In last month’s blog post about Avengers #64, we covered how the titular superhero team quashed the villainous scientist Egghead’s attempt to blackmail the governments of Earth using an orbiting death-ray satellite. Our heroes’ victory, however, was marred by the violent death of their unlikely ally, a mob boss named Barney Barton — who, in an unexpected twist, turned out to be the older brother of the Avenger who, up until issue #63, had been known to one and all only as “Hawkeye”, but had now assumed the identity of Goliath — and who readers now learned had the given name of “Clint”.
Barney’s heroic sacrifice decisively ended the overarching bid for world domination by what had begun as a mad-scientist triumvirate, which consisted of the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master in addition to Egghead. The chronicle of this trio’s nefarious doings had actually begun in Captain Marvel #12, of all places, before weaving into Avengers #63, Sub-Mariner #14, and Captain Marvel #14, and then finally returning to Avengers for issue #64’s ultimate battle. But Egghead had escaped at the end of that issue, meaning that there was at least one loose end left to tie off — a loose end that was given greater urgency by the fact that it involved an Avenger’s need to avenge his own dead brother. Additionally, the revelation of Hawkeye/Goliath’s “real” name in the context of his previously unknown sibling relationship with a notorious gangster raised at least as many questions as it answered. It would be the task of the series’ creative team, scripter Roy Thomas and penciller Gene Colan (joined this issue by new inker Sam Grainger), to address most, if not all, of this unfinished business in the pages of Avengers #65.
In April, 1969, however, my eleven-year-old self might not have even realized that this issue represented a continuation of the Egghead plotline, since both the cover and the book’s splash page heralded the appearance therein of an altogether different villain, namely the Swordsman:
I’d seen the Swordsman once before, in Captain America #105. There, he’d been in a team with two other villains, Batroc and the Living Laser — and the Star-Spangled Avenger had taken all three down, handily, in the space of just 20 pages. While I don’t specifically recall feeling skeptical at the notion of the Swordsman now being put up against a whole team of Avengers, I think it’s pretty likely that I did.
The Swordsman’s “splashy” (if you’ll pardon the pun) entrance on page 1 continues in flamboyant spirit through the following double-page spread, as he loudly proclaims his business to… well, no one, really — unless you count the drunk guy huddled in the alley amidst the garbage cans:
Hmm. I gotta say, if I were a super-villain who’d been summoned to a mysterious late night rendezvous at an abandoned warehouse by someone who wanted to pay me big bucks to do some dirty deed (which, as we discover on the next page, is precisely what’s going on), I might try to be a little more sneaky, y’know? A little less splashy and noisy? But hey, I’m not a Marvel super-villain circa 1969, so…
With the revelation that the Swordsman’s prospective employer is none other than our old buddy Egghead, it becomes clear that the present tale is, indeed, a continuation of the storyline from the last couple of issues.
Egghead’s invoking of “the Bard” upon his entrance, and the references from Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet that accompany same, pick up on an idea that writer Roy Thomas had introduced back in issue #63, but hadn’t done much with until now — namely, the notion that Egghead used at least some of his time during his most recent stint in prison to brush up his Shakespeare. Accordingly, throughout the rest of this issue, readers will find the evil genius’ dialogue liberally seasoned with phrases originating in the work of the greatest writer in the English language.
Interestingly, Thomas was doing something very similar about this same time with the characterization of another non-costumed villain over in Daredevil. There, he gave the criminal robotics genius Starr Saxon a penchant for movie references, rather than literary ones — but, in both case, he seems to have hit on an approach to writing “bad guy” dialogue that would, at least in theory, help him keep his different villains’ speech patterns distinct from one another, and perhaps also help him avoid using too many stock phrases.
Though I had no inkling of this fact when I first read this comic fifty years ago, its flashbacks to the shared past of the Swordsman and the brothers Barton were — with the notable exception of Barney’s presence — lifted almost verbatim from the original appearance of the former character, back in Avengers #19 (August, 1965).
