Shazam! Real-life superheroes to the rescue

Originally posted:
By Douglas Quan, Postmedia News     November 20, 2011

By day, they are regular folks with full-time jobs, bills to pay and mouths to feed.
By night, they are masked and sometimes-caped crusaders, who troll the streets looking to help the needy, stamp out crime and fulfil their comic-book inspired dreams.
But lately the mostly anonymous members of the so-called Real Life Superheroes movement (known as RLSH) in Canada and the U.S. have been feeling a bit of angst and more than a little misunderstood after a bout of bad publicity.
First, there was the arrest last month of Seattle’s high-profile crime fighter Phoenix Jones (whose real name is Ben Fodor) over an alleged assault. Jones, who wears a black-and-gold uniform complete with Batman-like fake abs, says he unleashed a canister of pepper spray to break up a fight.
Then last week, Canadians learned about a group of B.C. teens who posed as underaged girls online, lured men into encounters and then confronted them at designated meeting spots in Batman and Flash costumes while video cameras rolled. Police immediately rebuked the sting operations, saying the teens put themselves at risk.
“I’m sorry if I am being cautious, but you do understand … we are in a fragile state because a few of us have been seen as, well, vigilantes or worse,” said Ark, a Toronto-based superhero in an email.
“Media is a powerful thing, and I honestly don’t want you or any other kind of reporter dragging the Canadian RLSH down.”
Members of the movement, which was the subject of an HBO documentary earlier this year, insist their mission is simple: to do good deeds and inspire others to do the same. That includes participating in neighbourhood patrols, working with charities and helping the homeless.
Sure, their costumes are gimmicky, but the shtick sticks in people’s minds and draws attention to their causes, they say. Vigilantism, they insist, is not condoned.
“They’re not vigilantes. They’re not doing anything against the law. They may be using unusual methods, but they’re using symbolism to market good deeds,” said Peter Tangen, a Hollywood movie poster photographer who has done photo shoots with dozens of real life superheroes across the U.S.
There are more than 600 people worldwide listed as members on the website Most are based in the United States.
They include New York City’s Dark Guardian, who flushes out drug dealers in Washington Square Park; red-white-and-blue-uniformed DC Guardian, who patrols the nation’s capital while dispensing copies of the U.S. Constitution; Super Hero in Clearwater, Florida, who drives around in a Corvette Stingray and helps stranded motorists; and Urban Avenger, who breaks up fights outside bars in San Diego.
There are at least a handful of real-life superheroes scattered across Canada. In Vancouver, there’s Thanatos, a married 63 year-old ex-U.S. military officer and self-proclaimed “comic book geek,” who is named after the Greek god of death.
Thanatos, who works in the death industry – he declined to say what he does exactly – says he acts as an extra set of eyes and ears for the police in the Downtown Eastside and also hands out food, blankets and socks to the homeless every month.
He cuts a creepy look, dressed in a black trench coat, black and green skull mask and flattened Australian bush hat. The getup, he admits, can freak out some people.
But accompanying each care package is a slip of paper bearing the words “Thanatos – Real Life Superhero” on one side and “Friend” on the other.
“They know they have a friend out there, even if it’s a crazy guy with a mask,” he said.
Toronto’s Ark is a 26-year-old guitar-playing security guard, who says he feels compelled to jump in to help the “less fortunate, the troubled and the weak.”
“I, for some reason, care for the unfortunate, and I don’t tolerate people who take advantage of other people,” he said.
Though he has broken up fights over the years, Ark says he’s “not really a crime fighter. I don’t go out of my way to find trouble.” He prefers walking around handing out sandwiches and coffee to the needy.
His uniform is simple – “I don’t dress to impress,” he says – consisting of black tactical pants, black tactical jacket, black military hat and partial face mask.
He also wears a bulletand stab-proof vest and brings along his “tactical hard knuckles and soft padded gloves” – for “deterrent” purposes.
One of the newer members to the movement is exreservist Crimson Canuck, a married, 24-year-old father, in Windsor, Ont., who works as a telephone technician.
He says he was drawn to the movement out of a desire to make the city better. “I don’t want my daughter to be afraid to go downtown,” he says.
Crimson Canuck, whose outfit consists of a crimson shirt, red tie, black vest, grey slacks, combat boots, black fedora and partial face mask, recently blogged about his first-ever downtown street patrol.
Before he left the door, his wife “called me a fool and made sure I brought mace, in case things got hairy,” he wrote.
But things didn’t get hairy. In fact, it was a quiet night.
“No action,” he wrote. “Not even a car alarm.”
He ended the night instead by grabbing some food from McDonald’s and sharing some of it with a homeless man in a wheelchair.
“I’ve done my share of bad things,” he wrote. “But now might be a good time to make up for it all. I’m not a clean-cut good guy. I’m just a guy who wants to do good.”

