The untold truth of Ronin

If you've already seen the thrilling trailer for Avengers: Endgame (and at this point, who hasn't), then you've already gotten a glimpse of the latest hero to make the leap from the comics page to the silver screen: Ronin. There, we see him as the sword-wielding new identity for Clint Barton, previously known as Hawkeye, but that's not exactly the case in the comics. Well, it is, but also… look, it's complicated.

Even by the standards of the Marvel Universe, where a guy bitten by a radioactive spider can find a new pair of pants in space that eventually tries to murder him, the story behind the identity of Ronin is a complex one. Instead of being linked to one single hero, the Ronin name and costume are shared between several people, and part of the fun is figuring out who's under the mask whenever a new Ronin arrives. Catching up on all the twists and turns might seem daunting, but don't worry — read on for the untold truth of Marvel's Ronin.

Echo

While the Ronin identity wouldn't appear until 2005, the first character to wear the costume associated with that name made her first appearance all the way back in 1999. Her name was Maya Lopez, also known as Echo, and she debuted in the pages of Daredevil #7.

Maya was, in many ways, set up to be a mirror image of Daredevil himself, a seemingly perfectly crafted love interest to take advantage of Matt Murdock's depression after the death of Karen Page. She was deaf, but had the ability to exactly mimic any action she had ever seen, from Muhammad Ali's boxing and Jackie Chan's stunts to Liberace's piano playing and the precise movements of the Russian ballet. When she met Matt Murdock, the attraction was immediate, and the two fell in love in the span of about two issues.

Unfortunately, like literally every other romantic relationship Matt Murdock has ever had in his life, this one didn't end well. Maya was manipulated by the Kingpin into believing that Daredevil had killed her father when she was a young girl. All things considered, this wasn't a great lie — she and Daredevil were roughly the same age, and as Daredevil would say later, he "was in elementary school" when the elder Lopez was shot — but it convinced her to try to kill him without knowing his secret identity. Eventually, she found out that the Kingpin himself was the one who killed her father, shot him in the face — non-fatally, believe it or not — and vanished… for a while.

Maya Lopez: Ronin I

Ronin's first outing came in the pages of New Avengers, when the new team went up against an alliance between Hydra, the Hand, and the Yashida clan, a family tied to the Yakuza that Wolverine had tangled with more than a few times. Apparently deciding that a team that already boasted Iron Man, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, and the Sentry needed some extra help, Captain America went to Daredevil, who in turn referred him to a new hero: Ronin.

Ronin's identity was a big mystery in that story, as readers tried to puzzle out just who it was that Matt Murdock would trust to help out the Avengers in dealing with his arch-nemeses in the Hand. With a loose-fitting costume featuring a full face mask, it could've been anyone, but it was eventually revealed to be Echo, who had taken on the Ronin identity after being sent to infiltrate the Yashida Clan by Captain America. That in turn would lead to Echo making an enemy of the Hand, which resulted in her being killed and resurrected by Elektra when she was briefly replaced by a shape-shifting alien Skrull.

With that, it was established that Ronin wasn't just a new superhero — it was an identity that any hero (or villain, for that matter) could use for covert purposes, but that would always be associated with the Avengers. That set the pattern that continues to today, with some very unexpected heroes under the mask.

Avengers Disassembled

Let's step backwards for a moment. To understand Clint Barton's relationship to Ronin, you really have to go back to the 2004 story arc Avengers Disassembled, and the apparent death of Hawkeye. In an epic story that marked the 500th issue of the series, the Avengers were confronted with a sudden attack by several of their most dangerous foes, including a dead cosmic hero named Jack of Hearts who returned just long enough for his dessicated corpse to explode, multiple Ultron bodies, and an invasion by the space-faring Kree armada. To make matters worse, Tony Stark — who at the time was serving as Secretary of Defense — found himself drunk while addressing the United Nations, despite the fact that he hadn't actually had a drink in years.

