LA Photog’s ‘Real Life Super Hero Project’ Garners Another Media Shout-Out

Originally posted:
By Richard Horgan on September 21, 2011 2:00 PM
If you have not yet acquainted yourself with the website “The Real Life Super Hero Project,” be sure to do so now or bookmark it for perusal later.
Thanks to the fact that site founder Peter Tangen, a local photographer, is also a consulting producer on the current in-kind HBO documentary Superheroes, his efforts are generating a lot of extra publicity these days. The latest outlet to catch up with Tangen, who has snapped and documented more than 200 citizen do-gooders, is Tampa Tribune reporter Ray Reyes. Per the article:

“There are millions of people who do good in this world but the media doesn’t pay attention to them. This is the marketing of good deeds,” said Tangen…
According to Tangen’s website, [San Diego’s] Mr. Xtreme was attacked by gang members and bullied as a boy. He donned a costume to “protest against indifference in society. People are being victimized and I feel that someone has to take a stand.”
Mr. Xtreme, who has not revealed his real name to anyone, has since formed his own group, the Xtreme Justice League, which gives food and supplies to the homeless.

At press time, Tangen’s latest blog post was about another equally fascinating character, LA “paranormal investigator and masked adventurer extraordinaire” Ragensi (pictured).


From Academia To Zetamania

When WW called Zetaman on Dec. 23, he was walking a mile to work through the snow, with TriMet buses paralyzed and his 1998 Ford minivan broken down at home.
Tough day for the local superhero, who gained a measure of fame after going public this year to reveal his identity in a WW cover story.
Illya King, 30, of Beaverton isn’t blessed with superpowers. But patrolling Portland twice a month to help the homeless—and hyping his exploits online —he’s part of a growing trend of real-life superheroes living out their comic-book fantasies on the street and on the Web.
Life since the WW cover story, Zetaman says, has been a “bizarre, bizarre ride.” He says the public rarely recognizes him in costume or out. But the coverage brought notoriety in the media—local television station KATU and even CNN picked up the story. That, in turn, brought strings of negative comments from anonymous writers online at and elsewhere, calling Zetaman an “attention whore” and a “jackass.”
But Zetaman persevered, continuing to spend his nights in costume handing out food and clothing to the homeless. After headlining a fundraiser for the Portland Rescue Mission at Someday Lounge on April 9 with local folk bands, he followed up a couple weeks ago by raising $1,000 in cash and toys for foster kids at a Dec. 13 benefit concert in Kirkland, Wash.
He’s also ramped up his superhero outreach, heading to California and Washington to patrol with fellow superheroes.
His night in Anaheim on April 30 with costumed avenger Ragensi, who dresses in a black ninja suit, was uneventful. That’s surprising given Ragensi’s more hardcore image and his previous violent run-in with a costumed villain, as reported in WW’s cover story.
“He, like, looks scary, but he’s the biggest sweetheart,” Zetaman says.
His July 4 evening patrolling Seattle with Black Knight was also quiet. But even without action-packed adventure, Zetaman continued his efforts to unite his superhero friends under one banner.
There are two reasons. First is what Zetaman calls continued bad behavior by some other superheroes—including his archenemy, a New Jersey avenger named Tothian, who has tangled with Zetaman in online chatrooms and still picks on other superheroes, Zetaman says.
Second is negative publicity from Rolling Stone, which ran a Dec. 12 story on superheroes that profiled Florida hero Master Legend as a slob living in a run-down shack who uses his alter ego to escape reality.
Now Zetaman and others have vetted people they consider to be examples of true real-life superheroes from around the world. They’re assembled in a new online collective Zetaman helped design at
“We’re trying to get more of a positive message out there that we’re not a bunch of drunks,” Zetaman says. “Or guys just living in our basement and stuff.” —James Pitkin

The Adventures of Zetaman

10489It’s a tough job being Portland’s only superhero.
Once a week for the past 18 months, Zetaman has donned his costume and patrolled downtown Portland, seeking out the needy with gifts of food and clothing.
He goes armed with an extendable steel baton, pepper spray, and a Taser that delivers 30,000 volts—enough to put a man on the ground. Those tools of the trade are to defend himself or people in trouble. But he doesn’t pick fights, and so far he hasn’t been forced to draw his weapons or apprehend anybody.
