Real-Life Superheroes – out of the comics onto the streets

There is a growing number of people serving their community. They dress and act like superheroes even though they don’t have any superpowers, they have one advantage over their comic-book idols, they are real!
These low-profile but visually arresting altruists go by such names as Fox Fire, Black Arrow, Polar Man, Civitron, and Knight Owl. They design their own costumes, ranging from outlandish all-in-one latex suits to motorcycle gear. They call themselves Real Life Superheroes, or Reals for short and they are united by a goal to make the world a better, safer place.
According to Chaim Lazaros, a film student by day and a Real-Life Superhero by the name of ‘Life’ by night, the movement is not entirely new: “We’ve seen several waves of activity among people calling themselves Real Life Superheroes for almost thirty years. I personally know some who have been doing it for twenty years. After the September 11 attacks and thanks to social networking sites on the internet there has been a resurgence of the superhero movement. There are currently about 250 active Reals all over the world.”
The enthusiasm for the US-based movement knows no borders and the causes the Reals adopt are as varied as the personas they assume. Super Barrio hails from Mexico where, rather than fight crime, he uses his image of red tights and matching wrestler’s mask to organise labour rallies, protests and file petitions. Ireland’s Captain Ozone conducts his environmental activism while dressed in a light blue body suit, complete with cape, while Canada’s Polar Man concerns himself with shovelling snow from the old people’s driveways, entertaining children and prowling the streets at nights keeping an eye out for vandals.

It may not exactly be glamourous work but it is conducted with a sense of style and panache that lifts the hearts of those being helped. In these times of economic hardship, when the world is looking at new leaders like heroes the Real-Life Superheroes are quietly but colourfully going about their business. They are helping stranded motorists, volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters, participating in blood drives and fighting crime when the opportunity arises.

Chaim Lazaros was trying to organise the first ever meeting of all the active Reals two years ago when he got his calling: “I was trying to find as many Reals as possible to get them all together in one place. Originally, I was just wanted to make a movie and tell their story. It was an awful lot of hard work and once, in a moment of prayer, I realised through all my actions I was doing something that was aiding the community. I fell under what ‘Entomo the Insect-Man’ classifies as a community crusader, I realised that it was true and on the day the gathering finally happened I declared myself as Life and I dawned my mask for the first time.”
Since that day, Chaim has been making nightly patrols in his New York neighbourhood as Life. His uniform is street friendly: black trousers, black waistcoat, hat and eye mask. He freely admits his work is not exactly the stuff of comic-book storylines, there is no fighting villains and capturing criminals: “I realised that walking around in a uniform you don’t get to see bank robbers running out of banks with the alarms going off and purse snatchers that you have to punch in the face. But you do see a lot of homeless people. I started stocking up on water-bottles, grain bars, socks, vitamins and blankets. I would go out and interact with the homeless, bringing them things they may need and offering them a kind word.”
Chaim’s voluntary community work is not the only super-Samaritan endeavour carried out by the Real-Life Superheroes. In fact, the majority of what they do is community based. Chaim was part of a group that included Reals named Civitron and The Black Ghost that organised a trip to New Orleans to help with the fall out of Hurricane Katrina. They cleaned out, painted and repaired a school gym that was being used as a donations warehouse for victims of Katrina. Their work was noticed and duly rewarded by authorities when October 13 was declared ‘Day of Superheroes’.
If there is one thing we can learn from the comic-book legends, it’s that Superheroes usually have one weakness. For Chaim that weakness is a lack of defence training. He has had a couple of hairy moments while out patrolling, including an incident where he was held up with a broken bottle, that could have turned out worse. It makes his nightly patrols all the more dangerous for him. However, one Real that isn’t an issue for is Dark Guardian.
Chris Pollak, aka Dark Guardian, is a martial arts teacher by day and a black and red leather-clad Real by night. He explains his reason for becoming a Real-Life Superhero: “I’ve been doing this around six years. I started off without a costume, just going out doing a neighbourhood patrol, making sure everything was safe and everyone was good, it kind of evolved as it went along. I decided to pick up a costume and become a symbol, to try to become a really vibrant person to get a message to people that there is a hero in everyone and you can go out and make a difference.”
“I was always into comic books,” he continues. “I loved superheroes in my childhood and I never had real role models in my life. I always looked up to these characters and their ideals and I decided one day to make these ideals a reality. Now, I’m out doing it!”
Dark Guardian is also mostly concerned with homeless outreach and helping those that need it most. Along with Life, he also visits hospitals, in character, to bring presents to the sick children there. You would think that the work is laudable but sometimes some people don’t see it the same way.
“A lot of times you get mixed reactions. If I actually get the chance to talk to someone about it they are very receptive. Some love it, some think the costumes are a bit much but generally they understand we are doing good. People who don’t know about us or have bad misconceptions just think we are crazy!”
It’s a shame to think that in some quarters, including the media, the wrong perception of these do-gooders is portrayed. The Reals do their good work in their own time and at their own risk. It’s generally thankless work and if they want to dress up while doing it then that should be their prerogative.
Both Life and Dark Guardian hope their message of community work gets across. They hope that the number of Reals worldwide grows as more people are inspired by their acts.
“All it takes to be a Real-Life Superhero is to take on an iconic persona and go out and do some public good,” says Dark Guardian.
“We continue to inspire others to become Real Life Superheroes or get involved in their communities in other ways,” is the message from Life.
Community service has never been alluring. Voluntary work, by its very nature, usually attracts only the most altruistic people. The Real-Life Superheroes may raise eyes or generate sneers with the costumes they wear and the names they answer to, but their decency and hard work cannot be ignored, rather, it should be embraced. In a world where superheroes like Batman and Spiderman only exist on movie screens or in books these guys are the next best thing.
Ciaran Walsh for RT

