The Everyday Super Hero, SpideySteve
Meet SpideySteve, he is just your friendly neighborhood Spiderman, yet, instead of web swinging he makes the world a better place by working with Hope for Henry to visit sick children in hospitals and help give them the strength and encouragement they need. When he is not a saving the world, he is also, appropriately, a trapeze artist and actor.
So, tell us, who is SpideySteve?
SpideySteve started off as my AOL screen name—given to me by my father back when dial-up internet was still the rage. But today, SpideySteve is me, Steve Custer: a stage actor, flying trapeze student, comic book enthusiast, and superhero hospital volunteer.
What got you interested in this persona?
Spider-Man/Peter Parker has always appealed to me because he’s identifiable and relatable. He represents the everyday person trying to do what’s right with their powers, even at the cost of their own life. He’s not rich, has to balance his work with his accountabilities, and he often pays the price when he neglects one of those responsibilities. Quite the opposite of most heroes, he has terrible luck—relationship problems, acne, family issues, and job struggles too. In other words, he’s not perfect, and despite his shortcomings, he’s always fighting to come out on top being optimistic and helping others. It also always fascinated me that his costume covers his entire person: To the public eye, Spider-man could be anybody—free of age, sex, race, etc.—and having arguably the best mantra as your motto doesn’t hurt either; he embodies incorruptible hope against all odds.
When I first started volunteering at the hospital, I began as Superman, and I met a true superhero that motivated me to take on Spider-man. That person is Lenny B. Robinson, also known as the ‘Baltimore Batman’. I met him at my very first event at Children’s National Medical Center. I saw him there in his Batman suit, the kids were right there with him, and I was immediately inspired; he helped sick kids to heal—literally, thousands of sick kids’ lives were made better because of him. One afternoon after an event, we rode through downtown Washington D.C. in his custom Batmobile, and he pep-talked me into considering Spider-man—my senses were tingling and I never looked back after that.
I also learned how to read with my Father through comic books, some of them Spider-man—but believe it or not, my favorite superhero is Batman. We’d read the dialogue together; he’d read the villainous monologues and I’d interject with the heroic quippy banter. As I grew older, I read similar books to my younger brothers, and also kids at comic book stores. Reading the dialogue bubbles within those comic books most likely inspired me to study theater too.
Admittedly, while this may have been self-serving to me in 2015, I used SpideySteve as a means to promote, audition, and be considered by Marvel Entertainment & Sony Pictures as the new Peter Parker/Spider-man for their movies. Although I submitted myself and was considered to be ‘too old’ for the part, I’m happy to say that it helped boost the SpideySteve signal to work with charity foundations such as The Hope for Henry Foundation, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and more.
For these reasons, especially since both my Father’s and Lenny’s passing, Spider-man has always had my back.
What do you want to achieve with SpideySteve?
Now that the SpideySteve campaign for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is long over, my main goal is to inspire others through volunteerism and performance—that there is always hope, and always a way to give back to your community. The human spirit and connection always shines through. Lenny’s mission was to entertain ill & terminally ill children by teaching them that no matter how hard or long their health battles may be, with strength and determination, there is always hope. In this same spirit, I aspire to continue working with as many charities as possible reinventing how we care for seriously ill children through innovative programming. They are the future and they deserve a better world.
What is your favorite SpideySteve story?
This is a very hard question to answer. After donning the red & blue duds for awhile, I’ve accumulated a lot of good stories that range from hilariously locking myself out of my apartment and being pulled over for speeding, to dining out at restaurants in costume with all of my superhero friends post-hospital visits.
However, I think some of my favorite moments are when I unmask myself—and I’d like to take a moment to discuss that too: The mask. It has always served a very utilitarian and philosophical purpose for me. Nobody knows who I am under that mask, and they don’t need to; letting the mystery be helps me sell the illusion that I’m Spider-man, and even more so, it helps enforce the idea we are all heroes. Admittedly, the mask has also been a good shield for me too—I cry under that mask more times than I care to admit, especially when I’m visiting the intensive care units.
Unmasking myself is something I judge on a case-by-case basis, and I reserve it for moments that may help empower a lost or hurting child to be brave or strong. This is a story from my early days just starting out. I’d say it perfectly describes the reasons I do what I do, and why I’d like to continue doing it for as long as I can (whether that still be in spandex or volunteering in a different position with the Hope for Henry foundation).