Like the men under the Burnside Bridge one recent Saturday night when temperatures fell into the low 40s, most of the people Zetaman encounters are grateful for the help.
But they also fail to ask the obvious question: What possesses a stocky 29-year-old to put on a homemade costume and prowl the city streets in the dead of night?
The answers lie both in Zetaman’s own past and on the Web, where in recent years hundreds of other self-styled “real-life superheroes” have sprung into existence around the country.
Zetaman was hesitant to reveal his secrets when contacted by WW. But in the end he agreed to be interviewed and allow a reporter to spend two nights on patrol with him, in hopes that the publicity will inspire more people to become costumed heroes.
“This is not about me,” he insists. “Anyone could do this. I’m nothing special.” He doesn’t even like the term “superhero,” preferring to call himself a “man of mystery.”
But he admits being a costumed avenger is addictive after the first taste of parading in public with a “Z” on your chest.
“I couldn’t stop after that,” he says. “I feel great about myself. I’m staying active in the community. And I like comic books, I like great and noble ideas—like He-Man and Spider-Man. And they all have this thing about noble responsibility.”
On the pages of and in Internet chat rooms, the superheroes plan missions and exchange tips on fighting crime. That is, when they’re not sniping at each other, forming rival superteams, or weathering real-life attacks from mysterious supervillains. But more on the rivalries later.
Most heroes say they’re in the business to make a positive impact. Or just to have a good time.
“People will tell you they had a calling or a vision,” says “Superhero,” a 39-year-old former pro wrestler from Clearwater, Fla., who patrols his hometown in a souped-up ’75 Corvette. “I used to tell people I was trying to be a symbol. Then I realized it was a bunch of crap, and I do it ’cause it’s hella fun.”
In a world where sci-fi has come true and flip phones are as commonplace as pencils, the Eye, a 49-year-old superhero in Mountain View, Calif., says there’s nothing left to stop people from living out their comic-book fantasies.
“Every citizen should do something of that nature,” says the Eye, who says he uses his skills as a former private eye to solve crimes. “I just use the persona to protect the identity and do it with a little style, I suppose.”
It’s easy for the casual observer to wonder what the hell Zetaman or any superhero is accomplishing when the country is dealing with serious issues like the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq or the threat of a recession. And it’s just as easy to laugh at any superhero’s MySpace page, Zetaman’s included.
If you went online right now and accused him of being a supergeek, you certainly wouldn’t be the first.
But consider this: If our life is basically a quest for identity and purpose, real-life superheroes have a huge advantage on ordinary mortals. And for that, they credit the Internet—a world where users can instantly create new personas and seek out others with the same interests.
Dr. Gordon Nagayama Hall, a University of Oregon psychology professor, says real-life superheroes probably have an inflated sense of self-worth, even as they help the innocent.
“Some of us might do those things without the costume,” he says. “The sort of bizarre nature of it suggests to me they might be looking for some kind of recognition that might stem from some narcissistic process.”
The Web merely feeds that impulse, he says. “These Internet groups create this support that actually emboldens people to go out there and act out their fantasy.”
Or as Zetaman puts it, in less academic terms: “It’s a pretty easy club to join. All you need is a costume and a MySpace page.”
It’s taboo in the superhero world to call them by their real names. But by day, Zetaman is Illya King, a married man with no kids. He makes about $40,000 a year, lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Beaverton, drives a 1998 Ford minivan with 96,000 miles on it, and has no criminal record.
Zetaman declined to reveal where he works or what he does for a living, because, he says, he’s concerned about strangers showing up and harassing him on the job.
His stated motives for being a superhero range from the quotidian (“having a cool costume, having a cool identity”) to the quixotic (“helping as many people as I can as selflessly as I can”).
He hesitated to reveal his name for this story because, he says, his true identity is inconsequential. He insists he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself, but to serve as an example. And there’s another, more pressing reason Zetaman hesitates to identify himself: an alarming incident last month in California.
In an unprecedented turn, Zetaman’s superhero buddy Ragensi, who patrols the town of Huntington Beach, Calif., in a black ninja costume, says he was attacked by what appeared to be an unknown supervillain.
