There’s a specific moment in my life that I remember very clearly: a moment from 2014, when I picked up the latest Hawkeye single issue (#19) where Matt Fraction and David Aja brought Clint Barton’s hearing loss back into the character’s life after a long absence. As a longtime fan of the usually underappreciated Avenger, I had found both a comfort and a favorite story in Fraction and Aja’s critically acclaimed run ever since I discovered the comic in 2012, which usually meant spending every Wednesday waiting anxiously for each new issue.
There were numerous reasons that this comic had become important to me, and a lot of it was due to the way that it depicted Clint Barton: a little messy, a little imperfect, and a lot vulnerable. In this version of Clint — a character I already loved from the films and previous stories — I saw a lot of my own mental health struggles that I usually pushed to the side. Things like anxiety and depression, the way I constantly struggled when it came to my feelings of self-worth, and regretting past mistakes were all parts of Clint that I felt connected to. But reading this specific issue, I was hit with a different kind of connection. One that I don’t talk about often, if at all, but one that has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember.
During my childhood, I suffered multiple ear infections that went undiagnosed until well into my teens. The result was the eventual formation of a benign tumor that destroyed a few of my core hearing bones beyond repair. By the time the issue was properly diagnosed, I had been unknowingly living as someone who was hard of hearing for probably longer than I realized.
When I was a teenager, I finally had the opportunity to undergo two different surgeries to attempt to correct the damage. But due to the specific nature of the operation, it wasn’t a clear and easy fix. I still technically identify as hard as hearing all these years later and although I’ve gotten used to it, there’s a part of me that’s continually ware I’m operating at less than 100% percent and probably will be forever.
Even though I don’t struggle with complete deafness, that particular comic issue where Clint becomes deafened and as a result, struggles with what that means for him as a superhero and as a human, was the first time I’d felt truly seen in relation to my own personal experiences and emotions.
The second time? The most recent episode of Hawkeye.
While the character has a history of hearing issues in the comics, it wasn’t until the Disney+ series that the disability was specifically folded into Clint’s onscreen persona. Thanks to smart writing and storytelling, Clint’s hearing issues have been introduced in the most organic of ways (unlike the comic, where he loses his hearing due to battles or run-ins, the explanation here is that the general wear-and-tear of superhero life has taken a toll on even the most skilled Avenger.) In the first two episodes, we see that being hard of hearing doesn’t affect Clint’s lifestyle too much in he has an aid he uses, he can still communicate, and for the most part, he can control his disability. Sure, it might not make him feel great to use hearing aids all the time, but we get the sense that he’s learned to live with his disability and accept it.
But episode three put Clint’s hearing is front and center for almost the entire 40-minute runtime. From the moment Maya Lopez’s Echo (Alaqua Cox) — who is Deaf and relies on American Sign Language to communicate — gives Clint grief about relying on his aids, to the fight that destroys them, to needing to spearhead a car chase without being able to properly hear, to the heartbreaking phone call with his youngest son that he needs help to understand, Hawkeye uses Clint Barton to drive home the struggles of living with a disability while also showing that it doesn’t affect his competency. While Clint obviously feels upset and guilty that he can’t hear his son on the phone, it doesn’t stop him from pushing through and making the best of the situation. And while fighting is undoubtably harder without being able to hear what’s going on around him and without being able to coordinate with his new partner-turned-protégé Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), he manages to shoot and drive and lead confidently against the Tracksuit Mafia.
Like Clint, my hearing doesn’t necessarily impact my everyday life. But like Clint, there are specific moments where I’m reminded that it’s an issue — whether that’s needing the volume turned up on the TV, not hearing a friend during a conversation, or having someone tell me that I’m talking too loudly. Like Clint, I also wore hearing aids once upon a time, as prior to my surgery, my hearing severely impacted my classroom learning — or my ability to hear stage directions from the back of the house during high school music rehearsals. (Though I’d wager that for a kid in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, what I had to use was probably less fancy and less manageable than what he uses in the show.)
And like Clint, as someone who received a diagnosis for hard of hearing later in life, I’ve learned to live with it — accept it — because it’s become the only thing I know. Much like my mental health, I don’t go out of my way to announce that this part of my medical history exists, because you’d never know it from the way I regularly interact. And why bring attention to a part of me that I’m sometimes ashamed of unless there’s a situation where I absolutely need to?
But maybe this show will help make me feel a little less ashamed about things that happened out of my control. So often in media, the distinction between being deaf and being hard of hearing is a blurred line in terms of how its portrayed — and in many cases, it’s a black and white line. Through the stories of Clint and Echo, Hawkeye is finally doing the important work of giving representation to human struggles through human heroes, truly embracing the varied perspectives of what it means to live with this kind of hardship.
Although my experiences are similar to Clint’s experiences, they’re also my own — and experiences that, until now, I haven’t seen portrayed in a way that I felt like I could relate to. Having that relatability happen with a character who I already felt closely connected with based on other personal reasons feels gratifying, and I can’t imagine that I’m the only person who is finally seeing themselves in this representation.
I’m thankful Hawkeye is making a difference with its story, and I hope it helps other people realize that no matter how you go through life, nothing can make you less of a courageous hero.
“This holiday season, the best gifts come with a bow.”
Marvel Studios’ “Hawkeye” is an original new series set in post-blip New York City where former Avenger Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a seemingly simple mission: get back to his family for Christmas. But when a threat from his past shows up, Hawkeye reluctantly teams up with Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), a 22-year-old skilled archer and his biggest fan, to unravel a criminal conspiracy.
The series also features Vera Farmiga, Fra Fee, Tony Dalton, Zahn McClarnon, Brian d’Arcy James and newcomer Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez. Helmed by Rhys Thomas and directing duo Bert and Bertie.
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Andrea is an entertainment journalist and author based in the New York area covering movies, television, comics, gaming, and theater. Her work has appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Nerdist, Marvel, The Wrap, Variety, Mashable, Uproxx, and more.