Captain America.
Hawkeye's past choices in relationships, costumes and crime, are currently coming back to haunt him in "Widowmaker," a four issue miniseries from the "Hawkeye and Mockingbird" creative team of writer Jim McCann and artist David Lopez alongside the "Black Widow" team of writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Manuel Garcia. In February, McCann continues Hawkeye's adventures with the four issue "Hawkeye: Blind Spot." We spoke with him about both projects.
In the wake of the superhero "Civil War" and the death of Captain America Hawkeye found himself directionless and without a cause. So he joined with the then fugitive New Avengers and assumed the identity of Ronin, a costume worn previously by the New Avenger known as Echo. In "Widowmaker" #1, Hawkeye learned that the Ronin identity was a lot older than he initially believed, having been created by the leader of a Marvel Universe counterpart to a real world secret Society, the Japanese group known as the Dark Ocean Society.
"I did a lot of research on the Dark Ocean Society, a real group dating back to the 1800s comprised of fallen samurai, basically ronins. So when I read that, I thought, what better thing than for the Ronin identity to have been their spymaster? There's a lot within their history I mined for this story and passed along to Duane. He was totally psyched about being able to use them," McCann told CBR News. " I had to call them Dark Ocean because Marvel Comics fans would be really confused if I called them by their original Japanese name. Even with the correct spelling of Genayosha, it would sound too much like Genosha. I didn't want to confuse people. So Dark Ocean popped up, and they are also the forefathers of the Yakuza as well."
"Widowmaker" #1 also revealed that the Dark Ocean Society, which was believed to have disbanded at the end of World War II, was active once again with a new, enigmatic Ronin as its leader. In the issue, the new Dark Ocean began eliminating espionage agents and government officials from the countries of Russia and Japan. "The identity of the new Ronin and Dark Ocean's true motives are two of the big mysteries of 'Widowmaker,'" McCann said. "Using the Ronin identity to pull back a corner of the Marvel U's World War II history and say, 'This is what it was like all those years ago,' was a lot of fun. I was always fascinated by that 'Uncanny X-Men' issue where Wolverine fought with Black Widow and Captain America in World War II. It was definitely an inspiration for me to go as far back as a conflict that predated World War II and a group that disappeared at the end of World War II. In the real world history, Dark Ocean's leader was killed during the war, and that opened the door for the American occupation to take them down."
As "Widowmaker" unfolds, readers will get more clues and history about the Ronin identity. "'Widowmaker' stars Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Black Widow and Dominic Fortune. Both Widow and Dom dropped lines in issue #1 that suggested they knew something about the Ronin identity. However, they didn't think that the Dark Ocean Society existed any more. They thought they had collapsed completely after the death of the original Ronin at the end of World War II. Dom's history stretches back to before World War II, so I took the real history of Dark Ocean and applied it to our characters. I thought, just like Cap punched Hitler in the face on the cover of "Captain America Comics' #1, Dominic Fortune was involved in the downfall of the original Dark Ocean," McCann explained. "Echo did not attract much attention while she was wearing the costume during her stint with the New Avengers. However, for people wondering, there is something coming regarding Echo's status. I actually went back and reread the issues involving her time as Ronin. It was an identity she adopted. If I had many, many extra pages, I would have gone back and shown that she adopted that identity to send a message. To her, Dark Ocean didn't exist, either. It hadn't existed since World War II. I do imagine, though, that she knew of the identity and wanted to use it to strike fear because she was attacking the Hand and members of the Japanese Underworld. So to her, what better way to use it?"
Dark Ocean's background isn't the only aspect of the group that's rooted in real world history. The conflict they want to exacerbate in "Widowmaker" is also a real world one and the murders they committed in Widowmaker" #1 seemed to suggest that they want to turn the dispute between Russia and Japan over the Kuril Islands into a full blown war. "I wish I could have explained a little more about the conflict in the Kuril Islands, because it dates back to the early 1900s. It became a huge point of contention around, during and after World War II. It's still a point of conflict to this day. Tensions are starting to flare up again around these disputed four islands that lie smack dab between Japan and Russia. They each own islands on either side of these four and no one is budging. After I had turned the script in and David was drawing the issue, there actually was an attempt at a peace summit between Russia and Japan over the Kuril islands. So I was like, 'Oh gosh! I hope the two governments don't come after me.'"
