Senior Frank Benton said his parents offered to give him a car soon after graduating high school. Instead, he asked for a Batman costume.
However, that suit collected dust in his closet until senior Caitlin Avant introduced him to 5-year-old Keagan Provost last spring. Avant said the boy was battling cancer and was a huge Batman fan.
Avant and Benton collaborated with Provost’s parents to arrange a surprise Batman appearance when the family celebrated its son’s fifth birthday.
“[Provost] brought me to tears when he hugged me at his birthday party and told me that I was his favorite superhero,” Benton said. “After that I kind of found my calling and found out what I wanted to do with the suit. I want to go out and do stuff than transcends what I can do as a person on my own.”
After his experience with the young cancer patient, Benton began seeking opportunities to incorporate Batman within the UCA Sociology and Criminology Society.
In October, Benton will appear as Batman when the club participates in a teddy bear drive. In December, the club plans to join Conway EMS units for a “Not All Heroes Wear Capes” Christmas toy drive. Benton will join other costumed volunteers delivering toys to underprivileged children.
Benton, and therefore Batman, serves as president of UCA’s Sociology and Criminology Society (SC Society), while senior Maya Soman serves as vice president. Avant is a member of the RSO. Soman and Avant said the SC Society offers its members career preparation workshops, guest lecturers and volunteer opportunities.
Soman said she first learned of Benton’s superhero alter-ego while the club was exploring the possibility of participating in the “Not All Heroes Have Capes” toy drive. The club was discussing potential costumes for the event.
“I heard he had a Batman [costume], and I’m thinking he just had a Halloween costume, but he’s like ‘No, it’s a legit suit,’” Soman said. “At first, I thought he was just over-exaggerating and then I saw it in person and I was just like ‘Gosh, this guy isn’t playing around.’”
His movie-replica costume is made of about 30 pounds of rawhide leather, mesh and Kevlar. Benton said the suit is worth about $2,500 – the most expensive item he has ever purchased.
The costume is skin-tight.
“It takes a lot of the white-girl-jumping-to-get-in-your-jeans kind of thing to get it on,” he said.
It takes about an hour and a half to suit up when he’s alone. With assistance, it takes about 30 minutes. Often, Soman and Avant assume the role of his “Aflreds,” referring to Batman’s fictional butler. The girls help Benton get dressed, apply makeup and travel to events.
Benton said UCAPD has not approached him to help defend campus against forces of evil, but he is willing to answer the call if the need arises.
“I may not have a grappling hook or be able to fly from the top of Old Main, but I’d be more than happy to help the guys in blue fight crime – just as long as we get rid of the Joker,” he said in character.
And about that car he passed up; he found a way to afford it later. Benton said he only regrets not suiting up sooner.