Nothing is known of the attacker, Zetaman says, except that he wore special pads used by other superheroes and seemed to be well-prepared, lurking in wait. He used martial-arts moves against Ragensi, who managed to escape using his own fighting skills.
Ragensi did not respond to WW’s requests for an interview. But Zetaman says the unprovoked attack made him redouble his reluctance to identify himself. “We’re still pretty freaked out by the whole thing,” Zetaman says.
Crazy as it may sound to the rest of us, the superhero community has long feared the possibility that supervillains may emerge to confront them. But even after Ragensi’s run-in, Zetaman says it never occurred to him that he could be a target. His costume is more low-profile than Ragensi’s ninja garb, and on the nights WW patrolled with Zetaman, he drew no stares on the streets of downtown. Even the people he helps rarely realize he’s a superhero.
Zetaman’s origins date back to 2006, a time when he was going through a rough stretch in his personal life. Both he and his wife had temporarily lost their jobs, and at the same time they were hit with thousands of dollars in medical bills when his wife suffered a miscarriage. As the couple sank into debt, collection agencies turned nasty, filing claims against them in court for more than $5,000.
But the Portland megachurch they were attending put more of an emphasis on money than other churches they had gone to, pushing the faithful to give at least 10 percent of their pre-tax income to receive the full blessings of God. The couple couldn’t put up that kind of cash. Friends began praying for them.
“We felt like we were charity cases,” Zetaman says. He made a vow. “I’m gonna find a way to make my name for something. I’m basically gonna stick it to the man. That’s how it started off.”
A comics fan since he was a kid growing up in California, Connecticut and Vancouver, Wash., he was tooling around online and found a website for Mr. Silent, an Indianapolis-based superhero. A search brought him to others, including Dark Guardian and Squeegeeman, both in New York.
(Squeegeeman is on the campy end of the superhero spectrum. His MySpace page claims he fights “crime and grime,” and shows videos of him participating in the 2007 AIDS Walk New York and giving out water during the city’s 100-degree heat wave last summer.)
Zetaman was impressed, but his search turned up no local superheroes. “I was kind of shocked that there was nothing like this in Portland,” Zetaman recalls. “Our motto is ‘Keep Portland Weird.’ Where’s all the weird people?”
He created a Yahoo account to establish a new identity online. He started working out, dropping 10 pounds on his 5-foot-6-inch frame, bringing him down to 200 pounds. And he hit the stores to buy his first costume: a spandex shirt from Wal-Mart, leather jeans from Hot Topic and boots from, a goth website. At Party City he bought a zebra mask and remodeled it to fit his first identity: the Cat.
He made his public debut on Aug. 18, 2006, when he planned to patrol while a movie was showing on Pioneer Square. He arrived at a downtown parking garage about 10 pm, donned his Cat mask and stood gazing out over the city, when a woman got off the elevator to walk to her car and started screaming. Two bicycle cops swooped in to question him.
“I thought, this is not cool. This is not gonna work at all,” he says. “I want to be a positive force, not some kind of a thug.”
Going against the advice of other heroes, he ditched the mask altogether and switched to Zetaman—a combination of Zorro and Superman, two of his favorite heroes, riffing off the Greek name for the letter Z.
Without the mask, he no longer incited public panic. But the costume remained a work in progress. He paid $70 for a full-length spandex costume from Minneapolis-based Hero Gear, which outfits many of the Internet’s real-life superheroes. But the full-body suit didn’t fly.
“It kind of sucked,” Zetaman says. “I wasn’t feeling it.”
A $45 spandex shirt with the stylized “Z” on the chest worked out better. But his leather pants brought unwanted attention from certain men on Southwest Stark Street, so he switched to cargo pants instead. He says that cut down on the catcalls.
He keeps his identity secret from everyone but a few family members. His parents are still in the dark. “Here I am, almost 30, and I still care about what my parents think,” he says. “I have an outfit, I run around in the middle of the night, and I hang out with homeless people. So yeah, I’ve kind of avoided that conversation.”
His wife of seven years, Allison King, 30, says at first she was apprehensive because she worried about his safety. But now she fully supports him. “He’s just my hero,” she says. “One of the things I fell in love with him for, he cares about other people so much.”