The attacks resulted in the deaths of multiple Avengers, including Scott Lang and the Vision, but it was during the Kree invasion that Hawkeye was caught with a stray laser blast, which set his quiver of explosive arrows on fire. Realizing that he apparently didn't have time to get out of the quiver before it exploded, he grabbed a Kree soldier with a jetpack and blasted off, blowing up the attacking ship and sacrificing his life in the process.

But that, of course, wasn't the end of the story. While the Avengers would relaunch with a new lineup, the heroes who were killed would later return over the course of different events. For Hawkeye, though, his road back to the land of the living took some pretty interesting detours.

The reality altering excesses of the Scarlet Witch

While Avengers Disassembled was initially portrayed as a series of coincidences that all added up to the worst day in the team's long history, it was eventually revealed to be a coordinated attack. The big twist? The person who was coordinating it didn't even realize she was behind it.

That person? The Scarlet Witch, who had been driven mad with the knowledge that she'd once had two children and been made to forget about them, largely because they were once turned into a supervillain's arms. And yes, you read that correctly, the Avengers did in fact once fight a man named Master Pandemonium who had babies for arms. Comics are very weird someimes.  The realization led Wanda to unconsciously use her reality warping magic powers to recreate her children, which in turn bled out into the destruction of the Avengers as revenge for keeping the knowledge of her children from her.

This wasn't the last time Wanda's powers would run unchecked and have a huge impact on the world. It was a whispered magic spell in the form of "No More Mutants" that reduced the Marvel Universe's mutant population to 198 — most of whom were, of course, X-Men  — and that was after she briefly remade the world as a reality where Magneto ruled. Eventually, she tried to set things right again, and that meant returning Clint Barton to life, obliterating him, and then returning him to life again.

Clint Barton: Ronin II

When Clint Barton came back after a couple years of being dead, he found a complication in reclaiming his old life: there was an all-new, all-different Hawkeye running around shooting bad guys with a bow and arrow. That, of course, was Kate Bishop, who at the time was a member of the Young Avengers, and who would keep the Hawkeye name all the way up to the present. Eventually, everyone would just agree that there would be two Hawkeyes at the same time in the Marvel Universe (and Clint would earn the affectionate nickname "Hawkguy" to help distinguish him), but before that, he had a stretch as Ronin.

This wasn't the first time Clint would take on a different name. For a while in the late '60s, he gave up on the arrows and instead used Ant-Man's Pym Particles to turn himself huge under the name Goliath. This time, though, the Ronin costume and identity were literally handed to him when Echo sent her costume to the Avengers with a letter explaining her trouble with the Hand. Once the Avengers rescued her, she passed the costume on to Clint, explaining that for her, "it's served its purpose," and that it was his until he no longer needed it.

It turned out that when he no longer needed it was 2010, when the heroes of the Marvel Universe managed to patch things up after that pesky Civil War. When the Avengers reformed, Clint was part of the lineup of the New Avengers led by Luke Cage, and he did so as his classic, purple clad, bow-slinging alter ego. That was not, however, the end of Ronin.

Widowmaker

The next time Ronin showed up, during the Widowmaker crossover,  it was on the other side of a supervillain conflict,  which gave Hawkeye a personal investment in tracking him down. It began with the murder of an entire enclave of Russian spies in training, in the same kind of mysterious Red Room facility that had trained the Black Widow.

That got the Widow involved, and when a team of Russian superheroes showed up to arrest Hawkeye for what his previous alter ego had done, they all realized that someone else was using the Ronin identity. This new Ronin had revived a the Dark Ocean Society, or Gen'yōsha, a real-life ultra-nationalist spy organization that dates back to World War II, and had ties to the yakuza as well. That all made Ronin, with established connections to the Japanese underworld thanks to Echo's involvement with the Hand, a perfect fit.

It turned out, however, that this Ronin was actually Alexi Shostakov, the first Red Guardian — the Soviet Union's answer to Captain America — and the Black Widow's ex-husband. His entire plot with the Dark Ocean Society was meant to restore Russia to its former Soviet glory, but the heroes were able to take him down and end his plot, seemingly for good. Oh, and they also apparently took it back home to Avengers HQ and put it in a box for a couple years.

