Why does Hawkeye have a hearing aid?

by Keane Eacobellis

The highlight of Hawkeye‘s first episode was seeing the Barton family attend ‘Rogers: The Musical’ on Broadway. For us, the toe-tapping show was a fun reminder of the blockbuster action of The Avengers and an amusingly low-budget take on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Clint’s take on it is somewhat different. He actually lived through these events and these characters were his friends. By the time of Hawkeye, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and his longtime partner Natasha Romanoff are all dead, and Jeremy Renner does a great job of showing an extremely uncomfortable Clint struggling with his trauma. Eventually, it’s all too much: Clint simply switches off his hearing aid and blocks out the show.

This is a low-key but very important reveal. In the second episode, Kate Bishop asks him what happened to his hearing, and we get a ‘greatest hits’ montage of his superhero career. In his MCU appearances alone he’s smashed through windows, been right next to giant explosions, and battled Thanos – and I don’t imagine his pre-Avengers black ops work was especially quiet either.

Hearing loss looks to be a key factor in Hawkeye, particularly as the third episode will introduce Alaqua Cox’s Maya Lopez/Echo to the MCU. This new character is entirely deaf and has the Taskmaster-like ability of photographic reflexes. While she’s being established as a villain, I suspect Clint and Maya may end up bonding over their shared hearing loss and soon end up as uneasy allies.

But Hawkeye being deaf wasn’t invented for the MCU. In Marvel Comics, it’s become a key part of his character, beginning in a 1983 comic in which he bit down on a sonic arrow in order to escape a sticky situation. That left him with 80% hearing loss, though this disability was retconned during the mid-90s ‘Heroes Reborn’ arc.

But Matt Fraction and David Aja’s groundbreaking 2012 run (which heavily inspires the Disney Plus show) brought it back, with that story revealing Clint had lived with partial deafness throughout most of his life after being a victim of physical abuse from his father. Later in that run, he loses his hearing entirely after a run-in with a villain who stabs him in the ears with his arrows.

It’s refreshing to see the street-level MCU heroes dealing with the physical consequences of the superhero lifestyle. After all, disabled heroes have been a part of Marvel DNA since the 1960s, with notable examples being Daredevil, Bucky Barnes, and Professor X. We’ve already seen a renewed focus on this in the MCU in Eternals‘ Makkari, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s Bucky, and Avengers: Infinity War‘s James Rhodes.

Hawkeye looks set to carry this baton in style, and I’m hopeful its representation of deafness remains as solid as it was in the opening two episodes.