Watchman State

Long before Barack Obama incited our movie stars to give up plastic grocery bags in the name of a more righteous America, long before Rick Warren persuaded millions of spiritual seekers to fill their lives with purpose, a growing number of lower profile yet visually arresting altruists began serving their fellow citizens by taking on local thugs, helping stranding motorists, volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and participating in blood drives. They call themselves Real Life Superheroes, or Reals for short, and as their name suggests, their inspiration comes not from elected officials, religion, or the Kiwanis Club, but rather Batman, Spider-man, and the countless other icons of spandex-clad virtue who populate our supposedly meaningless and morally corrosive pop culture.

According to the creators of the World Superhero Registry, an online forum and resource center where freelance crusaders network and exchange ideas, an individual who wears a costume, performs heroic deeds, and is not functioning as a paid representative of any organization are the primary characteristics of a Real Life Superhero. Some explicitly position themselves as vigilante interventionists eager to protect their neighborhoods from bad guys; others imitate their comic-book role models in a more metaphorical sense, applying their standards of justice and social responsibility to various community service efforts. They go by names like Fox Fire, Civitron, and Knight Owl, and at least one of them, Superbarrio, an international crimefighter whose domain is Mexico City, has been plying his trade since the 1980s.

Recent feature stories on Reals in Rolling Stone and the Sunday Times have led to a flurry of interest, but much of the media coverage has exhibited a mocking tone, focusing on the ways in which Reals do not quite live up to their better equipped and more physically impressive fictional counterparts. The Sunday Times piece, for example, opens with an anecdote in which one Real is reconsidering his avocation after getting punched in the face by a “tiny girl.” Ironically, at a time when the ideals of service, sacrifice, and community are enjoying great cachet in the national conversation, Reals who are doing more than merely talking about such notions are attracting ridicule in large part because the better angels of their nature like to sheathe themselves in colorful, tight-fitting uniforms.

But is it really so wacky what they’re doing? After all, soldiers, police officers, milkmen, firefighters, priests, nuns, Girl Scouts, judges, and football referees all use clothing to signify their commitment to virtuous service. Real Life Superheroes are simply putting a contemporary, hyper-individualized spin on the time-honored notion that clothes make the man. Institutions have long capitalized on the transformational power of uniforms—a young Marine recruit donning his Dress Blues for the first time find himself summoning new reservoirs of courage and discipline as he feels compelled to live up to all the values his uniform embodies. A novice in the Catholic Church undergoes a similar transformation the first time she dons her habit.

But what if you’re not a member of the Marine Corps or the Catholic Church, and yet you’d still like to experience the magic of sartorial transformation yourself? While there isn’t a “virtuous sweater” section at Urban Outfitters or Banana Republic yet, you can get a custom-made BattleSuit from, for the surprisingly reasonable price of only $140. “Once you get suited up, you’re a hero and you have to act like one,” explained a Real who calls himself Geist to City Pages last year. was created by Jack Brinatte, a professional wrestler in Minnesota who started making costumes for himself and other wrestlers. When he advertised his wares on the Internet and started getting inquiries from aspiring Real Life Superheroes, he found himself catering to a new niche; eventually, he created a superhero persona for himself, Razorhawk, and now wears his blue-and-yellow uniform while engaging in community service. “We go out there and try to inspire people to do do good things,” he recently told Fox News. Volunteer in your regular everyday persona, Brinatte suggested, and it doesn’t have as much impact as when you put on a mask and assume a dramatic superhero persona. “People tend to remember that,” he concluded. “Kids see it and it sticks in their mind.”

Of course, it’s not just a selfless act for the adults who don the suits. The U.S. Army used to promise new recruits an “Army of One,” but when they put on their new uniforms, they looked just like every other soldier. That’s part of a traditional uniform’s power—it evokes the strength of all who’ve ever worn it—but in the Internet era of conspicuous self-promotion, it’s easy to see why a flashy and unique outfit, coupled with a proprietary brand name, is appealing to potential do-gooders. Just because you want to serve a cause greater than yourself doesn’t mean you don’t want to be the center of attention while doing it. And have a little fun while you’re at it.

Indeed, while we may have entered a new age of service, sacrifice, responsibilty, and hard work, do we have to be so high-minded about it? Take this YouTube clip produced by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, in which a gaggle of casually pompous celebrities promise to help President Obama transform America by smiling more, curing Alzheimers, and foregoing bottled water—wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to swallow if Ashton and Demi had nixed the ridiculously solemn keyboards and required all the participants to wear Spandex skinsuits while delivering their lines?

