From the 1970s on, Robert Downey Jr. (RDJ) has been a household name—first for his acting, then for his legal and drug problems. After his return to acting in the 2000s, he starred in his first blockbuster, Iron Man (2008). The film launched the now-massive Marvel Cinematic Universe, and RDJ was catapulted with it into immense mainstream fame.
Back in 2009 I knew who RDJ was, but I was aware of him mainly due to his drug addiction—not for portraying the fictional billionaire, Tony Stark. But when the film Due Date began to shoot in my hometown of Las Cruces, I became hyperconscious of this gifted, bizarre actor. Due Date movie has a below-average score on Rotten Tomatoes but nonetheless, it’s one of my favorite movies because of RDJ’s presence.
Due Date converted me into a Robert Downey Jr. fan and soon I was tearing through his filmography. Around the same time, I joined the blogging site Tumblr. I quickly became versed in the fandom lexicon including “shipping”—pairing two characters together as romantic interests, whether they’re canonically involved or not.
Initially, I used the platform to reblog photos of my favorite actors and posts that made me laugh or felt relatable. A few accounts I followed mentioned online roleplaying and quickly I understood that Tumblr was becoming more than a blogging platform—it was also a social networking site with a growing roleplaying community.
One Man in His Time Plays Many Parts
Online roleplay on Tumblr involves creating a new account for whichever fictional character you wanted to pretend to be online. The blog was set up as if you were the character, including the character’s name and setting a photo of the actor or character as your profile icon. You could fill out your personal information as the character, and note whether you were part of a closed group or open to interact with other blogs.
There were two popular methods of roleplay. There was “para-roleplay” which meant you wrote in third-person and full paragraphs. This method was a great way to practice writing skills. “Script-roleplay” was the other prevalent technique and it was quicker and easier to learn. It involved describing your character’s actions in brackets such as: [sits down].
I started roleplaying Peter Highman, Robert Downey Jr’s character in Due Date—I picked him because of my deep affection for the movie and actor. I followed Thor, Black Widow, and Iron Man blogs and began to interact with them. Gradually, I became immersed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The people running these roleplay accounts became my friends and we chatted via private message and ultimately formed a group chat on Skype. Our conversations went so late that for a while I was getting at maximum four hours of sleep per night. We planned plots and threads for our characters but we also became friends who discussed our day-to-day lives and problems.
My Peter Highman was an independent roleplayer, which meant that I was not affiliated with any Tumblr group, and was not bound by any interaction rules. Thor, Black Widow, and Iron Man were part of a closed Marvel group—which meant they had storylines they followed and could only interact with Marvel characters that were a part of their group.
Many of these storylines mirrored canonical comic book plots. And so, their group often made posts requesting certain characters they needed to play out these stories. It was early 2012 when Avengers-RP requested a Clint Barton/Hawkeye roleplayer to join. By this point, I very much wanted to be a part of a group and to further my Marvel knowledge.
I combed through the internet to find the few Hawkeye comics in circulation—this was before Matt Fraction’s popular Hawkeye run. I bought Hawkeye Volume 1, written by Mark Gruenwald. Then I downloaded the short-lived series Hawkeye and Mockingbird and the spin-offs, Blindspot and Widowmaker. Blindspot was particularly useful to me as it offered more insight into Hawkeye’s past as a circus boy and his complex relationship with his brother, Barney Barton.
I still have a profound fondness for Gruenwald’s run as I truly feel it exemplifies what makes Clint Barton so extraordinary. A lot of people, particularly those who have only experienced Marvel via cinema, think of Clint Barton as a joke—a useless character in a world full of superpowered heroes. Hawkeye does love to joke, but he’s also gifted with intelligence—even if it’s a different kind of aptitude than Iron Man or Bruce Banner.
Part of what makes him noteworthy is that he is an ordinary human with a remarkable, unrivaled skill and incredible determination to succeed. In Amazing Spider-Man issue #4, he says to Spider-Man, “I can’t miss.” He’s relentless in his pursuit of being the best, even at the cost of his personal relationships. Hawkeye knows he has to prove he belongs in the Avengers, a team full of wizards, technological wonders, and literal gods.
Gosh, I Love Arrows
In one night, I devoured most of these comics—eagerly quoting comic panels to my friends via Skype. I vividly recall reading a line that has stuck with me: “This building is emptier than my wallet the day before payday.” This line resonates because it’s exemplary of Hawkeye’s comedic style and candor. Moreover, I was reading this as a college student also living paycheck-to-paycheck.
I felt assured in my capability to do Hawkeye’s character justice. I created a new blog with the username “goshilovearrows,” named for an amusing panel of Clint in his old-school, purple garb. His arms are bent and he cradles a heavy set of arrows while a talking bubble extends below him and he exclaims, “Gosh, I love arrows.”
I’ve always considered myself a writer and roleplaying enabled me to practice my skills, developing a character and determining how plot advances a character’s personal story. It also allowed me to place Hawkeye in situations the character has not canonically encountered and visualizing how that would transform him or how he would react.
Just Call Him Clint “Lazarus” Barton
Our roleplaying group often recreated past comic book storylines. And the one I really had fun with was the original Civil War. In the comics version, Hawkeye was not involved in the conflict because he had recently died after the events of Avengers Disassembled, in which Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff)—under the power of Doctor Doom—attacked Manhattan with a host of alien warriors, with Clint heroically dying in the battle.
Later on, in House of M, the Scarlet Witch employs her reality-warping powers to create a world where everyone’s deepest wishes come true. Hawkeye is alive again, upset with Wanda for her role in his past death—only to be killed again by one of her sons. But after the reality warp is undone and Wanda utters the words “No more mutants,” decimating the population of superpowered characters, Hawkeye has returned to life. It’s comics, that happens a lot.
So Hawkeye spends a lot of the period of Civil War dead, but as a roleplayer, I had an opportunity to think through what he would do during the conflict and who he would side with. I was convinced that based on Hawkeye’s moral compass and unwavering principles, that he would naturally side with Captain America. This was before the movie was released and so seeing this also play out cinematically reinforced that I had a good grasp on Hawkeye’s characterization.
Today, sitting on my desk, I have a Hawkeye FunkoPop figure. And whenever I encounter Hawekye merchandise—which is rare compared to the other Avengers—I jump at the chance to purchase it. Of course, I was disillusioned that Hawkeye was not included in the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Family, friends, and co-workers are always mystified to know that Hawkeye is my favorite character. But he’s been a central component of my life for six years—helping me build friendships, become a better writer, and find community. Throughout it all, I’ve learned a lot about determination and worth from the hero who relies not on repulsor rays or superstrength, but wits and skill.
I don’t roleplay anymore. My original Hawkeye roleplay blog is now semi-defunct, as someone recently hacked it. The process to recover the account would be cumbersome, so I haven’t bothered. But the old threads and posts remain—testament to my time with the avenging archer.