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Avengers: Endgame

Whether Hawkeye or Ronin — does the Avengers’ Clint Barton have a literal eagle eye?

Who says he doesn’t have superpowers?

One character conspicuous by their absence from the events of Avengers: Infinity War was Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye. While his allies battled Outriders, the Black Order, and the Mad Titan Thanos in Wakanda and further afield, Barton, like Scott Lang, was under house arrest due to his violation of the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War. In fact, one of the trailers for Avengers: Endgame hints at this very fact, where we’re given a glimpse of Barton wearing an FBI ankle bracelet similar to the one worn by Scott Lang in Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Barton’s imminent return to the fold, which may be under a new guise, is a welcome one. His sharpness with the bow and arrow is a unique skill possessed by no other Avenger, and he has already shown that he can make independent, beneficial decisions for the team, such as taking the Avengers to his farmhouse to regroup in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

However, many will contend that Barton is ordinary, and that he doesn’t have any superpowers. Nothing could be further from the truth, and there is more to Hawkeye than meets the eye.

“I got him”

During the Battle of New York in The Avengers, there are two notable instances that demonstrate the superpowers of Hawkeye. First, after the wormhole opens above Stark Tower, the Chitauri alien gliders blanket the Manhattan skyline. Recognizing Hawkeye’s unique ability, Captain America suggests he perch himself on a building so that he can “call out patterns and strays.” From this vantage point, Hawkeye gets a unique view of the ensuing battle, and one that allows him to display his superpowers to their fullest.

At one point in the battle, Black Widow commandeers an alien glider, but Loki is quickly in pursuit. Struggling to shake him off, Widow contacts Hawkeye for some much-needed assistance. As Widow and Loki fly toward Hawkeye’s perch, the skilled archer loads an arrow into his trusted bow. The camera zooms in on the gliders, providing the viewer with an impression of how Hawkeye’s eyesight works.

“I got him,” proclaims Hawkeye. He fires the arrow, Loki catches it, and the rest is history.

 

Zoom like an eagle

Hawkeye’s visual acuity in the “I got him” scene might seem unrealistic, but such ability can be found in the natural world. For instance, the golden eagle is reputed to be able to zoom in on targets from up to 3 kilometers away. As a predator, it’s quite clear this type of vision would be invaluable to the golden eagle while hunting. Supposedly, it can pick out a target 0.5 meters in size, like a rabbit, without much fuss. In The Avengers, Hawkeye isn’t 3 km away from Black Widow and Loki. In fact, he’s under a third of the distance away (I’ve figured this out by watching the scene very carefully).

In the human eye, ciliary muscles connected to the lens change its shape to allow a person to focus on close or nearby objects, in a process called accommodation. But the accommodative mechanism in some birds of prey is different, as both the lens and cornea can be reshaped to allow the bird to focus on more distant objects. It certainly seems that the accommodative mechanism of Hawkeye’s eyes is closer to birds of prey than it is to you and I. This is only part of the story, as retinal structure also plays a key role.

National Audubon Society

Two object tracking

Before the “I got him” scene, Barton displays an extraordinary skill — he tracks two objects at the same time. Impossible you might say, but the natural world will say otherwise.

The human eye has one fovea, a pit in the retina that contains photoreceptor cones that allow you to see color. Many birds of prey, however, are bifoveate, meaning they have two foveae in each eye. This might not seem too special, but it allows birds of prey to track two targets at the same time, one closer and one further away.

In the aforementioned scene, Hawkeye carefully tracks one glider and then his eyes appear to follow another. Without apparently checking on the first glider, he fires the arrow, takes out his intended target, and prepares to fire at a second target.

Concurrent tracking of two targets at the same time! Extraordinary, and very much in line with the abilities of birds of prey in the natural world. Yes, Hawkeye has super-vision that I imagine many envy.

After the devastation of Thanos’ snap, the world tries to move on, but not the Avengers. Their intention is to undo the Mad Titan’s actions from Avengers: Infinity War. And everyone will be needed to accomplish what appears to be an insurmountable task in Avengers:  Endgame. Whatever the identity, with his bird of prey-like eyesight, Hawkeye’s return to the fold is a welcome one.

Further details on Hawkeye’s eyesight and potential technologies that could replicate it can be found Barry Fitzgerald’s paper “Using Hawkeye from the Avengers to communicate on the eye,” which is published in the journal Advances in Physiology Education.

AiPT! Science is co-presented by AiPT! Comics and the New York City Skeptics.

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