Five-year-old Anthony Smith really loves superheroes.
And because superheroes don't wear hearing aids, the little boy from Salem, New Hampshire, who is deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other, didn't want to wear one either.
"One morning he told me he didn't want to wear his hearing aid anymore because superheroes don't have blue ears," his mother, Christina D'Allesandro, told the Union Leader. "I told him that this just wasn't true."
Desperate to help her son, D'Allesandro sent an email to Marvel Comics, asking them if there were any hearing-impaired superheroes.
A few weeks after D'Allesandro wrote the email, a comic book cover arrived, featuring Anthony as a hearing-impaired superhero named Blue Ear.
"When he first saw the comic book cover, he said, 'Oh, my God, it's me,'" she told CNN. "He was very excited."
"We decided to make him an honorary Avenger," a member of the Marvel Comics superhero crime-fighting team, said Marvel editor Bill Rosemann.
Marvel artists Manny Mederos and Nelson Ribeiro sent Anthony two comic-book covers, both featuring Blue Ear, the superhero whose earpiece allows him to hear a pin drop from the other side of a state.
"Our mantra is what (Marvel Comics chief) Stan Lee said: With great power there must come great responsibility. Our guys thought, 'If I have the ability to draw, I am going to use it to help someone like Anthony feel comfortable about his hearing aid,'" Rosemann said.
This week, Anthony attended a special event at the Center for Hearing and Communication clinic in New York City where he met his crime-fighting partner: Iron Man.
"His face lit up, and he was like, absolutely bowled over," said D’Allesandro.
The event aimed to create enthusiasm for hearing aids in hearing-impaired youngsters by unveiling a poster featuring Iron Man teaming up with Blue Ear.
"The poster was amazing. Every kid today at the launch was given a poster to take home. Phonak's going to take a really active role in distributing the poster to every pediatric audiology department, and it’s something they want to make available to kids who want to put it up in their bedrooms, and that was the original design," D'Allesandro told WMUR.
Phonak manufactures Anthony's blue hearing aid.
"After hearing how Anthony's story helped him and others to accept his hearing aid, Phonak saw the impact Marvel characters had on readers," Rosemann said. "We both saw the potential for using superheroes to teach us that it's OK to wear a hearing aid."
"Blue Ear has since become an extension of who Anthony is," D'Allesandro said. "He has a Blue Ear costume, which he wears all the time."
D'Allesandro told CNN that Blue Ear has given her son a new sense of confidence around other children.
"He goes up to kids and says, 'Hey, I have a little ear and a blue ear. Do you want to play?'"
She told WMUR that her son doesn't know how great an inspiration he's become for others.
"A bunch of people have taken him into their hearts, and we’ve heard from people who have all kinds of challenges, who have said, 'This story inspired me,' 'Your son means something to me,' 'I've loved watching and following this story,' and that just means the world to us," said D’Allesandro.