Fishing offshore the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant changed Clark Rogers’ life forever.
After eating radioactive crabs spiced with Old Bay, Rogers suddenly could run sideways at supersonic speeds. Swim faster than Michael Phelps. His hands grew so strong he now had a “super pinch grip.”
He became a hero that, of course, Maryland would have: Captain Maryland — Champion of the Chesapeake, Protector of the Potomac, Defender of Deep Creek.
But before there was Captain Maryland, or even Clark Rogers — a nom de guerre that’s “a little Clark Kent, a little Steve Rogers” — there was just the man behind the costume: Clark Oliver, a Star Wars-obsessed Maryland native and cosplaying community fixture.
“I had all the action figures,” Oliver said. “But what I really wanted to do was be the action figure.”
The regional hero appears to be this costume-loving Marylander’s final form.
Oliver’s creation has taken on a life of its own, giving him, and the state, a cause to rally behind — Maryland itself.
Born in Bethesda and raised in Chevy Chase, Oliver spent his days after school sweeping floors at the firehouse down the road, watching “Star Wars” in his living room, building lightsabers and Han Solo’s blaster out of paper towels and old toilet rolls.
After high school, he went into the fire service, where he spent the next 35 years. When he wasn’t fighting fires, he took his love for fantasy to the next level.
Making use of his “grown-up money,” Oliver bought “Star Wars” costumes and props, becoming a regular at local cosplaying events. The world of make-believe brought him an opportunity for connection and community.
He even met his wife dressed as a “Star Wars” character. They crossed paths at the Air and Space Museum’s annual Halloween-themed “Air & Scare.” She was a female Han Solo. He was a Stormtrooper. The rest was canon.
The pandemic put most cosplaying conventions on hiatus. So, when Washington, D.C.’s Awesome Con was finally back on in 2021, Oliver wanted to do something special. Something “just to make my friends laugh” after months in lockdown.
What if Captain America was just, you know, regional?
He got a Maryland flag bodysuit, a belt of Old Bay canisters and a plastic sled he whittled into the shape of a crab. Boom! Captain Maryland was born.
Oliver says he can’t take too much credit for the costume design. He just did what any other Marylander would do “instinctively.”
“Marylanders will slap that flag on anything,” Oliver said. “We love our flag, but we have no reverence for it at all.”
Creating a local superhero takes a combination of deep pride and an unmatched sense of humor impossible to come by outside of Maryland, Oliver said.
“Have you met Captain Delaware? Yeah, he’s a little guy. He’s got to be first in everything,” he joked.
“It works literally nowhere else.”
The costume was supposed to be a one-time gag, but it was such a hit in D.C., he couldn’t resist wearing it to Baltimore Comic-Con.
A TikToker called ShimmerWali posted a video interviewing Oliver at the event. It received hundreds of thousands of views.
”Best superhero,” ShimmerWali said in the video. “That’s my state right there.”
Then country singer and Maryland native Jimmy Charles reached out, asking him to make an appearance in his music video “It’s a Maryland Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand.” Before he knew it, Oliver found himself singing alongside Natty Boh and Francis Scott Key in a Maryland flag-covered Jeep.
Charles became such a fan of Captain Maryland that he invited Oliver to tag along to Camden Yards when he was singing the National Anthem. Crab mallet in hand, Captain Maryland ran up and down the bleachers hyping the crowd.
A seasoned cosplayer, Oliver said that costuming typically only appeals to kids or franchise-obsessed adults. But Oliver’s found that Captain Maryland transcends that. He’s found an audience with everyday people who may know nothing about Marvel, but recognize a good joke about Maryland when they see one.
“To make another human being laugh and forget about their troubles for even just a little bit of time, that’s everything,” Oliver said. “That is absolutely everything.”
But it’s more than just a bit.
What other state is the birthplace to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” he said, or has a mountain range so old it predates fossils?
“This state rocks. I don’t want to live anywhere else.”