On Tuesday, August 29, Houston's very own friendly neighborhood Spider-Man suited up to visit George R. Brown Convention Center, a makeshift shelter where over 9,000 displaced residents have taken refuge in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey's "catastrophic" flooding levels and an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 destroyed homes. The masked superhero handed out high fives, hugs, and Spider-Man stickers, even signing a few dozen autographs in Crayola marker during his four-hour visit.
It was a simple act of kindness, one that had not gone unnoticed. By Wednesday, a video of Spidey's visit, uploaded by local reporter Stef Manisero, had gone viral. For many, it was the kind of heartwarming image of hope that was so desperately needed in the wake of Harvey.
With tens of thousands of evacuees stuck in provisional shelters around the city, like at the convention center, this local cosplayer, known on social media as HoustonSpider, is doing what he can to put smiles on peoples' faces.
Born and raised in in Nacogdoches in East Texas, HoustonSpider describes himself as "100 percent Texas Strong." Since first donning the Spidey suit two years ago, he's regularly worked with the Houston Children's Charity. In the wake of the storm — having spent a harrowing night in his car after pulling into a stranger's driveway to avoid rising flood water on the streets — HoustonSpider says he wanted to help his community in any way he could. He didn't have a boat, but he did have a superhero suit, so he put it to work.
MTV News caught up with HoustonSpider on Thursday morning, before he left for another visit to the convention center. In addition to spreading even more cheer at the shelter, he plans to also meet up with Houston Deadpool, yet another costumed superhero doing his part to help the people of his city. (In exchange for the interview, MTV News agreed not to reveal Spider-Man's civilian identity.)
MTV News: In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, what inspired you to suit up and head to the convention center?
HoustonSpider: It's unprecedented — the damage [and] the suffering the storm has caused. It's just tremendous. ... I wanted to make sure everybody was in good spirits and try to help them out as much as I can.
When you walk around the shelter and see the way people are having to live right now without any other options — the sheer number of cots and lack of privacy — most people are just laying there. You have a mattress, if you're lucky, maybe a sleeping bag, if you're lucky, and a blanket, if you're lucky. They don't really know what else to do. It's really sad seeing people in that state. So I try to be as respectful as I can. When I catch someone's attention, I run over to give them a hug or a high five, trying to make them smile. Everybody was always very willing to hug Spider-Man.
MTV: What was the response when you walked in as Spider-Man?
HoustonSpider: It's embarrassing in a way because I'm a grown man in spandex walking around, right? So when I first walked it, it was like, "Oh my gosh, everybody is staring at me." And then it's like, "Am I doing the right thing? Will this have a positive impact, or will people be like, 'What is that guy doing here?'" But I found that everyone was thrilled — little kids, adults, everybody.
You saw in that video, how that guy was on his phone, and he was tickled to see Spider-Man walk up. Even the National Guard people and the Red Cross people... I took pictures with everyone I could while I was there. They were just really excited to see Spider-Man. It made me feel good. You can't tell, but I had a giant, goofy smile on my face the whole time under my mask.
MTV: What did you bring with you? It looked like you were handing out stickers.
HoustonSpider: I had a little Spider-Bucket, and I was carrying around little Spider-Man toys and stickers. Oddly enough, one of those kids ran up to me with a Crayola marker and asked me for my autograph. So I was giving autographs as Spider-Man, and the autographs turned into, "Sign my shirt! Sign my arm!" I signed probably 50 kids throughout the day, and I was giving little Spidey tattoos all day long. I'd draw a little spider.
MTV: The parents in that video seemed really thrilled as well.
HoustonSpider: They were extra thrilled because it was washable marker.
MTV: In these situations, it seems like everyone just wants to find a way to help.
HoustonSpider: Before I was able to make it out as Spider-Man, my dad sent me a text to check in on me because he had been watching videos of the floods. He texted, "Thank god for rednecks." We're from East Texas, where there's a big redneck culture, and just seeing people out on their fishing boats, helping people, I just wanted to do something.
I saw all these people doing so much, and I don't have a boat, but I do have a suit. Spider-Man is an iconic hero, and he really exemplifies the common man. He's such a regular, everyday person with regular, everyday person problems, and he deals with it through wit and humor. He's funny, and he's nice, so I wanted to take that to the shelter and make some people smile.
MTV: Not only are you putting smiles on kids' faces, but you're also taking their minds off the devastation around them, even if just for a moment.
HoustonSpider: I saw a really wide age group of kids there, and they don't seem to fully grasp the severity of the situation, which I think is a blessing. They were pretty positive for the most part. For them, it's a fun, weird adventure. They were running around, playing with each other, making friends, and being so optimistic and so inspirational. Everyone else was thinking about what they needed to do to get to the end of the day, but the kids were running around being kids and getting tattooed by Spider-Man. It really gives you hope when you see the positivity that they're bringing.
MTV: For you, what's the key to being Spider-Man?
HoustonSpider: You have to have fun. If you're not having fun, then no one else is going to have fun. Even when I had my first suit, which was this terrible Halloween costume that I bought for $50, I was having fun. I put my personality into the character, and it made it real. That's what really makes Spider-Man: his personality, or her personality. I had a couple of kids at the convention center who kept sneaking up behind me to try and take my mask off. They would tug at my suit. I'm pretty sure that I convinced at least 90 percent of them that I was really Spider-Man, so it was a good day.
MTV: You've said that you're Texas Strong, born and raised. How are people feeling right now?
HoustonSpider: People are hurting, but at the same time, most people seem to be asking, "How can I help?" There was such a long line getting into George R. Brown because so many people just wanted to help and volunteer in any way they could. That says a lot to Houston's character and to the character of Texans in general. We must be the ones who invented the phrase, "If you get kicked off a horse, you just get right back on it." That's the kind of attitude that you can expect from the people of Houston.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.