Superheroes on the National Mall are dressed the part, but can they break a record?

Before the weekend's AwesomeCon local residents try to break the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people dressed up as comic book characters. (Michel du Cille and Jacques Ledbetter/The Washington Post)

It would have been the perfect time for a supervillain to strike.

Friday at noon, many of the world’s superheroes — from Spider-Man to Iron Man to Storm — were immobilized in a dinky rope pen in front of the Capitol, leaving our country frightfully vulnerable to evil forces.

It wasn’t the Bat-Signal that brought them there, but rather a Facebook invitation. To kick off this weekend’s Awesome Con, a convention for fans of comics, video games and other geekery, organizer Ben Penrod put the word out that he would like to break the Guinness World Record for “largest gathering of people dressed as costumed comic book characters” — 1,530, set in 2011 at an amusement park in Changzhou, China. To do that, they would need 1,531 Watchmen and X-Men and more to come to the Mall on a sunny Friday afternoon and be counted, cape by cape.

Would good prevail? Or would evil forces — such as parking and traffic and bosses who won’t give you the day off to get dressed up in Spandex — thwart our hero’s mission?

“I think it’s going to be close,” Penrod said an hour before the event was to begin. He hoped that the temperature, in the mid-40s, would not affect the participation of cosplayers, or costumed players, who often are scantily clad. “It’s a little bit chilly, but not any colder than Halloween.”

Those who wish to break world records have to follow the official Guinness rules. Awesome Con was assigned an adjudicator, Annie Nguyen, whose specialty is video game-related records. She supervised the volunteers as they unfurled 500 feet of rope, creating an enclosure from which no cosplayers could enter or leave without being counted by two hand-tally clickers.

Because the previous record was set only with comic book characters, participants were limited to a list of approved heroes and villains that had been verified by Guinness. Approved characters made their debuts in comic books, rather than movies or video games. No partial costumes — or costumes that looked too much like normal clothes, e.g. Clark Kent and Lois Lane — could count toward the total. And once all of the characters were in the enclosure, they had to remain there as a group for five minutes for the record to count.

At noon, the superheroes and supervillains queued up, and Nguyen, along with an assistant, Adam Lammers, began to click people into the enclosure, asking, “And who are you?” as each one crossed the threshold.

19. Spider-Man

20. The Hulk

21. Supergirl

A rambunctious Hulk, true to his character, began to punch his little brother until his mom — a force greater than superhuman strength — swooped in.

One high school student/Wonder Woman adjusted her costume.

“Your pink is showing,” said her friend, pulling Wonder Woman’s black wig down to cover her pink hair. The duo were on spring break from Woodson High School in Fairfax. Did they think the record would be broken?

No, they decided, looking around at the scant crowd.

But it’s fun anyway, Wonder Woman’s friend insisted. “It’s all part of the experience.”

A Segway tour of bewildered tourists rolled through.

“We had two characters just walk right in front of the Segway,” said Elisa Wares, visiting from New Jersey for the weekend, “Mystique and some guy with an eye patch.”

36. Raven

37. The Black Widow

“Do I really need to tell you who I am?” a man in a head-to-toe Spider-Man costume said as he reached the front of the line.

“Nah, I got you, Superman,” joked Lammers.

“I’m freezing,” said Shawnee Forcino, whose costume, “the Huntress,” was a tight leotard, leaving her arms and legs bare. Along with her co-workers Steve Knapp, dressed as Rorschach, and John Barclay, dressed as Hellboy, the trio had taken the day off from their jobs at the Lodge, a restaurant in Frederick.

“I offered her my coat, but she was like, ‘You’ve got too much red paint all over that,’ ” said Barclay, whose skin was coated in red. Forcino pulled her thin cape around herself for warmth.

51. Captain America

52. Death, from “The Sandman.”

One Batman had a lip ring, and one Supergirl was in drag. A Hulk, on his cellphone, approached the front of the line, “Let me give you a call back,” he said politely.

“If I head out to go back to work, does that disqualify me?” asked Audri M., 24, who was dressed as Lady Sif, “The movie edition.” She works at the Pentagon and, like several others in attendance, wanted to give only her first name. “I only took off an hour to be here.”

119. The Scarlet Witch

120. Iron Man

121. Another Scarlet Witch

If only more people had the teleportation powers of Azazel, the X-Men costume worn by Mike L., 34. Apparently, there had been some confusion between the Capitol reflecting pool and the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool, and some characters had to hoof it across the Mall to get in line. Crystal Behring, 27, dressed as Rogue from X-Men, was one of them.

“This looks nowhere near 1,500 people,” she said as she took her place at the back of the line.

218. A tiny, shy Wolverine, clinging to his mom’s leg.

At 12:49 p.m., when the flow of cosplayers had slowed to a trickle, the crowd began to get antsy.

“I think I’m going to get towed,” said a Green Lantern, approaching the entrance to the enclosure.

“I don’t think anyone else is coming,” said Nguyen, her official Guinness clipboard in hand. The final total: 236 cosplayers, 1,295 short of the record.

“I thought it would be close,” said Penrod, who expects 10,000 people to attend Awesome Con this weekend. “There were a lot of spectators. We could have had more people that just threw on a costume real quick.”

Still, he has no regrets. He has vowed to try again: This Guinness World Record will not be his Kryptonite. As they say in the comics: You haven’t seen the last of Ben Penrod.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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