In "Widowmaker" #1, McCann and artist David Lopez picked up threads from their recently concluded "Hawkeye and Mockingbird" series by forcing the two title characters, who recently ended their professional and romantic relationships, to work together, investigating the murders Ronin and Dark Ocean were committing. "They had both agreed that they were going to give each other space. At the end of the day, though, they are adults. I didn't want to portray their break up as petulant teenagers who suddenly de-friended each other on Facebook. They have to set aside things. They're both on the Avengers. He learned she's on Dark Ocean's hitlist, so he's trying to save her life. She is trying to find out who's taking out her friends and why she's on this list," McCann remarked. "They snipe at each other, but for them to really just go all out seemed inappropriate and petty within the context of the story. You'll see other developments in their relationship, because again this was a story that fit right into my plans for their relationship. You'll see those aspects continue all the way through. I shared it with Duane, who in turn shared a lot with me concering what was going on with Black Widow."
Midway through the first issue of "Widowmaker," Hawkeye, Mockingbird and their associate Dominic Fortune followed a lead in the Dark Ocean murders to Siberia, where they ran afoul of Russia's diminished but still active security service, the KGB. "Russia has actually maintained the KGB as an agency. It's changed and evolved from what it was. It's not necessarily their secret spy ring any more. They still maintain a role, though, within Russia itself. Their mandate now is sort of internal security. They're like the UK's MI-5 and mainly serve as border guards, while the FSB are Russia's MI-6."
After taking down their KGB pursuers, Hawkeye, Mockingbird and Fortune arrived at the scene of Dark Ocean's latest murder, where they encountered the Black Widow who was also investigating the murders. The way the four of them suddenly collided with each other and the sudden arrival of the Russian super team known as the Supreme Soviets made the characters realize, they just might be pawns in a larger game that is being played out.
"We absolutely wanted to give that feeling of, 'The spies think they're involved in one thing and then they realize it's much bigger.' They've got to stop a world war, and they have to do it without raising the suspicions of the countries at stake. Because if Russia or Japan had any more ammunition against the other, that would just add more fuel to the fire. It's up to our heroes to solve this and shut this down behind the scenes," McCann said. "There is a ticking clock, though. It goes at breakneck speed from here on out. There's definitely a lot of action and a lot of suspense and mystery. For every answer they think they have discovered, it raises more questions, just like in issue #1 where they found a Japanese weapon in a place that Natasha would know. Or Hawkeye getting involved because he suddenly discovered Mockingbird was in danger. Plus, The Supreme Soviets seem to have been tipped off as well. Suddenly, there's Hawkeye, and he was Ronin so they're going to capture and kill him and put the rest of our characters in labor camps, because that's what Soviets do."
"Widowmaker" #2, in stores this week, is by the creative team of the recently wrapped "Black Widow," Duane Swierczynski and artist Manuel Garcia. "In my issue, Natasha doesn't make her entrance until halfway through, so you can argue that issue #1 is Hawkeye and Mockingbird's perspective on what's going in. At the beginning of issue #2, Dwayne shows us a lot of what the Black Widow knows," McCann said. "It's kind of like a mirror, in a way. Then after that, it's definitely all out action. I don't want to give too much away as to who's point of view is involved in upcoming issues. Something happens in issue #2 that changes the game completely. Then there's also another point of view introduced after that.
"It's been amazing working with Duane. He's a fantastic writer who brings so much to the table," McCann continued. "His knowledge of espionage and the way it works within governments and the world absolutely blows me away. I thought I had studied, but I totally paled in comparison to what he knows. With his help, this series really does bring this sense of real world mixed with superheroes. We've had so much fun working on this because we know where the story is going, but we've held our cliffhangers close to the vest. When Duane sent in the script for issue #2, I was like, 'All right. I wasn't quite expecting that.' We try to one up each other in a lot of ways, and that's been a lot of fun. When I finished issue #3, I had no idea how he was going to get them out of a certain death trap that we both had been building. I got to spring it and I don't think he was expecting the way the death trap played out. As we wrote the series, we were able to experience a little bit of what we want the readers to feel. It made us up our individual games."