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

Meet Vancouver's very own superhero

Has a challenge for the City of Vancouver
Originally posted:–meet-vancouver-s-very-own-superhero
By News1130 Staff
thanatosVANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – He takes care of those who live in the city’s dark places, defending and helping people on the mean streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.  News1130‘s Mike Lloyd is revealing the details of a clandestine meeting with the man who calls himself Thanatos, The Dark Avenger.
“I’m a real life superhero here in Vancouver.  I take care of those who really need help the most.  I take care of those in the street, I watch out for them, I defend them, and I help them out.  I do monthly hand-outs of food, blankets and necessities.  I patrol the [Downtown] Eastside and keep my eye on things.  When I see things I report them to the police.”
On a stormy afternoon, Thanatos strides between the gravestones of Mountain View Cemetery, cloaked in black with a wide-brimmed hat and masked behind a twisted, iridescent skull.
Why the dramatic backdrop?  “This is an appropriate place to meet Death.  Where else would you meet him?  At McDonalds?”
Thanatos is the Greek God of Death, and the man behind the mask says he took on the persona after a conversation with a police officer.
“I was told people on the street had nothing better to look forward to than death.  That really stung me.  I thought if that’s the case, Death had better get out there and start taking care of these people.  I originally came up with the idea of going out with the robe and scythe but I realized that would be impractical.”
Instead, he ended up in black overcoat and hat, body armour underneath, and masked behind a green skull-face.
“I started researching and found out other people were using the same idea to draw attention to what they were doing.  So, being a comic book geek at heart, I fell back on that and redesigned the figure of death.  I’m based on The Green Hornet, The Shadow, The Spirit, a bit of Doc Savage and a bit of Batman.  The persona works.”
Thanatos stresses he is not a vigilante. “Swinging in on a rope, beating up the drug dealer, leaving him tied up for police looks good in the movies, but this is the real world and you can’t do that.  It doesn’t work.  It’s a bigger problem than just trying to take criminals off the street one at a time.  It’s a social issue and society has to change to stop people from landing on the street and getting swept up into the drugs and crime down there.”
This is certainly no game for the costumed man as he asks to be tapped on his chest.
“Feel that?  I wear a level 3A bullet proof vest.  It is dangerous.  Some of the people I encounter are coming down off methamphetamine or coming off other drugs.  The drug dealers and gangs are also quite dangerous.  I’ve had guns flashed at me.  I’ve seen guns down there ranging from small handguns to AK-47s.  I’ve had knives flashed at me.  I had someone try to stick me with a [sharpened] bicycle spoke and when you stick that into someone it usually catches something vital.  I’ve had someone throw a bullet at me from across the street.”
As the wind whips and the clouds darken, Thanatos says he feels the need to continue his work.  “I’ve helped out over the years as myself.  No one remembers.  No one cares.  The idea of real life superheroes using costumes is to draw attention to what we’re doing.  That draws attention to the problem.”
And there are others, many of them chronicled in the Real Life Superhero Project.
“We are all over the world.  Right now there are probably 300 of us who are active and out trying to actually help the world be a batter place.  Most are in North America, but we have people in Asia, people in the Mid-East and we have quite a few in Europe and Great Britain.  There are a few of us in Canada.”
As the meeting draws to a close, Thanatos has one last thing to add, a challenge to the city.
“We have had terrible riots here in Vancouver.  We had a great outpouring of emotion shown on the plywood, people saying ‘I love you,’ we need to do something, we need to better our city.  So, I’m issuing a challenge to the city of Vancouver.  Everyone go out and help 10 people before the end of July, anything they can do.  If they can keep someone alive on the Downtown Eastside for a day, give them water, give them cereal bars, give them whatever.  If all they can do is stop for five minutes and talk to these people and give them time, that’s fine, too.”
With that, the meeting ends.  Thanatos turns, disappearing deeper into Mountain View, preparing for another night of trying to help Vancouver’s vulnerable and, hopefully, inspiring others to do the same.

