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Marvel’s Hawkeye and Hearing-Impaired Heroes

It is fair to say that Marvel have broken the stereotype of the calm, collected, and flawless superhero who has no worry in the world other than searching for the next person to save. Instead, they are radically changing perceptions of the average superhero through very raw depictions of mental and physical disabilities. Back in December, the world was introduced to the series that starred the most under-utilised character in the entirety of the Marvel films: Hawkeye. In the first episode, the audience was introduced to a new development in the character of Clint Barton; his experiences with hearing loss.

People are quick to forget that Clint Barton is only human. When he falls from buildings or goes crashing through windows, there is no high-tech suit of armour, God-like superpowers, or super-soldier serum to cushion the blow. It is expected that after decades of avenging and assassinating that there would be consequences to his physical health, so an insight into how this has impacted Hawkeye over time has been long overdue. In doing so, Marvel continues to demonstrate the personal struggles of superhero life.

We are first made aware of Hawkeye’s hearing impairment in the first episode, when he and his children are watching “Rogers, the Musical”. The musical triggers some distressing memories, so he decides to switch off his hearing aid. This implies, and is later confirmed, that he is completely deaf in one ear, and requires a hearing aid for the other.

Whilst this is not explicitly clarified, Hawkeye suffers from noise-induced hearing loss. (NIHL). This is the second biggest cause of hearing loss worldwide and occurs when loud noise damages the sensitive structures in the inner ear. For Hawkeye, his constant exposure to sounds of explosions and gunshots, and his participation in battles has impaired his ability to hear. A flashback montage shows him being injured in The Avengers, Age of Ultron, and Endgame so it is the result of the cumulative impact of trauma.

The representation of hearing loss in Hawkeye has received general praise from the deaf community, and there are many moments that captivate what it is like to live with hearing loss. For example, when his hearing aid gets smashed to pieces during combat and Clint naturally resorts to using sign language because he cannot hear. There are also many touching moments, like when Kate Bishop writes on the notepad so he can communicate with his son, and how his son is also learning sign language to be able to speak to him. Like many other Marvel storylines, Hawkeye’s hearing loss derives from the comics, as he advances from a partial to a complete inability to hear.

So, to speak, Clint Barton is not the only character with hearing loss in Hawkeye, as Echo makes her first appearance at the end of the second episode. This is a character who was born deaf and has never possessed the ability to hear, so relies entirely on sign language to communicate with others. As the Hawkeye mantle is passed from Clint Barton to Kate Bishop, Marvel has confirmed that Echo will return for her own spin off series. This is evidently the wonderful beginning of hearing loss and sign language being incorporated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as representation of disability in the franchise expands.