Danny and Heather Kelley

June 11, 2010: Cosplayer Couple of Steel - Danny and Heather Kelley

By Jason Marsh Larouche

Danny and Heather Kelley are like any typical American married couple. They are raising a son and daughter, share like-minded interests, and enjoy the same activities.

So what sets them apart?

First, they are both fitness models and bodybuilders, and are hardcore comic book geeks who convey their passion through cosplay. Second, above all, Danny has one uniform that he wears with pride and a role it seems he was born to play: Superman.

From the age of five, Danny had been engaged by the colorful world of comic book superheroes, Superman and Batman in particular. Even today, his house is decorated with souvenirs, action figures, and paraphernalia associated with DC Comics' flagship character. But unlike others whose passion for the genre manifested into art and writing careers, he chose a different route. "Growing up, I loved the way Superman and all the other heroes were drawn. I loved the powerful way they looked. So as I got older, I started training. After a few years, I competed in my first bodybuilding show and did well. I was hooked after that." His new passion took him through several competitions, including two Mr. Georgia titles. But aside from the competition, his long-term goal had been met, for he had achieved a physique matching that of the heroes of his youth, thus enabling him "to be the best Superman that I could be." When you look at Danny, his physique is as imposing as Alex Ross' version of Superman, and the expression on his face exudes compassion worthy of Christopher Reeve. To that end, he has been involved in cosplay for ten years. "The first suit I wore was a crude one, but I still got a lot of positive comments. They said I looked just right to do Superman."

Danny and Heather Kelley And let's not overlook his lovely wife, Heather, a fitness model and, since marrying Danny, a cosplayer of five years. Her career's beginnings are described as very simplistic, which runs counter to the rugged determination and dedication of a workout routine. Blessed with a natural athleticism conveyed through her statuesque physique, she recounts, "I worked out before Danny and I met, but not to the extreme as I do now. We train at an old power lifting gym, and there I got picked up by some equipment companies and started modeling for them." Given their similar background in fitness, it would seem the stars were aligned for just the right catalyst. And who knew, on Danny's end, it would be through a mutual party?

"We met through a blind date my brother-in-law set up," Danny recalls. "He told us he had the perfect person for us. We went on a gym date. We worked out at the gym, then went back to the house and watched Superman: The Movie. I later took her home and asked her if I could keep her. She said 'Keep me? I'm going to marry you!' And the rest is history. Been together ever since."

Not only had Danny found a woman with the same passion for fitness as he, but also a kindred spirit in regards to cosplaying. In fact, to him, body and soul, he acknowledges, "I had found my Supergirl." They select which heroes to dress as with the same precision in working a particular muscle group. "We try to do costumes that fit our body types, doing research in the comics to find one we really like, [as well as] couple costumes we can do together. [We] make some things ourselves, but have several talented costume makers that do beautiful work. Sometimes, we will change certain things to make it our own version."

Researching the costumes is an education for Heather since, before meeting Danny, she was not into comics at all. However, since that time, she has put out several different characters. "I have done several different Supergirl costumes, and Black Canary, Ms. Marvel, Maxima, Saturn Girl, and Power Girl. We have done one couples costume so far, [being] Ms. Marvel and Wonder Man. We have several more planned for this year, [such as] Atom Smasher and Stargirl, and Hourman and Liberty Belle." However, to achieve the desired effect, they engage in rigorous training to maintain the super heroic look with the same raw determination reserved for a competition.

"[Danny] gets up at 6:30 every morning and does his Cardio on the treadmill, then he wakes me up after he is done. Then I do my time on the treadmill, then we grab a protein shake and we are off to the gym for one-hour-a-day weight training. I do cardio one hour everyday leading up to a con."

"When she does Supergirl or Black Canary," Danny jokes, "it's like I'm not even there. No one notices me. I joke sometimes that I should carry a chair with me and just sit in the corner."

Illustration by David Burton Fortunately, the hard work does pay off. So well in fact that both Danny and Heather have been tapped for photo reference for inspired works by artists such as Jay Fife and David Burton. Burton's latest work, for example, referenced from a photo from last year's Metropolis Superman Celebration, is truly inspired in its conveyance of innocence and benevolence. There is even a lovely painting of Heather inspired by a Michael Turner panel from his run on Superman/Batman, in which he and writer Jeph Loeb reintroduced Kara to DC continuity.

His passion for Superman conveyed through cosplay does not stop at comics and film. He is an enthusiastic fan of the CW series, Smallville, bound for its tenth and final season in the fall. "I have never missed an episode of Smallville since it started. I have loved the entire series. Seeing him discover his powers has always given us chills. I have loved seeing them through little hints of Superman along the way. The JLA member episodes and ["Absolute Justice" which features the JSA] have been my favorites. But I have to say that [it's] time they gave us fans what we want to see. Superman should fly this last season and at least have the right colors in his costume."

Heather, meanwhile, admits that she wants to see Michael Rosenbaum reprise his role as Lex Luthor before the series ends. "[Michael] is great and we've met him several times. We actually email each other sometimes."

Among the numerous conventions they have participated in, both agree on the Metropolis Superman Celebration as their all-time favorite. "We have been going there for 11 years," he explains. "[We] wouldn't miss it. It's like going home to us. The people and fans we meet are some of the best Superman fans ever. The whole con is centered around Superman, so, for us, we are like a kid in a candy store. There's something about being in that Superman or Supergirl costume and walking through town and hearing the Superman theme played over speakers [positioned throughout] the town."

However, neither Danny nor his wife is judgmental of other cosplayers that have the passion but lack the build and quality costumes. "I believe that no matter what you look like, or how much or [how] little you put into your costume, you should be able to live your dream and, for a short time, step out of this world and be the heroes that they love. We never have to grow up. There's this thing we as costumers call post-con blues. It's where we leave a con and have to go back to the real world of jobs and terrible news on TV. But for a short time we can forget all that and be with some of the best people we have ever met."

As to their children, Justin and his younger sister, Sage, take after their dad in regards to comic book fellowship, albeit Justin favors Green Lantern while Sage collects Spider-Man. In regards to her parents' cosplaying, Sage's reaction is mixed. "She thinks it's cool sometimes," Heather explains. "Danny goes to her school and they all believe he is Superman. It embarrasses her at times, only because she's getting to that age. If [Sage and Justin get] into [cosplaying] that would be awesome. But we will let [them] make that call."

Beyond the thrill of meeting kindred spirits, both Heather and Danny feel there is a personal motivation behind his chosen passion that which Danny associates with the Man of Tomorrow. "Superman, to me, is the embodiment of everything that we, as humans, should strive to be. I have always dreamed of being able to have that much power and be able to help so many people. When we put on those costumes, we feel a responsibility to uphold a good and moral image of everything that 'S' stands for. I think this world could stand to have more role models like Superman."

You can catch Danny and Heather at the Metropolis Superman Celebration this weekend. And you can find more of David Burton's work at www.davidburtonart.net.



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