In that issue, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Don Heck, the Swordsman (he’d receive no other name for many years to come) had invaded the Avengers’ headquarters, boldly announcing his intention to join the team. After being overpowered by Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch in a brief scuffle, however, the mysterious blade-wielder had made a hasty tactical retreat. A short while later, Hawkeye — who, like Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, had only been an Avenger for three issues at this point — gave team leader Captain America the lowdown on just who this guy was, and why he would be bad news for the team. “He’s the one man — in all the world — I used to fear!” the bowman avowed, before launching into his tale:
Once we’re past the very first panels of each account, Egghead’s version in issue #65 tracks closely with Hawkeye’s in #19:
Wait, so the Swordsman has fought the Avengers (including Hawkeye) in the past — but has never realized that Hawkeye is his former protégé, Clint Barton?
Well… maybe. In that first Swordsman story, Captain America had opined that the mustached adventurer had no real reason to suspect that Hawkeye was “that boy from his past” since he thought that boy was, y’know, dead. And, indeed, the Swordsman showed no signs of recognizing Hawkeye over the course of that first story (which, incidentally, encompassed the entirety of the former’s short-lived Avengers membership — all six pages of it — before its conclusion in issue #20).
Chances are, Stan Lee (who was still scripting Avengers as of #29) just forgot that he hadn’t previously established mutual recognition between the two former carnies, The whole business was rather murky, at best — and it’s easy to see why Roy Thomas, who’s made tidying up continuity a priority throughout his career, decided to split the difference by declaring here in issue #65 that Swordsy always suspected that Hawkeye was his old frenemy, but didn’t know for sure until Egghead confirmed it.
The scene now shifts to Avengers Mansion — and I humbly request that you take note of that cloth-covered shape in the foreground of panel two. While the story never explicitly says so, I can’t think of any reason to believe that Thomas and Colan didn’t intend for readers to identify it as the mortal remains of Barney Barton, brought back from Egghead’s space station for the appropriate last rites. I mean, that just seems glaringly obvious.
We’ll be coming back to the little matter of Barney Barton’s body later in the post; but for now, we’ll move on into the issue’s second flashback, as Clint Barton picks up the story of “that one night” right where Egghead left off:
Clint’s rationale for not using his real name all these years — the desire to put distance between himself and his “big-time hood” of a brother — may not be entirely convincing, given his own history of working on the wrong side of the law without evidencing much discomfort; but it’s probably the best that Thomas and company could be expected to come up with, given the circumstances.
As mentioned earlier, the Swordsman’s first stint with the Avengers lasted for no more than six pages back in issue #20; but, as a caption on one of those pages referred to the passage of several days, it’s not at all unreasonable to imagine that he could have snapped up one of the team’s alarm-deactivating devices during that time. Of course, it’s rather less reasonable to think that the Avengers wouldn’t have immediately gone back after kicking Swordsy to the curb and refreshed all their security tech — but whatever.
As he expected,the Swordsman is able to access and use the mansion’s elevator without setting off any alarms; he’s unaware, however, that the team has very recently installed a new alarm just outside their meeting room doors, and thus, he’s not able to take them completely by surprise (just pretty close to it):
The Black Panther leaps to the attack, declaring that a challenge to one Avenger is a challenge to all of them — only to be intercepted by Goliath:
Clint is making some pretty bone-headed choices here. One might chalk it up to his grief over Barney’s demise (and, indeed, the Panther will do just that on the next page) — but, when you get right down to it, you gotta admit that this is pretty typical behavior for the former bowman.
Of course, all this intramural fighting does help make the notion of one guy with a tricked-out sword taking on all the Avengers at once just a little more plausible…
…though Swordsy’s take-down of the Panther, the Vision, Yellowjacket, and (presumably, though we can’t see her) the Wasp with a single energy-blast is still a bit much to swallow.
But, moving on… You know, I’m still not exactly sure just how a “duel” between a swordsman and an archer is supposed to work; and Thomas and Colan never quite get around to showing us, since Clint has (as he says in the last panel above) “sworn off the bow-and-arrow bit”, and is determined to rely only on his big ol’ fists…
…unfortunately, that strategy doesn’t work out all that great.
The Swordsman doesn’t know for sure if Clint is actually the same “Goliath” that Egghead sent him after — but he figures that’s not his problem. Hoisting his unconscious victim onto his shoulders, he carries him back to Egghead’s warehouse lair:
Unsurprisingly, the two bad guys begin fighting each other — forgetting all about Goliath, who recovers sufficiently “to turn on the growing” without being seen.
