We Need a Hero!
Think back to when you were a kid.You would rummage through your linen closet, grab the brightest colored sheet, and tie it so tightly around your neck you would almost suffocate.Ta-da.You were Superman.Your imagination would take over as you spent the rest of the afternoon whizzing around the house like it was Metropolis, saving teddy bears and siblings from the clutches of evil.
The idea of transforming into someone better while helping others was as intoxicating as your mom's freshly baked cookies.Today, that same escapism extends from the backyard into the streets.Taking cues from the comic books that inspire them, an increasing number of Americans have begun donning their own costumes as "real-life superheroes." Their Avengers- inspired attire and names like "Knightshade" draw tongue-in-cheek media interest, not to mention several warnings from local authorities. But regardless of what others think, these gaudy do-gooders are, well, actually doing good.
Take media-darling and Seattle-based vigilante Phoenix Jones. In black and gold armor that only reveals his eyes, fingertips, and goateed mouth, Jones stops bar fights and puts wrongdoers under citizen's arrest. Tea Krulos, a writer who has met more than 90 vigilantes for his upcoming novel on these heroes, says that Jones is making a true difference in his city. Along with his superhero team, "Rain City Superhero Movement," Jones leads community safety patrols with other costumed—and non- costumed—civilians, giving them a chance to help out. "That ability to inspire people is amazing. They're actually out there doing it on some level," Krulos says.
Just don't let the Kevlar and spray-painted sports gear fool you. These people may act like Batman, but they're as vulnerable as the rest of us. As Krulos puts it, all it takes is one bullet. Two attackers once jumped Jones and broke his nose. In another fight, which Krulos witnessed, two Russian men tried running Jones over with an Escalade after a street fight turned sour.
Not all real-life superheroes are crime busters, though. Some of them are just good samaritans in masks. "Superhero," based in Clearwater, Fla., spends more time walking blind ladies across the street and fixing flat tires than vanquishing wrongdoers with his fists. In the HBO documentary on real- life vigilantes, Superheroes, a number of crusaders cite a lack of faith in conventional law enforcement as their motivation for hitting the streets. Images of police brutality at the recent Occupy Wall Street protests only reinforce this distrust.
And while the colorful costumes aren't necessary for citizen justice, Krulos says they provide that extra element of fun and mystique. "It's kind of a strange thing for sure, but I like it because it's kind of a strange hobby where they're trying to help other people out," Krulos said. "It's a rare thing." We all knew it didn't take powers to be a superhero. Now we must realize that all it really takes is selflessness and motivation. Well, that and some theatricality.
Characters like Jones might make legitimate law enforcement look bad on occasion, but they certainly won't replace them. They won't save the planet from an alien invasion or a megalomaniac's doomsday device. What they can do, however, is help their fellow humans and look awesome while doing it. That's something our sheet-clad childhood selves could only imagine.