As the battle pitting the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes against galactic supervillain Thanos unfolds on screens worldwide this weekend when “Avengers: Endgame” premieres, Maine’s mightiest heroes are on a quest of a slightly smaller scale.
Most weekends, the members of the Pine State Heroes, a Maine-based group of superhero mega fans, suit up in their costumes and head to conventions, movie premieres, fundraisers, parades and other events — mostly, in order to put smiles on kids’ faces.
Justin Fletcher, 35, a Waldo County native who founded the group in 2017, has costumes for Spider-Man, and for Cyclops from the X-Men, but these days, he’s usually donning his Captain America suit — a custom-made costume that he needs help to put on.
Superhero costumes can be relatively simple, but it’s the time commitment, attention to detail and knowledge of the character that take it to the next level —- from a basic black catsuit to a fully realized version of Avengers super spy Black Widow.
“The costumes themselves do take a lot of time and maintenance,” Fletcher said. “And we have to maintain a certain level of quality. You can’t just wear a Halloween costume. Our Doctor Strange is as close to the movie as he can get.”
At the “Avengers: Endgame” premiere at Bangor Mall Cinemas on Thursday night, Fletcher and his crew were out in full force, including the superhero team of Sonni Sill of Skowhegan, who was dressed as Captain Marvel, and her daughter, Kylee Braley, who was dressed as the female version of Hawkeye, a.k.a. Kate Bishop.
Chandler Davis of Brewer took it one step further — he and his partner, Mercedes Feero, finished a full Thanos costume just one hour before leaving for the movie theater that day. The mask for Davis’ costume, composed mostly of foam floor tiles, cement and spray paint, made it hard for him to speak, so Feero did the talking that night.
“On top of having three jobs and two kids, we speed-built the Thanos costume in two weeks,” Feero said, in between posing for photos with the group. “Our house smells like spray paint and contact cement.”
Fletcher has always been a comic book fan, but it was his experiences both working in children’s services and with raising a son with autism that made him realize that his love of comics and superheroes could be used for good — as well as for fun.
“Working with kids, I always gravitated towards the ones that loved superheroes and nerdy stuff. You can connect with a kid if you both love those things,” Fletcher said. “I remember being a little kid and seeing someone dressed up as Leonardo from the Ninja Turtles. I remember being blown away by that, what that felt like. That kind of joy and wonder is a powerful thing.”
Superhero movies have come to dominate global box offices — in 2017 and 2018, five out of the top 10 highest grossing movies of the year were superhero stories, and “Avengers: Endgame” is predicted to gross close to $1 billion worldwide this weekend alone.
So even though some may still think that comic books, sci-fi and fantasy are things for children or niche audiences — nerds, for lack of a better term — the numbers don’t lie. Nerds have officially gone mainstream.
“I am over the moon excited [for ‘Endgame’], because this has been more than 10 years in the works,” Fletcher said. “I remember when ‘Iron Man’ came out in 2008, and I couldn’t believe that there was going to be a movie about a character like that. And look at us now. The nerds have won.”
Group membership generally hovers around 25, with members living across the state, though most live in the Bangor area. The group’s size means that on weekends that are particularly busy — holidays with parades, movie premieres, multiday conventions — there are enough heroes to go around.
Currently, Fletcher is in the process of applying for nonprofit status. One of his big goals for the group is for his superheroes to be able to visit children at hospitals, but nonprofit status is usually required for that. There are similar nonprofit groups that dress up as superheroes and other characters in places all over the country, such as the Heroes Alliance, based in the Mid-Atlantic, and HEROIC, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Other fandoms have their own specific groups, including the Mandalorian Mercs, a nationwide nonprofit Star Wars cosplay group with chapters in every state, and Anime for Humanity, a California-based anime and video game group with a focus on mental health and suicide prevention.
Though the Pine State Heroes technically perform what’s known as cosplay — costume play — that’s where the similarity ends with the cosplay world, which can often be geared more toward competitions or for-profit goals.
“It is cosplay in a sense, yes, but we are a specific group with specific guidelines and goals,” Fletcher said. “We’re all volunteer. We’re all playing superheroes. And our biggest focus is connecting with kids.”