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Super community servers

Calling themselves the Heroes Alliance, they contribute to support of the American way -in spandex.

By ERIKA VIDAL
Published June 30, 2006


TAMPA

T.J. McDonnell and his friends aren't afraid to wear one-piece spandex suits in public - even with capes, colored tights and boots.

McDonnell is the founder of the Heroes Alliance, a group of comic book fans who make superhero costumes. Their mission: to save the world, one costume at a time.

McDonnell came to life as Superman, his favorite caped crusader, Saturday at the Toys "R" Us at the Westfield Brandon shopping center. Other Heroes Alliance members dressed as the Justice League of DC Comics fame. They took pictures with kids to promote the new Superman Returns movie, which premiered Wednesday.

Six-year-old Cameron Conte was there to get his picture taken with his hero, Superman, and insisted on wearing his own Superman costume, his mom said.

Promoting a movie wasn't the Heroes Alliance's only charge. When Toys "R" Us asked the group how they would like to be compensated, they requested all proceeds go to the Christopher Reeve Foundation.

McDonnell and the Heroes will squeeze into spandex again tonight at Regal University 16 at University Square Mall as part of the theater's Superman Returns promotion.

McDonnell, 29, started the Heroes Alliance a couple of years ago.

In real life, he is an administrative assistant for Archive Corporation in Tampa. He previously managed Demolition Comics on W Waters Avenue.

He's always had an interest in the comic book world, where superhuman strength and quenching evil seem to come so easily.

He figured that doing community service dressed as superheroes was a perfect excuse for putting all his costumes to good use.

"We're not the people saving lives, but whatever we can do, we will do," McDonnell said.

The group spends hours, days, weeks and often months sewing costumes and scouring stores and the Internet for hard-to-find pieces and materials. They'll go anywhere in central Florida if it means dressing up and helping people.

Each member has several costumes and, hence, many identities.

Mandy Akins, 26, lives with McDonnell in the University area. "Our kitchen table is covered with costuming stuff and glue," she said. She took part in the drama club at Brandon High School and was a theater major in college. She's been sewing and playing dressup for a long time.

When she's not acting as Supergirl, Black Canary or Jean Grey, Akins makes a living as an electrician.

Miracole Walker, 26, owns "close to 25 professional, insane, very expensive, could-own-a-house-by-now costumes," she said. By day she's a systems administrator for Walker Ford in Clearwater, but some nights and weekends she morphs into Wonder Woman, Catwoman and Mystique.

Bret and J.J. Hill have been married for 20 years. J.J., 42, is a networks specialist. Bret, 48, is an aluminum contractor. J.J. does most of the sewing, while Bret makes helmets for costumes, such as the Green Goblin and Dr. Fate, using homemade molds and liquid plastic.

On Sunday, a few members drove to Orlando for the American Red Cross Katrina Relief Effort. In July, they will visit Give Kids the World Village in Orlando, a resort that hosts children with life-threatening illnesses.

The group has participated in the Do the Right Thing banquet in Temple Terrace, during which the Police Department recognizes children who have done something exceptional in their community.

Alliance members also have visited children at St. Joseph's Hospital and made appearances for movie premieres at WestShore Plaza and Channelside IMAX.

And they've done it all wearing tights.

On Tuesday, McDonnell appeared as Superman at Channelside IMAX for the theater's early premiere of Superman Returns.

The Alliance has 13 registered, card-carrying members, all of whom undergo background checks through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The group's Web Site, www.heroesalliance.com, has drawn people nationwide interested in joining.

McDonnell said anyone from anywhere can join. They don't need to leap tall buildings in a single bound as long as they believe in the ideals the superheroes fight for and represent.

Erika Vidal can be reached at (813) 226-3339 or evidal@sptimes.com.

IF YOU GO

As part of this week's release of Superman Returns, members of the Heroes Alliance will appear at Regal Cinemas 16 at University Square Mall, 2200 E Fowler Ave., from 6 to 10 p.m. today. Demolition Comics will pass out free comics, and representatives of Brandon's Toys "R" Us will distribute Superman goodies. For information, call 813 975-0381

[Last modified June 29, 2006, 10:32:27]


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