Blue Ear

Mosaic trisomy 22 is the name of a chromosomal disorder in which some, but not all of the person’s cells have a third (and therefore extra) copy of chromosome 22. People with the disorder have varying degrees of developmental problems, including heart defects and cognitive delays/disabilities. In the case of a young boy named Anthony Smith from Salem, New Hampshire, Mosaic trisomy 22 causes, among other things, severe hearing loss. Anthony, a preschooler, has no hearing in his right ear and minimal hearing in his left and required the use of a blue hearing aid.

But at around age four, he refused to wear it. His reason? He told his mom that “superheroes don’t wear blue ears,” and therefore, neither would he.

That sounds like a job for a superhero to fix, or, at least, for Marvel Comics, one (with DC being the other) of the two major comic book franchises out there. So Marvel stepped in and created a new character — one who wore a hearing aid. Meet the Blue Ear.


After Anthony’s complaint, his mother, Christina D’Allesandro, emailed Marvel hoping for assistance. She feared that the email would not get past Marvel’s spam filters, as a statement by the company pointed out, so she certainly did not expect the response she received. The comic book giant — after (very politely) telling her that an existing character, Hawkeye, made use of a hearing aid for a while — created the poster, seen above, for Anthony, as well as another one with a child-version of the character teaming up with Hawkeye (sketched here). The character, the Blue Ear, is named after Anthony’s aid and wears a listening device just as Anthony does. The device gives the Blue Ear the ability to hear cries for help and respond in a timely, super fashion.

By all accounts, Marvel’s gambit worked. Anthony not only re-donned the hearing aid but also carried around the pin-ups with him to school and virtually everywhere else. His preschool appreciated the idea so much that, according to Fox News, they instituted a “dress up like a superhero day,” allowing Anthony to become the Blue Ear for all of his classmates to see. And in March of 2013, Marvel teamed up with hearing aid distributor Phonak to create a PSA/advertisement featuring Iron Man, encouraging children to be tolerant and understanding of the needs of children like Anthony — and the ways technology can improve lives.

As for the Blue Ear himself? He won’t be appearing in any actual Marvel comics. But that’s OK — his work here is done.

Bonus fact: Iron Man’s true identity (in the comic book sense; he’s a fictional character, of course) is Tony Stark, an industrialist who sold weapons to the U.S. military during the Vietnam War era. Why that backstory? When Stan Lee created Iron Man in 1963, the country was increasingly anti-war and skeptical of those who profited from their business dealings with the military. Lee wanted to see if he “could take the kind of character that nobody would like, none of our readers would like, and shove him down their throats and make them like him.”

From the ArchivesMayor, Mock Us: Bogota, Colombia’s superhero mayor.

Related: A set of seven Marvel Christmas tree ornaments, including Hawkeye and Iron Man, but not the Blue Ear.