Hero boxing – The origin story
By: Carey O’Neil
Mike Burr, a Tucker High School chemistry teacher and Kirkwood resident, was at a neighbor’s Christmas party when he was approached by a mysterious stranger.
The stranger asked how tall Burr was. Burr told him.
“Then he says, ‘Are you afraid of confined spaces?’” Burr said. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna take a step back from this guy right now.’”
The stranger was Stephen Larkworthy, founding member and mastermind of the Box Hero Corps.
It’s an alliance of superheroes patrolling the streets of Atlanta. They get their powers not from aliens, radiation or science gone wrong, but from cardboard.
“It was totally ridiculous at first,” Larkworthy said. “Early on it was very hard. We got scraped up and the sweat was just pouring down so you’re kind of blinded.”
Several times a year, Larkworthy and any number of the 40 like-minded heroes he’s assembled take to the streets in massive superhero costumes constructed from cardboard, foam, suspenders and paint. The suits take hours to make and require constant maintenance — cardboard isn’t the most durable material — but Larkworthy said the crowd’s reaction always makes the costumes worth the effort.
“It’s fantastic. It’s so much fun. That’s why we do it, it’s a total rush,” he said. “The crowd goes crazy and they’re unguarded because they’re not viewing you as a person who’s watching them. They’re viewing you as a spectacle.”
Larkworthy’s superheroics aren’t inspired by the tragic murder of a family member or the idea that with great power comes great responsibility. He got the idea from a few jokers in a parade.
Every year on Labor Day weekend, fantasy, science fiction and comics enthusiasts descend upon Atlanta for the massive Dragon Con convention. Con-goers often dress in elaborate costumes, and many show off those costumes in a downtown parade.
At one of these parades, Larkworthy saw a massive group of accurately-costumed Star Wars stormtroopers march down the streets, followed by four cardboard-clad mimics.
“They were totally different from everybody else and they were really funny,” he said. “It’s kind of like a satire on the rest of it.”
In 2009, Larkworthy knew he had to join in. He works in packaging prototyping, so he’s around cardboard all day. In his off hours, he drew up costume plans on his computer and went to work.
That first year, Larkworthy dressed as the Hulk and convinced his neighbor to join him as The Fantastic Four’s The Thing — a classic superhero rivalry. Larkworthy said they were a massive hit, and it wasn’t long until he began recruiting other heroes to the cause.
Larkworthy convinced Burr to take on the mantle of Captain Marvel, the DC Comics hero famous for saying SHAZAM.
Burr said he now loves box heroics, though he was a bit hesitant his first outing when he donned Larkworthy’s old outfit.
“Stephen is almost his super self when he’s in his box and he just expects everybody else to react the same way,” Burr said.
But any hesitance was washed away as soon as Burr put on the costume and started walking down the street.
“I felt like a rock star or something. You feel super special when you put on your box,” he said. “People are stopping you and they want to get their picture taken. It’s really strange, but it’s really fun.”
You can see the box heroes in action this April
What: Inman Park Festival Parade
Where: Parade begins at Edgewood Ave. and Euclid Ave. and runs to Austin Ave. at the foot of Little Five Points.
When: 2 p.m., April 27th