When we think of the word “superhero” your first thought is most likely about Batman or Superman, Spiderman or Iron man. Could be because they are one of the most recognized and greatest superheroes to ever grace the pages of a comic book. Now I could spend the next five minutes talking about why I think Batman is the greatest superhero, but let me sum it up for you. Batman is the greatest not because he is endowed with superpowers, but because he raises the bar of human ability and yet he is just a man. You could be batman. You could be batman. I could be batman. He is the greatest because he fights to make the world a better place garbed in a costume so as to draw attention to his cause, instilling hope to those who have none, and to motivate others to take a stand against apathy. But let’s say for a minute that someone new to the real-life superhero subculture wanted to become an RLSH. It is possible to become an RLSH. All a person needs is an alter-ego and a drive to make a change. But what if Batman was the standard? How much training would be necessary to become one of the world’s most beloved caped crusader? Let us examine Batman, what drives him and the training he mastered in order to accomplish his mission. I use Batman because as I said before, he is not endowed with special abilities, rather he relies on his iron clad force of will to do what he needs to do in order to accomplish his mission; to protect and serve his community. In order for a person to truly “become Batman” they need not only cool gadgets and a costume, but education. Lots of education. It is estimated somewhere in the range of 43,800 hours of education is needed in order to be adept at every skill set needed to be on par with Batman. That breaks down to eight hours a day for 15 years! No weekends, no vacations. The reason this would take so long is because when Batman needed a particular skill, he would learn every aspect it until he had mastered the skill. Things like forensic science and criminology were cornerstones of Batman’s education. The same could be said for hand-to-hand combat. There are also other skills one would need in order to fight crime like Batman. Strategy and intelligence, counter-intelligence, military tactics, offensive and defensive driving, acrobatics, biochemistry, repelling, rock-climbing and hand gliding.
When we think of the word “superhero" rarely, do we think of those of who go out to make the world a better place just because. The volunteer citizens who strive to live in a world of their choosing; a world where the good deeds of one individual, can impact the life of another, potentially impacting another, and so on and so forth creating a snowball effect of “pay-it-forwardness” that would make this world a better place for future generations to come. We all know their names. They are our neighbors, our colleagues, friends and family. I am here today to talk about those whom we don’t know, whose identities have been shielded from us for whatever reason. Those who’ve chosen to become part of the ”Real-Life Superhero” subculture. It is a culture believed by many to be created by people of an odd nature; those play too many videogames, or perhaps spend their existence cataloging every piece of comic book knowledge. People we call nerds. Geeks. Losers.
Therein lies my problem; why this is worth doing. I believe there is more to this then just a bunch of individuals whom we deem “outcasts.” I want to understand why this has become a worldwide phenomenon, and it has. There are recognized “Real Life” Superheroes all over the world. Take for example “Captain Sticky” of the late 70’s, the first self-proclaimed superhero. He would drive around the streets of San Diego in his Stickymobile (a highly-customized Lincoln Continental), taking a stand against a number of injustices ranging from nursing home abuse to auto mechanic rip-offs. His mere presence would attract media attention, cause less reputable business to change how they would operate. Or “Citizen Prime” of Arizona. His focus? On the education of youth, going to elementary schools around Arizona to teach children how to stand up against bullying, how to encourage others, or what to do in an emergency situations.
Another, real life superhero that has opted to take a more aggressive approach is Phoenix Jones of Seattle. Garbed in a suit of black and gold, he received media attention after being arrested for macing group of individuals involved in a fight outside of a local bar. Fellow registered members of the organization The Real Life Superhero Project view him as a black sheep, stating that the mission of the RLSH Project is to fight injustice within the confines of the law.
These are “normal” people who help those in need in a unique way. The personas they create become icons, images of hope. Hope that this world isn’t succumbing to apathy. They start neighborhood
watches. They give provisions to the homeless. They clean the windows of children’s hospitals. Some take a more offensive approach and actually confront the criminal element in their towns. Each has their own unique reason why they choose to don the mask so to speak, but in the end, their fight is all the same. They want to make the world a safer place for you...for me, and for future generations. Let us examine just a few examples of real life superheroes or other influential figures and their motives. Later on, as an aside, we’ll examine just how easy, or how hard it is become Batman as he is the most realistic depiction of what it takes to be an effective superhero.
In the eyes of many, superheroes encompass many roles. Do-gooders, heroes, revolutionaries. Just to name a few. But to others, superheroes are something completely different, having more negative names attached to them. Vigilantes, attention-seekers, terrorists. The latter is harsh to the sound, but consider if you will, the example of Guy
Fawkes. Born in 1506, Guy fought for Spanish law in the low countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg. He fought to restore a catholic monarch to the throne to replace the protestant King James. Guy and his coconspirators wished to replace King James with his who happened to be catholic. They planned to do this by way of explosion using 20 barrels of gunpowder. However, before the assassination could take place, an anonymous letter revealed the location of the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes, in charge watching the explosives, to the king’s guards thus resulting in Guy’s arrest. He was first interrogated, then tortured then scheduled for execution. But before he hung from the gallows, Fawkes leapt from the platform, breaking his neck in a final act of defiance. According to history, Fawkes died a defiant terrorist.
It wasn’t until 200 years later in 1841, that the story of Guy Fawkes re-written into a hero’s tale. Author William Ainsworth painted a completely new picture of Fawkes. It was thanks to this redefining, its pop culture reference in the movie V for Vendetta, the image of Guy Fawkes’ face has become a symbol of postmodern Anarchism.