Gift Certificate Handouts

Usually when we go out on an Outreach to help the Homeless, we hand out such consumables as bottled water, sandwiches, and other cold foodstuffs. But with cold weather coming on, I’ve been thinking about how to get people hot food, hot beverages, and maybe a warm place to rest, even if for a short while. That’s when I came up with the idea of giving out McDonald’s Gift Certificates (or other certificates of your choice).
The certificates will allow the bearer to buy hot food and hot beverages. They may also rest awhile inside the warmth of the restaurant, as paying customers, so that they won’t need to worry as much about being chased off by the staff.
Some people worry that if they give money to the Homeless that it will be spent on drugs, or alcohol. But with Gift Certificates, this worry is pretty much eliminated. Also it allows the holders not to have to carry food on them like they would if you gave them a sandwich on the street. Sometimes having food on them attracts unwanted attention, or even rodents.
Now I already know McDonald’s fast food isn’t everyone’s meal of choice, but it is a darned sight better than nothing, or maybe even food gotten through dumpster diving.  Calories are needed to survive in cold weather and fat content isn’t a great concern.  The consumption of hot beverages reduces the need for the body to burn calories just to maintain body temperature.
The typical Outreach package I put together runs about $10, this is enough for two complete hot meals at most restaurants.
The following remarks are from my colleague, Phantom Zero on this subject:
“FYI, just from personal experience, supplies can be cumbersome and heavy–so slips of paper as opposed to lugging a dozen plus bottles of water and sandwiches is more efficient. You can keep them handy for any-time homeless outreach.
However–no guarantee that any establish will let someone who is homeless in, as they may feel its disruptive to business and might drive customers away (regardless of laws or statutes stating otherwise).
BUT a lot of places do allow the homeless to “freecycle” foods which are past their due time (by virtue of standards and practices), but still perfectly good foodstuffs.”

