The East Coast Avengers are real heroes.
They may not have superpowers like the Marvel Comics troupe the group is named after. But their mission to protect, save and inspire is very real.
Our organization was founded to basically provide a collective identity for costuming fans with similar interests, the AVENGERS INITIATIVE is proud to put its resources to good use through fundraising, charity work, and volunteerism. (AvengersHQ.com)
Liam Stillman, 55, is one of the “Founding Four” members who first started organizing the group in Arizona in 2009. The club has since grown into a nationwide movement under the banner of “The Avengers Initiative.”
“If we can get kids to realize that there’s people out there are trying to do something for the better that will change their outlook for the rest of their lives,” Stillman said.
“I call it the hero moment,” he continued. “You become addicted at that point.”
When Stillman moved to Virginia in 2010 to care for his parents (again, a real hero) he brought the Initiative with him.
The group is composed of about 200 members and stretches from Boston to Miami. This weekend, they’re coming to Baltimore Comic-Con.
Avoid the line! Buy your Comic-Con tickets here.
Stillman will lead two panel discussions about costuming. The first will focus on costuming safely, addressing how to best deal with harassment. The second panel will identify ways for cosplayers to help through charity and volunteerism.
SEE ALSO | What to do at the 2015 Baltimore Comic-Con
Images of superheroes visiting children in hospitals and shaking hands at fund-raisers aren’t new. But death of Lenny Robinson – Baltimore’s Batman – gave giving-back a renewed focus.
“There was this funny Internet saying going around -- with all the billionaires in the world, why hasn’t one of them become Batman by now? Well, one of them did,” Stillman said of Robinson.
Robinson was a millionaire businessman who volunteered his time visiting children in hospitals donning Batman's cape and cowl.
“Him getting pulled over is the best thing that happened to us,” Stillman said of a viral video that introduced the world to Lenny Robinson’s “Route 29 Batman.”
“They understand now,” he continued. “Before they couldn’t fathom what was going on. The fact that he was eloquent enough to convey what he was doing helped people understand what was going on.”
What the people might not understand is the impact a superhero can have on a child stuck in treatment, spending days even weeks in a hospital bed.
“Mindset makes a big difference to how people react to therapy,” Stillman said.
It’s about keeping a child’s imagination alive, he said.
“Just keeping their imagination engaged so it doesn’t wither and die,” Stillman said. “A nurse once said to me, ‘that’s the first time we’ve seen him smile in months,’ this boy who totally thought Captain America was in his room.”
Stillman has been making costumes for 40 years. The sewing he learned from his mother.
When he started the Arizona Avengers he picked a character with a purpose, one that could speak to sick kids on the same level as a hero (or anti-hero) that could speak to bullies.
That character is Deadpool. (He was dressing up as the Merc with a Mouth long before he became a mainstream convention icon, one that will portrayed by Ryan Reynolds in the highly anticipated Deadpool film due out next year.)
The Deadpool character, real name Wade Wilson, suffers from terminal cancer -- one that he keeps away with a healing factor. Think a more R-rated Wolverine.
He uses the cancer angle to related to kids in hospital care.
“Deadpool was a very bad guy. Now he’s a very good guy and I use that to get to the bullies,” Stillman said. “Having kids fear you is not as much fun as having them admire you. Anybody can push someone down. It takes real strength to pull them up.”