Backing into Batman

I’m Batman.

No, not kidding. I’m just as real as any Batman, don’t you think? After all, no one is really Batman. Yet, soon as that cowl and cape slide on, (and I have a well-crafted cowl and cape), I’m Batman. Kids stand in awe. Kids run in terror. Kids land a big Bat hug around my leg. And some kids casually say “hi,” then ask about Robin and the Batmobile (they’re the “cool” kids—they see Batman like every other week).

Adults? Hmmm. All ages love Batman. Many smiles, handshakes, photo requests, and compliments on my costume (I always get very serious at that moment, move to nose to cowled nose distance from them, and say in my best gravel-laden Bat voice, “What costume?). After all, everyone knows Batman does not wear a “costume.” It is a Batsuit.

So, there. It’s settled. I’m Batman. The Dark Knight. The World’s Greatest Detective. Bats. The Caped Crusader. B-Man. The Winged Avenger. The Bat-Man. I didn’t plan it. Nope, it wasn’t a goal. Nah, didn’t nab it out of a chapter of “A Purpose-Driven Life.” No, I’d have to say I sort of backed into being Batman. What better day to talk about this than today, Saturday, September 21, 2019 Batman Celebration Day, marking the 80th anniversary of his creation. Okay, how and why did I back into Batman?

How?
Somewhere in my very introverted self, yes, very introverted, a communicator lives. As this communicator, I thrive on delivering a message to an audience, to see an audience touched or moved in some way. It’s been a constant as far back as I can remember. It includes my writing, artwork, acting, teaching, preaching, and music. All rich experiences in my life, and, to my amazement, all received warmly and often encouraged (well, maybe not the banjo).

While acting in community theater, a friend and fellow actor told me of her involvement with Costumers With a Cause, a charity organization that brings favorite costumed characters to various children’s charity events. I was intrigued. To me, appearing as any character is indeed acting, playing to an ever-changing, exciting, and appreciative audience with the huge bonus of unleashed creativity for me. I get to choose the character, his message, the venue, the time, and the cause. Perfect.

Okay, but why Batman? It was sort of an accident. I had already assembled a 1960’s TV-screen-accurate Green Hornet outfit, my childhood favorite, before meeting Costumers With a Cause. I ran into a guy who knew the guy who made the trademark green fedora for the show. I asked him to make me one, just for fun. Then I put together another childhood hero who is kind of a two-fer, Davy Crockett/Daniel Boone for photos in an article I was writing about actor Fess Parker. Hornet, Crockett, and Boone pretty much have to come with an instruction sheet when they appear at events—they’re usually not recognized. Teaching about them is fun for me, so that’s okay.

Then came another favorite character, Ben “Obi-wan” Kenobi, and I joined the worldwide Star Wars-themed Rebel Legion organization, also involved in character appearances for charities. All fun for me. Batman was not on my radar, and though he was a favorite comic-book hero of my childhood, I was just a casual fan. There are many, many wholehearted Batman fans of all ages; I think almost everyone owns some kind of Batman tee shirt.

Almost two years ago, already involved in various character appearances, I somehow stumbled into a closed Facebook group just for Batman costuming. There are several of these groups. Turns out there is quite a community from literally around the world for those who choose to “don the cowl” and/or “be the Bat.” I was curious so I wandered through.

Some of these “Bat Brethren” (and a few Bat-Sisters) do it for charity, others to look good at a Comic-Con, some for a Halloween party, and others just to do it. The members offer genuine help, advice, and “how to” instructions to the Bat-Novice and each other. Who knew a well-placed feminine maxi-pad napkin thing inside the top of my cowl could slow down the tidal wave of sweat stinging my eyes? Or that KY Jelly is the perfect solution to getting that latex cowl over my beach ball of a head? Add the recommended black eye makeup, stabilizer, and remover and that makes an unusual trip to Target. I always try to add a thing of Tide Pods, a couple of cans of fat-free refried beans, and a pound of ground bison to my cart just so it doesn’t look so kinky.

As I scrolled through that Batman Facebook group, I stopped dead on a posting put up by a feller from Newfoundland. He’d built a Batsuit, worn it a couple of times, and needed to sell it. He said he got the cowl and armor from a known California sculptor, added and assembled other parts, then expertly painted it all to look like “an over 50, to hell and back” Batman.

Over 50, to hell and back. Hmmm. I qualified. So I scoured his photos. If I ever was going to be a Batman, this was it. He had me. As quality Batsuits go, this one was bargain-priced and its size, origin, and design were perfect for me. I grabbed it. I’m Batman.

I got it, improved several components (an ongoing process), and made it mine. It’s truly one of a kind. Sources say there are some 43 different Batman “official” versions/looks/eras/suits from comics, books, video games, television, and movies. And an uncounted number of unique ones like mine. I put a lot of effort into my gear. My Batman has sort of a resemblance to the “Arkham Knight” video game version.  I’d never even seen that one before.

