It was Batman Day and things were going better than Buffalo’s own Caped Crusader had expected. The celebration of comic books, costumed characters and anti-bullying was also the day the local Batman chose for his last official appearance.
His rubbery black mask made it hard to see from the corner of his eyes, but he knew a crowd of kids and parents trailed him Saturday afternoon as soon as he left the makeshift dressing room with a “Superhero HQ” sign on the door in the Central Library downtown.
His cape floated lightly behind him as he and fellow costumed heroes and villains Batgirl, Robin, Supergirl, Poison Ivy and the Penguin passed the tables of free comic giveaways and stopped in the clearing in the hall where about six boys in Batman costumes waited with about a 25 curious, uncostumed kids, and a clutch of pleased-looking mothers who framed photos with their smartphones.
“Bad guys are here doing community service. They’re perfectly safe today,” he said of the villains. He handed out personalized trading cards with him in serious, folded-arm Batman pose. According to the secret identity revealed on the back, he was Will Lorenz.
For now, the 28-year-old lawyer was still Batman, and glad to be the kind of human hero he thinks kids need. He peered down at a young one in a black cape and said, “I found my twin.”
A boy of 7 in a Batman costume with thick faux-muscle padding made an introduction. “Batman, my brother likes you. He’s a big fan of yours.” The younger, masked brother stood quietly awestruck, a finger in his mouth.
For Lorenz, this was one of the many serendipitous stops in his Batman journey. He organized the library event when he discovered that DC Comics had declared Saturday national Batman Day with a special comic book. This followed his years of black-belt karate training, and a 2014 win of “Buffalo’s Best Batman” award from the library for a photo he submitted of himself with other costumed characters.
Appearances for charity followed, like the Bison’s post-baseball game martial arts show he did with other members of the Western New York Superhero Alliance he co-founded on Facebook. They raised $5,000 for mental health. That felt like a real super power.
At the library, another young Batman ran up to Lorenz. Without saying a word, he hugged Lorenz at his utility-belted waist before dashing back to his mother.
Kristie Foster, who wore a pink Batman T-shirt, said her 4-year-old Quince puts on Batman gear every day. He leaves it in the car before heading off to kindergarten on school days. On Saturdays, he gets to stay in character. This afternoon, a stranger spotted his Batman mask and cape and suggested they go to the library.
They had no idea it was Batman Day. “This is so awesome,” said Quince, pausing between stops by his mother to mingle with the other Batmen and superheroes. “I want to stay here forever.”
“We’re never going to be able to leave here today,” said Foster, beaming at her son’s delight.
What is so great about Batman anyway? Two obvious answers.
“He throws a Batarang,” said Quince of the signature boomerang that knocks guns from the hands of bad guys. “He saves Gotham City.”
Lorenz thinks Batman attracts with his humanity. Instead of superpowers, he uses smarts, gadgets and martial arts. “It’s possible for anybody, if they had that motivation and drive to study and train at martial arts, they could in real life become Batman.”
He’s been a fan ever since he was a kid and saw the movie with Michael Keaton’s karate-chopping Batman driving that cool rocket-shooting car.
As a political science major at Canisius College, he wrote his senior thesis about how superheroes reflect society – from the clean-cut, patriotic World War II-era heroes to the government-skeptics and anti-heroes of the 1980s.
Although Lorenz took up karate because of his Dark Knight hero, he didn’t started dressing up as an adult until he was a martial arts teacher. Costumes, he discovered, made demonstrations more entertaining.
They were adding fun to the library, too. Quince invited Batman to his fifth birthday party he was having at the zoo in a couple of weeks.
It was nice to end on a high note, like this. He’s done everything he can do as Batman, but he is determined to keep organizing for charity behind the scenes. He knows Batman can teach kids that anything is possible. Because that’s what the comic book hero did for him.