He exhales, crouching in the middle of a secluded garden on the ASU campus. Energy pulses through him.
His eyes follow his palms as they arc toward the sky. For a moment, he is perfectly still, then suddenly, his hands slash through the air, and Eric Blumenshine is a blur of rhythmic power and controlled intensity.
It is in moments likes these that Blumenshine becomes Batman.
Scratch that. Like Batman.
“It’s not ‘Batman is real and I am him;’ it’s ‘I’m me and I want to be like him — that’s where it ends,’” he says.
Blumenshine makes this distinction with all the logic of a 20-year-old justice studies sophomore who owns 23 Batman T-shirts, 12 Superman T-shirts and several other shirts devoted to superheroes.
He has a full Batman costume, complete with cape, but he reserves it for Halloween. For daily wear, he sticks to Batman T-shirts and golf slacks from Under Armour that allow him a full range of motion and flexibility, important for daily workouts, running to classes and climbing trees.
More important than the outfit, he says, is the attitude. He constantly asks himself: “Would Batman do this?” And if the answer is “yes,” he does it if he can.
He has earned two black belts in martial arts, trained up to 12 hours a day, graduated high school at 16 and devoted every aspect of this life toward a humanitarian mission.
“I want to help people. I want to be Batman. I might as well help people while being Batman,” Blumenshine says.
After constantly battling the darkness of depression, and growing up through what he says was a troubled childhood, Blumenshine knows more than most about a need for more heroes in the world.
But this origin story begins not with the Dark Knight, but with another, more classic superhero.
Throughout preschool, Blumenshine’s mother would wash his Superman costume daily so toddler Blumenshine could wear the Man of Steel’s outfit under his clothes. Later in the day, he would change out of his secret identity and become his true self — Superman!
“As a kid, it honestly didn’t even occur to me that I had no superpowers,” Eric said in an essay he wrote earlier this year. “Because back then, everything I did was fantastic. I could take hits that other kids couldn’t. I could protect girls from bugs. I could even convince teachers to do things just a little bit more fun.”
In growing up, Eric and his older brother, Neil, grew close. Both intelligent, they struggled with being social. Blumenshine’s first Superman costume was Neil Blumenshine’s last, the two looked alike, and when they made friends, those friends were often the same people.
“Eric’s always been there for me in the darkest times,” Neil Blumenshine says. “There was a lot of standing up for each other because no one else was around to do it.”
From imaginary games to the Batman Handbook to comic books, the two have idolized super heroes through childhood, adolescence and the beginnings of adulthood.
“We both want to change the world,” Neil Blumenshine says.
In the gap between Superman and Batman, Blumenshine assured himself that he would soon receive real super powers and save the world from the many injustices he had experienced.
But he slowly realized that praying for superpowers was not enough; he needed to use the qualities he already possessed. At age 14, he reread a copy of “The Batman Handbook: The Ultimate Training Manual” by Scott Beatty and felt inspired.
“I realized there was nothing in there I couldn’t do,” Blumenshine says.
Then, the person who Blumenshine admired most — his mother — was diagnosed with breast cancer. Mixed with the hormones of menopause, she lost touch with reality and left Blumenshine temporarily without a mother.
“I think that they (Eric and Neil) were justifiably angry and frustrated and afraid,” Susan Blumenshine says. “I couldn’t get out of bed because I was so sick from the chemo.”
After dealing with 27 months of chemotherapy, Susan Blumenshine eventually recovered and is now pursuing a second master’s degree in creative non-fiction writing at ASU. She lives with her mother and sons, and says the struggle changed her as a person.
“I think one of the hardest parts has been knowing that I’m not the mom that I used to be and how much I’ve changed in having them lose who I was before,” Susan Blumenshine says.
This traumatic process left Eric Blumenshine scared and alone; he needed a guide to help him through the depression and found the Batman handbook, he says.
“Batman could handle the situation easily, he would just. . . he would be Batman!” Blumenshine says. “He would be controlled, he would be calm, he would think his way through it, he would think of what he would need to do, he would take care of his mom, he would take care of his brother — he would get stuff done.”
From this moment, Blumenshine was Batman. He started thinking like Batman, he told people to call him Batman, and if Batman would do something he would try to do the same, he says.
He harvested his fighting skills from his father, who taught Blumenshine how to throw knives into a human-shaped target and how to walk without making noise at a young age.
And his mother taught him compassion; her career as a therapist engendered in her son a belief of rightness and goodness in the world.
“When I see something wrong, I focus in on it and I use it to drive me,” Blumenshine says. “And I use it to create passion for myself so that I can become a better person and try to change it.”
And so the training began. Blumenshine would train when he woke up in the morning and before school, then during martial arts classes at school, during lunch, at the martial arts dojo after school, and finally for two or three hours after work. This schedule added up to sometimes 12 hours of martial arts training daily, particularly in the summer.
Because of his passion and determination, the physical challenges of this intensive training regimen did not tire Blumenshine. He says he struggled mostly with the loss of several close friends.
“I gave up everything in my life at the very moment in my life that I chose to be Batman,” Blumenshine says.
But his best friend, Sungmin Hori, trained with Blumenshine through these trials and equals him in levels of martial arts skill. With the support of a friend and sparring partner like Hori, and the motivation of the Bat, Blumenshine achieved black belts both in Tai Chi and Kempo in about a year and a half.
Blumenshine says that Batman draws many of his fighting practices from martial arts and Zen philosophy. In order to better emulate Batman, he studied both eastern practices and tried to perfect a balance between his emotional, physical and mental self.
“[Batman] has every aspect of himself as a complete, whole person and he has each one of those parts working towards one goal,” Blumenshine says.
As Blumenshine spent every day devoted to the mission of being Batman and improving the human situation, from increasing his intellect to becoming stronger to building up a resistance to emotional and physical pain, he began to escape into his persona as Batman. In those times when he experienced debilitating depression, he says it would have been easy “to throw away everything of Eric and just be this fictional character, and all the sudden nobody I knew would be able to touch me, nothing would hurt me.”
But then Blumenshine remembered his identity. He says he knew that completely morphing into Batman did not stay true to his character and personality. He described imagining oneself as a fictional character as “just plain creepy,” and wanted to use Batman only as a means to achieve his humanitarian goal.
Currently, Blumenshine, a student of Barrett, the Honors College, applies the inspiration of Batman to work toward an undeclared career where he can help people by using his college education in justice studies. Still in the “training phase” of his mission, Blumenshine says he is learning “the true nature of crime and the true nature of injustice.”
“I’m training for something I love, I’m training for something I believe in that I think is going to change the world,” Blumenshine says.
Like Batman, Blumenshine prepares slowly, patiently, for the moment when he will be most like the Bat: an educated, healthy, strong, controlled and determined individual.
“I think that in a lot of ways, he’s already gotten his hero status,” Hori says. “Maybe not something you would put in newspaper or something legendary. But in 20 years, people who knew Eric will say, ‘Eric was that hero he wanted to be. Maybe he didn’t think he was, but he really was that hero.’”
And so the hero raises his palms to the sky, as determined as the day he wore his first Superman costume.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org