1. Hawkeye

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The hero: 

As one of the first Avengers, Clint Barton has been kicking around since the 1960s. He's really great with a bow and arrow and... not much else. Though the comics have occasionally hinted that his abilities verged on the superhuman, for all intents and purposes he's just a normal dude who likes to wear purple. 

Humble Beginnings:

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Hawkeye has always been something of an odd man out. There are plenty of unpowered vigilantes in the Marvel Universe, but most of them don't have to share the stage with gods, gamma giants or an asshole millionaire in a mech suit. And since Hawkeye is not and has never been Batman, seeing him on far-flung fantastical adventures with the Avengers just seems off. Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye said it himself in Age of Ultron: "The city is flying, we're fighting an army of robots and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes any sense."

It's so easy to put the guy out of commission and render him utterly useless. All you'd have to do is break his bow or snap his arrows, and then he loses his one thing.

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That isn't to say there haven't been good Hawkeye stories in Avengers comics, but there's only so many takes on the whole "normal human in a superhuman world" thing. Taking that into consideration, it's kind of impressive that Clint has been a mainstay of Marvel's team books for so many decades. To be fair, he does balance out a squad; as any RPG fan knows, it never hurts to keep an archer around. 

Marvel has tried plenty of times to freshen up Hawkeye -- often it involved changing his already-silly costume into something even sillier. 

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At times, it became clear that no one really knew what to do with the character. It eventually came down to changing Clint Barton's alter ego from Hawkeye altogether. The idea being that editorial sought to introduce a new suphero with the added benefit of readers already being familiar with the secret identity. It didn't stick. 

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The 60s weren't even over by the time Hawkeye became Goliath, aided by Ant-Man's size-changing Pym Particles. Though growing to the size of Godzilla to fight bad guys is a pretty sweet power, the Goliath name and identity was just a hand-me-down from Hank Pym, who couldn't decide if he wanted to be Ant-Man or Giant Man or Goliath or Yellowjacket or Domestic Violence Man. After Clint ditched the temporary moniker, several others took on the mantle of Goliath, further cementing the name's seatwarmer status.

And then there's Ronin, not to be confused with Ronan the Accuser, aka the guy who got dance-offed to death at the end of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.  Originally an alter-ego of Maya Lopez (a Daredevil side character who had previously gone by Echo), Ronin is yet another secondhand identity that was later passed onto other characters after Clint had grown tired of his "dress like a ninja" phase. 

Changing up your look and your name is kind of par for the course when it comes to superheroes, but it's still disheartening to see a classic character resort to taking on pre-owned identities. Dude even put on the Captain America outfit for a hot second before he realized it was in poor taste. In the end, Clint Barton will always be Hawkeye. And that's not a bad thing.

The Brilliant Reinvention:

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They'd done it once before. Writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja had worked to bring the martial arts superhero Iron Fist to the fore in a fantastic run that did wonders for the character. And in 2012, together with colorist Matt Hollingsworth (and a host of guest artists), the same team made Hawkeye one of the most relevant superheroes in comics. 

The set-up is so simple it's brilliant: Tell short stories in one or two issues, and ground the adventures in something approaching reality -- or at least, street-level comic book reality. With that down-to-earth tone, Hawkeye ditches his flamboyant mask getup, most often seen in just a purple t-shirt or even some sweats. It really works, too -- Clint just fits so much better in something like a 70s movie car chase than he does in space or a parallel dimension.

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The book has a great cast of characters too, mostly comprised of those living in Clint's apartment building in Brooklyn. There's a few families, a dopey guy who calls Hawkeye "Hawkguy" and even a pizza-loving dog. It's like a sitcom, but instead of being terrible it's great. Closest to Clint is Kate Bishop, a fellow archer that also happens to go by the name Hawkeye. She's pretty rad. 

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Much of the charm comes from the humor infused into the series. While Fraction supplies the snappy dialogue, Aja sets up neat homages to old arcade games. The two are on the exact same wavelength, and it shows. 

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This goes to show that there was really nothing wrong with Hawkeye as a character -- he just doesn't always gel with a world with magic, time-travel and surly talking ducks. 

 

2. Aquaman

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The hero: 

Arthur Curry was raised as a human, but quickly discovered that he was the heir to the throne of Atlantis. Endowed with super-strength, agility and powerful telepathy, he reigns as the King of the Seven Seas. Somehow, he got stuck with the dopey title "Aquaman."

Humble Beginnings:

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Maybe it's the name. "Aquaman" sounds like a mascot for a colorful kids bubble bath, not a powerful underwater monarch. Nevertheless, for decades poor Arthur has been the Kardashian-sized butt of countless jokes.  Despite his formidable power set, Aquaman has been relegated to the Justice League equivalent of that one Planeteer with the power of "Heart." Somehow, he's gotten the short shrift when there are plenty of other fictional powerhouses that don't suffer from being water-based. No one makes fun of Poseidon, the god of the sea; all anyone says about Namor is how great he looks in a speedo; even Ariel's dad Triton from The Little Mermaid isn't poked at like Arthur. 

Part of his bum rap likely comes from Aquaman's part in the Superfriends cartoon. On a team with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, Aquaman was almost always just "that guy who talks to and sometimes rides fish." 

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Aquaman's reputation is well-known to everyone at DC, which is why they've continually tried to change things up for the character. Eventually they were trying so hard to "legitimize" him in the eyes of fans that they uh, went a little overboard.

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A scruffy beard and long mane. A metal arm and pectoral sheathe, exposed abs and one hairy manboob. A friggin' metal hook for a hand. You only need one of these things, max, to reinvent your character. As it stands, the hook-hand version of Aquaman ends up looking like a cyborg hobo pirate, and doesn't look nearly as cool as that phrase sounds.

The Brilliant Reinvention:

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DC changed a whole lot with their franchise-wide reboot in 2011, but they smartly brought Aquaman back to basics. At least, visually speaking. Though Arthur donned the classic orange/green combo, his demeanor was a little edgier. That new 'tude was almost too much; Aquaman spends much of the first issue of the relaunch insisting to a gaggle of nerds that he doesn't talk to fish, but instead psychically commands his aquatic subjects. It was a little ham-fisted -- especially since he was Aquaman-splaining to stereotypical neckbeards that were based on the guys buying the comic -- but maybe it was a necessary step. 

Then again, Aquaman was already a badass before the big reboot. Remember, this is a guy who has to withstand incredible pressure on his whole body whenever he swims deep under water. He's incredibly resilient, approaching Superman levels of durability. The King of Atlantis needs all the power he can get, because he has to battle these guys on a regular basis. 

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The Night Gods are basically what they look like: demon Cthulhus that want to destroy the Earth. Since they like to enter our realm from the briny depths, Pacific Rim-style, it's up to Aquaman to stop them. The ocean is his domain, after all.

And that's just the thing -- Aquaman is the King of Atlantis, but also pretty much every body of saltwater on the planet. His version of Gotham or Metropolis covers 70% of the Earth. And he's always had that much on his plate, and he's always been that powerful. All DC needed to do was find a way to remind people that Aquaman is not just a fish-whisperer. Though that comes in handy sometimes.

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Any guy who can control Sharknadoes is probably someone you want on your team. At least before Green Arrow.