Introduced in 2011's Thor, Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye has become a mainstay character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the archer surprised fans by retiring to spend time with his family. Just one year later though, Hawkeye returned to oppose the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War, and the film closed with him now as outlaw.
Marvel play the long game, and there's clearly a reason the House of Ideas brought Hawkeye back into play so swiftly. Now, an intriguing new rumor hints at just why that might be...
Will Hawkeye Become Ronin?
Over in the comics, the aftermath of the superhero Civil War pushed Hawkeye down a dark path. He ditched his classic look, and even the bow and arrow, instead taking on the secretive identity of the swordsman known as Ronin. Even his fellow Avengers didn't know who this hero was, and Marvel Comics enjoyed drawing out the reveal for as long as possible.
It seems as though MCUExchange has reported an exclusive scoop, claiming that Hawkeye is about to adopt that identity in the MCU too! According to MCUExchange, one specific event in #InfinityWar will shatter Clint Barton's world. Intriguingly, they note that the event in question may be darker in tone than what we're used to seeing in your typical Marvel movie, so they caution that this plot thread may well be cut.
And yet, the signs are all there. While we can safely assume that the movies will develop this idea in a very different way to the comics, the fact remains that a 'Ronin' is, by definition, a wandering samurai who has no lord or master. It's a Japanese concept, and significantly, both casting details and set photos from Avengers 4 have suggested there some key scenes will take place in Japan. Meanwhile, Renner's already hinted that his character will undergo a redesign for Avengers 4, sporting a different haircut at the very least.
What Could Transform Hawkeye Into Ronin?
Infinity War will see Thanos and his forces invade Earth in pursuit of the Infinity Gems. Earth's Mightiest Heroes are standing in the line of fire, and Hawkeye has more to lose than any other Avenger (Remember when we met his wife and children in Avengers: Age of Ultron?) And let's face it; we all know Thanos and his Black Order would happily target an Avenger's loved ones.
While Hawkeye isn't a married man in the regular Marvel comic book universe, Joss Whedon actually pulled this idea from the modern Ultimate Universe. In 2007's Ultimates #7, Hawkeye's superheroism led the treacherous Black Widow to capture Hawkeye and murder his family. It was a heartbreaking and tragic act, perfectly in keeping with the dark and dangerous tone of the Ultimates range.
The MCU relationship between Black Widow and Hawkeye is very different, of course, but I still wouldn't be surprised if Marvel lift this idea of killing Hawkeye's family. It would be a very real way of raising the stakes, reminding everyone that superheroism has a terrible cost without actually killing any of the main cast. Could this launch Hawkeye down the dark path of the Ronin?
Will This Lead To "Secret Invasion"?
Meanwhile, it's worth noting that, should this rumor be correct, it's another step on the road to a famous comic book event known as "Secret Invasion." That story line saw a race of alien shape-shifters known as the Skrulls invade the Earth, replacing key superheroes with Skrull infiltrators. The alien invaders came within a hair's breadth of successfully conquering the planet, and were barely defeated. The reason why Hawkeye's transformation is significant here is that in the comics, Clint Barton fought under the Ronin identity during this comic book arc.
There are a number of intriguing hints that suggest Marvel is heading in the direction of "Secret Invasion." The Skrulls, for example, are now set to make their MCU debut in 2019's Captain Marvel. Set in the 1990s, that film will see Brie Larson's powerhouse caught up in an ancient war between two alien empires, the Kree and the Skrull. Most fans believe Marvel has a long-term plan for the aliens, one that builds towards an Avengers: Secret Invasion movie.
Right now, it's worth stressing that this is only a rumor. As MCUExchange themselves note, Avengers 4 is 20 months away from release. That being said, this particular rumor does fit surprisingly well with what little we know of Avengers 4 to date. It also dovetails perfectly with the direction fans believe that the MCU is heading in; In fact, the idea of Jeremy Renner taking on a role that his character actually played in the "Secret Invasion" arc is surprisingly believable.