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Batman

Columbus resident Nick Petersen sporting his Batman suit on a recent day.

Sorry, Gotham, The Dark Knight has taken residency in Nebraska. More specifically, expect to see Batman roaming the streets of Columbus.

This isn’t a joke or someone sporting a Halloween costume year-round. The man behind the iconic cape and cowl is Columbus’ own Nick Petersen, and though he isn’t out fighting crime alongside law enforcement, he has the spirit of the infamous caped crusader.

The 32-year-old Petersen is a night shift manager at Becton Dickinson & Company, however, he serves as the superhero to raise awareness for his young son’s disability and to bring smiles to people’s faces.

“I just wanted to do something for kids,” Petersen said. “That’s the biggest thing for me.”

Petersen, a lifelong Batman fan, said he first had the idea to dress up as the superhero and visit kids in the hospital about five years ago. But, he started seriously considering turning his idea into reality after watching the 2016 film “Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice,” noting he loved Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the DC Comics character and the suit he wore.

“I’m a huge Batman fan, but ‘Batfleck,’ I loved It,” he said, referring to Affleck as Batman. “I wanted to do something with it, but not just prance around the house and scare (my wife).”

He spent much of 2017 researching and eventually found a company to custom-make the suit nearly identical to what Affleck wore in the 2016 movie and 2017’s “Justice League,” spending a few thousand dollars in the process.

“It took about a good six months,” he recalled, adding he’ll install a voice modulator into it very soon, too. “It was custom-fitted.”

His wife, Leann, acknowledged she was initially hesitant to make the investment because of how it expensive it was going to be. But, she said, they had an in-depth conversation about it and she understood her husband’s heart was in the right place. It’s an investment she’s glad they made when she sees kids in awe of her husband in character.

“At first I thought it was crazy,” she said. “I didn’t want to do it because of how expensive it is, but now seeing how much joy it brings to little kiddos, it’s fun to see.”

Although he had to pivot his initial idea of visiting sick children in the hospital due to copyright concerns over his Batsuit, Petersen started moonlighting as Batman a few months ago and has already experienced a surge of interest. He goes to birthday parties, school assemblies and makes home visits in Columbus and around the state quite often. On May 11, Batman made a special appearance at Emerson Elementary School to talk with young students about bike safety.

“It reminds me why I do it,” he said of visiting kids and noting how he was just a little kid when his dad brought home a cardboard cutout of Michael Keaton as Batman and changed his life. “I just picture myself. I never had the opportunity to meet Batman when I was younger and these kids do. And it’s amazing how all these kids look up to Batman.”

Columbus resident Rhonda Mueller Dickerson works with Petersen and had him make an appearance as his alter ego at her grandson’s birthday party recently.

“I just think it’s so awesome and amazing because so many kids navigate to those superhero characters,” Dickerson said, adding she has scored brownie points with her grandson because he believes grandma works with Batman. “It’s amazing what he’s doing – giving kids hope and something to hold onto when they’re going through something. (Petersen) is very selfless doing all these things for people. He has a very big heart.”

Funny enough, Petersen said he gets a lot of adults who stop and want to talk with him or take pictures when he’s in character. He recalled making an appearance at another local school to visit with kids but ended up spending just as much time with the parents.

“Some parents left work early to come and see Batman,” he said, smiling. “I thought that was pretty funny.”

Due to that interest, he studied to become an ordained minister and can marry couples as Batman if they choose.

Although there’s something child-like about dressing up as your favorite superhero, the Batman gig is truly a reminder of his family for Petersen. The couple’s 2-year-old son, Stiles, has Pitt-Hopkins syndrome. PTHS is a rare genetic disorder characterized by epilepsy, developmental delay and distinctive facial features and considered an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Petersen doesn’t charge to make an appearance as Batman, however, he asks for donations to be made in his son’s name to help with medical expenses, such as therapy and doctor visits. Stiles, the Petersens said, is a driving force in their lives.

“This is all for him,” Petersen said. “Sometimes, when I think about a 32-year-old man getting into a Batman costume, it sounds silly to some people. But when you’ve been a fan your entire life and have an opportunity to meet someone who is a fan of Batman and see the joy it brings to them, it’s a really cool feeling. It empowers you in a way.”

To contact Petersen about engagements, visit The Columbus Nebraska Batman Facebook page.

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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