I visited a young boy named Tim who was donating bone marrow in order to aid his older brother in a transplant. He was extremely nervous and stressed about the operation to donate, and I was requested to make a private visit to speak with and encourage him. At first, he did not believe that I was Spider-man—and as a major fan, I decided to hit him with the tried and true ‘Ask me anything’. He asked me a few trivia-esque questions that I answered successfully, and his final question was asking me what my middle name was. I replied that it was Benjamin after my Uncle Ben who passed away many years ago (See Spider-man Origin Story). It was at this moment that he suspended his disbelief and he asked to give me a hug. I responded positively and while he hugged me, he said,“I’m sorry about your Uncle. I’m scared, Spider-man.” I could feel my eyes starting to well up, and I told him that it was okay to be scared, and using a George RR Martin quote, I said, “The only time we can be brave is when we’re afraid.” It was at this juncture that I unmasked myself and I asked Tim to keep my identity as Peter Parker a secret. I made mention that I get scared under my mask too, and that it feels good to take my mask off and just be myself—that I wished, more than anything, that I could just simply be Peter saving the day, and more importantly saving my Uncle Ben back then when it mattered most. At this juncture, I recited the age-old mantra ‘With great power comes great responsibility” and I informed him that he had the power & responsibility to save his brother, as TIM, with no masks necessary. I asked him if he’d like to do that, and he replied with a very enthusiastic YES. Now empowered to heroically donate and help his brother, I put my mask back on, asked if he could keep my identity secret again, and then I gave him one of my extra Spider-man masks before I left—It enforced his belief that he was a hero and I let him know that he could wear the mask anytime he wants, but that for today, he’s Tim, the best superhero I know.
How did you get involved in charity work?
You never know when opportunity is coming to knock on your door. Would you believe me if I told you it all started at a Drag Queen X-men Halloween party? My then roommates and I threw this themed Halloween party, and we invited our neighbors because we didn’t know anyone in our building. Coincidentally, one of these neighbors, Liz, was a Child Life Specialist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. I ran into her again one morning when I was on my way to go read to kids at my local comic bookstore—I was wearing my first spandex Spider-man suit. She questioned me, “Whatcha doing? It’s not Halloween anymore, ye know.” We both laughed, and after telling her my purpose for the day, she invited me to come to the Hospital—I immediately partnered with the Hope for Henry foundation and I’ve been volunteering and bringing my friends and colleagues with me ever since, and that was 2012.
What are some charities you work with? Why are they interested in having their own Spiderman?
I have worked with a few charities over the years, and the primary foundation I partner with is Hope for Henry. Since 2003, they have improved the lives of more than 25,000 children offering year-round programs that include birthday celebrations, superhero visits, book & spa festivities, movie days, holiday parties, and more. They make a real and lasting impact in the Washington D.C. area (where I presently reside), and I’m honored to be Spider-man for them. The same way a company would utilize a character or logo to extend its brand awareness, I believe that Hope for Henry trusts the performance and intention I deliver as Spider-man—and if you can’t tell from this interview already, I have a very high respect for their mission. Mutually, I believe they hold me in the same esteem, and it is a true privilege to be their friend. Founder & CEO Laurie Strongin is one of my personal heroes.
Through my connections with Hope for Henry, various news network’s coverage, and boosting the SpideySteve signal via social media, I’ve also worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Be Great Foundation, and Lenny Robinson’s foundation, Superheroes for Kids, Inc.
How long have you been doing trapeze? Did your interest in trapeze come from you love of Spiderman?
Studying Theatre and having many colleagues in physical performance & aerial arts, I’d taken flying trapeze classes prior to 2015, but I’ve been a student at the Trapeze School New York (TSNY) in Washington D.C. for 2 years. The joy and challenge of flying trapeze is great for me physically and mentally; it is a fantastic workout and exploration of wellness while accomplishing aerial feats each class. While my thirst for aerial adventure may not have come from my Spider-man passions, I can assure you that it most definitely accentuates it. After requesting permission to test & fly safely in my costume, I went on to perform as part of a student act in an intensive flying workshop. At the conclusion of the workshop, we showcased our circus skills with a superhero theme, and I wore my newest Spider-man costume—modified the suit to be incompliance with performing on the apparatus, and modeled after the newest movie too. Looking forward to staying on the path of more classes and performing again in the future!
Any advice from a real life superhero?
I think the real life superheroes are the kids I visit—they’re definitely the most heroic people I’ve ever met, outshining fictitious superheroes every day whilst fighting for their lives and finding strength in unity.
My best advice is to keep giving to the world—always. It’s important in times like these to give back and overshadow those who are seeking to destroy or undermine it. Besides my friends, nobody really knows who I am under that mask. And that's the best part, nobody needs to, because Spider-man could be anyone, and anyone can be a Hero—everyone can give. When I see someone smile because I brought joy to them as Spider-man, it is the closest I'll ever feel to living in a world I can only dream about. Because in that moment, nothing else matters: age, sex, race, ethnicity, faith, you name it. We are all in this together smiling and helping one another. We can all be heroes, even if it’s just for one day.
This community service and volunteer labor has taught me a lot about myself as a performer, friend, and more importantly, as a human. I’d encourage everyone with the power to consider this responsibility—who knows? You might get bit by the bug too.
Interview by Kira Bucca, Editor in Chief of Jejune Magazine.