Now Allison accompanies him on patrol in civilian clothes, helping him pass out food and occasionally filming video she posts on YouTube. “It’s not how I thought I would be spending time with my husband,” she says. “But it’s awesome.”
Zetaman’s not into superhero kink, but he once slipped into bed in uniform. It didn’t work out. “It just felt too stupid,” he says. “I was just laughing.”
Vigilante justice has a controversial history, from Old West posses seeking revenge against Native American tribes to today’s Minuteman Civil Defense Corps patrolling the Mexican border. But the work of Zetaman and other superheroes appears to stay within the law.
Most states allow a citizen’s arrest if a crime is being committed. No permits are needed to carry Zetaman’s chosen weapons of batons, Mace or Tasers, at least in Portland. And while it may be eccentric to do community service in spandex, no one’s been arrested for impersonating a superhero.
A nationwide community-policing group called the Guardian Angels has existed legally for decades, including a local chapter that patrols the MAX line in Portland in their trademark red berets.
Though controversial with some critics, Guardian Angels leaders insist the group is a benefit to the public. Carrying no weapons, they travel in groups, concentrating on public places where people feel menaced. Zetaman and other heroes say their mission is little different.
“I certainly applaud him,” says Curtis Sliwa, who founded the Guardian Angels in New York in 1979. “He’s not getting paid for this. He’s risking his life, and he’s helping those who can’t help themselves.”
Cops take a different view of Zetaman.
“I think he’s going to get in big trouble,” says Sgt. Doug Justus of the Portland Police Bureau’s Drugs and Vice Division. “As soon as you start interfering with a crime in progress, if the guy doesn’t identify you as a police officer, I think you’re asking to get hurt.”
The upsurge in superhero activity across the country appears to have caused no complaints elsewhere. Even in Mountain View, Calif., where the Eye claims he uses light-emitting diodes to temporarily blind people while he’s solving crimes, local police spokeswoman Liz Wylie says cops there have never heard of him.
Zetaman says he’s only once stopped a crime in progress—honking his horn to scare off a guy trying to steal cars downtown. He’s lectured a few drug dealers, but unless there was a person in immediate danger, he says he’d be more likely to call the police on his cell phone than try to stop a crime himself.
“I guess it sounds kind of less heroic, but I don’t want to die,” he says. As for taking out gangs and other organized crime, he says he simply doesn’t have the time or the resources. “I wish I had a million dollars, like Batman,” he says. “But I’m just one guy out there. I’m not strong enough.”
In the past two years, superheroes say their numbers have exploded, largely due to MySpace, the social networking site that’s grown over the same time with its M.O. of allowing users to forge a fake identity and communicate with each other while remaining completely anonymous.
Hundreds of MySpace users pose as superheroes, but Zetaman—who’s intensely involved in the superheroes’ online community and set up several of their most popular bulletin boards—estimates fewer than 30 nationwide actually go out on patrol. As Zetaman suggests, the only requirements to be a superhero seem to be a costume and a nickname, though several also claim to have psychic powers.
Master Legend, a superhero from Winter Park, Fla., claims he can sense when people are in danger. He also says he has super strength and healing powers. And he’s not afraid to beat up bad guys like crack dealers, starting out by taunting them in his superhero costume.
“They just don’t know what to think of that. It shocks them,” he says. “They can’t help themselves any longer, and they come and attack me, and it’s showtime. And you can hear from me laughing how much I love it. I love to jump into action.”
Heroes in Florida and New York claim to have no trouble finding street crime, but Portland’s darkest alleys are a safety zone by comparison. Zetaman tried patrolling in the parks around Portland State University (don’t people get mugged in parks?). Still no dice.
His 70-plus nights on the street have led him to the conclusion that in Portland, the homeless are the real people in need. Now he wears a backpack stuffed with blankets, hats, gloves and socks to give away. He lugs bags of food and soda. One night last month he gave out five double cheeseburgers and five chicken sandwiches from McDonald’s, along with a 12-pack of Shasta cola.
Despite the fact that he’s still paying off his own debts, he says he spends about $100 a month out of his own pocket helping the homeless.
Besides giving out food, blankets and clothing, he also offers help getting to a shelter, or into a drug treatment program. But few accept the offer. “It sounds bad,” he says, “but people have to want help in order to get help. It took me a while to learn that.”