Egghead keeps the Shakespearean references coming non-stop, telling his erstwhile hireling that the ray-blasts of the latter’s sword will do no more than to light for him…
The story concludes with a “The End” banner, rather than with a “Next issue” blurb, which seems appropriate on a number of levels. To begin with, this issue tidily wraps up the three-part Clint Barton-focused plotline which began in #63, and which — “stealth crossover” with Captain Marvel and Sub-Mariner notwithstanding — effectively stands on its own as a satisfying and memorable story.
Second, it’s the last issue of Avengers illustrated by Gene Colan, whose all-too-brief tenure on the book happened to coincide directly with the three chapters of this “Goliath Trilogy”. Having relinquished his pencilling duties on Daredevil at the same time that he took on Avengers, Colan was now heading back to that series (replacing Barry Windsor-Smith, who would in turn follow Colan on Avengers).
And finally, it provides final and permanent closure to the family saga of Clint and Barney Barton — the latter of whom, having been well and truly avenged by his younger brother, would rest in peace forevermore.
Heh. Yeah, I was just messing with you with that last one.
Roy Thomas and Gene Colan may have been the first creators to add details to the bare bones of Avengers #19’s chronicle of Hawkeye’s carnival days, but they would be far from the last. Over the following decades, a succession of writers and artists would continue to elaborate on Stan Lee and Don Heck’s urtext, eventually contributing so much additional story material that the original, brief tale was almost (but never quite) lost. And the death of Barney Barton would, in the end, prove just as permanent as death often is in superhero comic books — which is to say, not permanent at all.
The first significant addition to the “Barney & Clint” corpus came almost twenty years after the publication of Avengers #65, long after the younger Barton had resumed his Hawkeye identity, when writer Tom DeFalco and artist Mark Bright provided an expanded version of the Avenging Archer’s origin story in Solo Avengers #2 (Jan., 1988). Back in Avengers #19, Hawkeye had informed Captain America that he’d never known his parents; but in relating his past history to his then-wife Mockingbird (Bobbi Chase) in this comic, the archer told a somewhat different tale. As readers quickly learned, both Clint and Barney would have remembered their parents, though many of their memories were likely painful. Their father had been an abusive drunk, whose behavior ultimately cost both him and the boys’ mother their lives:
When Clint was thirteen, he and Barney ran away from the orphanage, and eventually hooked up with the traveling carnival where they met the Swordsman. The two boys worked as roustabouts, until eventually the Swordsman offered to take Clint on as an assistant with his act — his knife-throwing act, that is:
This state of affairs continued until one day when a new performer — an archer calling himself Trick Shot (or, as it would often be spelled in later comics, Trickshot) — arrived to join the carnival:
From this point things played out pretty much as readers had previously seen both in Avengers #19 and in #65. Clint discovered the Swordsman’s theft from the carnival’s paymaster; the Swordsman then chased Clint into the main tent, and when the boy climbed onto the high wire, cut the wire. But instead of leaving Clint for dead as in earlier accounts, in this version the Swordsman came forward to finish the job — only to be driven away by a flurry of arrows fired by Trick Shot:
Avengers #19’s telling had ended with the Swordsman’s flight, while issue #65’s added on the scene of Barney’s angry remonstrations and exit. But Solo Avengers #2 took the story into new territory, as Clint told Bobbi about how, after his recovery, Trick Shot had taken him on a mysterious nighttime errand at the secluded residence of a wealthy criminal named Marko. While Trick Shot invaded Marko’s home, ultimately killing both the man and his wife in the course of robbing them, Clint was left outside to face Marko’s armed henchmen:
Trick Shot did stop Clint, however, by firing several arrows that pinned him to a tree, though without seriously harming him — then, after vowing to return one day to take his protégé’s life, the marksman fled. Clint eventually managed to free himself, and took Barney to a hospital; but then left before his brother regained consciousness. “I couldn’t face him!” Clint explained to Bobbi.
As you might imagine, all of this new backstory material was presented in the service of bringing Trick Shot into Hawkeye’s current continuity. And you can hardly fault the logic; after all, it really never had made much sense that Clint had learned his archery skills from a master of blades. But, whether or not it was the creators’ intention, this “continuity implant” had the inevitable effect of diminishing the significance of the Swordsman in Hawkeye’s history. (Of course, since that particular character was stone dead at the time, that probably didn’t seem like too much of a loss.)
