The following post contains minor spoilers for Hawkeye.
Even hardcore Marvel viewers might be surprised by one aspect of Hawkeye’s first episode. The show reintroduces Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton in the audience at a Broadway musical about the Battle of New York from The Avengers. The show is, frankly, awful. Clint is able to endure it mostly because he has his hearing aid off. The shot of him turning it back on so his daughter can ask him a question is how we learn that Hawkeye is now partially deaf.
If that moment confused you, rest assured you didn’t miss anything. Later in the two-part Hawkeye premiere, the show explains Clint’s hearing loss with a quick montage of gunfire and explosions from throughout Hawkeye’s history in the MCU. That tells you all you need to know; there wasn’t one incident that left Clint deaf. Instead, a decade of superheroing — along with who knows how much espionage work before he first showed up in 2011’s Thor — gradually destroyed Hawkeye’s hearing.
It makes sense when you think about it. Just imagine how loud this moment from Avengers: Endgame must have been from Clint Barton’s perspective. And that’s one incident out of dozens or hundreds.
While this significant change to Hawkeye’s character seems to come out of nowhere, several different factors might have motivated it. First of all, the Hawkeye of Marvel Comics is a deaf character. In the early 1980s, a battle with a sonic-powered villain cost Clint 80 percent of his hearing. Although he later regained the ability to hear after he “died” and came back to life, Hawkeye’s hearing loss was restored to Marvel continuity in the Hawkeye comic series written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by David Aja that serves as one of the key influences for the new Disney+ show.
Fraction’s Hawkeye even included an issue told from entirely Clint’s deaf perspective through the use of wordless panels and sign language.
Giving Renner’s Clint hearing loss does bring the character more in line with his comic-book counterpart. But lots of Marvel Cinematic Universe characters differ from their literary versions. The Hawkeye of Fraction and Aja’s series wasn’t married with kids, for example, and the TV show didn’t write out Clint’s family just to match that aspect of the book.
Two episodes into Hawkeye, it’s already clear that one of the big themes of this series is what it’s like to be a mortal in a universe dominated by godlike super-beings. The show’s other Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, is introduced as an innocent young girl who is nearly killed when aliens invade Manhattan during the Battle of New York. She survives, only to carry emotional baggage from the event for the rest of her life. Determined to protect herself and her family, she demands a bow and arrow like Hawkeye — who saved her from an alien — and grows up to become an expert marksman and martial artist.
Even with all of her training and expertise, though, Kate is still a human being. In Hawkeye Episode 2, Clint and Kate narrowly escape a fire in her apartment. They flee to the subway, where Clint tells Kate he needs to regroup and get “supplies” before their next move. “Avengers supplies?” Kate giddily asks. At which point the show cuts to…
…Hawkeye shopping in a bodega for Neosporin, cotton swabs, and rubbing alcohol — “supplies” to take care of the wounds he suffered escaping from the burning apartment building. Clint then shows Kate how to dress cuts and scrapes so they will heal properly. This is the less-glamorous side of life as an Avenger that human superheroes like the Hawkeyes have to deal with. Matters of the physical toll extracted by superhero life rarely came up in the Avengers movies— there were too many characters, too much plot, and not enough time to do it — but it’s one of the key elements of the Hawkeye show.
Hawkeye’s deafness underscores that point. The character has done a lot of good during his tenure in the MCU; he saved countless lives in New York (including Kate’s) even before he played a key role in restoring half of the universe in Avengers: Endgame. But all that good comes at a cost. Sometimes those costs manifest physical effects, like the big gash on Clint’s forehead in Episode 2. Sometimes they mean missing Christmas with your family, as when Clint’s activities as “Ronin” during Avengers: Endgame endanger Kate Bishop’s life in the present.
Those themes will continue to play an important role in Hawkeye. Two episode in, the show has barely introduced Echo, another Marvel superhero who is also canonically deaf. The comparisons and contrasts between Hawkeye and Echo should only make Hawkeye’s hearing loss even more important to the overall themes of this TV series. And I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if an upcoming episode is told without sound like that Fraction and Aja comic book.
New episodes of Hawkeye premiere on Wednesdays on Disney+. Sign up for Disney+ here.
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