Not only inspires but this story has gotten bit of a hate rant. More on that later.
This week's story (more here from Marvel) which is a follow up on last year's Marvel comics news on the making of a new superhero out of five-year-old Anthony Smith. Anthony at one time believed that superheroes do not wear hearing aids...that is until he became one when Marvel comics made him into a superhero as The Blue Ear.
Hey gang, I know this blog is a little later than usual but I've had a pretty amazing week! I got to create something special for an amazing little boy! I got to meet Anthony Smith, a real hero! Here's his mom's original letter to editor supreme, Bill Rosemann:
Hi there -
I am the mom of a super hero mad 4 year old. He lives and breathes super heroes, he also has been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder - mosaic trisomy 22. The good news is that his physical challenges are workable, he is mentally perfect, and while he will be having a heart surgery this summer - he is on the mend. The challenge that he will face for his entire life are his hearing impairments. He has no ear, and a complete hearing loss on his right side and mild loss on his left. He currently wears 2 hearing aids.
Today as he was getting dressed I was putting on his "Blue Ear," the aid he wears on his left ear. He did not want to put it on, he told me super heroes do not wear blue ears. To get myself out of a bind I told him that sure they do - in fact Captain America has one under his mask. After repeated questioning he believed me - but I was wondering - maybe you have an intern, or someone who would like a challenge - could you make a little guy's day by drawing him a hearing impaired super hero?
Thanks for considering this - I am likely to get stuck in your spam filter - but you never know - have a great day - I am attaching a picture of Anthony so you can see one of your dedicated customers.
I highlighted in bold blue in the above to point out that Anthony Smith has a mild hearing loss in his left ear although completely deaf in his right ear. Which makes the whole affair completely understandable on why it's important for the young boy to wear his hearing aid. And for Marvel comics to help inspire the boy. But not everybody agrees with this according to one CNN editorial writer written by Tara S. Congdon with a rant article called "Marvel misguided in hearing aid poster campaign."Best, Christina
However, these artists and Marvel have – perhaps unwittingly – stepped into a minefield by working with a hearing aid manufacturer on a marketing campaign that, by extrapolating an individual’s circumstances and applying it indiscriminately, devalues a segment of the deaf and hard of hearing community.She's correct that some deaf and hard of hearing kids have been teased for their wearing their hearing aids or even a cochlear implants for that matter. Just as some kids may have been teased for their use of the wheelchair, thick pair of glasses, knee braces, crutches, and so on. It's really a matter of educating people about these conditions. It was not Marvel Comics intention to push aside those who cannot benefit from the use of hearing aids or with any other today's hearing technology.
Marvel editor Bill Rosemann and artists Manny Mederos and Nelson Ribeiro have teamed with Phonak to create a poster that features Iron Man and the message "that kids who use hearing aids are just like him because ‘they are using technology to be their best self."
While the effort to destigmatize children who rely on hearing aids is laudable, because many of these children suffer relentless teasing from their peers for their differences, the poster’s message is deeply offensive and hurtful to those who gain little to no benefit from hearing aids. It dismisses the reality that Phonak’s technology does not always succeed in restoring hearing or achieving auditory comprehension for its users. And it implies that those who choose to or cannot use hearing aids are failing to be their best selves and are less than whole human beings in their own right.
I am a former Phonak user who derived no benefit from the company’s products. I have profound hearing loss, which means I can’t hear at all. While my parents chose to use Total Communication – an approach that blends hearing aids, speech and auditory therapy, and Signing Exact English – I was never able to differentiate sounds or understand speech.
The difference here is that Tara S. Congdon grew up not benefitting much at all with her Phonak hearing aid, and that's understandable why she didn't like what Marvel comics did by creating a super hero with a hearing loss who benefitted from a powerful listening device. Tara has a profound hearing loss and could not at all benefit from the use of her hearing aid. However, Anthony Smith who was made into a The Blue Ear comics superhero has a mild hearing loss in his left ear. People with mild hearing loss can certainly and obviously benefit much from the use of a hearing aid. Anthony's hearing loss isn't severe or profound like Tara's but mild hearing loss. Take me as an example. My right ear has a moderate-severe hearing loss while my left ear has a profound hearing loss. I grew up wearing a much older hearing aid technolgy, Phonak and other brands eventually getting digital hearing aids. I derived a great amount of benefit on using my hearing aid while growing and I was able to discriminate sound and understand speech incredibly well. Imagine how far Anthony Smith could go with his mild hearing loss and the use of his hearing aid? I believe Anthony's Mom and Marvel comics did the right thing to help inspire and give confidence to a little boy on the benefit of wearing a hearing aid with his mild hearing loss. Every day I am thankful on what hearing I have left.