Contributing Editor Greg Beato is a writer living in San Francisco. Read his Reason archive here.

Sul web, in lotta contro il crimine

FOX Fire indossa una maschera da volpe, un lungo cappotto di pelle nera e insieme ai Nameless Few protegge dalla violenza le strade del Michigan. Ha 26 anni, è una donna, e di notte diventa una supereroina. Come Wonder Woman. Senza superpoteri, però. La sua forza sta in alcune nozioni di magia e in un buon allenamento fisico. Come lei, in giro per il mondo, centinai di altri supereroi della vita reale, che si dividono tra professioni normali e lotta al crimine.
Quella dei supereroi della vita reale è un’esperienza nata dopo l’11 settembre e rafforzata dalla recente politica dell’active citizenship promossa da Barack Obama. Negli anni recenti la loro comunità è cresciuta intorno al sito World Superhero Registry, l’anagrafe dei “difensori dell’umanità” che a oggi registra trenta iscritti e due aspiranti. Ognuno con un nome, uno stile, un “costume” e un’area d’azione. Il resto è nelle mani della loro fantasia. A eccezione di tre regole, alle quali ogni supereroe, che ambisca a entrare nel registro mondiale, deve sottostare.
La prima riguarda il costume. Non un semplice travestimento per tutelarsi da eventuali ritorsioni, ma un segno di rispetto nei confronti dell’umanità. L’abito è il biglietto da visita con cui presentarsi al mondo, e dal quale dipende la propria credibilità. La seconda regola definisce l’attività del supereroe, che deve agire per il bene dell’umanità, mantenendo però un livello d’azione più attivo e partecipativo del semplice comportamento quotidiano. In caso di inattività o di inadempienza, il registro segnala nella scheda l’eventuale ritiro dall’anagrafe mondiale.
Infine, l’ultima regola, quella che riguarda la motivazione personale e definisce i doveri del paladino. Essere supereroi non ha niente a che fare con campagne di promozione personale o trovate pubblicitarie. La vocazione deve venire dal singolo individuo, che non può ricevere denaro per la sua attività né lavorare come rappresentante, stipendiato o volontario che sia, di un’organizzazione.
Detto questo, non resta che scorrere il registro per scoprire travestimenti e crociate di questi paladini che molto devono al mondo dei fumetti ma dal quale non possono prendere neanche un nome, pena l’infrazione del copyright. E allora l’ispirazione arriva dalla fantasia. A New York lavora Terrifica, in Inghilterra c’è Black Arrow, in Florida opera Amazonia mentre la Regina di Cuori è del Michigan. Ultima limitazione all’operato di questi eroi incompresi – che in questi giorni grazie ad alcuni articoli su The Sunday Times e Rolling Stones vivono momenti di gloria – è l’utilizzo di pistole e coltelli. Ben vengano quelli in plastica, che fanno da complemento all’abito. La loro vera arma non è metallica, ma virtuale.
Dalle pagine dei loro siti, i supereroi lanciano le loro minacce al mondo del crimine. Ed è sempre online, con l’iscrizione al registro ufficiale, che l’attività trova definitiva consacrazione. Inutile fare pressioni per entrare nel registro: la nomina deve essere promossa da parte del registro stesso in seguito a una comprovata carriera da supereroe.
I capostipiti sono i quattro più celebri iscritti che a oggi, tuttavia, risultano in pensione. C’è Terrifica, paladina della sicurezza femminile che per anni ha tutelato le donne newyorkesi da uomini violenti e pericolosi. C’è Angle-Grinder Man, il vigilante inglese degli automobilisti che, operando tra Londra e il Kent, ha liberato centinaia di automobili dalle ganasce applicate dalla polizia municipale. Ci sono anche Mr. Silent, angelo delle notti dell’Illinois, e Crime Fighter Girl, ragazzina in maschera gialla impegnata in attività di volontariato e assistenza sociale nella contea di Jackson.
A loro si ispirano gli attuali supereroi, tra i quali spiccano per notorietà, con tanto di interviste a Cnn o Fox, SuperBarrio e Shadow Hare. Il primo, costume in lycra rosso, mutandoni e mantello dorati, difende i diritti dei lavoratori e dei poveri messicani. Il secondo, maschera nera, aiuta i senzatetto di Cincinnati. C’è anche chi difende il mondo dall’inquinamento, come Black Harrow – cappuccio nero, capelli rossi e amore per gli animali – o Entomo: quest’ultimo è l’unico supereroe italiano ammesso nel registro. Il fiorentino Superataf è in attesa che la sua candidatura venga valutata.
Entomo è un uomo insetto che opera a Napoli per promuovere una più ampia coscienza ambientalista. E dalla sua pagina MySpace lancia una testimonianza: “Essere un supereroe è il gesto più importante che si possa realizzare in un mondo arretrato come il nostro. Utilizzo le mie capacità salvando quel che resta da salvare e distruggendo quel che non rientra nel grande schema dell’equilibrio”.