Zetaman’s do-gooder philosophy has taken heat from heroes who claim to take a more vigilante approach. His critics include Tothian, a New Jersey-based hero whose MySpace page says he “destroys evil.” Tothian told WW in an email that he once beat up seven armed men while on patrol.
The two heroes tangled on Internet chat boards last April after Tothian declared himself “leader” of the superhero community. But Tothian declined to criticize Zetaman in a WW interview. “Some things are not for the public eye or the media,” Tothian says.
Like many so-called online communities (see some of Oregon’s blogs on the political left and right as examples), legitimate differences and personal attacks have gradually eroded some of the group spirit that once united superheroes. Just like heroes and villains in comic books, they’re now divided into a number of opposing teams that occasionally come into open conflict online.
The conflict deepened when some heroes began calling openly for violence. “It’s pretty bizarre, the emoed-out kids that are more into the dark side of doing this,” Superhero says. Zetaman says he regrets his role in designing one of the message boards. “Now it’s more like this mini homeland-terrorism site, and it pisses me off,” he says.
After a tiff that Zetaman dismisses as “Internet drama,” Tothian kicked Zetaman off that bulletin board, known as Heroes Network. Zetaman in turn founded the Alternates, a group that includes the Eye and Ragensi. The three are holding a secret meeting in San Jose this May to get better organized, hoping to form a new West Coast superhero squad.
Zetaman also hopes to start up a Portland-based group. “I want to move on to where it’s not just me,” he says. “I think more people should pick up a comic book and say, you know, maybe I don’t have to be so gray all the time.”
While most of the online community refer to themselves as “real-life superheroes,” Zetaman says actual real-life superheroes are police, firefighters and other first responders.Zetaman broadcasts a superhero-themed live radio show online each Thursday night at midnight. You can hear it any time at
Superbarrio, a real-life superhero in Mexico City, has gained fame since 1995 by organizing labor rallies and protests and filing petitions to stop government corruption.
Find real-life superheroes online:

Real Life OC Superheroes

heroesBy Janine Kahn in Main
Our Minneapolis sister paper City Pages has an eyebrow-raising story today about regular folks from cities across the nation who truly believe they are superheroes – and dress the part. We checked out web editor Jeff Shaw’s Google Map of heroes and found two from our neck of the woods:
Ragensi (top photo) is a “paranormal investigator and masked adventurer” from Huntington Beach. His interests include “lock picking, martial arts, drawing, sculpting, money making schemes, video games, occult studies, masked adventuring, zines, banishing evil back to whence it came from, radio, traveling through space and time, etc.”
He also runs an eBay store. Check out Ragensi’s Frappr profile.
Wolf Spider is a “masked adventurer in training” from Orange County (no specific area noted). His interests: “truth, justice, charity, helping others, setting a good example, building a strong community, becoming an icon that inspires change, protecting the innocent, and rehabilitating the troubled.”
Wolf Spider wants to meet people that are “sick of corruption among those who should be incorruptible. People who are tired of laws that protect the guilty and punish the everyday citizen.” So probably not a certain ex-sheriff, eh?
See a slideshow of more “real” heroes here.

Superheroes? Superfreaks?

Citizen Prime and Green Scorpion can’t stop bullets with their hands or see through walls. They don’t have archenemies, and they’re not crippled by Kryptonite. They do, however, don costumes and patrol the streets of Phoenix, looking for wrongs to right and helpless to help. Some call them freaks. Other call them heroes.
Phoenix Magazine PDF File
March 2007
By Dan Rafter
Citizen prime can’t stick to walls or shoot webs from his wrist. He can’t jump over a building or sprint faster than a locomotive. Don’t bet on him to life an elephant over his head, either.
On the plus side, Citizen Prime could juggle handfuls of green kryptonite- if such material really existed- without suffering even the hint of a stomachache. And so far, not a single super-powered villain has threatened to roast him with a fire breath or zap him with lighting bolts.
To sum it up, Citizen Prime has no superpowers, no super-villain archenemies, and no super-weaknesses- unless you count bullets, knives, baseball bats, bricks or anything else that might cause physical damage to an ordinary human.
