If you’re hesitating to jump back into Marvel’s Hero Project because “Dazzling Lorelei” both warmed and broke your heart, let that fear go. The lighter tone of “Battlin’ Braden” – while just as heartfelt – comes as a welcome break in tension.
You know what gets me about Marvel’s Hero Project? It has such incredible power to show us how much more alike than different we are. I am a grown adult and yet “Battlin’ Braden” (like every episode so far) manages to connect with me in a personal way.
Braden is twelve years old and 75% deaf. He’s had hearing aids most of his life. When he was younger, he left them on the floor overnight, and his dog (aptly named Chewie) decided they looked tasty. Braden was upset to discover the pieces in the morning.
So was his mom Ashley. His hearing aids run $3000 apiece and aren’t covered by insurance.
Here’s what I love about this origin story. There are a lot of ways Ashley could have handled her son being careless with an expensive possession: yelling, grounding her son, excusing the accident in that condescending “oh he’s just a kid, he didn’t know better” way some people have.
Instead, she had a talk with him about privilege. She explained how lucky their family is to be able to replace the hearing aids, let alone buy them in the first place, and how important it is to be aware of that privilege.
That’s an awesome parenting move. Privilege is a hard discussion to have with kids, and the way she worked it in naturally is impressive.
Equally impressive was Braden’s response. His hearing aids help him feel more independent, so the idea that some people just couldn’t get access to the same technology was a major concern.
“I never really realized that there were people in the world who didn’t have the money or didn’t have people to help them get hearing aids,” he says. “Once I saw this was a problem, I really wanted to help solve it.”
That’s a hero’s response if I ever heard one. He saw a problem and went from, “Oh that’s sad,” directly to, “What can I do to fix this in some way?”.
Quick side note here: The Deaf community has a complicated relationship with hearing aids and surgery in general. (I know this because I was mostly deaf until I was six and had my hearing restored by surgery.)
This review is going to speak to Braden’s specific point of view, but we by no means want to imply the Deaf and Hard of Hearing people who either aren’t candidates for hearing aids or choose not to use them are somehow “less”. You can learn more at the National Association of the Deaf.
All right, back to “Battlin’ Braden”. So, Braden wanted to get hearing aids for people who couldn’t afford them. He launched a video campaign asking for help to travel the world bringing hearing aids where they were needed.
“We never said anything about that,” says his dad, Christopher. “That was him. Travelling the world – I was pretty much giggling.”
Braden wasn’t laughing. He was determined. He began making more videos with “dares” he would do for donations to his Go Fund Me.
The campaign went viral. In less than a year he had raised $15,000, and his family began to research how to use the money effectively.
The first step was both simple and really, really smart. Braden checked the back of his own hearing aids and looked up the manufacturer, Oticon. A little digging online showed him they had a charitable branch. Ashley reached out to offer the Oticon Hearing Foundation a donation.
The foundation wanted to meet Braden. They invited him to present the check at an upcoming meeting, where he met audiologist Dr. Kama Elliot. She was so impressed that she asked him to come him on a mission trip to see his funds in action.
Real talk, that’s kind of huge. Every donor doesn’t get to tag along on working trips, even those who throw in thousands. I like to think Dr. Elliot saw the genuine caring and interest that we, the audience, can see when Braden talks about his cause.
Braden and Dr. Elliot headed to San Cristobal Verapaz, Guatemala, to set up a hearing clinic for local residents. People young and old were able to receive hearing aids thanks in part to the money he worked so hard to raise.
Watching Braden work with the other Hard of Hearing kids highlights another reason Marvel singled him out as a Hero. He talked to them with friendliness and respect, using their own language as much as he could. When they were nervous he hung out to comfort them.
He just seems like a nice, personable, unpretentious dude. The producers compare him to Angel and Star Lord, but I see more of a young Steve Rogers: kind, polite, and humble with a playful undercurrent that makes him feel relatable.
“These people had traveled for miles, and he’s shaking their hands and making connections bigger than himself,” Ashley says. “And in that moment, Braden found his heart’s calling.”
After returning from Guatemala, Braden appeared on the Ellen Show. She gave him $20,000 towards his work, which kicked off another huge round of fundraising, show appearances, and activism. He raised over $100,000 for the Oticon Hearing Foundation as of filming.
The editorial choices in “Battlin’ Braden” are very different from what we saw in “Dazzling Lorelei”. We get very few captions. Braden, his family and friends, and Dr. Elliot are the main narrators. There is one important caption that comes shortly after Braden gets home and realizes there are people in need of hearing aids here, too.
That caption makes me really upset.
Apparently, there are programs in some American schools where kids are given hearing aids to use only during class. They have to be returned at the end of the day. I’m not sure what the logic is there, but why on earth can’t they let the kids check them out for the year at least? What kind of dystopian AU is this?
Braden agrees with me, I think, because some of his donations go help some of those kids. We get to meet his friends Amaria and Nakaya (who Braden calls the Cooper Hoopers) and hear how hard it is to have hearing given, then taken away every day.
It’s a powerful testament to how far we as a country have to go in providing meaningful health care to everyone.
On the bright side, it is awesome to see them enjoying their very own cool, brightly-colored hearing aids outside school. Braden and his family legit changed those girls’ lives.
Some of these episodes make a huge deal about presenting The Box and some keep it low key. “Battlin’ Braden” is one of the bigger presentations. A whole building full of people Braden helped hold a surprise reception.
There’s a projector up front that winds up being used to show videos from others: the President of Oticon, one of his teachers, some friends, and an audiologist from Guatemala. Another young advocate, Dutch, sends a message of support. (I don’t recognize him offhand, but Braden seems to.)
Dutch makes a surprise appearance to bring The Box out. Ashley reads the Marvel letter, and a few times it seems like she might need to take a minute to cry. (It’s okay, Ashley, I was crying too and Braden isn’t even my kid.)
The “Battlin’ Braden” comic took a different turn than I expected. Stephen Wacker and Sana Amanat decided to give him a sonic-based power and illustrate “deaf scenes” as slightly muted and “hearing scenes” as brighter.
I struggled with this a little bit. Artist Craig Rousseau does a really sharp job, and the comic in general looks very cool. I’m just a little leery of the sonic power and color signalling given that Braden is Hard of Hearing. At first it felt a little insensitive.
What changed my mind was that, like the whole Hero Project, this is about the Heroes and how they want to tell their stories. Braden says several times that he loves his hearing aids, he feels stronger and more in control with them, and they’re something he treasures. Everyone who gets a hearing aid is happy, energized, and relieved.
We have to respect their lived experience.
In the interests of transparency I should also share that I was mostly deaf until I was six. An operation gave me my hearing back, and I’m grateful for that every day. There’s no way my family could have afforded hearing aids. I’d be that kid lining up to turn mine back in every day (if I was lucky!).
So, while I respect the different views on this, I think Marvel handled things as sensitively as they could by honoring Braden’s views.
Braden himself is definitely hyped about the whole situation. He’s one of the Heroes who seems to already have been a comic fan and excited about the comic for itself, which is neat. I also loved watching his friends ask him to sign their copies. I don’t think we’ve seen that before.
Overall, “Battlin’ Braden” is such a light, happy, pure episode. It’s one that you can keep in your back pocket to cheer you up on bad days, and one that I’ll bring up as an example when I’m telling people why they should watch the show.
Like you. You’re people. Go watch, and then come back and share your thoughts in the comments!
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and game enthusiast. She can talk fandom in five languages, and her proudest nerd moment so far was presenting original research titled “Gender, Sex, and Werewolves” at an international anthropological conference. Her first game, None For Me, is due out from Calico Games early next year.
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