With great power comes great responsibility
Despite recent bad publicity, the Real Life Superheroes movement is growing. Its members preach doing good while discouraging vigilantism, DOUGLAS QUAN writes.
By day, they are regular Joes with full-time jobs, bills to pay and mouths to feed. By night, they are masked and sometimes-caped crusaders, who troll the streets looking to help the needy, stamp out crime, and fulfil their comic book-inspired dreams.
But lately the mostly anonymous members of the so-called Real Life Superheroes (RLSH) movement in Canada and the U.S. have been feeling a bit of angst and more than a little misunderstood after a bout of bad publicity.
First, there was the arrest last month of Seattle’s high-profile crimefighter Phoenix Jones (whose real name is Ben Fodor) over an alleged assault. Jones, who wears a black and gold uniform complete with Batman-like fake abs, says he unleashed a canister of pepper spray to break up a fight.
Then, last week, Canadians learned about a group of B.C. teens who posed as underage girls online, lured men into encounters, and then con- fronted them at designated meeting spots in Batman and Flash costumes while video cameras rolled. Police immediately rebuked the sting operations, saying the teens put themselves at risk.
“I’m sorry if I am being cautious, but you do understand ... we are in a fragile state because a few of us have been seen as, well, vigilantes or worse,” said Ark, a Toronto-based superhero in an email.
Members of the movement, which was the subject of an HBO documentary earlier this year, insist their mission is simple: to do good deeds and inspire others to do the same. That includes participating in neighbourhood patrols, working with charities and helping the homeless.
Sure, their costumes are gimmicky, but the sticks in people’s minds and draws attention to their causes, they say. Vigilantism, they insist, is not condoned.
There are more than 600 people around the globe listed as members on the website www.reallifesuper- heroes.org. Most are based in the United States.
There are at least a handful of reallife superheroes scattered across Canada. One of the newer members to the movement is ex-reservist Crimson Canuck, a married, 24-year-old father, in Windsor, Ont., who works as a telephone technician.
He says he was drawn to the movement out of a desire to make the city better.
“I don’t want my daughter to be afraid to go downtown,” he says.
Crimson Canuck, whose outfit consists of a crimson shirt, red tie, black vest, grey slacks, combat boots, black fedora and partial face mask, recently blogged about his first-ever downtown street patrol.
Before he left the door, his wife “called me a fool and made sure I brought mace, in case things got hairy,” he wrote.
But things didn’t get hairy. In fact, it was a quiet night.
“No action,” he wrote. “Not even a car alarm.”
He ended the night instead by grabbing some food from Mcdonald’s and sharing some of it with a homeless man in a wheelchair.
Thanatos, a member of the Real Life Superheroes movement, hands out food and blankets to the homeless and helps patrol the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.