The Incredible Hulk is a complex figure in Marvel Comics; his incalculable strength can be a boon if aimed correctly, but too often it results in catastrophic collateral damage. As such, Bruce Banner has created a number of anti-Hulk contingencies over the years. But the most effective yet was trusted to none other than the Avenging Archer himself: Hawkeye.
As a refresher, the plot of Civil War II revolves around a new Inhuman who experiences visions of a possible future. One such vision shows the Hulk standing in a gamma-charred landscape with several key Avengers dead around him. Spurred on by this, Captain Marvel and Tony Stark lead a unified front of Avengers, Inhumans, and Ultimates to Banner’s doorstep. As their accusations fly, the doctor’s apparent agitation begins to grow, until Hawkeye swiftly executes Banner before he can transform. But Bruce actually counted on this happening.
It’s revealed that Bruce sat down with Clint several months before the incident and gave him a capsule specifically designed to kill him and staunch the Hulk’s emergence so he wouldn’t be revived by proxy. In their meeting, Banner tells Barton that the anxiety of not knowing when he might lose control next is too exhausting and frightening a life to lead. He trusts Hawkeye to be his kill switch not just because he’s the best marksman in the Marvel Universe, but because he’s the one most likely to suppress his conscience and do what needs to be done. And though Clint initially takes offense, Banner’s read here is justified. This took place in Civil War II #3 by Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, and Olivier Coipel.
As Matt Murdock pointedly mentions during the ensuing trial, Clint has a criminal past. This doesn’t make him unique among Marvel’s superheroes, or even as an Avenger—his desultory lover Natasha Romanoff has plenty of blood in her past as well. But Bruce surmised that Clint was among the only heroes who would be able to live with the act. It hearkens back to his brief stint as the Ronin, when he was resurrected following the events of Avengers Disassembled. Ronin would become an identity through which Clint could express and act upon what he deemed the necessary evils—like killing Norman Osborn to disband the Dark Avengers. And unlike some of his peers, Clint isn’t likely to spend an egregious amount of time hand-wringing about the morality.
There’s another layer to Bruce’s choice here which is both technical and emotional. Because Hawkeye can see what few others can, he has to maintain a completely steady hand under pressure, otherwise he could be more of a liability than an asset. Bruce calculated this and trusted the archer to essentially euthanize him. The tragedy is that when they made the agreement, this future-seeing Inhuman wasn’t yet a factor. Bruce told Clint to pull the drawstring “if I Hulk out again”, but—quite underscoring the theme of the story—Clint acted before anyone could be certain that was going to happen. The single pooling tear on Banner’s face could be an auto-somatic reaction, or it could be the last expression of a man who was mistrusted and betrayed by his allies. Bruce trusted Hawkeye to kill the Hulk, but we’ll never know if Clint may have needlessly murdered a friend.
Next: Wolverine & Hulk’s First Fight Had a Mind-Blowing Secret Purpose