Sounds pretty much like a regular guy, right? Not so fast, Citizen Prime is a superhero, a real-life superhero. He wears a costume- black body armor and a similarly- colored helmet with a dark visor- and patrols the night streets of Phoenix, looking for wrongs to right. He has a secret identity, too. Few people, he says, know the name of the man behind that dark visor.
Citizen Prim might seem like a strange fellow, but he’s not alone, in the Phoenix area or around the country. A growing number of people- men and women, young and old, living in big cities and small towns, are donning homemade costumes and taking to the streets of their own communities. Some are out to stop crimes. Others provide comfort- blankets, clothing and food- to the homeless. Some erase graffiti or pick up litter. Others try to stop bar fights from getting out of hand.
And that’s just the beginning of these heroes’ specialties. At least one- New York City’s Terrifica, with her blonde wig and golden mask- wears pink tights, sips Shirley Temples, in bars and tries to stop young women from tumbling into alcohol- fueled one-night stands. Another, calling himself Polar Man, grabs a shovel and clears snow from the sidewalks of the elderly. Polar Man lives up north in Canada, so you understand the heroism in his actions.
The real-life superhero community, then, is a varied lot. But Citizen Prim says its members have at least one thing in common: They’re somehow trying to make a difference.
“Anyone can be a hero,” he says. “That is what Citizen Prime is really all about. Even if you don’t ever put on a costume, you can be out there making the streets a safer place. There are so many more of us good people than there are gangsters or criminals. There are so many more of us than there are bad people. All we need is civic pride and brotherhood, and we can take back the streets. We won’t have to figure out anymore what shade of fear we are today.”
Are folks like Citizen Prime- or Green Scorpion, Dark Guardian or Mr. Silent, other members of the real-life superhero brigade- at the forefront of a new trend? Can they make a real difference in their communities? Citizen Prime thinks so. And if you disagree? He doesn’t really care.
Citizen Prime as been patrolling the Phoenix streets for about seven months. Becoming a superhero, though, wasn’t a decision he made lightly. For six months prior to his first patrols, Prime researched the real-life superhero community, logging on to sites such as the World Superhero Registry (, which list profiles of real-life masked adventurers and crime-fighting groups across the country.
Prime liked what he saw. There was something inspiring about the passion displayed by heroes like Mr. Silent and Doktor DiscorD, two real-life superheroes who have become semi-famous for their work in Indianapolis. There real-life superheroes he read about weren’t complaining about the way things were. They were trying to make a change, even if that meant simply picking up litter or helping a homeless person cross a busy street.
When Prime’s on patrol, he isn’t looking for trouble. Don’t expect to see his name in the morning papers along with photos of a foiled bank robbery. Bullets don’t bounce off his chest, so Citizen Prime isn’t likely to tackle a gang of armed criminals. He’s far more likely to hit the streets with a car stuffed full of blankets and clothing to pass out to homeless men and women. He might call the police after spotting a drunk driver weaving down the Phoenix streets, or he might stop to chat with some youngsters about the value of doing good deeds.
Fist fights and karate chops? They’re rarely on Prime’s agenda.
The way he sees it, it’s far more important to serve as a source for hope that it is to get the snot kicked out of him during a brawl in a dark alley.
“We’re not standing on the rooftops, grappling hooks at the ready. But we are trying to make a difference. We’re sort of like the Guardian Angels on steroids.” Citizen Prime says.
Not having superpowers, of course, means that superheroes such as Prime have to make do with what they have. So, while Superman soars above the skies of Metropolis and Spider-Man swings from skyscraper to skyscraper in New York City, Citizen Prime relies on his car to get around. It’s easier to cover a lot of ground that way.
A typical patrol for Prime goes something like this: Late last fall, he was driving into the Phoenix when he spotted a car weaving on the road. It looked like a drink driver, so Prime picked up his cell phone and called the highway patrol, reporting the care and its license plate number. Less than a minute later, a patrol car zipped past him and pulled the drunk driver over.
Not heroic? Maybe it is, and maybe it’s not, but how often do drivers simply ignore the signs of an impaired motorist? And if Prime hadn’t dialed those numbers, who’s to say that the erratic driver, drunk or not, wouldn’t have cause a serious accident?
Another night, Citizen Prime noticed some suspicious individuals scoping out cars in a dark parking lot. Prime pulled into the lot with his parking lights on. He remained there until the suspicious individuals fled the scene.
