It’s a toasty mid afternoon on a Saturday, and Jason Golden is thumbing through three long boxes swelled with comic books in his trunk. He’s in the parking garage of the Children’s Hospital of Nevada at University Medical Center, and his team from Critical Care Comics is suiting up to do what the nonprofit does best: make a kid’s day.
They’re going to deliver comics to 17 patients today, some still young enough for cribs, others as old as 16. And Golden’s left the Marvel versus DC crap at home. Batman, Spider-Man, Batgirl and Supergirl are in for the long haul.
This marks the month’s second visit to the pediatric ward, but the nonprofit shows no signs of stopping.
“We’re doing it because we want to…,” Golden says. “I wish it was our job, but it’s not our job. That’s why we put so much into it. Because it is ours.”
Golden founded Critical Care Comics in 2012, knowing better than anyone how miserable living with an illness could be. At 15, he’d been diagnosed with acute nonlymphoid leukemia and for almost a year straight, the hospital became a revolving door. Meanwhile, Golden says his parents kept his pull box from a local comic book shop going, and every Wednesday they’d deliver the latest issues to his bedside.
“The comics helped me escape a lot of the situation that I was in,” he says.
As Golden grew older, and healthier, he decided to pay it forward, starting with his collection of comics. But simply showing up to hand out books wouldn’t cut it. Golden says he wanted to start the charity off with a bang, and he knew just the kind of people he’d need.
“I wanted to get some cosplayers involved,” he says. “Kids aren’t gonna remember me dropping off the book, but it’d be really special if Batman would be there to drop off a stack of Batman books.”
Roughly two years ago, Golden heard about a cosplayer from Philadelphia who liked to dress as the Caped Crusader.
“When I first moved to Vegas, I came with the Batman costume,” says Cody Strohl, Critical Care’s vice president who is a computer technician at Summerlin Hospital.
Strohl says he’s been dressing as Batman for three to four years now, but his first inadvertent cosplay took place during Easter one year when he dressed as the Easter Bunny.
Sitting across from Strohl at his day job, you’d never take him for the man behind the mask. His voice is so gentle, you’re inclined to lean in. But at UMC, Strohl’s got the Dark Knight’s gravel delivery down pat.
“When we’re at a hospital and he is in costume, dude is Batman,” Golden says. “I’m 10 feet behind him, and I can feel it.”
Strohl in costume explains why there’s so few movie scenes of Batman in natural light. At 6-foot-two, he’s a tower of intimidation, with a bodysuit of leather thick enough to take the brunt of a thrown plate. Not that any kid in the pediatric ward would throw a plate. These visits are easily the highlight of their day.
One of the first patients the cosplayers see is a 4-year-old girl. There isn’t a moment of hesitation before she springs herself into Supergirl’s arms. Batman and Batgirl are embraced next, like old friends who’ve coincidentally just stepped out of her TV. When Spider-Man kneels down to receive his hug, the little girl grabs him and plants the biggest kiss on his cheek.
An 8-year-old girl with blond hair and excited eyes knows every superhero in the room. She’s so small, the hospital bed looks like it might swallow her, but she’s talkative, especially to Batman. She lets him know her brother’s a big fan. Strohl pulls out one of his batarangs he gives to the kids and asks, “How much do you like your brother?”
The girl’s quiet for a moment, deep in thought. Suddenly she spouts: “I don’t like him, but I love him!”
Strohl’s laugh is anything but gravel. And this isn’t the first time.
Strohl recalls one patient who wouldn’t walk for anyone at the hospital, not his nurse, not his doctor nor his parents. “I said, I’ll tell you what,” he says. “I will give you your second, very own Batman batarang if you go for a walk down the hall with Batman. And he totally did it. That was probably my hands-down favorite moment.”
But as much as it’s about the memories, it’s also about the books. Golden says he’s amassed a storage of about 25,000 donated comics, and it’ll never get old when a kid realizes an entire stack is just for him or her. These issues come from individual sources and also shops such as Cosmic Comics, which acts as a drop-off location for donations. Cheese Boy Comics and HellPop! Comics are two other places you can drop off your stacks—or get in touch with Golden and he’ll pick them up.
These visits are just a piece of what Critical Care Comics is doing. Strohl says they appear at comic book conventions, health fairs and try to share their support of other charities.
“We really just like to partner with as many other charities that are good causes as we can in the area to help them and to get our name out there as well,” Strohl says. “And you know, just spread some good superhero power for the day, too. Everybody needs a superhero.”