Sometimes, pop culture helps the world learn more about hearing health, hearing loss, and the feelings someone goes through while experiencing hearing difficulties. One notable instance involves the Marvel comic book character Clint Barton…also known as Hawkeye.
For those unfamiliar with Hawkeye’s story, he began as an expert marksman with the circus. It was here that he earned his famous nickname as well the title, “The World’s Greatest Marksman.” After seeing Iron Man in action, he was moved to also become a superhero. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding coupled with romance led him to become a villain instead. However, he was soon redeemed and inducted as a crucial member of the Avengers.
The unique and interesting part of Clint Barton’s story, to us at least, isn’t his journey through darkness into light. It’s the fact that at one point, he sustained serious injury to his ears and began wearing a hearing aid. Although this part of the story was written out, it was reintroduced in a new way in issue #19 in July 2014; during a fight with “the tracksuits,” a hitman’s gunshot left Hawkeye with serious damage to his hearing ability.
The issue immediately following this injury is very moving. First of all, this Hawkeye issue illustrates real American Sign Language in lieu of speech bubbles. Hawkeye and his brother, Barney, use ASL because it’s the most effective way to communicate. This really stands out in today’s culture. How often do you see a comic book hero using sign language? Answer: not often. Perhaps the best part of all this is that once Hawkeye begins to use ASL with the rest of his friends and family, they completely accept him and his message without hesitation. His hearing difficulties don’t complicate his relationships at all.
What’s more, this issue shows Hawkeye reliving the memories of losing his hearing during childhood and experiencing the emotions that come with sudden hearing loss: sadness, frustration, and loneliness. He feels that a piece of himself has been taken away, which can be very relatable for anyone who experiences hearing loss. However, his brother steps in and reminds him that he can and will overcome any difficulty, especially this one. Near the end of the issue, Hawkeye stands in front of his friends, proud to be himself and determined to continue to fight the enemy with all his strength. In this way, Hawkeye, a valiant and larger-than-life superhero, is shown as a human being with relatable struggles. However, he, like anyone who chooses to embrace a situation and turn difficulties into empowerment, finds strength in acceptance. Admitting that he has hearing difficulties and choosing to use the tools available for him decreases the negative emotions he’s feeling and strengthens the positive parts of his life. He is then able to overcome great obstacles, like a team of villains. Except, perhaps, for the villain battle, this story can become reality for anyone experiencing hearing loss.
This isn’t the first time Hawkeye has helped to empower those with hearing difficulties. After a young boy from New Hampshire didn’t want to wear his hearing aids to school because “superheroes don’t wear blue ears,” Marvel sent him some of the old Hawkeye issues from when Hawkeye wore a hearing aid. They also created an entirely new superhero character based on the young boy and named him Blue Ear! His famous line was, “Thanks to my listening device, I hear someone in trouble!”
Each time something that’s perceived as a disability is shown to empower someone, the world becomes more aware of how misleading the stereotype can be. Hawkeye’s past use of a hearing aid, emotional journey through hearing loss, and eventual determination to embrace his hearing difficulties communicates on a personal and deeply human level. Accepting and using the available tools, like hearing aids and ASL, helps Hawkeye reach a better place in his life and achieve his goals. We’re definitely excited to see where Hawkeye’s journey goes next!