Matsuda Yuuma insists that he’s “not really into superheroes,” despite the fact that he patrols the streets of Norfolk, Virginia, while wearing a skintight suit and calls himself the Black Widow. Comic books aren’t really his thing; he’s just using the tropes — as well as years of martial arts training — to give his fight for social justice a little bit of an edge. So sure, there’s a fictional Marvel character named Black Widow, too, but he doesn’t care — he’s got bigger battles to fight.
When Inverse caught up with the Black Widow recently, the Virginian crusader showed none of the secrecy associated with superheroes, with the exception of guarding his real name. He had a lot to say about his city, viral fame, and the expectations put on him by his unconventional approach to community service.
The Black Widow dons his costume — made of black and red layers of mesh, delayered Kevlar, and other fabric — several times a week; he often goes out late at night, taking to the streets to break up fights, deter would-be carjackers, and provide first aid in times of need. But his main goal has far less risk attached: He aims to “go out and see people and put a smile on their faces,” he says. “What’s important is talking with people and getting to know people.”
More than a superhero, Yuuma self-identifies as something closer to a “persona” trying to provide help to the people in his community. “A lot of my influences come from martial arts and parkour and comedy, so I try to layer together a lot of different artistic categories into my performance,” he says. Though he might look a whole lot like Spider-Man, when asked about vigilantism, he very plainly says, “I don’t support it.”
Still, as a precaution, he carries pepper spray and a police baton, though they hardly ever see any use. Yuuma promises, “I try to stay on the legal side of the law instead of taking matters into my own hands.” Physical violence does happen from time to time, but this Black Widow cares more about giving the occasional child an enthusiastic fist bump than he does trading blows with villains.
One of his most prized relationships is with the local homeless population. Helping the homeless actually outweighs public safety in his book, whether that means passing out food or just stopping to chat. “I mainly help the homeless because they feel like they have nobody, and nobody gives a damn,” Yuuma said, “because I can relate to that struggle of loneliness.”
When he’s not patrolling the streets in spandex, the 20-year-old Yuuma is a restaurant worker and a DJ, but he also puts the costume to what some might consider a more traditional use: “I do also go to a lot of birthday parties and comic book conventions — things like that.”
As Yuuma puts it, the public’s initial response to him when he first emerged was practically out of a comic book: Back in August 2016, the community branded him as “The Granby Spider” (“Granby” being a street in the area) before he could tell anyone his name. It took months before he could get in touch with someone at the local equivalent of the Daily Bugle to set the record straight.
A lot of people — some police included — tend to misconstrue what he’s doing at 2 o’clock in the morning, wandering around downtown in dark clothes and a mask. Part of clarifying his intentions was wrapped up in the pursuit of fame: “I was fighting so hard for that,” he said. But an even larger part of the Black Widow’s efforts had everything to do with trying to earn some positive recognition and a feeling of acceptance that he wasn’t getting in his everyday life.
“For so long I felt like a disappointment,” he admitted to Inverse. “It was more than just at school. It was at home, too.” There was a point at which this 20-year-old was much like any number of other deeply unfulfilled young millennials struggling to find purpose, acceptance, and meaning. Gaining fame from behind a mask offered Yuuma the chance to become something else as he became someone else. That’s part of why he hides his actual identity.
All of the media attention eventually came to a head for him when internet commenters got predictably harsh. “WorldStar was when it got bad,” Yuuma said, referring to the many negative comments about him that appeared on the video-aggregating blog. “People forget that I’m just a regular guy in a suit, being myself and having fun. I just so happen to like helping people however I can.”
He dislikes how often media reports of him hone in on the fact that he was bullied as a child. “Yeah,” the Black Widow admitted. “In the past I’ve been bullied. It felt like I didn’t belong at home or school, like I needed to become something — and I did.” It’s for that reason that he wishes that, rather than some overdramatized backstory, people would spread his more positive and inspiring messages: Be yourself. Take a stand in your community. Do things that matter. Be there for each other. Stand up for yourself.
He’s a beacon of positivity who, at least through the mask, truly seems to believe in the sentiments he preaches about.
So, take it right from the Black Widow: “You can be anything you want to be,” even if that’s a very different kind of masked hero than we’re used to seeing, in or out of real life.