Ever since it first launched, Hawkeye has been plagued by delays. Fortunately, the series has been so consistently interesting and satisfying that those delays were easy to overlook: as long as the issues were good, Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Matt Hollingsworth could take all the time they needed. Although the last new issue of the title came out back in April, this new issue actually follows up the events of February’s #15. As if to make up for such a long delay between issues, Fraction, Aja, and Hollingsworth return with another stunning issue of Hawkeye that reminds readers why they fell in love with the lovable loser Clint Barton –and the title itself– in the first place.

In case you’ve forgotten, the last time we saw Clint he enlisted the help of his brother Barney to help him defend his apartment building from Russian gangsters. During their confrontation with the mysterious mercenary Kazimierz Kazimierczak (better known as “The Clown), the Barton brothers suffer some debilitating injuries: Clint is deafened and Barney is paralyzed from the waist down. Issue 19 follows those events and focuses on the relationship between the two brothers as they deal with their own physical injuries and the emotional damage of their relationship.


Sticking to the more “realistic” approach to superheroics of the series, Clint and Barney’s injuries are not easily shrugged off or ignored. Instead, they become the central focus of the issue. While Barney seems to adjust to life in a wheelchair, Clint is despondent over his hearing loss. For a character who has suffered so much, this set back seems like too much to handle: he refuses to sign and seems too depressed to carry on. It is up to Barney, then, to get Clint to acknowledge his disability and overcome it in order to help protect others. However, Clint’s stubbornness is usually his undoing, so it is not an easy task.

Of course, the real appeal of the issue is the way in which Fraction and Aja address Clint’s deafness. With minimal dialogue and the use of American Sign Language, the creators effectively recreate the experience of hearing loss while finding new ways of using the visual nature comic book medium, much like the classic –and now Eisner-award-winning– “Pizza Dog” story from issue #11. Like that particular issue, Fraction and Aja exploit the “silence” of comics to communicate their narrative. Obviously, all comics are silent, but the limited dialogue, empty speech balloons, and lack of sound effects heighten this fact in a way that draws attention to the difficulties of disability.


Like the “Pizza Dog” issue, Aja is challenged to use the medium in a different way. Instead of showing the characters using sign language, he uses diagrams in order to show how a  deaf person “reads” the motions of the signer. This again makes the issue seem more “silent” since readers unfamiliar with ASL don’t “hear” the words in their heads the way they do when reading text. By removing the emotions of the characters from the signs themselves, Aja forces the readers to simply extract the meaning from them: we have to “read” the signs based on our own knowledge or intuition. The contextual clues in the comic help with some of the ASL passages, and there are moments where Clint is able to read lips, but a lot of what is “said” is up to the readers to figure out.

Some readers will obviously be frustrated with this approach. However, the struggle to understand is exactly the point of the issue: whether it’s relearning how to sign, or trying to repair a strained relationship. Fraction and Aja are clearly trying to show what is is like to be deaf, so the struggle to understand what is being communicated is an integral part of the story. If things are difficult to interpret or are confusing, then that is a consequence of the disability, which can be overcome through rereading the issue.

It may be tempting to jump to the internet and find a “translation” of the issue, but I would advise against that, at least upon the first read. As I reread the issue, things became more clear as I learned to “read” the signs and I noticed small details in the characters’ posture that hinted at their dialogue. That is what makes this such an engaging comic book: it demands and rewards effort on the part of the reader. Fraction and Aja have once again crafted a unique and important comic that can only be experienced first hand to really appreciate. I have to hand it to the creators who managed to take a C-list character like Hawkeye and craft one of the most innovative and exciting comics in recent memory. Issue 19 was certainly worth the wait, and although they will be leaving the title in a few issues, I can’t wait to see what else Fraction and Aja have in store.

Hawkeye can be purchased at your Local Comic Shop, through Marvel, or on Comixology.

Overall Score
95 %

The "silent" sign language issue from Matt Fraction and David Aja explores the visual storytelling potential of the comic book medium while giving readers an example of what it is like to be deaf. Another stellar issue from a title that has had a few of them so far.

About The Author

Paul R Jaissle is a philosopher, collage artist, and musician. In his free time, he enjoys reading comics (especially ones with Batman in them), listening to power pop, and watching wrestling.

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