Why?
Creativity.
I am Batman for three main reasons. First is creativity. On many levels. The actual acting appearances, entertaining, and improvising is creative. And I’ve observed that Batman is one of the most popular characters for kids to see. And not just kids. Drivers have stopped their cars to get a better look, and then call out, “Batman!” Main Street in Galena was a little crazy for a time as I left an event and Patty and I headed for our car (Patty often has to run interference for me or it would take a very long time to get back to the car!).  Shopkeepers, tourists, those who had gotten a very early start at a bar, and families stopped me for photos. The many different stages or venues, audiences of all ages, and totally freestyle one-on-one interaction with the people, all great. I try to create a connection with the audience whether they just need a smile, want to meet their hero, want to re-live a childhood moment, or take their mind off a serious medical condition for even a few minutes.

But also, the behind-the-scenes creativity is so enlivening for me…that deliberate, setting myself free with paint and brushes. Re-imagining what could be and how to make it so. Inventing. Experimenting with different materials and adhesives. Forming and reforming rubber, foam, leather, and metal. Finding new ways to pry loose my near-constantly Superglue-stuck fingers. Re-purposing some common, even discarded object like a dollar store flashlight into a perfect component of Batman’s utility belt. Designing and building entire suits and props. It’s shaping a sculpture designed to be in motion. Bringing something from nothing. I simply love that.

It’s like I’m slinging color and substance onto the living, moving canvas of myself. And then as both art and artist, I get to watch the reaction as my living (and by now sweating) artwork gets turned loose in many galleries, from a FaceTime birthday greeting, to parks, hospitals, baseball fields, parades, and even Navy Pier (for a very touching Make-A-Wish event). I love the acting part for sure, but I love the designing and crafting of myself as the living sculpture just as much. Art in Acting-Action. Involvement in art is a well-documented Boggs trait, across generations.

I am Batman for the creative opportunities it provides me.

Charity.
I believe in giving to others in need and also to worthy organizations doing that. Giving financially, but also of my time and talents. In the acting world, being a member of Costumers With a Cause and the Rebel Legion gives me platforms to use what I have to bless others. I do events with those organizations and other events on my own, too. All with the same goal in mind.

But Batman? My penchant for dramaturgy kicked in as I worked on the suit and also the guts to actually wear it. Of course, I knew the basic Bruce Wayne/Batman story. Horrible childhood. Strong sense of justice. Determined to make a difference. Troubled and dark at times. Finally grew out of wearing his underwear on the outside of his pants. Haunted. Resilient. Obsessive. Creative. Inventive. Human. Flawed.

Though I do confess that my alter ego is a heck of lot more like Clark Kent than Bruce Wayne, I can relate to a lot of that Bat back-story stuff. Yes, I too was a kid in horrible circumstances, basically just written off, marginalized. Now I meet kids also in horrible circumstances—different, yes, but equally horrible. I reach out to them. I try to provide a brief rest from the load they carry, encouragement to keep moving forward, and knowledge they’re not alone. Batman commands attention and is well-loved. He helps me deliver those messages. Kapow!

As Batman, I can often get a smile from a little kiddo or even a big grin from my kind of octogenarian looking for their idea of a perfect holiday photo. Or a grandparent who can’t wait to show a grandkid her selfie–proof she actually met Batman. I can impact their moment in a positive way. Maybe briefly take them away from the crud of life. Sometimes a little fun is good enough. An ancient proverb says, “A merry heart does good like a medicine.” Indeed, it does. Batman lifts spirits, brings smiles, and sometimes even comfort.

I am Batman for the charitable opportunities it gives me.

Craziness
Being Batman means, well, being bats! Generally, when I describe myself, I’ll say I’m a writer, then go on with edu-tainer, toymaker, and mad scientist. There is truth in all of them for sure. They are all fueled by a never-yielding river of creativity running through my never-in-neutral mind. Yep, crazy covers it.

Back in the days when people were wondering who moved their various cheeses, I found resonance in the words “visionary,” and even “futurist.” Nope. Crazy is better. Those terms seemed to me to leave out the fun. After all, I did create the surf toilet that sings Beach Boys tunes and actually lets you catch a wave (brace yourself!) in your choice of three water pressures. And a radio-controlled skunk that can do 30 mph. Surf’s up and Smell on Wheels!

My personal theory is that true creativity cannot be contained. Stifled, throttled, blocked, discouraged, and devalued? Yes. But eventually that creativity will blow through its bindings and will express itself in any number of ways, often, in my case at least, coming out “crazy.”  I’ve learned it is best to give that creativity a lot of room and monitor its checkbook. Hence the singing, squirting toilet and nearly ready for NASCAR skunk.

