Welcome to the D-List: Barney Barton

Hawkeye has existed in comics for over five decades and has been a staple throughout most of Avengers’ history. Although he’s been included in the film franchise, certain facets of the character have been changed, and so far, one aspect has been completely omitted.

Charles Bernard Barton is the older brother of Clint Barton and has primarily appeared as a villain in current Marvel continuity. However, writers and editors have been clearly conflicted over Barney’s allegiances and this has led to disjointed characterization. Still, he has been an interesting supporting character and deserves more spotlight considering he is related to Marvel’s most popular archer. A man who can hit the broad side of a barn, let’s welcome Barney Barton to the D-List.

Well he sure looks like a smooth criminal. Art by Declan Shalvey.

Barney first appeared in Avengers vol. 1 #64 in 1969. Created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan, Barney was a gangster, but arrived at Avengers Mansion looking for help. Barney told the Avengers that the villain, Egghead, was going to fire a death-ray at the earth, so the team blasted off to Egghead’s space station (the swingin’ 60s were full of ridiculous stories like this…and drugs). During the battle, Barney sacrificed his life to save both the team and the world, and died in Goliath’s arms. Goliath, formerly Hawkeye, then revealed for the first time that his real name was Clint Barton and he was Barney’s younger brother. Barney would not appear again for over a decade, and when he did, it was only in flashbacks to the Barton brothers’ childhood.

The brothers’ parents were killed as a result of their dad’s drunk driving so the kids were sent to an orphanage, but the two ran away to a local carnival. There, Clint was trained by Swordsman, and later, a man who was skilled with a bow and arrow – Trick Shot. This archer was a bad influence and wanted Clint to help him steal from mobsters, but Barney tried to dissuade his brother. But if Barney was such a nice guy, why did he eventually become a mobster himself? Another flashback years later revealed that Barney was actually an undercover FBI agent (behold the wild and elusive retcon in action).

Although the explanation for Barney’s allegiances retconned his early villainous behavior frivolously, the flashbacks to his childhood did add some mystery. The boy received high scores on the SATs and wanted to join the army so the military would pay for his eventual college education. His intelligence and motivation certainly fit with a career as an FBI agent, but unfortunately, because the character was dead, it was only posthumously that Barney became more interesting. But Barney was gone, so there would be no more stories featuring him, right? Wrong, true believer (if Maggott can be resurrected, anyone can).

A mysterious villain had kidnapped Trick Shot and forced the archer to train him. Once the training was complete, the villain sent Trick Shot, dying, to deliver a message to Clint. When Hawkeye left to find the person responsible, an archer attacked him wearing a costume similar to Trick Shot’s – it was Barney, taking the codename, Trickshot (note the tricky new spelling). The two fought, but Barney ultimately knocked Clint unconscious. It was awesome watching the brothers fight considering they were so evenly matched. When Clint awoke, he asked Barney why he attacked, especially since the older brother had died a hero. What was revealed was…a bit silly.

After Egghead’s defeat, the villain recovered Barney’s body and escaped from the space station. Egghead put Barney in stasis because the older Barton had apparently survived. When Clint killed Egghead some years later, Barney was trapped, and no one knew. Baron Zemo eventually found and released Barton, and when Barney discovered that Clint was responsible for Egghead’s death, he wanted revenge. The battle between brothers finally concluded when Clint knocked Barney unconscious but fell unconscious himself.

I understand that Barney was angry, and it was wonderful to watch him fight, but as someone who had been characterized as intelligent and moral, I could not understand his intense rage. Barney seemed to want to kill Clint. However, Clint recognized that every time Barney had a clean shot to kill him during their fights, he didn’t take it, but that still didn’t explain why Trickshot acted so unreasonably (maybe he’s taken too many shots to the head).

Says the guy impersonating his brother. Art by Mike Deodato Jr.

The Avengers found Clint and Barney, and discovered severe damage to Clint’s occipital lobe. However, Barney was a perfect match for a stem cell transplant to help his younger brother. When Hawkeye awoke, he learned that Barney had actually volunteered for the transplant. Shortly after, Norman Osborne recruited Trickshot for a new team of Dark Avengers as the team’s Hawkeye. Of course, Norman’s Avengers weren’t active for long and were imprisoned.

It seemed like someone at Marvel wanted to replace Bullseye as Dark Hawkeye and thought that Barney would fit, but the explanation for his villainy wasn’t a very good one. Although it was a lot of fun watching Trickshot work alongside a team of villains for a few years, he never got much of a spotlight. His intense rage had diminished, but he still was not a good person. Around the time Dark Avengers ended, however, Barney showed up in Matt Fraction’s celebrated volume of Hawkeye.

Outside Clint’s apartment in New York, Barney was asking for spare change from Russians in tracksuits – a group of villains known only to readers as Tracksuit Draculas (or Trac-ulas, if you will). They offered him a wad of cash to take a beating for two minutes. When they didn’t pay, Barney beat all of them singlehandedly and took the cash. At Clint’s door, the brothers hugged.

The primary conflict throughout this title was the Draculas and their associates’ desire to forcibly take ownership of Clint’s apartment building. Of course, Clint wasn’t going to allow it, and it was wonderful to see Barney help him. Both Bartons took terrible beatings but ultimately defeated the villains. It was genuinely nice to see Barney show that he cared about his brother and even act heroically. Still, it was weird that, once again, Barney’s attitude toward Clint changed so drastically. However, Barney became romantically involved with a tenant in Clint’s building – Simone. By the end of the series, Barney disappeared with Simone and her two children, and had stolen most of Clint’s money (Barney up to his old tricks again).

Speaking of surprises…that facial hair, Clint…Art by Ramon Perez.

I loved Barney’s characterization throughout this volume, and it was heartwarming to see the two brothers working together. This book was so damn good I had to somewhat forgive the sharp turn of allegiance once again. Still, continuity is important, and it was hilarious when Barney stole Clint’s money, because the older Barton used it to buy an island for his new family. Clint forgave him, however, and Barney later helped his brother rescue some Inhuman children from S.H.I.E.L.D. custody and then battle Hydra. Unfortunately, Barney hasn’t appeared in 3 years and I think the guy has more stories waiting to be told (give him another shot, Marvel).

Barney Barton’s past and relationship with his brother make him a very interesting character regardless of his strikingly contrasting treatment by different writers. Although it was fun to watch him interact with Clint, I would have liked to have seen flashback stories featuring him as a member of the FBI, more spotlight during his tenure with the Dark Avengers, or even another team-up with his brother. Unfortunately, since he currently owns an island and has a family, I don’t know if we’ll ever see Trickshot in action again.

Outside of Marvel Comics, Barney Barton was only mentioned in the Iron Man: Armored Adventures cartoon by Hawkeye; he hasn’t appeared in any television shows or alternate comic universes. As we near the release of Avengers: Endgame with the knowledge that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has more movies planned, I hope we can see Barney appear in a film featuring the Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers. Regardless of where he appears, I hope we see more of Trickshot’s trick shots in the future.

Jonathan Robert

Jonathan loves comic books and he loves coffee. Jonathan’s mother gave him his first taste of coffee at the tender age of 3 and it was love at first sip. He now needs to wheel around an IV drip of caffeine at all times or else he turns into a dark, monstrous creature that feeds on despair and makes babies cry. The local village-folk have kept him locked away ever since the “decaf catastrophe of ‘06.” When allowed out of his dungeon, he writes various articles for Geekade, including the monthly column, “Welcome to the D-List,” and records the "Mutant Musings" podcast with his geek-tastic girlfriend, Patti.

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