How’s this for putting the "friendly" in friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man?
Not too long ago, we got together with a fellow who bills himself as Winnipeg’s Spider-Man. Following an hour-long chat, which our subject showed up for in full disguise, he was standing on the south side of Portage Avenue, still wearing his red-and-blue getup, patiently waiting for the light to change. (Sorry, he doesn’t scale buildings or swing from rooftop to rooftop; he generally gets around by bike or in this case, Transit Tom.)
Observing a visually impaired woman to his left, he held out a gloved hand, asking if she needed assistance crossing the street. "Why thank you, that would be much appreciated," she replied.
You can probably guess what happened next.
Drivers waiting at the red light began honking their horns and cheering out the window. Even better, within 24 hours, a three-second video documenting the chance encounter recorded by a passing motorist had been "liked" more than 5,000 times after it was uploaded to an Instagram account called Winnipeg Wildin. (Comments ranged from "Spider-Man in Winnipeg?" to "Walking her across the street like a true hero" to "God bless you Spider-Man.")
"Because she was partially blind, she couldn’t tell I was in a costume until I was right next to her," says Winnipeg’s Spider-Man, a soft-spoken sort who, not unlike the masked superhero he portrays, prefers to shield his true identity.
"I asked where she needed to go, in case she wanted me to walk her all the way there, but she just needed to get to the bus stop. Sure, some people looked at me like I was an idiot but I didn’t take it personally. I just kept in mind that I was doing good for somebody."
Not wanting to give too much away, Winnipeg’s Spider-Man allows that he grew up in St. Boniface, is in his early 20s and lives with his parents.
He developed an interest in the Stan Lee-created character at the age of 12, initially via the movie trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, and later through a plethora of comic books and graphic novels built around the angst-ridden wunderkind.
(Although Spider-Man, an animated TV series that ran in the late 1960s, predates him by some 30 years, he’s fairly certain he’s seen every episode of that, too, and, if pressed, could belt out its much-loved theme song, the one that kicks off, "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can...")
Winnipeg’s Spider-Man, who stands a shade under six feet tall and weighs somewhere between 140 and 150 pounds, created an Instagram account in January to properly document his arachno-antics, which began about three years ago.
Since 2018, he and a few buddies have headed out together on their bikes in the afternoon or early evening, to keep their eyes and ears open for suspicious activity as they pedal around their neighbourhood. They’ve never intervened, that isn’t their intent, but they have noticed that if a suspected ne’er-do-well is circling a parked car, perhaps to see if the doors are unlocked, they usually skedaddle when they hear them chattering loudly as they come up the street.
One night, just for a lark, he decided to leave the house posing as Spider-Man; or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof, given his thrown-together outfit — a red hoodie coupled with navy blue sweats and makeshift mask — was somewhat primitive in comparison to the form-fitting one-piece he currently sports.
"Hey, that was kind of fun," he thought to himself a few hours later. He’s been making his "rounds" suited up as Peter Parker’s alter ego ever since.
Conducting an interview in an outdoor setting is difficult enough these days, given the ambient noise associated with downtown road construction, plus a seating arrangement that, to be on the safe side, has us a good three metres apart. That passers-by are constantly interrupting, asking if it would be all right to snap a picture (er, that would be of Spidey, not yours writingly) makes the job tougher still.
"Yeah, I get that everywhere I go, pretty much," Winnipeg’s Spider-Man says with a shrug, pausing to say, "Thanks, have a great day," to a slightly dishevelled chap who yells, "Hey, man, great f---ing costume!" on his way by.
He likes to believe his ongoing neighbourhood patrols, sometimes with his pals, other times on his own, serve as a bit of a deterrent to crime, but what he finds more rewarding are those occasions when he comes upon a person who appears to be in some form of distress.
From time to time he’s been able to help in a small manner, either by fetching a much-needed cup of coffee or bottle of water, or ensuring somebody gets from Point A to Point B safely.
"I don’t want to go into it too much because I don’t want it to sound like a boast, but for sure, I’ve seen a few things that made me think, ‘Wow, I wonder what would have happened to that person if I hadn’t come along when I did,’" he says in a thoughtful tone of voice.
OK, let’s lighten things up a bit by playing a short version of 20 questions.
Does Winnipeg’s Spider-Man have any career ambitions along the lines of law enforcement? No, not at all, he says. Currently employed in what he terms a "low-level" position, his goal is to study nursing. (The same as Peter Parker, he also once considered going into photojournalism.)
What about personality traits: is there anything about Spider-Man/Parker that he particularly admires, an attribute he’d like to emulate, perhaps?
Most definitely, he says: the manner in which Spider-Man tends to solve problems with his brain versus his brawn.
"Remember that time when he was facing off against the Lizard (portrayed by Welsh-born actor Rhys Ifans) in The Amazing Spider-Man?" he asks.
"I loved how, instead of beating the Lizard to death with his bare hands, he created an antidote that would turn him back into a human. Same thing when he was fighting Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) in Spider-Man 2. He didn’t knock him out and tear him limb from limb; he made him come to his senses in order to solve the problem."
"For sure, I’ve seen a few things that made me think, ‘Wow, I wonder what would have happened to that person if I hadn’t come along when I did.'" –Winnipeg's Spider–Man
As for his Instagram account, what’s the deal with a recent video that casts him as a web designer? That is, he’s filmed using a garden hose to fire streams of what appears to be white foam at a raised piece of cardboard.
It turns out that’s a home experiment he’s been toying around with for a few months already. Stressing he would never attach web-shooters to his wrists the way Spider-Man does — he wouldn’t want anybody to misconstrue them for weapons — the self-described science nut admits to a love of chemistry, and says he is close to conjuring a "web" that gets sticky when it reacts with oxygen in the air.
Weather-related query: given the combination of Winnipeg’s wintry climate and his thin, skin-tight uniform, does — how can we put this gently? — his spider sense ever tingle when the mercury dips to minus 20?
Yes and no, he replies with a chuckle. If it’s especially chilly out, he may throw on a jacket, gloves and boots, but because his suit has a wool lining, and because he has compression wear on as well, it’s not too bad at all.
OK, given Spider-Man has been around in one form or another for 59 years, ever since the character first appeared in a copy of Marvel Comics’ Amazing Fantasy in August 1962, how long does he plan to impersonate the webslinger exactly?
"I don’t really have a timeline in mind; it’s just something I’m doing for fun that hopefully puts a smile on people’s faces when they see me," he says. As if on cue, he pauses to shout, "Hey, buddy, how’s it going?" to a bug-eyed four-year-old walking past with his mother.
"Right now, I’m at a point in my life where I don’t have too much going on, so it doesn’t take away from anything else. Obviously I won’t be able to do this down the road when I have an important job or family or something. But it will be nice to look back and think, good for me for doing what made me happy, whether some people thought it was stupid or not."
That leads to a final question: in hindsight, won’t he feel a tad remorseful if he maintains his anonymity to the end, and never clues anybody in to the fact it was him brightening people’s day all along?
"Not really. I’ll always know it was me and that should be good enough, right?"
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.