The “craziness” reason is also why I don’t give a rip if someone thinks I’m too old for this Batman thing or it’s too silly or I should do something “serious” with my time. If I can make people smile, and have fun myself while doing it, I’m in. And it’s certainly no goofier than some of the acting roles I’ve done. Besides, this darn Batsuit covers my age, hides my baldness, and is very slimming! (Yes, my Bat-Spa will soon be opening with AARP discounts.) I’m the guy who had a rough childhood. It’s never too late to have a happy one.

You know, I’m downright proud I can pull off a pretty darn credible Batman at almost 63. And I think that reaching my somewhat advanced age means people kind of expect me now to do, dress, say, or cut and color what’s left of my hair any way I want to. Yep. Whack Job 1956 Edition. If I want to be Batman, I can. And I will. Sweet. On with it.

I am Batman because it is pure-dee-doggone-rip-roarin’ FUN!

Creativity. Charity. Craziness. All good reasons, and they serve one good purpose.

During my master’s degree in communication program, I learned about “autoethnography.” That’s basically a research method using personal experience to study self and social life. I think of myself as an autoethnographer. According to scholar Andrew C. Sparkes, “On the whole, autoethnographers don’t want you to sit back as spectators; they want you to feel, care, and desire.”

So what does this academic foofaraw have to do with Batman? True, it’s a bit of high-falutin’ language for this hillbilly boy, but it’s right on target. This stuff brings forth good.

Whatever the arena, as you read my words, or view a piece of my artwork, or see me as an adjunct professor of communication, or hear me speaking at a church, or see me acting on stage, or tolerate me banging on a banjo, or see me appearing as Batman at a children’s charity function, know I’m on a deliberate mission. I don’t want you my audience to be a spectator on the sidelines. No. Whatever form of communication I grab out of my Boggs Baloney Bag, I want to draw you in, to cause you to “feel, care, and desire.” I want you to realize you’re not alone in how you feel or in your struggles. I want it clear that I climbed over the crud and so can you. Batman definitely helps draw in an audience. No, you don’t have to be Batman. But you can conquer the crap piles blocking your way and overcome them to do what you’re gifted to do.

So today, September 21, 2019 is Batman Celebration Day. The Bat has been around for 80 years. Fittingly, I’ll be Batman today at “Safety Saturday,” a yearly event put on by the DuPage County, Illinois Sheriff’s Office and local police and fire departments. Lots of exhibits and events to help kids know how to be safe. There will be lots of interaction with kids, lots of photos, and plenty of smiles with Batman and many other characters also appearing. I’m proud to be a part.

At the end of the day today, I’ll smile, de-Bat, drink about two gallons of Gatorade Zero, settle in with my tube of Biofreeze, swaller down an Aleve, plug in my Bat-heating pad, clean my sweaty gear, take a long shower, and smile again, hoping I made a little difference in a heart or two.

Hey, maybe a good thing for you to do today is to think about what you can do that is creative, charitable, and a little crazy? By the way, I do have an opening for a Robin. Batman is equal opportunity. I have all the gear. Let me know. Email me at batman.obiwan@gmail.com.

“I have one power. I never give up.”
Batman

I cannot reveal Robin’s identity.

Oh. Before you go. You might wonder what my wife, Patty thinks of living with all this somewhat bizarre phenomena. Let’s ask her. Patty?

“I remember watching Bill “suit up” as Batman for the first time. I thought to myself, “I wonder if this is how Gene Simmons’ wife feels when he gets dressed for a show? And how does she keep all that latex clean? How will I? And does he have an expectation that I will try?” (Note: to date – He does not. Whew!) And how about all the wives who have husbands who don costumes and then step out before fans who ask them to pose, hold their babies, hold their products, sign their bodies (no, really)… How do they blend into the culture of becoming the wife of… the super-known? Well – I am not sure about the other ladies, but in my case, it’s been one gig at a time… and from behind the lens of a camera. Bill is a nothing halfway person. And there is nothing halfway about his portrayal of Batman. He is exceptional! I enjoy capturing the joy that I see on the faces of children as they see Batman. And I enjoy capturing the joy I see springing forth from Bill. Bill has a way of making each child feel like he showed up just for them. Bill has a way of making every person feel like that. Bill’s natural joy comes through in his portrayal of Batman. It’s effortless. Well… almost… those boots can sometimes be tough to get off at the end of a long day. And that nothing halfway thing? Well – I only have one bit of anxiety about it, actually… My fear is that I will come home one day and find a big hole being dug somewhere in our backyard for a “bat cave.” Yeah… that would not be my thing. (We just got it seeded!) ;-)” – Patty Boggs

And my kids? My oldest child, my daughter Valerie, remembers the days of my costume shop. She joined me on occasion for events, like appearing in a 4th of July parade many years ago. Let’s ask her what she thinks of her dad being Batman. Valerie?

“My father doing Batman? I think it’s great! It’s combining his love of toys, his creativity, and his theatrical gifts into a way to bring joy and smiles to many. It reminds me of his Prank Palace days.”
— Valerie Cressman

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