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Hawkeye’s Kate Bishop plays a pivotal role in every Marvel Universe

Marvel’s new Disney Plus show passes a torch with precedent

Chuck Zlotnick

In the opening scenes of Hawkeye, Marvel’s new Disney Plus series, a young girl looks out from the recently torn-off side of her Manhattan high-rise. In the before times, her window was a perfect vantage point at Stark Tower. During the Battle of New York, a gaping hole offers a glimpse of the hellish mayhem — and the Avengers in battle. The girl, Kate Bishop, looks out at the raging war just as Clint Barton aka Hawkeye jumps, twirls, and plants an arrow in the head of a Chitauri warrior. The moment will mold the impressionistic kid over the next nine years into a formidable archer. In 2021, when Hawkeye picks up, the girl is Kate Bishop, warrior wannabe.

“It was really important figuring out a way that made the most sense of why Kate idolizes Clint in the way she does, and at what pivotal moment in her life does she witness or encounter this that makes sense for her to start training and learning archery,” Marvel Studios producer Trinh Tran tells Polygon of revisiting the Battle of New York from a new angle. “So it felt like it was the right moment, because it was such a big moment in the MCU, that it would connect with her. Her character, in a way, is the eyes from the audience point of view. She was seeing Hawkeye in a way that anybody who happens to have encountered that situation sees the moment. And that really inspired her to start learning that craft. So it was finding an organic way in that made the most sense for the two of them to connect and bond over an ending sort of create that, that chemistry in that partnership along the the mission that they go through.”

Marvel Studios introduces us to Kate, played by Hailee Steinfeld, as a quiver-carrying, quip-delivering college student whose moment of peril directly intersects with the greatest moment in her life: meeting her hero, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). The first two episodes of the Hawkeye Disney Plus series see Avenger pro and and his teenage devotee on the run from the Tracksuit Mafia, buttoned-up swordsmen, and perhaps a few other mysterious foes. Hawkeye, despite losing his hearing, knows what he’s doing. Kate’s getting up to speed. But it still feels like a moment of transition: Are we witnessing the future of the Marvel universe take shape?

Seems entirely possible. Because comics readers know Kate by another name: Hawkeye.

When Kate Bishop becomes Hawkeye

Yes, there are two Hawkeyes in the Marvel Universe, and they exist simultaneously — kinda like the two Spider-Mans we all know so well, thanks to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Except it didn’t take a multiverse to make Kate Bishop in Marvel comics. It just took Clint Barton’s death.

In 2004, Clint died, and in 2007, he was brought back to life. (How all that happened is not really important for our purposes — just take my word for it.) While he was dead, the world moved on, and a Young Avenger named Kate Bishop wore a purple costume and used trick arrows to honor his legacy. She called herself Hawkeye.

Kate Bishop holding a cup of coffee from Hawkeye #1, Marvel Comics (2012). Image: Matt Fraction, David Aja/Marvel Comics

Created by writer Allan Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung, Kate was the daughter of rich parents with a big heaping amount of stubbornness and the goal of becoming an archery-based superhero alongside the Young Avengers, a super team that is exactly what it sounds like. When Clint, who was never a man of large ego, returned, he saw her in action and thought she had done pretty well with the name, maybe even better than him. And he also wasn’t ready to reveal that he was alive again, so he did a stint of crimefighting with a sword under the name Ronin (one of a number of Marvel characters to have taken on this identity). When he eventually did become Hawkeye again, Kate refused to give up the name. Ever since, the Marvel Comics universe has had two Hawkeyes — or, Hawkeye and Hawkguy, if you really want to disambiguate.

The MCU version of Clint Barton has been pretty different from the comics one. He hasn’t struggled with hearing loss, he was a career SHIELD agent, and he has a wife, three kids, and a midwestern farm. That changed with the one-two punch of Avengers: Endgame and Hawkeye. Endgame debuted Clint Barton’s Ronin costume, complete with samurai sword action. (The costume plays a major role in the new Disney Plus series, too.) Now he’s living a civilian life with his resurrected family, and lost his hearing due to a string of brutal encounters with the Avengers.

In the comics, Kate and Clint’s modern relationship was really solidified in Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye, in which she appeared as a recurring secondary character, building up to her own Hawkeye ongoing series (written by Kelly Thompson and drawn by Leonardo Romero and Michael Walsh). There, she became a bow-wielding but inexpert private detective in Los Angeles.

And now, in Disney Plus’ Hawkeye, Kate Bishop is here to curve the Marvel universe even closer to what Marvel Comics creators cooked up all those years ago.

Kate Bishop as Marvel’s new Hawkeye

Kate Bishop fires an arrow while in a moving car in Hawkeye Image: Marvel Studios

After the double-dip premiere, there are only four episodes of Hawkeye left before Marvel bounces to whatever’s next (including an Echo spinoff). But how important is Kate, and a new generation of young heroes from Ms. Marvel’s Kamala Kahn to Ironheart’s Riri Williams, to the larger MCU? Tran suggests: very.

“I can’t get into much details about what that is without spoiling anything. What I can say is that, especially after Infinity War and Endgame, as you know, characters come in and out. And [adding new characters] is really about how they would fit into the MCU in a way that leads toward the direction that we want to head and, of course, characters that we’re also passionate about, and want to bring to life on screen [...] But much like the audience’s who are watching, there are new waves of folks coming in. Compared to 10 years before, you know, some of these kids have grown into adults, so we want the new voices to come in to represent sort of everybody who loves these characters who loves the Marvel world.”

As shaped by Marvel Studios and showrunner Jonathan Igla, MCU Kate is a disruptor, arriving at a time when the universe really needs one.

“She doesn’t stop talking, and she doesn’t stop asking questions!” Tran says with a reasonable glee. “It’s one of the reasons why I think Clint initially finds it a little too much and could come off annoying, in a way. But that’s what makes her really interesting — she speaks her mind. And she’s not afraid to do so. So we do actually use her voice as a guiding post sometimes to bring out those questions that we want the younger voices to ask.”

One of those potent moments comes in the first episode, when Kate shows up to a fancy auction event with her mother wearing a suit and tie. If this were a movie or show even five years ago, Steinfeld probably would have been dressed in something prom gown-adjacent. But instead, she shows up looking sharp as hell in a traditionally male look, and it throws off Armand Duquesne (Simon Callow), who wonders if she might “wear something more ladylike” next time. Tran doesn’t over-explain the moment when asked, but she says it is indicative of how Kate can rattle the status quo — of the Marvel Universe or otherwise.

“We use Kate as a character to to bring out a particular way of thinking,” Tran says. “We do hint at the fact that she is a young woman coming into this world. So how she is dealing with that, how she is seeing that world, how she is being perceived by others, all that is being explored in the storyline. Especially with the relationship with her mom as well, too. They have a little bit of that opposing views of who she thinks she is and who she wants to become. We hint at that and we find that interesting to create that conflict between the two of them.”

In the comics, Kate is Hawkeye. In Hawkeye, she’s just Kate. But by the end ... well, anything seems possible, which based on her legacy, seems exactly what the character is meant to bring to any story.