Still worthy, still smiling
I bought a hairbrush last week.
For most who know me — or anyone who’s seen my picture — that makes about as much sense as buying a toothbrush for a chicken, but I had good reason.
Let me explain … but first, a little background.
For the past several years, I’ve been a member of Heroes for Kids, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that uses cosplay and pop culture as a means to raise money for various organizations such as children’s hospitals and veterans organizations, while also working to introduce children to those the group considers to be real heroes — first responders, law enforcement and military service members.
Up until this past weekend, I’d always worked behind the scenes, helping with media relations, promotions and the occasional bit of graphic design. I also sometimes served as a lifter of heavy things.
The group is fronted by three good friends who put forth a ton of effort both in public at various comic and anime conventions — including one they run themselves — and outside the limelight, fulfilling wishes for sick children, recording personalized in-character birthday videos and making sure 100 percent of the money they raise goes to fund a worthy cause. They do all of this while managing the challenges of tights, capes and the occasional celebrity encounter.
If you consider Lonnie Johnson and Dennis Manning to be Superman and Batman — their preferred characters — then Lonnie’s wife, Jessica, has to be the Wonder Woman of the trinity, doing the heavy lifting of managing the group’s appearance schedule, its finances and the necessary logistics involved in making sure everyone and everything gets to the right place at the right time in any of the four states in which the Southeast Missouri-based group operates.
A lot of times, that also includes me — especially since I moved back to Arkansas.
Back in July, I made the trek north to Perryville to lend a hand with the second annual Heroes for Kids Comic Con, where I filled my usual roles as pack mule, photographer, booth minder and celebrity handler. Thanks to great fans and sizeable contributions, we raised $8,400 for Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
As usual, it was a great time for a worthy cause, but nothing I hadn’t seen before.
This past weekend, I attended Cape Comic Con in Cape Girardeau, Mo. It wasn’t my first time there, but it did mark a big first for me.
After spending opening night doing my usual — fetching, carrying, taking photos and so forth — I did something on Day Two that I hadn’t done before.
I wore my pajama pants in public. I also had on a bright red hoodie, a blue flannel robe, fingerless gloves and what seemed like 10 pounds of hair, including a fake beard that reached my chest.
Saturday marked my first official foray into cosplay with Heroes for Kids, and the debut of my own version of “Bro Thor” (some people call him “Fat Thor,” but we won’t judge) from the beginning of the Avengers: Endgame movie.
It was magical! Once I hit the floor in full-Thor mode — “Greetings, Midgardians! Welcome to the fair!” — with my newly acquired hair flying, my robe flapping and magical hammer in hand, I could feel the positive energy washing over me in a flood of smiles, laughs, compliments and requests for photos.
It came from all sides, but the best part was the reactions from the little kids, most of whom seemed excited to meet one of their big-screen heroes. A few were a bit shy at first — I’m a big man, made even bigger by the fleece, flannel and hair — but that was easily solved by letting them hold my hammer, Mjolnir, while we posed for photos ... so many photos. You can’t tell because of my beard and mask, but I’m beaming in each and every one of them.
Looking back, it was the same feeling I used to get onstage acting in school musicals. That’s right. In addition to being a huge nerd and band geek, I’m also a theater kid at heart.
At any rate, it was just what I needed. These past few weeks have been extremely hard. We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death from COVID and I’ve been feeling less-than-normal. Getting the chance to play a character — a loud, boisterous one at that — got me out of my head and left me with a feeling approaching normal.
Which is one of the reasons why I chose Bro Thor as my first cosplay. First off, it was relatively easy to pull together. Second, this is one of only two times from the movies I could pull off playing Thor — I’m already making plans to pull the other one together — and third, most importantly, I felt I understood what the character was going through.
Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe know what I’m talking about. Thor was in a deep depression after the events of the previous movie, when the majority of his people were killed and he blamed himself for failing to stop Thanos, the movie’s big bad, from wiping half of all life in the universe.
As a result, his normal boisterous attitude was severely muted and his chiseled physique expanded as he ate and drank himself to distraction. Later in the movie, with the help of his fellow Avengers, he broke free of his depression and reached a realization that no matter what had happened, he was still worthy.
That’s how I felt Saturday. Despite the losses I’ve suffered in the past few years — my wife and my mother — and the grief I still feel, I’m still worthy.
All it took was buying a hairbrush and giving a gaggle of little kids — and myself — a reason to smile.