The next major elaboration to the saga of the Barton brothers’ younger days came with Marvel’s third series bearing the title Hawkeye, which saw eight issues published in 2003 – 2004. While the main storyline took place in the present day, frequent flashbacks presented vignettes from our hero’s past — most involving brother Barney — beginning with this one, from the first issue (script by Fabian Nicieza, art by Stefano Raffaele):
This flashback, and the one that follows (from issue #2), don’t really add new information to what readers have seen before. What is new, however, is the characterization of Barney as a responsible, forward-looking older brother. After all, nothing we’ve seen of this character in the past (which, admittedly, isn’t all that much) has suggested that the elder Barton brother ever contemplated a future for himself (or Clint) in which a GED would have been necessary, or even useful.
This is even more evident in issue #2’s flashback. Here, we’re shown how young Clint, having just agreed to help his archery teacher Buck Chisholm (aka Trick Shot) run some crooked scams, was confronted by his disapproving older brother:
Wait — now were’s supposed to believe that the opportunistic, only-in-it-for-myself Barney Barton tried to be his younger brother’s moral compass? What’s going on here?
Hawkeye (2003) #3’s flashback replayed the familiar scene of Clint’s falling out with the Swordsman (Jacques “Jack” Duquesne) — but with a significantly different ending:
Previous versions of this scenario had ended with Barney angrily reproving Clint for blowing their chance to be on “Easy Street”, and then “vanishing”. But that’s not how it happened this time. As the next issue showed, Barney continued to hang around for a considerable time after this incident, while Clint recovered from his injuries:
Barney told Clint he was leaving the carnival, taking the next bus, which would depart at 9:00. He encouraged Clint to join him, but Clint replied that he was usually asleep at 9. The next page wordlessly depicted Barney sadly boarding the bus, alone; then, as the bus pulled away, Clint arrived, hobbling on his crutch — mere moments too late to board, or even for his efforts to be seen by his brother.
In issue #5’s flashback, readers once again saw Clint join Trick Shot in raiding the house of “mob guy” Marko, which resulted in Clint putting an arrow into Barney, an apparent employee of said mobster. That’s an even more surprising place for Clint to encounter Barney, now, following all that GED/army/college talk in the previous issues; so it seems entirely reasonable for Clint to visit him later in the hospital and ask him why — even though it’s completely contrary to what Hawkeye told Mockingbird he did, back in Solo Avengers #2:
“…you are what you are…”
In this account of Clint’s past, this seems to have been the final time that the brothers Barton saw each other prior to the events of Avengers #64. The next flashback (in Hawkeye  #6) — the final one in this particular sequence — picked up soon after the conclusion of Avengers #65, in a cemetery where Barney’s remains had (presumably) just been laid to rest:
Back at Avengers Mansion, Clint brooded over the fact that Barney — who, in their youth, seemed to make consistently better choices than he himself had — had ended up “a total screw-up”. “…so what does that make me — ?” he wondered. Then, he was interrupted by the Avengers’ butler, Jarvis:
This is the payoff for the past five issues’ worth of flashbacks, and their revisionist characterization of Barney Barton — the revelation that he was never really a criminal in the first place. In both his “mob boss” persona from Avengers #64, and in his earlier association with Marko, Barney had been working undercover for the FBI. Barney Barton wasn’t a longtime bad guy who’d redeemed himself at the end of his life through a heroic sacrifice; rather, he’d been a hero all along.
This twist worked, dramatically speaking, in the context of Nicieza and Raffaele’s Hawkeye storyline; in the larger context of Marvel Universe continuity, however, it was problematic. If Clint had known the truth about Barney since soon after his death — since 1969, as we readers reckon the passage of the years — why hadn’t he ever acknowledged this when talking about his past with others, as he did with Mockingbird in Solo Avengers #2?
More disturbingly, Nicieza and Raffaelle had overturned the resolution and meaning of a story crafted by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan thirty-five years prior, for the sake of what, in their Hawkeye series run, amounted to no more than a subplot. Was it really appropriate to retcon these earlier creators’ story material — material that had been canon for three-and-a-half decades — for something so trivial? (I happen to think not, but I realize that other readers’ mileage may well vary.)
If the saga of Barney Barton had ended right there, it would serve as a prime example of how no one creating comics in a “work made for hire” environment can ever be certain that what they’ve created will stand forever as originally intended, pristine and unaltered. But, of course, it didn’t end there — and developments since 2004 have, if anything, made it an even better example of the mutability of stories created for “shared” (but ultimately corporate-owned) fictional universes.
