It was true super hero form: When father and Marvel Comics Editor Bill Rosemann heard a cry for help, he answered it. Anthony Smith, a four-year-old with a rare medical condition, was refusing to wear his hearing aid. Bill and his staff decided not only to lend a hand, but to transform Anthony into a super hero himself.
Although some of Anthony’s medical problems are treatable, his hearing impairment will be a lifelong reality. He is deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other. He attends a special preschool for the hearing impaired, so he had support to help him decide for himself how he would communicate with the world. He could have chosen sign language, but instead Anthony decided he wanted to use the small amount of hearing he had and develop his oral speech skills. To make this possible, he wears a hearing aid that happens to be blue, which he calls his “Blue Ear.”
One day, however, for reasons his parents don’t quite understand, Anthony suddenly decided that because the super heroes he is intensely fascinated with do not wear hearing devices, he no longer wanted to wear his.
Days into this predicament, after attempting to lie and tell Anthony that she believed Captain America might have hearing aids under his mask, his mother, Christina D’Allesandro, sent an email message to Marvel Comics. You could say it was an act of desperation, or you could say it was an act of faith. In any case, she wrote to a general email inbox, having very little expectation of a response.
Her email eventually found its way to Bill Rosemann. Bill is an editor at Marvel, and he rallied the support of the entire editorial staff to help this little boy.
Bill says he was inspired partly because his own son, Peter, is close to Anthony’s age. But, he adds, “The Stan Lee mantra is always on our minds: ‘With great power, there must also come great responsibility.’”
“In the ‘80s, Hawkeye damaged his ears when he used one of his own sonic arrows — which blasted a deafening sound wave — to escape a trap and defeat a villain. For a time he was deaf and had to wear special hearing aids,” says Rosemann. “So I went back and found a cover that showed him from that time to share with Christina and Anthony. But then, because Marvel is filled with a lot of great people, collected editions assistant editor Nelson Ribeiro went home and drew a character called Blue Ear and drew a brand-new cover. Then production artist Manny Mederos drew a picture of Blue Ear as a young boy, so that Anthony could relate to him even more, and paired him with Hawkeye.”
“As it turns out, something like a listening device worn by a super hero goes to the very core of what Marvel characters are all about.
“Almost all of our classic heroes have some sort of physical or mental challenge,” says Rosemann. “Marvel super heroes have this ability to connect people by saying, ‘Hey! We all have problems.’ That’s one of the secrets of their success.
“The Marvel heroes have struck a chord and have been popular for 70 years now. They aren’t just people running around in costumes — there are layers to these characters. There are complexities. These are the heroes who have feet of clay that people can relate to and can aspire to emulate.”
It turns out that Anthony Smith was perhaps a more likely candidate to find himself on a Marvel comic book cover than he ever expected.