Monday 9 March 2015

Hawkeye, hearing loss and handwaves

(I apologise in advance if I make any mistakes in the language relating to deafness and hearing loss in this post. I do my best to use the most appropriate language as I understand it to work, if that understanding is imperfect please comment and I will edit the post accordingly. Thank you.)
I want to be clear before we begin: this is me giving Jeff Lemire the benefit of the doubt. I am not pre-emptively calling the guy out on something he hasn't done yet and for all I know may not even be planning on doing.

I just read All-New Hawkeye #1, which was a pretty good comic all told even if Jeff Lemire is going more for a more arc-based, trade-friendly structure than the single issue focus I so liked with Fraction. There was one moment, though, which was either a good sign of things to come or a disappointing handwave and only time will tell.

Short version: towards the end of the (still not concluded) previous run of Hawkeye, Clint was deafened. Clint has actually been deaf before and we got a couple of flashbacks about how he dealt with it as a child and how his brother Barney helped him cope. There's actually a similar flashback in this issue where kiddie Clint mishears Barney and Barney has to repeat himself, neatly mirrored in the present day section by the same thing happening between Clint and Kate.

Then the worrying thing happens: Clint drops a little exposition about his new Stark Tech hearing aids. This is not necessarily inconsistent with Fraction, who wrote Clint's returned hearing loss as total but potentially temporary, but it would seem to mean one of two things.

Potential meaning the first: Lemire intends to continue exploring Clint's hearing loss and how he deals with it, though in a different context to Fraction. Evidence for this is the fact Lemire brings attention to it not just with the mention of the hearing aids but by having a flashback that mirrors that very scene. He's stressing, as Fraction did, that this is a continuing issue for Clint and he has strategies for dealing with it. So why alter Clint's level of hearing loss in this way?

It could be a case of Lemire wanting to convey a differing deaf experience to the one Fraction focusses on. Fraction's two issues so far focussing on a deaf Clint have dealt to various degrees with sign language, lip reading, interpretation and emotional coping mechanisms, especially family support. Perhaps Lemire intends to focus on the interaction between person and technology? The fact he portrays the technology as imperfect would seem to point towards this, Hawkeye has not magically regained perfect hearing through the application of science-fiction tech (which anything with the Stark brand pretty much is by default).

Yes, it would be better if these two distinct deaf plotlines could be dealt with using separate characters but having both stories out there, if done well, could be positive enough to excuse the inconsistency. That's the sort of decision best left up to the individual reader.

Then there's the other possibility...

Potential meaning the second: the Stark Tech hearing aids are a handwave, the flashback pays lip service to the previous creative team and little or nothing will be heard of Clint's hearing loss again. Having some hearing return to Clint, enough to make hearing aids effective, could simply be a reaction to Marvel's past history with the profoundly deaf Echo which spawned no end of (entirely justifiable) controversy. Echo's level of speech comprehension was almost constantly shifting, sometimes specifically focused on and sometimes forgotten to the point that she somehow understood Spider-Man talking to her through a full-face mask. Some of this was shoddy writing (as with the Spider-Man example) though at times it was simply a matter of poor positioning of the character in a panel. Sad to relate, the resulting poor reception might have led some writers to be gun shy on the issue.

I want to stress that I hope, and express confidence, in the idea that Lemire is going with Option One and we will continue to see a real engagement with Clint's deafness in the new series. Even if it has a different form from Fraction's engagement with the same issue and even if it is of a lesser presence in the narrative I think much that's positive can come from this angle.

It is tempting to sign off on a jocular note about how “He can't possibly do worse with this than Bendis did with Echo” but, if comics have taught me one thing, its that there's ALWAYS a worse way to handle an issue. 

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