Within the superhero community it’s common for identities to be passed on or for characters to share the same code name. This might happen because a superhero has outgrown their previous moniker or because they’ve undergone an attitude change. A recent example can be seen from Clint Barton in Avengers: Endgame. Barton gave up the Hawkeye name in favour of a darker persona called Ronin.
Throughout the history of comics, the Ronin costume has been worn by several characters. I’m looking into how the identity has evolved over time and what it has come to represent to the people who’ve used it.
Searching for lost honour
Maya Lopez, a deaf superhero with photogenic reflexes, invented the Ronin identity. She created the costume after she was recommended to the Avengers by Daredevil. Tasked with tracking the villainous Silver Samurai in Wakanda, Maya developed a costume that concealed her gender. As a former assassin, Maya wanted to give herself a fresh start and act as a hero that could operate from the shadows.
In Japanese culture, ronin are considered ‘masterless samurai’ who need to regain their honour. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between Maya’s desire to find a better path and the Silver Samurai’s representation as a ‘traditional’ Japanese warrior. Samurai were meant to be honourable, while ronin were the people who had fallen from grace. But in the context of good and evil, Ronin represented the path to righteousness, while Silver Samurai embodied all the cowardice and greed that disgraced warriors were meant to harbour.
Maya continued to be Ronin until Hawkeye took over the identity at the end of first superhero Civil War. Clint’s motivation for becoming Ronin stemmed from his refusal to believe that superhumans needed to be registered by the government. It also represented a dark period of his life that had come about through his death and resurrection.
After Norman Osborn took over SHIELD and established his own team of Avengers, Clint went underground with other heroes. He adopted an anti-establishment mentality, using the Ronin costume to do good from the darkness. Clint was trying to repair a system that he thought was broken. It became a path to restoring his own sense of worthiness.
Alexi Shostakov, Black Widow’s ex-husband, became the next character to don the Ronin costume. Unlike his predecessors, Shostakov used the identity for evil. An agent of the Cold War, Shostakov sought vengeance on Black Widow for abandoning her ideals. He spent years gathering power in Bulgaria and then launched an assault on the Marvel Universe’s top spies. Black Widow stopped her former husband with the help of Daredevil and the Avengers.
Blade was the most recent character to take up the Ronin mantle. This happened during the Inhumanity storyline, where the Inhumans’ Terrigen Mists infected the Earth. Blade wore the costume during his service with Luke Cage’s Mighty Avengers. In my opinion, this was a wasted opportunity because Blade is an established character who doesn’t need to rely on any other identities to be relevant.
The Ronin costume has developed into an outsider symbol, a name that’s associated with characters who have chosen to live in secrecy. I’d like to see the identity be given to a superhero that can use it for the long term.