A deaf comic geek’s grateful review of ‘Hawkeye’ #19

hawkeye 19
(Marvel Comics)

[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.

(Marvel Comics)

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.

(via David Aja on Twitter)

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.

(Marvel Comics)

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.

(via David Aja on Twitter)

There are not enough words in the English language to describe how grateful I am to the team who made this issue.

About Clint Nowicke

Clint Nowicke
Clint is a graduate student at Eastern Kentucky University working on his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, focusing primarily on the Deaf community as well as the LGBTQ community.


  1. I would guess that the English word order stems from using the Signing Time lady as a consultant, rather than a Deaf person..

    • Possibly. Based on the “script” that Fraction posted about two weeks ago it looks like he just listed the signs one by one (he gave links to each sign also) so Aja just drew them in that order. But like I said, Barney and Clint are “101 students” so it makes sense they sign in English word order.

    • I would agree with Clint that the English word order is done to fit the characters and where they are. Someone who suddenly loses hearing does not immediately become proficient in ASL (even if they have used the language some in the past). Also, Rachel of Signing Time does know ASL very well and is quite involved in the Deaf community. Her daughter (now 17) has been deaf since birth. Rachel’s desire to help other kids communicate with her daughter was the reason Signing Time came into existence.

  2. Using SEE instead of ASL makes sense in this context. It’s not likely that Clint and Barney, children in an abusive household that probably made little effort to really learn to communicate with a Deaf child, would have had proper instruction in sign language.

  3. John Kim

    Wow. The way these guys can recreate the world through a particular lens is just awesome.

  4. Speaking also as a deaf person, this was a brilliant review. Well done!

  5. Speaking also as a deaf person, this was a brilliant review. Well done!

  6. This review articulates exactly how I felt while reading Hawkeye #19 as a deaf person – thank you for the spot-on review! You hit all the reasons why it was represented so perfectly. I have always been able to get by with aids and cochlear implants, so I never learned sign language. I *love* that they didn’t translate the signing, even if it means I missed that content, exactly because it lets hearing-people feel the frustration the rest of us feel every hour of every day. I also particularly identify with the problem of hearing-people assuming you hear as well as or the same way they hear things because the technology allows to hear so well in the first place. Great article, many thanks!

  7. Speaking also as a deaf person, this was a brilliant review. Well done!

    • Hey, thank you for reading! Do you think something similar will happen in 21 and 22? Also check out Hawkeye vs. Deadpool; Deaf-Hawkey is already spreading to other comics 😀

  8. I don’t know ASL, and I don’t know anyone who is deaf, but you captured what I thought made the issue so great. One of my favorite issues of any “superhero” comic I’ve read.

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