A bittersweet 10,000 Sword Salute at KC Comicon
Just like Superman, the child’s home was Kansas.
For three years, 9-year-old Gabe Marshall, a lover of all things Comicon, battled like a true superhero against a real supervillian.
The supervillian, a cancer named anaplastic astrocytoma, had infiltrated his brain when he was 7 years old.
Gabe battled it through surgery. He battled it through chemotherapy and radiation.
Until two weeks ago, on Feb. 2, he could battle no more.
Barely two days prior, Gabe’s parents had taken him to the doctor, and to a toy store. He had been so happy, having so much fun until he shared that he was tired. He lay his head down in the backseat of the family car and fell asleep — but not to wake again.
“It was the most beautiful day and the most painful day ever,” Gabe’s father, Joshua Marshall of Hutchinson, reflected, tears misting his eyes.
On Saturday, he and his wife, Bethany, and Gabe’s 5-year-old sister, Macinzley, arrived at the Planet Comicon comic book convention at Bartle Hall because Supergirl had invited them to be there for a special moment.
Perhaps more than 1,000 people hoisted plastic purple swords to the sky, cheering in honor of their boy.
“He was totally one of us,” Supergirl said.
Played by Overland Park personal trainer Jessica Porter, Supergirl had met Gabe at a different convention, and she had certainly heard about him. In June 2016, a news story about how Gabe’s dad opted to get a giant tattoo of a scar on his head, exactly matching his son’s so as not to make him feel self-conscious, had gone viral. It inspired people worldwide.
It inspired Supergirl, who over the last three years has chosen a child and family to offer a special, personal tour through Comicon. Two years ago, she chose a child with a different illness. Last year, it was a family of refugees. This year, the tour was supposed to go to Gabe and his family.
Instead, she teamed up with William Binderup, the owner of Elite Comics in Overland Park, who for each of the past five years has raised thousands of dollars to buy toys for kids like Gabe being treated at Children’s Mercy Hospital. Binderup, with his own money, bought 20,000 pink swords to give away while also collecting donations to Children’s Mercy for what he organized as Gabe’s “10,000 Sword Salute.”
At 10 a.m. the moment came. The arena floor was jammed, certainly not with 10,000, but with hundreds and hundreds of Comicon fans all pointing their swords to the sky. Darth Vader , Luke Skywalker, R2-D2 and a throng of stormtroopers from the “Star Wars” 501st Legion, filed in as a parade.
Thor was there, Batgirl, Elsa and Anna from “Frozen” along with elves and fantasy figures of every stripe. Then, at once, they cheered for Gabe with a mighty sound.
“He would have absolutely loved it. He would have been smiling from ear to ear,” Marshall said of his son, a boy who, for as much as he battled, “never lost his faith.”
“Up until the last day, he was still fighting,” Marshall said.
That, of course is what real superheroes do.
Planet Comicon continues through 5 p.m. Sunday at Bartle Hall. Tickets are $8-$41 through planetcomicon.com. 816-598-5334.