The Cyber-vigilante activist group known as Anonymous has adopted this mask, the mask of Guy Fawkes, as the unofficial face of their secretive organization. This group is a different kind of organization comprised of online hackers that infiltrate secured websites to release locked information for the purpose of making said information admissible in a court of law. As was the case with Chris Forcand, the first suspected internet predator that was arrested due to vigilantism via the internet. Anonymous also hacked into a secret child pornography website named Lolita City and released the names of 1,589 of its members. The website, which help 100 gigabytes of pictures and videos was hacked and shut down shortly after the release of member names.
If I may, allow me to go back for a minute to a previously mentioned example of a real life superhero. As I mentioned before, Captain Sticky of the late 1970’s fought against various injustices around the San Diego area. Anything from Rental car rip-offs to nursing home abuse. His efforts were recognized when in 1977 his investigations into nursing home abuse resulted in more stringent long-term health care regulations.
Though he was the only self-proclaimed superhero at the time, and he did accomplish good things, Captain Sticky appeared to have created his alter-ego as his way of attaining media attention. He
seemed to always be where the cameras were, making the news all throughout the late 70’s and well into the 80’s. At one point Marvel comics was interested in writing of his exploits, but the project was balked when neither, Marvel or Captain Sticky would finance the cost of the project.
Whether it was for personal gain, or for a much more morally upstanding reason that lead him Richard Pesta to create Captain Sticky, the end result was the same. His efforts served to better his community within the confines of the law. Others have not lived by that code of ethics. Consider if you will another real life superhero by the name of Phoenix Jones.
Benjamin Fodor, also known as Phoenix Jones, is a superhero based in present day Seattle and leader of the superhero group the Rain City Superhero Movement. A group which is comprised of military or mixed martial art trained individuals. This group, Jones included, prefers to take on the more traditional role of fighting crime. In fact, it was landed Phoenix Jones on the wrong side of the law on several occasions.
As vigilantism is a crime and is described as the act of inflicting punishment in return for an injury or offense, taking the law into his own hands has served Phoenix Jones not so well. He did not have a good standing with the local police department. He did however in several occurrences “save the day.” In 2011, Jones was arrested for assault, using pepper spray to break up a fight, which landed him in jail for 72 hours. No charges were filed, and he was released but the incident did not go without consequence. The aforementioned real life superhero community, especially those involved with The Real Life Superhero Project, which I will talk about later on, view him as a “Black sheep” stating, “The founding principles of the Project were to uphold justice within the parameters of the law. To take physical action, is to be a vigilante, which is in itself a crime.” It is this organization that sets the standard for the real life sub-culture worldwide.
Allow me to elucidate The Real Life Superhero Project. The organization was spawned from another, lesser known organization called Superheroes Anonymous. The small group wanted to have a more cohesive community of heroes that could lend aid to each other whenever it was needed and so had to create an entirely new organization to bring their vision to fruition. The organization spans every major continent, the US alone having hundreds of registered Superheroes as per the World Superhero Registry. Their motives and avenues of public service are as diverse as their personas; each having their own story and way they contribute to their community. Some, such as Life and the Dark Guardian focus on feeding the homeless. While others like Motor mouth, Dark Guardian and Death’s Head Moth prefer a more offensive approach, confronting the criminal element on rough neighborhoods. Whatever their reasoning or their outlet, each RLSH (real Life Superhero) strives hard to make their community a better place.
So what makes a good RLSH you ask? What is needed to become a superhero yourself? Well first and foremost person needs the determination and courage ts a Bao do this; to go out in public dresses in a costume and stand for one’s ideals, regardless of how it is received by society. At first, real life superheroes get mixed reviews; the public seeing them as weirdoes or attention seekers. And this is half true. They do seek attention, but it is not in a narcissistic way, but a way that will draw attention to their cause. Equally as important is the persona. You have to be creative enough to come up with your own identity; one that does not steal from someone else’s idea or overstep copyright infringement laws. This persona serves as an icon to inspire others to do their part so if you’re alter-ego is not inspiring or eye-catching, you’re not achieving your task.
Gadgets and other supplies are also essential. The average RLSH on patrol has four things on them at all times. These things are: a flashlight, pepper spray, a first aid kit, and a cellular phone. These things are the most important tools a hero will use. The flashlight, because most likely you will patrol at night. And since you will be patrolling at night, in rougher neighborhoods, you’ll need pepper spray for self-defense. The cell phone, for obvious reasons, to call in to the local police department if or when a need arises. And lastly, the first-aid kit should be easily accessible should anyone be in need of minor medical attention. These are the staples of any RLSH, anything else is to the discretion of the hero.
Of course all this information is gathered and interpreted me, having no association with any of the many real-life superheroes out there. It wasn’t for lack of trying. But they seem to be an elusive bunch. RLSH’s seem reluctant to interview random college kids as it doesn’t further their cause as much as the national media attention they would get from news media. I did however find a source of information in the form of short biographies of several RLSH. The general consensus is that most of them had things they need to atone for.
As has been previously stated, Real-life Superheroes are an elusive sub-culture. They seek to make the world better in a way of their choosing. When I started this paper, I wanted to inform the masses about this subculture that remains relatively shrouded in mystery. However, as I went on I concluded that though the organization is out there and known, the individuals who are of said organization wish to remain anonymous. It is this anonymity that they cherish that makes the idea of a real-life superhero a misunderstood concept to the greater portion of the general public. Becoming a real-life superhero? Yes it is possible. But where is the line between becoming an icon or a crackpot. Someone who symbolizes hope, or someone fulfilling some childhood dream with blatant disregard for the ideology that is the superhero lifestyle. I still believe that despite its misconceptions the idea of the “real-life superhero” is what our society needs. Symbols of hope.