Meet Maryland's very own Batman
Feb 11, 2013
For more than a decade Lenny B. Robinson has been donning cape and cowl to become Batman. His mission: Cheer up Maryland kids who are struggling with serious illnesses and give them a tangible representation of the courage it takes for them to endure. Find out why he does it.
The cyclists who had taken the long route at the Save a Limb Ride begin trickling back into Baltimore County’s Oregon Ridge Park, but none of them is sweating more than Lenny Robinson, who is doing nothing more strenuous than shaking hands.
It is about 10 a.m. on a seasonally cool October morning, but Robinson’s head is crammed into a rubber mask, and his entire body is covered in leather in an effort to channel Batman.
“I sweat even when it’s cold,” he says. Which probably explains why the Batman of the comics and movies works at night. And the nosepiece of Robinson’s cowl has no holes in it, forcing him to breathe through his mouth when he’s in character.
Robinson’s Batman, however, doesn’t appear in the alleyways of Gotham. He shows up in hospital corridors and at fundraising events such as the Save a Limb Ride, a benefit for Sinai Hospital’s Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics in Baltimore. His mission: Cheer up kids who are struggling with serious illnesses and give them a tangible representation of the courage it takes for them to endure.
So, while a trainer leads the next wave of riders at the Save a Limb event through a pre-ride warm-up, Robinson goes through it with them, even though it is a little awkward doing leg stretches with a knee-length leather cape around his neck and neoprene armor strapped to his thighs.
Robinson’s attire is a cross between the suit in the Tim Burton “Batman” films of the 1990s and that seen in the current crop of “Dark Knight” movies starring Christian Bale. As impressive as Robinson looks in his movie-inspired, custom-tailored costume, though, it gets better.
To lead the riders onto the course, Robinson and his niece—7-year-old Lindsay Brooke Robinson, wearing her own handmade Batgirl suit—climb into a dead-on, custom-built replica of the Batmobile from the campy 1960s television show. When he starts the engine, it plays the TV theme song. Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da...Batman!
Lenny B. (“B as in Batman”) Robinson, 49, says he has been donning cape and cowl for more than 10 years, but he flew under the radar until March 2012 when a Montgomery County police officer made what might have been the oddest traffic stop ever caught on video.
The cop pulled over Robinson’s black Lamborghini (his replica Batmobile was still under construction) because the rear license plate had only the Batman logo. Robinson, on his way to Georgetown Hospital, was in full costume. The video from the officer’s cruiser cam ended up on YouTube, and when the story went viral, requests for hospital visits and appearances at charity events went through the roof.
So he’s formalized his efforts with the establishment of a nonprofit group called Superheroes for Kids—whose 501(C)(3) status is pending—and has begun to ask, via its website (superheroesforkids.org), for volunteers and donations to help the effort. He’s even retained a publicist.
Robinson’s vision wasn’t always so grand. At first, Batman was just something he could share with his youngest child. Brandon, now a University of Maryland student, was 6 years old when his parents divorced. At the time, the child held a particular fascination for the Batman character, first created by cartoonist Bob Kane in 1939 but reincarnated in countless forms since. Robinson, who as a kid watched the 1960s television show, latched onto Batman as something he had in common with his son that could also keep them bonded during a difficult time.
“His obsession became mine,” Robinson says. He went so far as to buy a rental Batman costume.
His first public appearance as Batman came at the request of his sister, a teacher at a school in their native Pikesville. It was Halloween. He pulled up to the school in his Chrysler Prowler; not exactly the Batmobile, but spooky and sporty enough to look like something the Dark Knight might drive.
“I truly felt like a rock star,” he recalls. “But it wasn’t about me, it was about them, their excitement at seeing Batman.”
Doing something great
He soon made appearances at other schools. He says that was fun, but it was when he began to visit sick children that the hobby became a mission.
“I was at Sinai Hospital, that’s when it hit me,” he remembers. “It was the most rewarding thing, seeing the difference I made with the kids, the families, the administration.”
