[This review contains some spoilers.]
Well, I waited the extra month for Hawkeye #19, and since Wednesday the 30th I have been asked multiple times:
Was it worth the wait?
Yes. Emphatically, yes. And here is what makes this issue amazing.
From a Deaf perspective, there are a number of things Matt Fraction and David Aja nail down that few writers and artists have been able to do and whether they did so intentionally, I am not sure. Either way, the characterization of Deaf-Clint Barton is genius.
To give some context for this issue, Clint Barton is a very broken character and it’s apparent in this issue that he has one foot off the edge of giving up. His older and now wheelchair-bound brother, Barney, tries his hardest to keep him functioning but Clint Barton would not be Clint Barton if he didn’t make doing so a nightmare.
How the brothers knows sign language is never made fully clear. They’re shown signing as little boys, but not where or who they learned from. The moments of them shown as little boys, though, are the moments I loved the most–Clint is lipreading, but he is missing large chunks of what is said.
Lipreading is difficult. The most skilled lipreaders can maybe catch about 40% of what is said, primarily because so much of English is said at the back of the throat, and that is merely one factor. Lipreading requires specific lighting, the other person must look directly at you without anything in his or her mouth, and if there is background movement you will miss even more. And if the person puts her hand in front of her mouth for whatever reason, she might as well not even be speaking. I can remember a number of conversations where the other person turns around mid-sentence and I lost the rest of the conversation.
So when characters can practically lipread through walls in media portrayals, I am honestly very offended. But in the newest Hawkeye issue, its made very obvious that Clint is missing entire words or misreading them.
Little things like this are what make this issue very important to me. They make the issue purposefully difficult to read. And until this point I have never been able to demonstrate what it’s like to rely so heavily on lipreading, but this issue made it perfectly clear in only a few panels. And I am not sure if Matt Fraction realizes how amazingly accurate he wrote those moments.
For the past month or so, this issue has also been known as “the sign language issue.” And #19 has multiple variations of what “sign language” actually is such as a scene involving an arrival sign at an airport. That was something I didn’t expect. Barney and Clint use a handful of signs roughly every other page, and they are presented without any translation. I could follow along easily, but for someone who knows little to no sign language, it is not as clear.
The empty speech balloons floored me. They are the best representation of “not hearing” that I have ever seen in any medium, and make the lack of sound absolutely clear.
The moments in which Barney and Clint sign show that they are obviously beginners. Their signs lack structure and follow English word order, and each sign is shown without an accompanying facial expression. This is common among “101 signers,” who are often so intent on producing the sign that they ignore such aspects of the language as grammar (which is shown on the face). When Barney translates for Clint he does so one word at a time and then turns the phrase into a fluid sentence, which beginners often do as well.
As said before, I am not sure if Matt Fraction or David Aja intended for these little moments to be as profound as they are. Average hearing people may not catch all these moments unless they are pointed out explicitly, but Deaf signers who read the issue most certainly will. I may not have personally used some of their sign choices, but this is minor in comparison to the multitude of things I can appreciate: not once is the phrase “hearing impaired” used (thankfully). The doctor talks about Clint instead of to Clint which is a common experience for Deaf people, especially if we are with another person. Clint doesn’t automatically know how to sign perfectly, which is a common deaf “trope” in movies and TV.
It’ll be interesting to see how he handles working with a team in the few remaining issues. I would like to see how he copes with hearing aid batteries running low at the worst possible moment, or when its a rainy day and he can’t wear them outside. Or how people assume that since you are wearing them you can understand everything perfectly, even though hearing aids only make the world loud and not clear. And I am practically praying there is no “fix-it” issue because we are not something that needs to be “fixed.”
Above all, my favorite thing about this issue is reminiscent of why I fell in love with the character in the first place. Even though Clint has his ten minutes to feel sorry for himself, he picks himself up again and rolls with it. Being deaf doesn’t change the fact that he is still the world’s greatest archer, and shows that he is still capable of kicking ass even if his needs to be kicked first.
There are not enough words in the English language to describe how grateful I am to the team who made this issue.