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Marvel’s Avengers’ Hawkeye might be deaf, as a nod to comics

Clint Barton has a complicated history with hearing

Clint Barton aka Hawkeye wears a target purple t-shirt and holds his bow in the Marvel’s Avengers game Image: Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix

Hawkeye’s hearing has long been a topic of conversation between Marvel readers. The heroic archer — played by hearing actor Jeremy Renner in the MCU — has a history of being deaf and hard of hearing, as well as using hearing aids, yet that’s never been represented on screen.

With a push for more representation in the world of superheroes, many fans have wondered why Marvel Studios hasn’t brought that version of Clint to life. But in the new Marvel’s Avengers game, Clint Barton appears to wear hearing aids as he shoots all kinds of arrows at bad guys. If this is the case, it would be the first time we have this classic version of Hawkeye in animated action.

In the official announcement on the PlayStation Blog, the developers revealed they were drawing from the comics, namely one specific fan fave run that actually highlighted Clint’s deafness. “Our team revisited their favorite comic arc at the beginning of any hero concept process, including Writer Matt Fraction and Artist David Aja’s My Life as A Weapon,” Crystal Dynamics community manager Meagan Marie said. In the comic, Clint wears an aid to combat hearing loss.

Fraction and Aja’s beloved series is not actually the origin of Hawkeye as a deaf superhero. In 1983’s Hawkeye #4 by Mark Gruenwald, the hero burst his own eardrum with a supersonic arrow in order to defeat the villainous Crossfire. But in classic comic book style, Clint’s hearing was revealed to have been “cured” by Franklin Richards in Avengers Annual 2001. With the start of their Hawkeye book in 2012, Fraction and Aja once again made the character deaf.

Hawkeye signs with his brother, Barney, in american sign language in Hawkeye #19, Marvel Comics (2014). Image: Matt Fraction, David Aja/Marvel Comics

Just like the original occurrence of Clint becoming hard of hearing, Aja and Fraction’s run centered his hearing loss around a battle with a rogue. But here, rather than to protect himself, Clint was assaulted by the Clown, who stabbed him in the ears and ruptured his eardrums. After the battle, fellow Avenger Tony Stark crafted Clint some special hearing aids. Interestingly, the series later retconned Hawkeye’s backstory to make his hearing loss a concrete part of his history. The character had experienced hearing problems since he was a child, stemming from injuries inflicted by his abusive father.

The choice to include Hawkeye’s deafness in Marvel’s Avengers feels like a step forward from what the MCU could accomplish. Aside from the fact that the comic book’s creative team put together a thoughtful and innovative arc about an often overlooked character, it was also one of the few comics that’s ever been truly interested in exploring Hawkeye’s relationship with his hearing. In Hawkeye #19, the book attempts to represent his deafness with an issue that features sparse written words but plenty of American Sign Language. Despite the visual nature of comics, this hadn’t been done in a Big Two book before. It felt radical and inclusive in a way that most disability representation in the medium hadn’t.

If the Marvel’s Avengers creative team is taking from that particular comic run, hopefully they’ll be aiming to push the idea of how deafness is represented in gaming, too. Introducing some kind of signing mechanism, or at least thinking about how Clint communicates and interacts with the team, could challenge the conventions of gameplay. It’s a great step forward, and hopefully as more comes out about the game, we’ll learn the hearing aids aren’t just an aesthetic choice; there’s also a large segment of the deaf community which has no interest in hearing aids or cochlear implants, so even though this is representation, it’s not a catch-all for the deaf experience, and it would be great to see that touched on in Hawkeye’s story.

Reached for comment, Square Enix did not confirm whether a deaf version of Hawkeye appears in this game, but did tell Polygon there was more to reveal about the character: “While this is our unique take on Clint Barton’s Hawkeye, his character and story-arc is absolutely inspired by some of the best-known Hawkeye moments in the comics. We look forward to providing more information on our version of Clint Barton’s Hawkeye soon.”

With many fans hoping Marvel will recast Renner with a deaf actor for the upcoming Hawkeye series, this small move toward inclusion might offer them a little hope.