In 2011, Marvel released Hawkeye: Blindspot — a four-issue miniseries written by Jim McCann and illustrated by various artists, in which Clint Barton faces the prospect of gradually going blind due to a recent head injury. Meanwhile, a mysterious new enemy in league with Baron Helmut Zemo — a super-villain with a grudge against Hawkeye going back to the archer’s brief stint leading the team of reformed villains called the Thunderbolts — deposits a dying Trick Shot at the doorstep of Avengers Tower as a challenge to Clint. Just before ultimately succumbing to the cancer that has been slowly killing him for months,Trick Shot tells his old pupil that he had been coerced into training this new enemy — a man who hates Hawkeye and won’t rest until he’s killed him. Over the course of this issue and next, Hawkeye tries to cope with his vision problem while also tracking down his unknown adversary; and there are also a substantial number of pages devoted to scenes of Clint’s past, including (of course) his days at the carnival with Barney, the Swordsman, and Trick Shot. Finally, on the last page of the second issue, the true identity of Hawkeye’s latest foe — the “new Trickshot” — is revealed (art by Paco Diaz):
Yep — it’s Barney Barton! Who’s been dead and gone for forty-plus years, “real world” time — or, so we all thought, anyway.
The next issue begins with a flashback narrated by Baron Zemo, in which the second-generation super-villain relates how, following the events of 2004’s Avengers/Thunderbolts miniseries, a search for new resources led him to an abandoned safe house once belonging to our old friend Egghead (who was dead at this time, incidentally — killed in an altercation with none other than Hawkeye, in Avengers #229 [March, 1983]. Like Barney Barton, he got better.). There, he made a shocking discovery (art by Valentine De Landro):
OK — so this story is telling us that Barney didn’t quite die when we thought he did, back at the end of Avengers #64? Even if we accept that rather unlikely proposition, how’s he supposed to have ended up in one of Egghead’s labs? As I’m sure you’ll remember, the Shakespeare-spouting scientist cut out right after the explosion that wounded Barney; even if he hid on the space station until after the Avengers had left, he wouldn’t have had access to Barney’s body, which the Avengers took home with them (remember that shrouded, prostrate form from the second panel of page 8 in issue #65?) — and then, per Hawkeye (2003) #6, buried.
I’m sure that Hawkeye must be as confounded as we all are by this turn of events — so let’s see if he can get some straight answers from this guy claiming to be his late, lamented sibling (art by Paco Diaz):
CIA? Um… I thought it was the FBI. Oh, well, whatever. After all, Trickshot’s “you was played” remark clearly indicates the whole thing was a scam, anyway. (A scam perpetrated by… who, exactly? The story never says.)
Unfortunately, Barney’s explanation of the circumstances of his return doesn’t work. Besides the problems already mentioned, there’s the whole question of why Egghead would have gone to the trouble to stick a nearly-dead Barney Barton “inna tube” to heal him in the first place. After all, in Avengers #64, he’d tried to have Barney killed by a robot soon after meeting him; and after Barney ruined his plans for world conquest, one would assume he’d have even more reason to want to see the guy dead. What possible reason could he have for saving his life?
Your guess is as good as mine, I’m afraid; because Barney’s account, as terse (and, frankly, lame) as it is, is all that scripter Jim McCann is prepared to give us. Did the writer not realize the extent to which he was contradicting earlier stories, or did he simply not care? Just based on his botching of one relatively inconsequential detail (i.e., referring to the CIA rather than the FBI), I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that McCann wrote his tale relying on fuzzy memories of comics he’d read years, or even decades, earlier, and never bothered to review the source material. But whatever the case, the end result is a mess. It’s also a perfect example of what (for my money, anyway) is the worst kind of retcon — one which doesn’t just subvert the intent of the original author (as Fabian Nicieza’s making Barney Barton an “undercover agent” subverted Roy Thomas’ “repentant criminal” characterization), but does that and also overwrites even the actual events of that author’s story.
