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Where’s Hawkeye? The answer could be one of Infinity War’s biggest surprises.

Clint Barton has been absent from Infinity War promos — but fans should be excited, not scared.

Avengers Infinity War Marvel
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

As the lead-up to next week’s Avengers: Infinity War intensifies, Marvel fans have been vocal about the conspicuous absence of Hawkeye during the film’s promotion. Last seen coming out of retirement to fight alongside Captain America in Civil War, Clint Barton (played by Jeremy Renner) has been noticeably absent from the marketing hype for the upcoming film.

In Infinity War’s first trailer, he appeared only for a brief moment, with his back turned to the audience. In the subsequent Super Bowl spot, he was nowhere to be seen. The latest trailer once again snubbed Hawkeye, despite finding a place for most of the franchise’s ever-enlarging cast.

Hawkeye has also gone missing from each of the film’s posters and all 15 of its Entertainment Weekly special edition covers. All of this has led to increasing speculation that Hawkeye might not be long for this world. After rumors surfaced that a major character dies at the beginning of the film, all eyes turned to Clint:

But while the absence of Renner’s character from the marketing mill has peeved his fans, there’s a perfectly good explanation for it that doesn’t involve death. Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos argued that Hawkeye’s role in this film might be too insignificant to kill: “Can you kill a ghost?” He also noted that the Russo brothers have made it clear Hawkeye is not only not forgotten but that he has “a bit of a long play” sub-storyline through this and presumably succeeding films.

And that’s where the following spoiler-filled fan theory comes in.

Fans have been predicting for months that Hawkeye will be back — but not as we know him

In October, photos surfaced of Renner on the Infinity War set, apparently in costume, wearing distinctive black and gold leg plating. The costume caught the attention of Marvel comics fans because it seemed to indicate that Hawkeye would be going undercover and using an alias known as Ronin.

The “Ronin” alias is a katana-wielding masked ninja persona that’s been used by multiple Marvel characters before. Clint adopted the persona in a 2007 issue of New Avengers, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Leinil Francis Yu, and proceeded to keep it for the next three years throughout various series, always as an expression of his search for deeper self-discovery. In the comics, Clint’s Ronin persona relies on swords and martial arts skills rather than Hawkeye’s usual bow and arrow (which, it should be noted, were a subject of mockery in a running Age of Ultron gag).

The Hawkeye-as-Ronin theory has resurfaced in recent weeks thanks to the speculation over Renner’s absence from Infinity War’s promotional buildup. It’s also been exacerbated by a viral piece of fan art created by digital artist Yadvender Singh, which some fans have mistaken for official Marvel art:

It’s led to a number of other attempts to envision what Hawkeye as Ronin might look like.

Had the tell-tale photo of Renner in what looks like Ronin gear not been leaked, it’s unlikely speculation about his identity would be as advanced as it now is. But even though the rumors may have dampened what will presumably be a big character reveal, fans are still excited for it:

Of course, there could also be another, simpler reason Hawkeye is missing from the marketing: The Avengers cast is now so big they just can’t fit everyone in.

We’ll have to wait till the film’s release next week to know for sure.

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