Vigilante in a fix
Real-life superhero runs afoul of the law.
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