And, not as dramatic as defusing a bomb or tossing a mugger into a dumpster, but the way Prime sees it, his presence might have stopped a crime.
“That’s what we’re like- we are big, red sirens,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s just about being present, and not being afraid to remain present, to stop someone from even committing a crime in the first place.”
Prime is open about his life about a superhero. He’s not as forthcoming about his true identity, however. He won’t give out his real name, and says that few people know how he spends his evenings when he’s not patrolling the streets.
He is married, though, and his wife knows all about Citizen Prime. Surprisingly, she approves of her husband’s evening adventures.
Green Scorpion, another local real-life superheroes, is even more tight-lipped about his real identity. He makes sure as few people as possible know who he really is.
“I don’t share my superhero identity much,” he writes in an e-mail message, his preferred method of communication. “Most people thing we are nuts or joking.”
The Green Scorpion, though, isn’t joking. And that’s a point he and the other men and women who call themselves real-life superheroes stress: they’re not dressing up for kicks- well maybe just a little- but to help others.
The Green Scorpion is another masked adventurer working in Phoenix. He has his own tagline- “Evildoers, beware the sting of the Green Scorpion!”- that he includes on his MySpace page and in all of his e-mail messages. And his costume is pretty impressive- a trench coat, ultra- creepy mask and wide- brimmed hat.
Green Scorpion and Citizen Prime, however, do have something in common: Sometimes superheroes’ real lives collide with their masked lives.
Take for example, Ragensi, a 23-year- old real-life superhero who works in Huntington Beach, California. On patrol early last October, he realized that his cupboards at home were bare. Like any shopper, he ducked into a nearby supermarket to pick up some last-minute groceries. Ragensi, though, had to do his shopping in full costume, and although it was October, it wasn’t close enough to Halloween for costume-party time.
To understand this fully, it’s important to picture Ragensi’s costume. It’s no happy, day-glo superhero outfit. Think Batman, not Superman. Ragensi looks much like a ninja, clad in all black with his fingerless gloves and a dark scarf-like swath of fabric hiding all of his face except his eyes. And those eyes are creepy, highlighted by dark makeup. It gives Ragensi the permanent wide-open stare of someone who’s missing a few marbles. But when Ragensi stepped into his local market, no one, surprisingly, made a peep. No pointed fingers, no gasps and not a single, “Look at that!”
On his MySpace blog, Ragensi mentions that he felt almost invisible. This story is located next to a series of photos showing the masked adventurer pushing his shopping cart though the store’s aisles. In one shot, Ragensi proudly holds in his gloved hands a bag of Johnny Cat kitty litter. The effect is both unsettling and comical.
Balancing two lives isn’t the only challenge real-life superheroes face. They also have to deal with the difficulties of designing the perfect costume- it not only has to symbolize what a hero stands for, but it also must be functional. Accomplishing both tasks isn’t as easy as it sounds.
In the comics, this looks simple. Superman slips into a phone booth. Iron Man snaps on his metal suit. But in real life, things get complicated.
Ghost, a member of the Black Monday Society, a group of real-life superheroes based in Salt Lake City, knows all about costume hassles. On a MySpace blog dedicated to the exploits of the society, Ghost’s partner, Ferox, writes that the hero is still experimenting with his mask. The Reason? It’s difficult to take a much-needed coffee break when your superhero mask covers your entire face.
Ferox, too, has had his fair share of costume problems. In a phone interview, Ferox reveals that he originally called himself American Corpse and wore a costume that featured a gas mask. Turns out, the local police didn’t appreciate the look, especially after the events of September 11, 2001.
All of which raises an obvious question: Why do real-life superheroes need a costume at all? Can’t they simply do their good deeds, or run patrols, in street clothes? Dark Guardian, a real-life superhero based out of New York City who dresses in a black-and-white costume complete with a dark mask, has an answer:
“It’s about being an icon,” he says. “When you’re walking around doing stuff as a regular guy, people won’t notice you as much. They won’t take a second look. They see a guy dressed like me and they wonder what’s going on. It helps spread our message.”
