EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 26, 2012

Marvel comic-book creators make Salem boy a superhero

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

SALEM — Many young boys want to become superheros when they grow up.

But only one boy can say he actually is one — at least according to Marvel Comics.

His name is Anthony Smith, 4, of Salem, aka "The Blue Ear." He's featured on his own special comic book cover designed by Marvel.

Anthony, who is hearing impaired, recently told his mother he didn't want to wear his blue hearing aid — nicknamed "Blue Ear."

Christina D'Allesandro was a little worried.

"He said, 'Mummy, Superheroes don't wear Blue Ears," D'Allesandro said yesterday. "He sounded sad."

It was the first time Anthony acknowledged he was a little different than other children, D'Allesandro said.

Anthony, the grandson of longtime New Hampshire state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, has a rare genetic disorder — mosaic trisomy 22. It's left him with limited hearing and other health complications, including a hole in his heart.

To make Anthony feel better, D'Allesandro told him superheroes wear hearing aids just like anybody else.

But she didn't know if that was true. She even contacted Marvel Comics to ask if there were any superheroes with hearing problems. Marvel is best known for creating characters such as Spider-Man, the X-Men and Captain America — Anthony's favorite.

D'Allesandro never expected to hear back from the company. She, husband Kevin Smith, 6-year-old son Dominic and Anthony were thrilled to receive a response.

Marvel Comics editor Bill Rosemann sent the family a 1980s cover of the character Hawkeye of the Avengers, who wore a hearing aid after injuring his ear.

Rosemann also sent a special cover drawing of Anthony as a superhero named Blue Ear, who — thanks to his "special listening device" — helps people when he hears they are in trouble.

They were then sent a third drawing of Blue Ear and Hawkeye together. The drawings changed Anthony's entire perspective of his disability.

But D'Allesandro said the real hero isn't Blue Ear or Hawkeye. It's Marvel Comics, especially Rosemann and illustrators Nelson Ribeiro and Manny Mederos.

"I was an amazing thing they did," she said.

Now, Anthony wears his hearing aid without question and doesn't feel self-conscious, D'Allesandro said. He showed the drawings to his classmates at Hear New Hampshire, a school for hearing-impared children in Hooksett.

They were also inspired and had their own Superhero Day, D'Allesandro said.

Anthony proudly showed off the drawings at his home yesterday. He even struck his own superhero pose, surrounded by comic book characters on his bedroom wall. "If he hears someone in trouble, he helps them," Anthony said of Blue Ear. "Blue Ear can stand on top of buildings."

Rosemann said he and his staff were immediately touched when D'Allesandro told them about Anthony.

"She sent us this real heart-tugging letter," he said. "This one just spoke to us."

Rosemann said they were inspired by the young Salem boy, who will need heart surgery this summer and will live with a hearing impairment for the rest of his life.

Rosemann said the staff was reminded that like ordinary people, not even superheroes are perfect.

"Marvel has always had characters who had physical disabilities," he said.

The story of Anthony and Blue Ear has even reached the New Hampshire Statehouse, where Lou D'Allesandro said he will introduce his courageous, young grandson to the Legislature in a few weeks.

The senator is grateful to Marvel Comics.

"They're terrific," he said.

He's also extremely proud of Anthony.

"He's a wonderful little guy," D'Allesandro said. "He is an inspiration in so many ways. We are lucky to have him."

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