The Splendiferous Spider-Hero

Okay, so here's where it gets weird — and yes, everything up to this point has only been a prelude to how bizarre things in superhero comics can truly get. When the Mighty Avengers relaunched in 2013, they were accompanied by a mysterious hero who had stayed in the shadows until Monica Rambeau, the former Captain Marvel who currently goes by Spectrum, convinced him to join the team in a battle.

The only thing was, this mysterious hero insisted that he needed to keep his identity a secret to avoid attention from the mysterious "Deathwalkers," so he grabbed the first costume that was available: a neon green-and-pink bootleg Spider-Man costume with "SPIDER HERO" written on the chest.

As you might expect, this caused no small amount of confusion, both for readers and for the team, of which the Superior Spider-Man was also a member. Adding to all of that, he didn't climb walls or shoot webs, and mostly stuck to beating up bad guys with a pair of nunchuks, something that's usually more common for ninja turtles than spider heroes. He also seemed to have some knowledge of the mystical arts, which came in handy when his first battle alongside the Avengers turned into a fight with the interdimensional chaos god Shuma-Gorath.

Eric Brooks: Ronin IV

For what are probably very understandable reasons, the Spider Hero costume didn't last too long. By Mighty Avengers #4, the mysterious good guy was gifted the Ronin costume, which has a pretty good track record of keeping identities secret. Finally, in Mighty Avengers #9, the identity of this masked man was revealed, and he was none other than… Eric Brooks.

Those of you frantically Googling right now probably know him by his other codename, but you definitely know him: Eric Brooks is the vampire-killing daywalker called Blade. Weirdly enough, the Marvel Universe's population of hungry undead never seem to be a problem for their foremost super-team, but this time vampires weren't the problem.

Instead, the Deathwalkers were elemental supervillains who wanted to dominate the world by uniting into Deathwalker Prime, who had the powers of the four classical elements. If that wasn't weird enough, they targeted Blade, who was forced into action by a cadre of Ninja Were-Snakes. He beat them, but it was the Were-Roosters that took him down. No, really. It's in Mighty Avengers #10. Fortunately, everything worked out okay when all of the Avengers (including Blade) were merged into a single being known as Avenger Prime, who used its omnipotence to save the world from the Deathwalkers. And that's the last anyone has seen of Ronin… until now.

Endgame's cinematic Ronin

In the trailer for Endgame, we finally got the answer to the question of what Clint Barton has been up to since he was arrested back at the end of Captain America Civil War. For a brief moment, we see him in what is unmistakably the Ronin costume, wielding a sword in what looks an awful lot like Japan. In a way, that makes sense, and while this isn't a spoiler since we don't actually know what the events of Endgame will shape up to be at this point, we do have a little speculation that you might want to avoid if you plan on going in cold.

One of the strangest moments in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe came in Avengers: Age of Ultron, with the out-of-nowhere reveal that Hawkeye had a whole life outside of his work as a covert operative and archery themed superhero, complete with a wife and kids on a farm somewhere. We also know from Infinity War that, like Scott Lang, Clint had opted to rejoin them under house arrest, explaining why the rest of his old crime-fighting friends thought it was best not to call him when they were getting ready to fight an omnipotent alien for the fate of the entire universe.

Hawkeye being left out of that sort of all-hands-on-deck situation, but with the shift into the Ronin identity and the pained look that he gives to Black Widow in the trailer, we're confronted with another possibility. Maybe that 50% of the sentient life in the universe that was wiped out includes Laura Barton and the kids, meaning that Clint had to watch them fade away into dust, just like we had to watch the rest of our heroes. As painful as that might've been, it takes on a whole new level when it's your family, and that's enough to make anyone take on a darker identity, go to another country that's not full of the painful memories that you have to confront back home, and start stabbing people with a wakizashi. Or maybe Clint's just hiding from the vampires, too. At this point in the MCU, it could honestly go either way.