By the end of this miniseries, Hawkeye has defeated both Trickshot and Zemo. For his own obscure reasons, Zemo then transfers all of Barney’s “assets he collected through extortion and murder years ago” to Clint. And Clint’s eyesight is ultimately saved, due to a last-minute stem cell transplant (three guesses as to the donor):
Not long after this, Trickshot resurfaced in the pages of New Avengers (2010 series), where writer Brian Michael Bendis had Norman “Green Goblin” Osborn draft him into the vilain’s second team of “Dark Avengers”, as “Hawkeye”. Barney stuck with this team of not-quite-heroes when (in an ironic turn of events) they became the new Thunderbolts; his stint with them continued until the end of the team’s run, in Dark Avengers #190 (July, 2013).
Published just one month after that particular comic, the eleventh issue of Hawkeye’s fourth titular series (winner of both the Eisner and the Harvey Awards for “Best Single Issue” in 2014, incidentally) introduced a new character to writer Matt Fraction‘s ongoing storyline, which focused on Clint Barton’s attempts to protect the residents of his Brooklyn apartment building from a gang of hoods the archer dubbed the “Tracksuit Draculas”. In one scene from this issue’s story, all of which is told entirely from the point of view of Hawkeye’s dog Lucky (aka Pizza Dog), Lucky happens upon a down-and-out-looking man who’s run afoul of a couple of the Draculas, just outside the apartment building (art by David Aja):
We wouldn’t learn the man’s identity until issue #12, which revealed him to be Barney Barton (who else?). Over the course of that issue (drawn by Francesco Francavilla), we’d see — from Barney’s perspective, this time — how he had asked the Draculas for spare change, and how they’d then offered to pay him to let them hit him; then, after they stiffed him on this deal a second time, Barney beat a whole group of them up. We’d also see flashbacks to his and Clint’s childhood (because no Hawkeye writer can resist them, apparently). The issue ends with the brothers’ reunion — and clearly, Barney’s attitude towards his younger brother has softened somewhat since the conclusion of Blindspot. (This isn’t explained; though I suppose becoming homeless could have that sort of effect on a guy):
In succeeding issues, Barney moves in with Clint, and joins his continuing struggle against the Tracksuit Draculas. It’s the first time we’ve seen the Barton brothers fighting on the same side (outside of flashbacks, at least) since Avengers #64 (art here and in following images from Hawkeye by David Aja):
As the story progresses, Barney becomes fully integrated into the apartment building’s community, growing especially close to a woman named Simone and her children. He also gets shot in issue #15, and is confined to a wheelchair for most of the remainder of the series:
Prior to the final showdown with their enemies in issues #21 and 22, Clint entrusts Barney with a fortune in cash (consisting mostly of Barney’s own ill-gotten gains), saying he’ll reclaim it when the battle is over if all goes well, but if things go south, Barney might be able to use it to buy his way out of trouble.
In the series’ final installment, Clint — aided by his apartment building community, Lucky the Pizza Dog, and yet another Hawkeye (the redoubtable Kate Bishop) — triumphs over the Tracksuit Draculas. Before he can celebrate his victory, however, Clint discovers that Barney has disappeared, leaving his wheelchair behind — but not Clint’s money:
Barney turns out to be wrong regarding that last assertion, however. Because, although Fraction, Aja, and company were done with the Avenging Archer after twenty-two issues, the success of the series made it all but inevitable that Marvel would release a follow-up. All-New Hawkeye (2015 series) debuted soon on the heels of Hawkeye (2012) #22, sporting a new creative team (writer Jeff Lemire and artist Ramón Pérez), but also featuring a familiar vibe, and much of the same supporting cast — including Barney Barton.
The first five-issue volume/story arc of All-New Hawkeye is divided about equally between a present-day storyline involving the two current Hawkeyes (Clint and Kate), and a past-history narrative about the boyhoods of Clint and Barney (what else?). This is a largely character-focused sequence, but it does add some details to the ever-growing backstory of these characters. Among other things, we learn that the brothers came to the carnival only after escaping from an abusive foster father (rather than an orphanage, as we’d previously been told) — and that they were in fact rescued from said individual by none other than our old friend Jacques Duquesne, the Swordsman:
There’s one major difference worth noting between this account of the Bartons’ carnival days and every other one since Solo Avengers #2’s — and it’s that the original Trick Shot, Buck Chisholm, is nowhere to be seen. Indeed, we’re back to scenes of Clint being trained in archery by the guy whose expertise is supposed to be in blades, not bows — just like in Avengers #19 and #65:
So does this mean that Trick Shot is no longer in continuity?* That seems at least theoretically possible, assuming I understood the ending of Secret Wars (2015) #9 correctly. (I realize that that book didn’t come out until January, 2016, while All-New Hawkeye premiered in March, 2015; but Marvel launched a number of other “All-New, All-Different” series prior to Secret Wars‘ conclusion, so…) If that’s true, I can’t see that it’s all that much of a loss. (Sorry, OG Trick Shot fans.) And as for Clint learning archery from the Swordsman… well, there’s really no reason why Jacques Duquesne couldn’t be a skilled bowman as well as a master blade-fighter, right?
