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)