Hawkeye comes to Disney Plus this week, and Clint Barton brought some extra gear with him. It’s not trick arrows, or a fancy bow, or a high-tech quiver, but it’s still something that Hawkeye comic fans have been waiting to see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for nearly a decade.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for Hawkeye episodes 1 and 2 on Disney Plus.]
In the very first episode of Hawkeye, the show reveals that Clint Barton has started wearing a hearing aid — and using it to tune out unpleasant auditory experiences, like Rogers: The Musical, the Broadway show based on the life of Captain America.
Why Hawkeye’s wearing the hearing aid now
This doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on Clint’s effectiveness as a bowman or fighter, though he does favor his left ear in conversation. And when vigilante-in-training Kate Bishop comments on his new disability aid, Hawkeye explains the change in an abrupt, succinct, and hilarious way. The episode smash cuts to a montage of every moment in every previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in which Clint — who is just a normal, un-enhanced human being, with no superpowers, and not even secret Russian spy training — happened to be right next to an explosion.
To Marvel Studios producer Trinh Tran, Clint’s hearing disability just underscores the most important thing about Hawkeye as an Avenger. Despite all the time he spends adventuring with gods, geniuses, and super soldiers, he’s very human and vulnerable.
“[Clint and Kate] are human beings who have no superpowers. They’re just skilled at what they do,” Tran told Polygon. “[We wanted] to really hit at the idea that they can get injured, and they can get hurt during these missions that they go through, and to showcase that, to see him being taped up because he is feeling that pain, and he’s feeling that injury. And the hearing aid is a nod to the idea that, through his experience, this can happen. And I think that’s one of the most relatable elements of the story that we tried to tell here.”
But Clint’s hearing aid isn’t just a realistic outcome of the wild Avenger lifestyle. It’s also got a history in Marvel Comics. And a great one.
Clint Barton’s stints with temporary hearing loss began in 1983’s Hawkeye #4, the final issue of the character’s very first solo miniseries. In the issue, written and drawn by Marvel legend Mark Gruenwald, Clint purposefully deafened himself to evade supervillain’s sonic brainwashing device — and got a hearing aid only a few pages later, fully “restoring” his hearing.
His hearing disability was an aspect of Clint’s character that was left to be used or ignored, remembered or forgotten by subsequent writers and artists, until 2001. That year’s Avengers Annual used the events of the Onslaught crossover (which we will not unpack for your own well being) to state definitively that the reality warping powers of young Franklin Richards (son of Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman) had restored Hawkeye’s hearing.
It wasn’t until much later, in the 2012 Hawkeye series written by Matt Fraction and drawn by several artists (but most notably and often by David Aja), that living with hearing loss became a more ingrained part of Hawkeye’s mythos. That series (often referred to by the name of its first collection, Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon) premiered only two months after The Avengers had hit theaters and ignited an interest in the bow-toting Avenger outside of comics for the first time. It’s also a story — set in New York City, with Clint Barton and Kate Bishop adopting a one-eyed yellow dog and facing off against a bunch of accented goons in identical tracksuits — that has most directly inspired the makers of Hawkeye on Disney Plus.
In their Hawkeye, Fraction and Aja turned Clint’s experience with deafness into a modern plot point, and a significant part of the design of the series. Their Hawkeye was famous for its experiments in storytelling form, including an issue in which as much dialogue is “heard” from Clint’s deafened perspective as possible, rendered on the page in American Sign Language or only-mostly-accurate lip reading. In the same issue, the two also established hearing loss as something that Clint experienced early in life, at the hands of his father, who regularly beat him and his brother Barney.
Clint isn’t the only Deaf or hard of hearing character in Hawkeye, however. Echo/Maya Lopez, who appears at the end of the Disney Plus series’ second episode, is a superhero with a supernatural quirk (she can perform any skill she can see demonstrated, much like Taskmaster), and she is Deaf. Created by Joe Quesada and David Mack for the pages of Daredevil in 1999, she is played by Alaqua Cox, a deaf actress, in Hawkeye.
“We had a Deaf consultant that we did work with on the on the Disney team,” Tran told Polygon. “Because we also have Maya Lopez, who is coming into the fold, and she’s part of the Deaf community, and we wanted to make sure that that was going to be represented in the correct way.”
Fans — including deaf fans — have waited patiently for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of Hawkeye to catch up to Fraction and Aja’s. With Hawkeye on Disney Plus, it finally does, both with incorporating Clint Barton’s history with hearing loss, and casting a Deaf actress in the role of one of the vanishingly few Deaf superheroes.
The first two episodes of Hawkeye are out now.