Matt Mullis and his allies have a job to do.
Somewhere in a town that never sleeps — for too long — people need their help. Little people, the smallest voices.
Mullis will answer their call.
He can’t pulverize boulders or fling giant robots. Last time he checked, he couldn’t leap four stories. But he sure could read them. His arsenal may be limited, but he wields one special power: the ability to brighten children’s lives.
And nothing’s going to stop him.
Mullis, 25, a Penn State junior from Lancaster, recently formed the Superheroes for Kids club. It’s pursuing a clear mission. The 15 members who signed up within a day of Mullis posting notices around the campus intend to shed their disguises as mild-mannered students and visit libraries and hospital wards dressed as defenders of good — and maybe beacons of hope.
“The idea is just basically that there are children’s hospitals around,” Mullis said. “There are kids there, some of them might be terminally ill. So they at least deserve to have the most fulfilling life possible.
“If they dream of meeting a superhero, then we’re here to make that dream possible.”
Joining the alliance requires nothing more than a decent costume and big heart. Being a strong reader wouldn’t hurt. Mullis has reached out to local libraries about holding storytimes, capes, masks and all.
“People I talked to, they seemed extremely excited about it,” he said.
For now, Mullis is marshaling his forces. His club is holding its first meeting at 3 p.m. Sunday at the HUB-Robeson Center, either on the lounge level or downstairs in the food court. Mullis will be easy to spot: He’ll have on a Captain America shirt in honor of his alter ego.
So far, he’s also got Spider-Man on board. It’s a start, but he’ll need more on his side. He’s counting on members to choose their own characters, preferably from the Marvel, DC Comics and other famous stables.
“I would like to probably keep it to the more popular, iconic ones because the kids would absolutely know them,” Mullis said.
Once, he wore another recognizable outfit, a Marine uniform, spending five years serving his country before college.
One day while he was stationed in San Diego, like a secret experiment or radioactive spider bite, a news story changed his life. A millionaire not named Bruce Wayne bought a super-duper Batman costume and began dropping into children’s hospitals, leaving a trail of smiles wherever he went.
“I always said that once I had the means, I would do that, too,” Mullis said.
This summer, he honored his vow.
He decided to splurge on a serious, kick-butt Captain America costume for Halloween because Chris Evans, who played the character on screen, is one of his favorite actors.
It dawned on him: The time had come.
He had the threads. He just needed partners — a minimum of 10, to be exact, to start an official student club. Surely they were out there in the blue city beyond his walls.
“I figured if I’m at Penn State, maybe there are other people who would like to do the same thing,” he said.
He posted flyers last Sunday. By Monday night, he was in business. Since then, the paperwork has been filed, and if all goes well, Superheroes for Kids soon will be legitimate with a faculty adviser and officers, everyone ready to spring into action.
On the horizon could be hospital and school visits, guest library readings, fundraising events for charities, even a gig at a downtown hair salon where the staff is willing to paint small faces with superhero masks.
Farther down the road, Mullis envisions an annual 5K race called “The Hero Run.” Participants would be encouraged to dress as superheroes, and club members in full attire would push wheelchair-bound children over the course.
Eventually, he hopes, he’ll start a nonprofit organization.
“If the group really takes off, once I graduate, I plan on trying to keep it going wherever I go next,” Mullis said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to spread it there.
“That’s just daydreaming a little bit.”
But in the meantime, an exciting reality awaits.
Most days, he’ll be a secondary education major aspiring to become a high school history teacher and then a college professor.
When duty calls, or at least reaches him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, he’ll become a red, white and blue figure of cheer.
He might banish tears. Other times, he might take on reading difficulties or prevail over shyness before bounding away, his work done.
Regardless, the children will be the real winners.
In my comic book, that makes Mullis and his cohorts true heroes.