All good superheroes need a headquarters. Batman had his Bat Cave, Superman his Fortress of Solitude. Real-life superheroes have the World Superhero Registry. The site features profiles of dozens of real-life superheroes, from New York City to Los Angeles. It includes information about superhero teams- thing Justice League or Super Friends- groups like the Moonlight Club, Black Monday Society or Boise Brigade.
And when a superhero just needs to talk, there’s an online forum. The forum has hosted discussions on the best form of martial arts for a superhero (one member suggested Krav Maga, the official self-defense system used by the Israeli Defense Forces); the feasibility and concerns of developing a jet pack capable of lifting a human into the air (it might lift a superhero, but how would the hero gain enough control over the pack to fly accurately?); the best diet for a superhero; and the possibility of developing special gloves that shoot pepper spray.
The World Superhero Registry is the brainchild of Kevlex, a part-time, real-life superhero based in Flagstaff.
Kevlex says that the site was a natural for him. He has obvious computer skills, and he’s long been fascinated by the possibility that ordinary people could perform super-heroic feats. As a high school student, Kevlex- a name that comes from the combination of Kevlar body armor and spandex- would wander the halls of his school with a mask hidden on him, in case any danger popped up. He never had the opportunity to don that mask, but, he says, he never lost his passion for real-life superheroes.
Running the World Superhero Registry and going out on patrols maybe two times a month hasn’t imposed on much on Kevlex’s real life. He won’t give out his real name, but he does offer that he’s 40 years old and does have a real job.
Like other real-life superheroes, Kevlex isn’t surprise that men and women across the country are putting on masks and capes and patrolling the streets. He’s more surprised, he says, that there aren’t more people like him.
“I was surprise initially that something like this hadn’t occurred previously,” he says. “We have everything from radical terrorists to people who live in complete silence in monasteries. We have every extreme possible out there. The superhero archetype is so in the public consciousness that you’d think there would be people out there doing this long ago.”
It’s hard to think about becoming a superhero without thinking about pain. Even the most skilled heroes in the comics get beat up nearly every day. That’s not much fun. Local adventurer Green Scorpion, who won’t go into details about his escapades, says that at times he has gone home with nasty injuries following his patrols.
“I have encountered property crimes, theft and assault,” Green Scorpion writes via e-mail. “I have ended up with some wicked bruises, and have come home limping a time or two. I don’t worry about getting hurt, though. I wear protective gear, and do not let myself get backed into corners.”
While Ragensi out in California spends most of his time as a superhero delivering blankets and hot coffee to the homeless or dropping off bags of toys to a nearby children’s hospital, he has occasionally stumbled upon more serious matters. Once, he says, he stopped and attempted mugging in a part, and had to tie the mugger’s hands to a lamppost.
Is Ragensi ever worried that he might get hurt?
“The thought does cross my mind from time to time,” he says. “The way I see it, though, is that you can get hurt in a lot of professions. Physical danger is just a reality of life, even for those who do their best to avoid it. Not that I’m saying I’m going to be stupid and rush into a dangerous situation without a care in the world. I’m just not going to let fears hold me back from living my life to the fullest.”
So, how long is the lifespan of a real-life superhero? Can we expect to see Ragensi as a 50-year-old man tying muggers to street lamps? And what about Green Scorpion? Will he be willing to sustain those bumps and bruise once he’s approaching mid-life crisis time? And if these heroes retire, will other real-life heroes take their places?
That’s hard to say. But the blogs written by these masked adventurers do offer hints that nighttime patrols and costume making aren’t necessarily all fun and games.
Several heroes have written about falling into funks, when patrols don’t offer the same thrill. Others have requested that Kevlex remove their names from the World Superhero Registry, explaining that they’re taking leaves of absences.
But Citizen Prime shows no sign of retiring from the hero life. Patrols still give him a rush, and he’s even working on creating a new superhero community, WHO, which stands for Worldwide Heroes, although, at press time, this project was place on the backburner.
“I don’t find it very hard at all to do this,” says Citizen Prime. “I don have a normal life and a normal job. But this really enhances the rest my life. I am always on patrol, even when I’m not in uniform. If I see something like a guy yelling at his wife in a dark parking lot, I’ll roll down my window to see whether I can help defuse the situation.
Really, Citizen Prime is just an extension of that.” -Dan Rafter lives in St. Charles, Illinois. He can be reached at
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