Spider-Man, or more recently, Venom, wears black Nikes as he stands along the fountain that divides UNT’s Library Mall.
A wave of high school students walking take out their phones as this iteration of UNT’s Spider-Man, though looking sinister with mirrored eyes and a new black suit, obliges in a group selfie.
The cameras click and he shoots imaginary webs with the sound effects to match. As the crowd of high schoolers move to continue their tour, they thank him, mistaking him for Batman.
“Venom,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s Venom.”
For three years, UNT’s Spider-Man, 22, has been unmistakable in his iconic red and blue web-slinging suit. But on Feb. 9, the biomedical engineering senior unveiled his new, darker form.
Though his colors have changed, his commitment remains the same. He sprints from perch to perch with conviction, running like a man possessed by mutant spider genes.
And if you happen to catch up to him, he stays in character, growling as he speaks in the third person to relate to his days as Spider-Man and using the first person “we” to discuss his current form.
“Perhaps we can do something even better than Spider-Man,” he said. “Perhaps people like darker things.”
He said the reason he chose to inhabit Spider-Man and Venom as characters is because of their humanity.
“People can relate to both these characters, just everyday people that have their own lives and then soon come out as the hero,” he said.
It all began on Halloween three years ago. He was just a freshman from Queens, New York, looking for his niche when a costume became a calling.
“[Coming to UNT] was rough,” he said. “I’m in a whole different environment so I was like, I’m gonna try on this Spider-Man costume for Halloween and see if it works. Apparently, people liked it and it caught on so I was like, I’m just going to give back to the people, this is my calling, This is where the universe is calling me.”
On that first day as Spider-Man, he said he was given the opportunity to steal a candy bar, but chose to do the right thing. It felt wrong to steal, he said, and ever since he has aspired to live up to the ideal of what the suit represents.
And with each day he wore the suit, his celebrity status on campus grew. After the tragic passing of Lucky, one of UNT’s albino squirrels, and the lack thereof of Pothead, the UNT man known for wearing a pot on his head, Spider-Man claimed the throne as UNT’s most prominent unofficial mascot.
He said he’s grown in his years of serving the UNT community. It’s all about “making gains,” he said, both physically and personally.
“Spider-Man was just a boy,” he said. “Venom is a man.”
UNT Spider-Man received most of his attention through channeling his heroism to activism. He’s been a staple at on-campus protests, but he said he doesn’t have a specific political leaning. Instead, his focus is serving the UNT community and making an impact wherever he can.
After witnessing Spider-Man on campus, UNT spokeswoman Margarita Venegas tried to nominate Spidey for the Special Recognition Award, an award given to students faculty or staff who “contributed momentous and unique talent or service to the university, resulting in infectious UNT pride.”
But due to UNT Spidey’s strict adherence to anonymity, Venegas could only share her admiration.
Let me make this clear for everyone claiming to be me lately, I the UNT Spider-Man will never reveal my secret identity.
— UNT Spider-Man (@Unt_spidy) December 14, 2016
Venegas said she’s seen Spider-Man at protests, but what really stood out was a moment with barely anyone around. Spidey was standing out on the fountain mall, when a boy and her mother passed, looking bewildered by the sprawling campus.
She said Spider-Man made that boy’s day, and hers, after watching him pretend to be struck and keel over after the boy shot his own little webs at the campus crusader.
“Everyone laughed and it made everyone happy,” she said. “There are people on campus [and] there are traditions on campus that we often take for granted that make us happy. I was like, ‘You know, he makes people happy, and they don’t even know.’”
Spidey said it’s all part of the game when it comes to being an anonymous celebrity — a life he’s grown to enjoy.
“We can live our life and see both sides of the world,” he said. ”Both come with a crazy amount of responsibility and time to do good to someone. Even when we are not in a costume, we still are trying to give back to the people.”
He said people on campus react in various ways. He went toe-to-toe with the Preacher Man once and some people say mean things, but for the most part people laugh or get out their phones to snap a picture of a Spider-Man sighting.
But the moments that make getting dressed up every day as a comic book character worth it, he said, are the ones where he makes an impact.
“What makes it worth it to me is when someone is having a horrible day, and randomly I pop out of nowhere and people seem to forget about their problems for a few seconds,” he said. “There was a guy, he had just [broke up with] his girlfriend, and seeing Spider-Man just made his day. That’s why we do it. For the people, to just give back to the people.”
Spider-Man said after he graduates, he plans on moving back home to New York, where he hopes to take his degree in biomedical engineering to help cure those with mental disabilities.
But for now, he plans on serving the UNT campus like he has for the past three years. He doesn’t know whether Spider-Man will come back to replace Venom, but if he does, he said it’s because the UNT community wants him to.
“That will be left to the people I suppose,” he said. “Will they want Spider-Man back, or will they prefer Venom instead? I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?”
Featured Image: Venom poses on a ledge near the union. Venom says he tries to make an appearance everyday for as long as he can. Colin Mitchell