Vig­i­lante in a fix

Real-life su­per­hero runs afoul of the law.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By GENE JOHN­SON

FABIO Heur­ing was stand­ing out­side a Seat­tle night­club on a Satur­day night and smok­ing cig­a­rettes with a friend when a man bolt­ing from a bouncer ran into them. The en­raged man ripped off his shirt in the mid­dle of the street and pre­pared to give Heur­ing’s buddy a beat­ing.

Just then, in swooped a bizarre sight: a self-pro­claimed su­per­hero in a black mask and match­ing mus­cle-suit. He doused the ag­gres­sor with pep­per spray, much to Heur­ing’s shocked re­lief.

A cou­ple hours later, though, the su­per­hero ended up in jail for in­ves­ti­ga­tion of as­sault af­ter us­ing those tac­tics on an­other group of club­go­ers, send­ing pangs of anx­i­ety through the small, ec­cen­tric and mostly anony­mous com­mu­nity of masked crime-fight­ers across the United States.

The comic book-in­spired pa­trolling of city streets by “real life su­per­heroes” has been get­ting more pop­u­lar in re­cent years, thanks largely to main­stream at­ten­tion in movies like last year’s Kick-Ass and the re­cent HBO doc­u­men­tary Su­per­heroes.

And as the ranks of the masked, caped and some­times bul­let-proof-vested avengers swell, many fret that even well-in­ten­tioned vig­i­lantes risk hurt­ing them­selves, the pub­lic and the move­ment if they’re as ag­gres­sive as the crime-fighter in Seat­tle.

Some have gone so far as to pro­pose a sanc­tion­ing body to en­sure that high su­per­hero stan­dards are main­tained.

“The move­ment has grown ma­jorly,” says Ed­ward Stin­son, a writer from Boca Ra­ton, Florida, who ad­vises real-life su­per­heroes on a web­site de­voted to the cause.

“What I tell these guys is: You’re no longer in the shad­ows. You’re in a new era. Build needed to de­fend.”

But many in the vig­i­lante com­mu­nity point to Fodor’s ar­rest as a wa­ter­shed mo­ment. As more peo­ple – of­ten, young peo­ple – fash­ion them­selves into su­per­heroes, they risk find­ing them­selves in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions where they wind up hurt­ing in­no­cent mem­bers of the pub­lic or be­ing shot, stabbed or beaten them­selves. Such neg­a­tive at­ten­tion could doom the move­ment, they say.

Film­maker Michael Bar­nett fol­lowed 50 real-life crime-fight­ers for 15 months for his doc­u­men­tary Su­per­heroes. Many have great in­ten­tions, he says, but that doesn’t mean their meth­ods are proper.

“The po­lice by and large ap­pre­ci­ate an ex­tra set of eyes, but they re­ally, re­ally want these guys to do it ac­cord­ing to the law,” Bar­nett says.

Masked cru­saders be­gan ap­pear­ing in the 1970s with San Diego’s Cap­tain Sticky, who used his Su­per­man-like cos­tume to fight rental car rip-offs and for ten­ant rights, Bar­nett says. They spread through­out the US in the 1980s and 1990s, and be­came more pop­u­lar thanks to the faster com­mu­ni­ca­tions and online sup­port com­mu­ni­ties of the In­ter­net.

Bar­nett says he has met plumbers, teach­ers, cashiers and fire­fight­ers who leave their day jobs be­hind ev­ery night in the name of se­cu­rity. Their weapons in­clude pep­per spray, stun guns and ba­tons. Rel­a­tively few have any com­bat train­ing or any for­mal knowl­edge of how to use their arse­nal, he says.

That con­cerns the pro­fes­sional crime­fight­ers.

“If peo­ple want to dress up and walk around, knock your­self out,” says Seat­tle po­lice spokesman Mark Jamieson. “Our con­cern is when you in­sert your­self into these sit­u­a­tions with­out know­ing the facts, it’s just not a smart thing to do.” – AP

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