If a healthy number of Websites and blogs are any indication, there are hundreds of Real Life Superheroes around the world, mainly operating out of urban areas. One of the best known is “Citizen Prime,” an RLS from Phoenix. Prime is a husband, father and office worker who puts on a costume (or uniform, as the RLS community prefers) with intent to fight crime. Though Prime does carry a pair of intriguingly named “stun-knuckles” in case he has to protect himself or others, most of the work he does fits neatly within the category of good Samaritanism—flat-tire repair and making speeches to elementary-school students about the dangers of drug use. But in the past year, buoyed by increased media attention, Prime has also started a successful toy drive to help needy children.
Prime, an office worker in his 40s, has a certain charisma, the kind usually seen in community organizers and old-fashioned politicians. In conversations, he’s prone to wholesome expressions like, “Oh, my gosh,” and “Gee,” sounding like a real-life Jimmy Stewart. He vouches for the Black Monday Society, implicitly. “They’re really good guys. I’ve had contact with them for a while now, and they seem like the real deal.” Prime visited the Black Monday Society over the long winter, but—human as they were—the heroes decided it was too cold to patrol. Still, one hero wrote on his blog that “we did suit up and take some photos,” and that “more team-ups will happen when it gets a little warmer.”
New Real Life Superheroes seem to appear every day. They add their photos and biographies to Websites like RealLifeSuperheroes.com and share their thoughts on weaponry, good deeds and other topics on blogs such as Heroes Network. There’s the Justice Society of Justice, based in Indianapolis; The Boise Brigade, and, from Washington, D.C., the Capitol City Super Squad. “Zetaman” patrols the streets of Portland, Ore., wearing a utility belt loaded with a first-aid kit, a baton and a Taser, among other gadgets.
Polarman shovels the snow-covered sidewalks of Iqalulit, the capital city of Canada’s youngest province, Nunavut—located north of Quebec on Baffin Island. Entomo the Insect Man claims to protect Naples, Italy, and frequents superhero message boards with hilariously Roberto Benigni-esque broken English comments. His MySpace page boasts a mission statement: “To be a Real Life Superhero is truly the greatest deed a man can accomplish in a backwards world like this, where fiction is truer to reality than reality itself. On the other hand, the chance to fight for such a stunning planet is too significant to be turned down. Hear my buzz, fear my bite,” and it ends, as all his posts do, with his tagline: “I inject justice!”
Whole businesses have sprung up around the RLS life. Hero-Gear.net deals in costumes for Real Life Superheroes. Armories that produce chain mail and weapons for Renaissance fair actors have started to sell to the RLS community, as well. Dressing up like a superhero and going on patrol seems to be looking less like a bizarre pastime than it does a lifestyle choice, according to some of the heroes. Think teenagers going goth or animal-rights activists fervently volunteering for PETA.
The media is giddily spreading the word about RLS. Some television stations have struck a gold mine in covering regional “superteams,” packing their reports with references to Batmobiles and “Pow! Bang! Boom!” sound effects. A reporter from Rolling Stone went on patrol with the Black Monday Society last fall (though the magazine has yet to publish the story) and several filmmakers are rushing to finish documentaries about the Real Life Superhero movement. Members of The Black Monday Society claim one documentary maker told them that, to be featured in his film, they’d have to sign the rights to their superhero identities away to him. They declined. Another filmmaker and his subjects hosted a Times Square publicity stunt covered in The New York Times last October. Your Friendly Neighborhood Superhero, a recently completed documentary, is scheduled for various film festivals this spring. See RealLifeSuperhero.com for a snippet of the film.
Internet reaction to the RLS movement is mixed. RLS and superhero fans are continuously posting words of encouragement on each other’s blogs. But, as soon as a non-RLS site notices them, the general public, hidden securely behind a guise of anonymity, tears them to shreds. After a story about Silent and DiscorD appeared on comic-book writer Warren Ellis’s blog, the posters unanimously decided that RLSs were endangering themselves, if not others. One commenter, Monk Eastman, summed up the feelings this way: “I predict the following headline: ‘Oddly Dressed Virgin Found Shot 1,123 Times.’”