Dark and Stormy Knights
It was the height of the Cold War. The readers — the young readers — if there was one thing they hated it was war, it was the military, or, as Eisenhower called it, the military-industrial complex. So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer. He was providing weapons for the army. He was rich. He was an industrialist. But he was good-looking guy and he was courageous…I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like — that none of our readers would like — and shove him down their throats and make them like him. – Stan Lee
Iron Man 3 has just opened to big crowds and favorable reviews, and Batman has spawned two movie franchises and an animated series. Batman and Iron Man (and the Green Hornet and quite a few of the Watchman characters) are costumed superheroes that have no superpowers as we usually think of them. Some of them are filthy rich, but they can’t leap tall buildings (unaided), their flesh is not invulnerable to bullets and they can’t rip apart steel with their bare hands. If they can be superheroes, why can’t real people be superheroes – on a budget?
Some people are trying. They wear costumes, prowl the streets and self-identify as Real Life SuperHeroes (RLSH). The idea has spawned at least two large budget films, Mystery Men and Defendor, but I still remember Captain Freedom, a short-lived character on Hill Street Blues who would jump out of an alley in red tights and a parka, shouting, “Stop this illegal act!” I’m pretty sure he got shot dead by an ‘evildoer’ that had a bead on undercover detective Mick Belker.
Mystery Men was played for laughs, while Defendor was played for pathos, but the RLSH movement takes itself seriously. Two documentary films, Superheroes and Citizen Heroes, are in the works. According to freelance writer Tea Krulos’ website, his first book, Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real Life Superhero Movement, is due to be published in October. Someone named Tothian comments on Krulos’ post:
The thing about the Real Life Superhero Community, is that we’re not some kind of ‘Costumed Charity Movement’ like some people tried to water it down in to. I’ve been working for years to try to help keep it be a REAL Superhero Community. Warriors, Crimefighters, Protectors, Saviors, Medics, Detective types. Not charity, activism, nor picking up garbage. There should be a clear difference between being a Superhero and a Good Samaritan. We’re not defined by our image. We’re defined by what we do. No, none of us are perfect, and we do what we can not just despite our imperfections but IN spite of them.
In my opinion, charity, activism, picking up garbage and being a good samaritan can be more quietly heroic than being a self-styled warrior. In this economy just treating your employees and customers fairly seems almost heroic. Tuning out the din of commercialism and misinformation almost requires superpowers.
Taking stock of Krulos’ reports of the RLSH crew, many of the men go for a Batman or Ninja aesthetic, but the more thrifty tend to resemble the Shoveler, from Mystery Men. They often get punched back by ordinary street thugs, so many carry pepper spray.
At least one, Bee Sting, has been arrested for wearing body armor and firing a shotgun while patrolling a mobile home neighborhood. Another, Phoenix Jones, has been arrested for pepper-spraying combatants in a street fight. The Bar Harbor Batman was arrested for threatening to blow up a hospital – which he claimed was an April Fools joke. The Ray was arrested at an Occupy Oakland protest for assault and failure to disperse. The Beast was arrested for disorderly conduct and possession of handcuffs near a NJ Home Depot. After the Aurora shootings, seeing a masked man near a mall made shoppers nervous.
Although comparisons to uncostumed vigilantes like George Zimmerman seem timely, I recall that the Guardian Angels, wearing uniforms with red berets, overcame initial suspicion, were eventually recognized by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg and were well treated by the media for several years. They haven’t been in the news since founder Curtis Sliwa admitted to staging a few rescues, but there are still chapters in cities around the world.
The irony is that while statistics, such as this Pew Report, tell us that violent crime is going down, media outlets are convincing people that they need to be more and more worried about being victims, that they need to buy guns for self-protection, and that they should willingly give up their civil liberties for greater police power. If we swallow all of that, expecting costumed superheroes to step in and stop crime only makes sense.
Update 20130509: For MayDay, Slate covered Seattle’s Rain City Superhero movement:
What’s that? You haven’t heard of the superhero menace? Seattle, being a somewhat silly place, is the home town of the Rain City Superhero Movement, a group of eccentric citizens who roam the streets wearing homemade superhero costumes, occasionally attempting to stop crime but mostly posing for photographs. Last year, several of the Rain City members inserted themselves into the protests, attempting to stop the anarchists from causing trouble. The independent review on May Day 2012 found that the superheroes just made things worse: “Rain City Superhero Movement individuals were allowed to participate in the melee at 1010 5th Avenue (U.S. Appeals Federal Courthouse). Their participation resulted in allegations of assaults/crimes.” That’s just what that stupid J. Jonah Jameson said about Spider-Man. At least Spider-Man gets results!