In her CNN editorial rant what Tara S. Congdon does not realize is that Marvel comics do incorporate deaf characters with certain powers into their comic books. In 1999 Marvel comics introduced a new deaf superhero character as Echo.
Echo appeared again as Ronin in the 2005 New Avengers #11 issue. Not only Echo but other deaf or hard of hearing characters with different kinds of superpowers or abilities appeared in other comics as well.
Deaf characters are often marginalised in literature. Echo the deaf superhero is coming to the rescue as the creators of comics strive for realism in their portrayal of deaf characters.
"With any form of portrayal including the deaf in comics, we tend to see things very much from a hearing person's point of view," said Paul Dakin, a GP trainer from North London who studies deaf characters in literature, at a recent conference on comics and medicine. "Most of the people who write or who are artists are hearing, and as a result, traditionally there have been other reasons to portray deaf people. So, for example, they are plot devices; they are catalysts; they are means of reflecting particular aspects or features of a hearing character; they move the plot along, but they're not developed in their own right."
In Hergé's Tintin, for example, Professor Calculus is hard of hearing. His disability is used as a comic device to introduce trivial and amusing misunderstandings into the story, rather than explored in its own right. Similarly, Hope Hibbert, a deaf girl who first appeared in The Sensational Spider-Man, issue 18, uses her ability to read lips from security camera footage to give Spider-Man the information he needs to save the day.
"However, over the last 20 years an increasing number of deaf characters have started to emerge within mainstream comics," said Dakin. "That's given rise to the emergence of Echo. She is a major deaf character in the Marvel canon."
Echo (aka Maya Lopez) is a superhero like no other. First appearing in Daredevil issue 9 in 1999, she is a rare deaf character with a complex emotional back story. Born deaf to a Cheyenne father and a Hispanic mother, she has the power to perfectly imitate anything she sees, including a rival's fighting style.
"The character was going to debut as an antagonist in the story, but also as a love interest for Daredevil," Echo's creator and artist David Mack told me by email. "With Daredevil being blind, and constantly piecing his world together via his other senses, I felt he would be able to relate to Maya (aka Echo) who was deaf and grew up visually piecing the information of her world together to make sense of the mysterious audible world that she was not a part of."
As research for the character, Mack read autobiographies of people who grew up deaf. "That was an incredible insight to me," he said. "I read a book where a boy was told that the rain makes a noise, and that lightning has an audible counterpart in thunder. So then he wondered what sound the sunshine made ... This kind of first person perspective really let me think from a different point of view."
Echo uses both American Sign Language (ASL) and a Native American system developed for communication between tribes speaking different languages. The sign systems appear throughout the comic, both when Echo is signing and as background art.
Though Echo provides perhaps the most complete example of sign language in comics, it is not the first. On the front cover of DC's Supergirl, issue 65, characters sign the comic's title. Spider-Man himself uses ASL in Sensational Spider-Man, issue 31 (and every time he shoots webs he signs "I love you"; his hand position blending the signs for I, L and Y in ASL).And then you have Jack Flag who has a hearing loss in his left ear as a result of injury sustained as a costumed crimefighter and his healing powers have not mended the damage done to his ear. And then you have, of course, The Blue Ear, where the characeter Hawkeye teamed up with his fellow hard of hearing superheroThe Blue Ear in a comics rendering to help boost Anthony's confidence and inspire him to continue wear his hearing aid. This was a natural pick because Hawkeye at one time lost some of his hearing in a battle and was forced to wear a hearing aid until his hearing was fully restored.
We know there is a history of deaf people growing up who could not at all benefit from the use of hearing aids and that's an unfortunate thing. Which is why educating people about this history and that not all people with hearing loss can benefit from using a hearing aid. Just as well, it is important to educate people that there is beneficial value on using a hearing aid or any hearing technology such as cochlear implants. Benefits vary from person to person on using a piece of hearing technology. I think there is plenty room for both for Marvel comics, DC and others to provide deaf and hard of hearing superheros or characters with a variety of super powers or abilities and be able to please both camps in the very diverse deaf and hard of hearing community.
I see nothing wrong with this story on helping inspire Anthony Smith to use his hearing aid. With his mild hearing loss he can certainly benefit greatly from using it. Just as I have benefitted greatly, and continue to do so, on my successful use of my hearing aid since I was two years old even though my hearing loss is much more severe than Anthony's. I thank my mother for helping me with my hearing aid while growing up. Just because you cannot benefit from the use of a hearing aid is not a reason to rain on this little boy's parade when he obviously can benefit from it. There are tons more boys and girls out there who can and do benefit greatly from the use of their hearing aids. Anthony Smith can do great things with his hearing aid and he's proving that everyday. He's an inspiration to hard of hearing kids everywhere. A real superhero.