Marvel Bullpen assembles to help mom and her hearing-impaired son

When a 4-year-old from New Hampshire didn't want to wear his hearing aid, Hawkeye came to the rescue -- with a lot of help from the Marvel Bullpen.

As we reported yesterday, Christina D'Allesandro's son Anthony Smith didn't want to wear his "blue ear" hearing aid because he said superheroes didn't wear them. So she sent a blind email to Marvel, hoping that maybe that wasn't true and they could point to one who did.

"Christina sent her touching letter in to the mheroes@marvel.com address, a general 'fan mail' account which is shared by a group of us in editorial," Marvel Editor Bill Rosemann told Robot 6. "She didn’t know a specific person to write to here at Marvel, and even figured it might get caught in our spam filters, but she sent it in anyway, because that’s the kind of great parent Christina is. And it was her inspiring effort to help her son that touched so many of us here. As a fellow parent of a toddler, I can understand where she’s coming from, so I forwarded the email around the rest of Editorial, asking what we could do to help, and like when Cap yells, 'Avengers Assemble,' the gang leapt into action."

Rosemann said the mail account gets a lot of traffic, the majority of which are messages from fans about specific issues or stories.

"I must admit that we get our fair share of negative letters, often insulting a creator’s efforts. On the other hand, occasionally we will receive a personal letter, telling us how Marvel’s characters and creators inspired someone to help others or overcome real world struggles," Rosemann said. "Those are the types of letters that express the true heart of what Marvel is all about … and in this case, when Christina made the simple request to help her child … well, how could we not act? After all, didn’t Stan Lee teach us something about great power and great responsibility?"

And yes, Anthony, there is a superhero with a hearing impairment -- or at least there was in the 1980s. Rosemann said Executive Editor Tom Brevoort pointed out that Hawkeye suffered from hearing loss when he was the leader of the Avengers' West Coast branch (although continuity buffs will remember that Franklin Richards healed Hawkeye after the events in Heroes Reborn).

"Tom Brevoort brought up Hawkeye’s loss of hearing back in the ‘80s, which spurred me to send a shot of the West Coast Avengers #1 cover to Christina, suggesting that she tell Anthony that not only do superheroes definitely wear hearing aids, but that he could be an honorary Avenger if he wore his," Rosemann said. "Lauren Sankovitch passed the email to Nelson Ribeiro in Collected Editions, who then delivered his full-color Mighty Marvel Masterpiece spotlighting the brave Blue Ear. Finally, Tom Brennan reached out to Manny Mederos in the Bullpen, who then drew his awesome team-up shot of Hawkeye and Blue Ear. So just as every one of our comics can only reach readers through the action of many hands, this too was truly a team effort."

The coming of ... Blue Ear!

Ribeiro, who works in Marvel's Trades and Special Projects Department as an assistant editor, said the name of Anthony's device inspired him to create the new hero, Blue Ear.

"As I was reading Anthony's story, the name for his device just kept sticking out to me," Ribeiro said. "'Blue Ear.' It just sounded like a superhero name. All that was missing was the 'The' in front of it. So I went home and drew out a few sketches of what 'The Blue Ear' would look like. From the story, I knew Anthony didn't want to wear his device, so I wanted to make sure that The Blue Ear's listening device was very prominent and very important to his ability as a super hero. And since Anthony is a 4-year-old boy, I wanted the piece to be very bright and colorful like a Saturday-morning cartoon. I tried to write all the captions in a way which would focus on how important it is for the Blue Ear to wear his device. Hopefully, Anthony would also realize how important it is for him to wear it everyday as well."

Mederos, who works as a production artist, wanted to team his version of Blue Ear with Hawkeye.

"When I first heard about Anthony, I was really excited to be a part of this project and his story was very touching. For me super heroes are meant to inspire and bring the best out of people and that's what Anthony did for me," Mederos told Robot 6. "We knew that at one point in Marvel's history Hawkeye wore a hearing device, so we wanted to include him in the piece. So as I was sketching out the characters, I thought to myself, 'What better way for a child to connect with a hero than the hero be a child himself?' So The Blue Ear would be a young superhero with extra hearing abilities, thanks to his mighty hearing aid device and helps all of those in need."

The work done by the team at Marvel inspired news stories in the Concord Monitor and the local television station WMUR. Both artists were touched by Anthony's reaction to the artwork.

"I was able to see a local New Hampshire news channel that covered Anthony's story and saw his reaction when his mom Christina showed him the Hawkeye and The Blue Ear piece I drew," Mederos said. "Seeing him filled with joy made my day and helped reinforce that this medium really reaches out to all ages. Super heroes are great in every way."

"I was so happy to find out that Anthony liked the piece of artwork I created for him. He was the person I was most worried about pleasing. If everyone at work liked it but he hated it, then I would've felt like I let him down," Ribeiro said. "And I don't think my artwork has had as much an impact on his life as he had on mine. He is a 4-year-old little boy who has to deal with such a hardship every day, and his first thought was he didn't want to wear his device because he wanted to be a superhero. He wasn't even worried about his hearing condition, he just thought superheroes didn't wear hearing devices. That to me is what makes Anthony amazing because now that he knows that, yes, there are heroes who wear hearing devices, he doesn't see any other obstacles in his way of achieving his goal to be a hero. But being able to face his situation with such courage, already makes him a hero to me."

Anthony's story seems to hit right at the heart of what's made Marvel's heroes stand out over the years, whether you're talking about medical conditions like Daredevil's blindness or Iron Man's heart condition, or even just the daily trials of Peter Parker. These are heroes who have had to overcome some sort of obstacle or physical limitation to become who they are, which can be inspiring.

"From the very first issues that kicked off the Marvel Age of comics to the books that are heading off to stores this month, our creators understand the power that our characters have to change readers’ lives," Rosemann said. "The brilliant truth that our founding creators understood was that giving our characters physical and psychological challenges not only made them unique from the 'square-jawed' heroes that came before, and not only instantly made them sympathetic and more three-dimensional, but it also gave them the ability to inspire our readers to overcome their own obstacles. The metaphor of the Marvel heroes is the very real idea that all of us--no matter our particular type of challenge--can push back against adversity and use our abilities to help the world around us."

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