"Widowmaker" comes to a conclusion in January, flowing directly into McCann's "Hawkeye: Blind Spot" miniseries. "'Blind Spot' is the continuation of the story I've been telling with Hawkeye. It's the story I wanted to tell since I first started writing the character," McCann said. "It's the perfect jumping on point, too, because it's probably the cleanest entry point of any of my Hawkeye stories. My first story, the 'New Avengers: The Reunion' miniseries, was tied up with the end of 'Secret Invasion.' In 'Hawkeye and Mockingbird,' we were dealing with the 'Heroic Age' and also dealing with the characters' pasts. Then 'Widowmaker' started out a bit clean. We still had Hawkeye and Mockingbird's relationship to deal with, as well as the things that were set up in 'Hawkeye and Mockingbird' and 'Black Widow.' 'Blind Spot,' though, is a Hawkeye story that's very new-reader friendly. Fans of the character who have been a little bit nervous to jump in because they feel like they're jumping into the middle of a story, you're not. 'Blind Spot' is the start of the next phase of Hawkeye's life."
"Blind Spot" will prove to be a very emotional story for the title character, allowing McCann to delve deep into the archer's psyche. "I've spent a lot of time showing people why he's cool and why he's funny. I've show all these neat things about him and his character, but they've mainly been in relation to other people, namely Mockingbird. The first issue of 'Blind Spot' shows Hawkeye's relationship to everybody, but also what he holds inside of him. We get to see a little of what goes on inside the mind of Clint Barton, especially with what this story is going to put him through," McCann said. "They say you sometimes have to kill your babies, and I don't let up. I think I've put Mockingbird through the wringer in 'Hawkeye and Mockingbird,' but now it's Clint's turn. I’m basically putting him into the fire to forge him and we'll see what comes out, what the Hawkeye of tomorrow looks like.
"It's an all-out action story that has every emotion you can imagine. It pushes Hawkeye to his limits," McCann continued. "I don't think you've ever seen Hawkeye like this before. I know I haven't, and I think I've read every one of his appearances. I really wanted to push Hawkeye as far as I could. I know there are some people out there who might be thinking, 'Oh great! He's pushing him to a dark place!' That's not it, though. There are ways to push a character without making them want to go murder somebody. This story is definitely going to be a very emotional and action-packed tale. It's a tale of a superhero that changes his life."
"Blind Spot" is a story involving unfolding plots in the present day alongside numerous flashback sequences. "You'll get to see a good deal of Hawkeye's history and what has shaped him so far," McCann remarked. "The flashbacks are kind of a counterbalance, because while we're seeing what brought Hawkeye to where he is today, we're balancing that with what he's going through and what will make him the man he will be tomorrow."
There is someone behind Hawkeye's troubles in "Blind Spot," but McCann is keeping the character's identity a secret until the end of the first issue. "There are some villains involved. Yes, that's plural, and one of them is a very big bad, a very familiar bad and a fight that people have wanted to see. That's all I can say," McCann teased. "Hawkeye's villainous mentors, Trickshot and the Swordsman, will be part of the flashback sequences in the story, but whether or not they play a role in the present remains to be seen. The Swordsman is currently a part of the 'Chaos War: Dead Avengers' miniseries, so his fate is still in question. Last we saw of Trickshot, he tried to retire from a life of crime and make up for that life because his cancer was in remission."
Beyond exploring the ramifications of Hawkeye's villainous past, "Blind Spot" also celebrates the archer's time as a member of the Avengers. "In this first issue, you'll see a lot of the Avengers because they've kind of been his surrogate family, You'll see how that came to be. He's an orphan. He lost his mother, his father, his brother and he lost Bobbi a couple of times," McCann said. "The Avengers have kind of been a constant family for him. You'll see how different people shaped his life and what their significance and roles are to him today via them physically being there or what kind of emotional significance they've played."
"Blind Spot" is the first Hawkeye story McCann has done without his long time collaborator David Lopez, and while he'll miss Lopez, the writer is very excited to be working with artist Paco Diaz. "Paco's art looks great. I love his take on the characters and he has this amazing ink wash he's doing. He's going to use that for the flashbacks," McCann remarked. "Paco is bringing a different look and feel to the story. It's needed because this is a fresh start. It really is the first chapter in the next phase of Clint Barton's life. So, we welcome Paco."
McCann has had the time of his life penning both "Widowmaker" and "Hawkeye: Blind Spot" and hopes fans will have as much fun reading the books as he has had writing them. "'Widowmaker' is an exciting story that has a big impact on everybody involved: Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Dominic Fortune, the Black Widow and especially Ronin," the writer said. "And I honestly wish I could talk more about 'Blind Spot' because I'm very lucky to be able to tell this story. I can't believe all that I'm getting away with. The characters I'm getting to use are some of the most exciting I've had the chance to work on. They're also some of the most challenging because they're characters I've always wanted to use and suddenly I've got the okay. All in all, it makes for a story no one can miss!"