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Real-life heroes

Marvel Comics came through when a New Hampshire mom put out the call for help

With end-of-session bickering in full swing, the State House isn't the most obvious place to find one of those heart-swelling, cue-the-music stories. But there it was in Sen. Lou D'Allesandro's email.

D'Allesandro's 4-year-old grandson, Anthony Smith of Salem, was refusing to wear his "blue ear" hearing aid because, well, superheroes don't wear them. In desperation, and with little hope, D'Allesandro's daughter emailed Marvel Comics wondering if they had any superheroes with hearing problems.

"I am likely to get stuck in your spam filter," Christina D'Allesandro wrote. "But you never know. Have a great day."

Apparently, they don't call them superheroes for nothing.

First, the folks at Marvel's headquarters in New York City dug up a 1984 Marvel cover showing Hawkeye of the Avengers wearing a hearing aid. Hawkeye needed it after taking one of his own arrows to the ear while saving someone.

Bill Rosemann, an editor at Marvel, emailed the image to Christina with a note.

"Print that out and show it to Anthony and tell him that superheroes definitely wear blue ears," Rosemann wrote. "And he can become an honorary Avenger by wearing this."

Then another email arrived from Marvel, this one with Anthony as his own superhero, Blue Ear, drawn by Nelson Ribeiro of Marvel.

"Thanks to my listening device, I hear someone in trouble," Blue Ear says.

Then in comic book letters, it says, "When DANGER makes a sound, the Blue Ear answers the call."

No surprise, that went over big - with everyone.

D'Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, excitedly shared the images with colleagues and others at the State House. "It's a feel good story, and we could use one or two of those here right now," he said last week.

And Anthony, who has mosaic trisomy 22, a genetic disorder that's left him with no left ear and hearing loss in his right year, has resumed wearing his "blue ear." He shared the images with his friends at Hear in New Hampshire, his school in Hooksett for children with hearing loss. The kids immediately requested Superhero Day, costumes and all. Anthony wouldn't let the images out of his hands.

"It's just so captivated Anthony and his little buddies," Christina said. The only downside is that Anthony and his friends want their hearing devices to look like Blue Ear's.

Rosemann of Marvel said the office gets a fair amount of email, a lot of it from parents eager to show their kids as their favorite superhero characters. And personal requests aren't uncommon. "This one just touched a bunch of us," Rosemann said.

It's easy to see why. Anthony must have heart surgery this summer and will live with hearing loss all his life. But the fix, for now, was easy. A single superhero would do.

Rosemann asked his colleagues what they knew about superheroes with hearing loss, and someone remembered Hawkeye. It's not as unlikely as it may seem. A lot of the Marvel superheroes have a weakness or disability - on purpose.

When Marvel's founders began creating their superheroes, they wanted to get away from the perfect heroes of the past. Batman, for example is a millionaire by day and a crime-fighting superhero by night.

Daredevil is a superhero and blind. Thor's human alter-ego had a lame leg and used a cane. Iron Man's human self has a weak heart.

"Our message is that no matter what your challenges are, you can overcome them and do something good," Rossman said. "This shows you the powers of superheroes. People think that's silly, but they have true power."

Last week another image arrived. That one, by Manny Mederos, showed Hawkeye and Blue Ear together, a mighty team. It's a creation just for Anthony, not the big screen, but that hasn't mattered.

When Anthony starts to waver on wearing his blue ear, which is uncomfortable because it must be strapped around his head, Mom reminds him of his alter-ego.

"I tell him he has to hear people calling for help," Christina said. "He gets the whole connection. He's loving it."

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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