hawkeye volume 1

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Hawkeye: There may be only seconds to try this. First I’ve got to get out of camera range here in the corner. I-I’ve got it. Crossfire’s frisking for weapons wasn’t as thorough as he thought. He didn’t know about the spare arrowheads I keep in my tunic pouches. My only hope is this hyper-sonic job. Maybe it can jam his ultrasound just long enough to let me think straight! Better put it in my mouth so its vibrations can resonate through my whole skull. I hate to think what this is going to do to my hearing at such close range.

—-

Hawkeye: Aaagh. It’s begun again. Must activate the arrowhead with my tongue. Feels like a dull knife lacerating my brain. But, blast it all–I can still think! Nnnngh. Didn’t hear her coming.

I joke a lot about Clint’s love affair with leg casts, but in all seriousness, injury is a pretty interesting way of tracking his character. He breaks both his legs after his fight with the Swordsman in his origin, he gets shot up in Avengers Spotlight and almost loses his sight in Blindspot. This scene, however, is the incident that launches Clint’s longest lasting injury or physical failing. This is when Hawkeye went mostly deaf.

A little refresher—Clint and Bobbi were captured by Crossfire, and he’s testing his ultrasound brainwashing technology on them. They both know that as soon as the frequency starts up, they will be trying to kill each other. So Clint’s last hope, his last desperate bargain, is to blow out his eardrums before they can be used to control him.

Control is another big issue for Clint. It’s the surface level of his motivations—though I’d argue that at depth his real motivation is acceptance—and the basis of his attitude. You tell him what to do? He will not comply. When that option gets taken away from him, it’s interesting to see how he responds.

In this scene, however, he’s not thinking about control. It’s tangential to the more pertinent problem—he doesn’t want Mockingbird to kill him, and he doesn’t want to kill her. That’s the motivation that drives him to taking away his own hearing. And he lives with that decision for years, until Franklin Richards resets the universe and Clint gets his hearing back.

So injury, then, isn’t just a symbol of Clint’s vulnerability or his stubbornness. It also signifies his conscious. He fell off the tightrope and broke his legs because he didn’t want to help Swordsman steal. He got shot up because he couldn’t understand the mentality of a street gang. And here, he blows out his eardrums because it’s either that, or kill his ally. I don’t think he ever regretted that decision. 

From Hawkeye Volume 1 #04 (Mark Gruenwald) 

Hawkeye: Seeing him go into action, I just knew that’s what I wanted to do with myself. So I modified my carny outfit a bit and strode off naively into the night to become a hero. Unfortunately, on my first time out, I was mistaken for a crook– and ended up going against the very guy who inspired me–Iron Man! Shellhead later learned my true motives, though. He even sponsored me for membership in the Avengers. It was then I knew I had really made something of myself. I’ve done many a stint with my Avenging buddies, but I think I’m finally ready to wing it solo for good. Much as I like ‘em, they cramp my style a bit too much. 

Sheila: Fascinating story, Clint. Looks like I’ve got me a real self-made man. How about if I try to unmake you a little?

Origin stories are a tricky business. Some of them are radioactive-spider-and-dead-uncle or my-parents-are-dead level, eternal and unchanging. And some are a bit more malleable. Clint’s original origin story was first told in his earliest Avengers appearances, and for the purpose of explaining his connection to Swordsman. He didn’t have a civilian name, or a brother, or memory of his parents in that telling. The circus was the beginning of his existence. When Clint retells his story here, a few more details have been filled in—the car crash that killed his parents, the orphanage he lived at with his brother. The focus is still Swordsman, and his betrayal of Clint, and finally Iron Man, and what his inspiration led to. But that part of the story, that was actually told in Clint’s first appearances and ended with him joining the Avengers, is glazed over.

It’s easy to understand why. Part of Gruenwald’s point is that Clint puts his faith in the wrong people, and that’s why he constantly feels betrayed. Swordsman was the wrong person to trust, just as Sheila is. People who could be good for Clint—Captain America, and Mockingbird in this very issue—are the ones he brushes off the most. It’s a failing, and Clint pays for it.

It does raise the question, however, of what Clint’s origin story actually is. The one line that sets up his character and establishes his motivations. Is it “orphaned circus performer feels betrayed by mentors and is inspired to heroism by Iron Man?” Or is it “said performer mistakenly falls into life of crime, and joins Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for a shot at redemption?” This particular telling plays up the first point and glazes over the second (and for specific reason. Again, Gruenwald is playing up one romance, and so doesn’t want the significant presence of others). Both aspects of Clint’s origin are important, but I think the take away point is that his origins aren’t really the point. Everything truly pivotal for Clint happens on the page, after he’s already entered the universe. And that’s why his origin story can be played with and tweaked to fit a writer’s mood.

Also, Sheila comes up with some pretty unique come ons. 

From Hawkeye Volume 1 #01 (Mark Gruenwald)