Entropy's Forgotten Factor

A conversation between Big Simon and Tiny Terror on doing good
Big Simon: Tiny Terror… I’m callin’ you out!
You’re fond of pointing out how we’re fighting a losing battle, how the notions behind the theory of entropy describe a situation in which we are little more than hindrances to a certain outcome. I’d like to take a moment to point out a flaw in that idea.
Entropy is the measure of increased disorder in a closed or isolated system. In a system with no change in variables, chaos is the rule. The common example is that you cannot put the ingredients for a cake mix into a bowl, seal it shut, and expect it to make itself into a cake. Order doesn’t come from nothingnesss – in fact, it’s just the opposite. With no outside force working on those ingredients, the liquids will soak unevenly into the powders, and eventually you’ll just have a big, gloppy mess.
On that point, I think we agree. But that’s as far as your theory seems to go.
What it’s missing is that there is an outside force. Us. People doing good things. I don’t care if you call them “Real Life Superheroes”, “Costumed Activists”, “Crimefighters”, or “Good Samaritans”, these people are the ones who mix up the cake mix, who slide it into the oven and bake the cake, who take it out and frost it, then serve it up to the rest of the world. This force, this human force, doesn’t just consist of people in this movement; it consists of everyone who believes doing good things is right; it’s made up of uncorrupted cops, daring firefighters, brave soldiers, caring nurses, precise doctors, teachers who challenge their students, and students who take their challenge. It’s made up of next-door neighbors, complete strangers, open-source programmers, faithful missionaries, honest politicians (as rare as they might be), lawful judges, and courageous public defenders. It’s the essence of the most positive side of human nature, and it’s real and alive.
The world is a better place than it was two hundred years ago. It’s more complex, not less so. It’s more ordered, not less so. We have better communication and a more widespread understanding and acceptance of our differences. No, we’re not perfect, but we’re closer than we’ve ever been in all of history.
We may never reach that perfect utopia, but we aren’t getting worse, because we’re not a closed, isolated system.
All it takes is a little hope, and a little more action.
Tiny Terror: Don’t head off to Ponderosa just yet, Big Simon. After all, it’s open ’til 10 PM at the very least and although you might miss the lunch buffet, you certainly won’t miss dinner.
Just in case no one gets the joke, Ponderosa is an all-you-can-eat buffet in Pennsylvania.
Anywho, I’m aware of my flaw in arguing on behalf of entropy; a flaw I’ve ignored up until this point because no one else seems to be capable of pointing out the fact that we do not exist in a closed-system…Where entropy doesn’t have to be the norm. I can admit that things have gotten a heck of a lot more civilized since our days as mammoth-hunting neanderthals and I can also admit that things have become better regarding levels of violent crime and hate crimes and all of that.
How interesting, however, is it that you’ve gone and proven that the RLSH’s existence is one that is fleeting?
Things are better, A LOT better, than they ever were in the past even if they could stand to make continued leaps forward. And this is a trend that has carried on regardless of you folks doing what you do. The world becoming better does not weigh upon your shoulders so much as it weighs upon everyone and I think the general consensus is that things have not become worse.
And as far as our caring for fellow man goes, it continues to get better.
Innately, we’re driven to sadism and altruism…Although that other side of us exists, we seem to be suppressing it quite well in favor of treating one another with more generosity and kindness than we have displayed in the past.
Yes, I was wrong and flawed in my arguments for entropy. Congratulations on being the first person to either look it up or recognize the flaw first-hand. However, noting the world continues to get better and has continued to get better, showing a trend, does sort of dispute the RLSH’s existence. Why have such a movement if things are getting better?
Big Simon: Just because things are generally getting better doesn’t mean there are pockets and places that couldn’t use a helping hand. We get better, on the whole, because people are inspired by the actions of others. Scientists become scientists because somewhere along the line a teacher really grabbed their interest. Firemen become firemen usually because something – or someone – in their lives convinced them of the need to save, or the raw goodness of saving, lives. Same with paramedics and EMS workers. We may not all stand on the shoulders of giants, but most of us have been given a leg up by someone who provided a catalyst for change, a challenge to be better.
No, the RLSH movement isn’t necessary. But you’re right at one point: It is fleeting. This moment, this tiny chronological span, is the only time it would work. The American entertainment industry has created for us (and the world!) a new mythology, an distinctly American mythology. Superheroes have gone mainstream, due to big-budget films like Iron Man, Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight, and it’s created an environment in which people who wish to stand up for their communities can take on the semblance of the inspirations they had long before the new mythos became a public phenomenon. I won’t say everyone in the movement was inspired by comic books, but a large number, even the majority were, and if they want to do their good deeds dressed like those fictional characters who instilled in them at a young age the desire to to right, now is the perfect time to do so.
But we live in a thirty-second society. We like our McDonald’s. We like our news served up in soundbites and flashes of pre-edited video. We like our short speeches and catchphrases. Nothing holds our attention for long, and the RLSH movement will be the same. It’s fleeting because in twenty years we’ll have stepped it up. Maybe we’ll move to a whole different mythology. Maybe people will see the need to do this sort of thing all the time, and there won’t be a purpose to do it with a costume and a mask. Maybe they just won’t care anymore.
Yes, the RLSH movement is fleeting, in the grand scheme of things. But people inspiring others is not, and that is what is going to be the legacy of the movement, if it’s done right. That is what will be remembered.
Tiny Terror: Mm, fair enough.
Not much I can say in regards to this, save for the fact that I hope you’re right. I hope inspiration is the legacy of the movement.
On the other hand, its legacy could be one of crazy, if not civil-minded people that liked to play dress-up. Make sure that people remember what you were fighting for, not who was fighting.
Other than that, curse you Big Simon, for pointing out the flaws in my argument.
I’ll be back, hasta la vista, foiled again, and all of that other, villainous jazz.