Nurses with their noses to the grindstone would suddenly brighten. Oh, it’s Batman!
“It’s a special atmosphere,” Robinson says.
Sometimes the kids are star struck and don’t talk at all. Others will pepper him with questions: “Where’s Robin? Did you capture the Joker?”
Often, the parents seem to get even more out of Batman’s visits than their ailing children do, Robinson says. They’re grateful that he’s encouraging their children in their fight, and for the refuge from the real world he offers for a few moments.
“You’re talking about people, sometimes single parents, with medical bills that are crazy. I’ve had moms who’ve cried in my arms.”
Another mother wrote to him after he’d visited her son at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. The boy wasn’t moving, but the day after Robinson’s visit the child’s condition began to improve for the first time.
“It made me feel like I was doing something great,” Robinson says.
He doesn’t know what the boy’s particular affliction was, because he didn’t ask. He never does. He’s there to engage these children as people, not as patients.
“I never ask, ‘How are you?’” he adds. He knows the answer.
Trading buckets for a Batmobile
When he was still in 10th grade, Robinson started his own commercial cleaning business. He was ambitious, yes, but he actually enjoyed the work. He says dusting and scrubbing floors holds a therapeutic quality for him, much as gardening or cooking does for others.
“Lenny’s a detail guy. Everything has its place. He plays hard, and he works hard,” says Robinson’s friend, Mark Garfield. “He’s always been able to put himself in others’ shoes.”
Garfield, too, has a commercial cleaning company, and when he was first starting out, a mutual friend suggested he seek out Robinson, whose business by then was thriving.
He did, and Robinson got on a plane to Columbus, Ohio, to take a look at Garfield’s operation and offer some advice.
“He doesn’t know me from Adam, but he came all this way to help me,” Garfield remembers. “When I first picked him up at the airport, he gave me a Cal Ripken-autographed baseball.”
From the airport, the two stopped at a medical building run by one of Garfield’s clients. After ducking into a stall in the men’s room, Robinson said, “come in here.” Garfield wasn’t too sure what his new friend wanted, but he obliged.
In the stall, Robinson pointed to the dust atop the partitions. “You may have a cleaning company, but you ain’t cleaning,” Garfield remembers him saying.
The two have since become good friends, and Garfield has had occasion to accompany Robinson on some of his Batman appearances. “It’s a hoot getting into the Batmobile, having fun, and making a difference.”
The real deal
In 2007 Robinson sold his cleaning company, staying on for a year and a half as a consultant. Since that term expired, being Batman has been his only career.
Like Bruce Wayne, Robinson has used his personal fortune to finance his technology-aided alter ego. His Batmobile, with its Ford racing motor, took a Canadian car builder three-and-a-half years to finish and set Robinson back $200,000. It was still cheaper than his previous Batmobile, the famous Lamborghini, which cost the car enthusiast a quarter million.
He drove his Batmobile home from British Columbia, making stops at hospitals across the country. When he finally made it home and parked it in his driveway, it drew gawkers like mosquitoes draw bats.
“I’ve got pictures of 50 kids surrounding the car in seconds,” he says with a laugh. “I never knew I had all these neighbors. They destroyed my lawn.”
The new car is straight out of the biff! zowie! ooff! days of the TV show. It’s got the open cockpit, the police light, and the flaming rear exhaust. It’s got a batphone and a batscope. He chose that style over the Batmobiles of the contemporary films because the latter “don’t look like a Batmobile. They look like tanks.”
Unlike his car, Robinson’s custom-made suit is an amalgam of the wardrobe from the film versions of Batman, looking more like an actual bat than did the satin-accented blue and gray suit of the TV show. The costume cost $5,000, and it takes Robinson about 45 minutes to get into it, a process that includes application of eye black to get the white-slit effect under the mask.
Robinson says he has come to see his efforts as a way to put a fantastical character to a practical and worthwhile use.
“Batman can fight evil, by fighting cancer and disease. Then it’s not like a made-up thing anymore,” he says. “Batman’s real.”