KUALA LUMPUR: Spiderman scrolls through his phone looking for one particular picture to show us.
It’s one of him comforting a barely conscious child suffering from lymphoma, a type of cancer that commonly affects children and young adults.
Mohamad Shahril Sabari, the man inside the famous costume, is all too familiar with lymphoma. “My best friend had it,” he tells FMT. “So I have seen the pain that sufferers go through.”
The devoted Star Wars fan, now 35, sold his collection of figurines from that seminal sci-fi movie to help fund his friend’s chemotherapy.
He finds the photo and shows us. It’s a young boy in a hospital bed. He looks very sick.
What can you say to a poor child in such a situation, we wondered.
“I just told him to stay strong and he said okay. They told me I had achieved something, as he rarely spoke to anyone, not even his parents.”
Over time, Shahril rebuilt his Star Wars collection and now also collects superhero figures such as Iron Man and, of course, Spiderman.
And it is as Spiderman, that he can be sighted in children’s cancer wards around Kuala Lumpur and Klang. It’s his mission to cheer them up as much as he can.
During Ramadan he can often be found during buka puasa, breaking fast with children’s groups around the area.
FMT is with him today.
Most entertainers suffer from stage fright to some degree, and today even Spiderman seems to be psyching himself up to make his entrance.
He mentions the time he was about to spring into a ward when the doors opened and he had to stand aside as the covered body of a child was wheeled out and away down the corridor.
He knows he must not let such things affect him.
He breathes in deeply and Spiderman makes his entrance.
Jennifer Chua, the friend who first roped him in to play Spiderman, struck lucky when she asked him as Spiderman had been his favourite superhero since his teens.
“He jumped at the chance and didn’t even ask if he would get paid,” said Chua. “He’s great with children. He just naturally knows how to get them interested and involved.
“Not everyone can walk into a ward and play a role in front of sick children, many of whom have tubes attached to them and some who are obviously in pain.”
When not spinning webs, Shahril works for an engineering firm in Kg Pandan.
Chua is impressed with his ability to transform. “To be able to put that every-day guy aside and become Spiderman for a couple of hours is a real gift.”
He works hard at perfecting that gift.
The real Spiderman, Peter Parker, was bitten by a radioactive spider and got his superpowers. These included: web-shooting; wall crawling; and overnight healing, unfortunately limited to himself rather than others.
In the absence of radioactive spiders, Shahril had to do it the hard way by studying all of Spiderman’s Hollywood movies to learn the avenging arachnid’s characteristic moves.
Although he still can’t swing across the ward on a gossamer thread or crawl on the ceiling, he’s a dab hand at striking a pose that the kids will recognise.
He enjoys the bursts of happiness from the cancer-stricken children the moment he springs into the ward as the iconic web-crawler.
The original Spiderman had a great sense of responsibility, his motto was “With great power comes great responsibility.’
Shahril shares that sense of responsibility. But there are rewards too. “Seeing a sick child smile is just one,” he says.
He obviously gets a lot out of his visits himself, and says he needs to continue playing Spidey.
“When you see a child in pain, it really gets to you.
“I need to do this. I want to make them happy. When the kids are happy, they forget their pain, even if it is only just for a brief moment.”
Like the moment a four-year-old boy came up to him when he played Spidey for the first time, visiting the cancer ward in Hospital Kuala Lumpur three years ago. The boy hugged Shahril and whispered, “I love you, Spiderman”.
This spider is definitely a welcome visitor.