October. Thanks to the flood of modern marketing that assaults our senses, Halloween is pushed with relentless, capitalistic fervor. But sweeping the candy and decoration pitches aside, Halloween is our seasonal excuse to become someone or something else for a day — even a superhero. There is also a notable, noble effort to make the transformation a year-round treat for a special group of children.
Outside of Halloween, adults dressing in costume is considered cosplay, especially when done for big conventions or fan gatherings. For the Iowa League of Heroes, however, the art of donning capes, masks and utility belts is secondary to the audience for which they transform themselves.
“We are superheroes who donate our time and resources to families and children fighting difficult medical battles,” explained Matt Morgan, founder of the League.
This mission is the cornerstone for what he and his team does. Their numbers fluctuate, but about 12 superheroes are committed to uplifting the spirits of the children they serve as they and their families battle sometimes unbeatable health challenges. All volunteer their work.
Two early interactions were pivotal in shaping the mission for Morgan. Two young boys, Colt and Enrique (first names only for privacy), both suffering from the rare myoclonic atonic epilepsy (MAE), known as Doose syndrome, were refusing to wear protective helmets, an essential injury prevention device. Children afflicted with Doose syndrome may experience drop seizures, and the helmets protect the face and head. About two out of three children ultimately outgrow their epilepsy.
Morgan had an idea, and connected with skilled airbrush artists Shawn Palek and Michael Kaut, unabashed superhero fans. They enthusiastically agreed to donate their time and materials to turn Morgan’s idea into reality to protect “Super” Colt (a name he quickly adopted) and Enrique. These two young lads were fans of Superman and Spiderman, respectively. Palek and Kaut applied their creative magic to the mundane white helmets, turning them into unique superhero helmets. The boys embraced their new headgear, proudly wearing them.
Authenticity is the key ingredient for the role-players in the League. The cast is filled with “people who understand our mission and are willing to dedicate themselves to it,” Morgan said.
That also means properly dressing each superhero.
“We make sure that we invest the resources to be sure that the superhero outfits are the best, most authentic versions for that character,” Morgan explained. “That means dropping over $3,000 for a Batman suit. We do this because we believe these kids deserve the best. We want them to have that magical experience that they will never forget for the rest of their lives, no matter how long that might be.”
“Each cast member becomes the persona they take on and they are the only one who portrays that character,” Morgan said. “The reason for that is to develop that connection with the families and children who have their favorite. Our friendly neighborhood Spidey is the only exception; one covers Eastern Iowa while the other covers Central Iowa.”
All efforts fall under the umbrella of Morgan Enterprises. He judiciously accepts appearance bookings at corporate or other events for superhero appearances, with all fees channeled back into supporting the core mission of making a difference in the children’s lives they serve. He also founded and authors books for a companion publishing branch called One Life Books.
When pressed about his busy schedule, he said, “Everything that I do is more than full time for the League and One Life Books, so I work a part-time job to pay the bills. My wife understands — she was Wonder Woman for many years. I believe that I know exactly what my purpose in life is and that I am doing it with all the intention I can do it with.”
So if a superhero wanders to your door this Halloween, think about the Iowa League of Heroes, who invest their time, resources and compassion into making life better for children who don’t have the opportunities most kids do. This is art in action: a powerful, positive force. Creative superhero stuff.
John Busbee works as an independent voice for Iowa’s cultural scene. This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 007.