In the second volume of All-New Hawkeye, Clint tracks down Barney, who’s now living with Simone and her children on an island paid for with “his” new wealth. But Clint’s not looking for payback…
Clint enlists Barney to aid him and Kate in rescuing a trio of super-powered children from both Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D.. Barney’s role in the caper is largely passive, but when he does get the opportunity to go into action, the retired “Dark Hawkeye” is still more than capable of holding his own:
The mission is ultimately successful, and the rescued children are taken to Barney’s island, where they’ll presumably join his growing family. This all goes down in the sixth issue of All-New Hawkeye (2016), which was published in April, 2016, and is, to the best of my knowledge, the last appearance of Barney Barton to date.
Perhaps Marvel will let Clint Barton’s big brother continue to enjoy his “retirement” for a while, but I wouldn’t lay odds on that status lasting forever. There’s just too much drama (and comedy) to be mined from their relationship. And hey, has anyone told either Clint or Barney that the Swordsman (who reformed from villainy and rejoined the Avengers way back in issue #114 [Aug., 1973], only to die heroically about a year later) is back among the living, as of 2011’s Chaos War: Dead Avengers? How about Egghead (returned to life in 2015’s Ant-Man Annual #1)? There’s a good bit of unfinished business there, surely; and amidst that unfinished business must be at least a few good stories, waiting to be told. I feel confident that someone at Marvel will eventually get around to telling them.
So, here we are at the end of the day, with fifty-plus years of extraordinarily convoluted continuity on our hands. Continuity that’s been built up out of many different stories; some very good, others… not-so-much. What to make of it all?
I suspect I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not particularly fond of Fabian Nicieza’s retconning of Barney Barton as an undercover federal agent, which (to my mind) undermined Roy Thomas’ earlier work to little purpose. I’m even less of a fan of Jim McCann’s later retcon which brought Barney back from the dead (despite the one bit of good it does in canceling out Nicieza’s previous retcon), mostly due to its careless, clumsy execution. So you might expect that I would prefer that the elder Barton brother had been left a-moulderin’ in his grave, the way Thomas and Colan (if not God) intended.
But here’s the thing. I love Fraction, Aja, and friends’ Hawkeye series. I think that it’s one of the best comics of the last decade.** And Barney Barton is a big part of that series. Would it have been just as good without him? Perhaps — those creators are very talented people, after all. But there’s no way we can ever know that for sure. What we can be sure of is that it would have been different.
I guess what I’m saying is that if I have to accept nonsense about mad geniuses digging up buried gangsters and sticking them in healing tubes for years so that I can have stories like “Pizza Is My Business”, I’m willing to take that deal.
But maybe I don’t have to. Remember what I said about Secret Wars and Trick Shot? Maybe in the “All-New, All-Different” Marvel Universe, Barney Barton never died; or, if he did, managed to come back in a somewhat less asinine fashion. Could be.
And if that turns out not to be the case… well, we’ll always have headcanon.
(But hey, can someone let Wikipedia, Comic Vine, the Marvel Fandom Database, and whoever at Marvel wrote the introductory page for Hawkeye  #12 know that Barney Barton was never actually an undercover agent? You can tell ’em the Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe and I sent you, if you want. Thanks!)
*To be clear, it’s possible to reconcile all the different accounts of Clint and Barney’s past (at least if you’re willing to ignore a line or two, here and there), and even to put all the different versions’ individual scenes in chronological order. If you don’t believe me, check out the Barney Barton entry at the Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe web site. And while I’m at it, I’d like to offer Jeff Christiansen and everyone else at the Appendix my deepest thanks for creating that page, without which the research for this post would have been much, much harder.
**For the record, All-New Hawkeye is pretty good, too, if not quite on the same level as its immediate predecessor (in part because it’s necessarily somewhat derivative of that work).