Holy Cow, It's the SUPERZEROES

Published in  loaded Magazine
By James Swanwick
Loaded joins a bunch of ordinary fellas who claim to do extraordinary deeds on the mean streets of New York City.
The scene is set: it’s midnight in New York and a woman’s screams rip through the air. A domestic dispute is taking place with her boyfriend in a fifth floor apartment. The man screams insults back and crockery is smashed.
Then, out of the dark shadows, three figures emerge to save the day- holy cow, it’s three superheroes!
This is no comic book story, though. These three crusaders are real-life superheroes, normal fellas who spend their spare time dressing up and performing good deeds for good folk. Meet “Dark Guardian”, “Phantom Zero” and “Life”, whose missions range from the important to the mundane- from stopping robberies and attempted murders to giving out food to the homeless. They’re part of a growing movement that now has hundreds of members all over the States- what’s more, they’re popping up in Blighty now as well.
Tonight on patrol of the Big Apple, the heroes have a new member in their group- loaded-Man- a half-bat, quarter-feral cat, quarter idiot. Together, we’re roaming the streets in search of danger.
It’s just after the witching hour strikes that we hear the woman�s screams. Dark Guardian is the first to spring into action. Wearing a blue and red shirt, tight kecks and what look like aeroplane goggles, he sprints down the streets toward the bedlam.
But instead of flying like Superman, he has another way of fighting crime. He dials the emergency number 911 on his mobile. Five minutes later, a police car with flashing lights pulls up in front of us.
Two officers approach with befuddled looks on their faces. “We’ll take it from here,” one officer says, his eyes popping out on stalks at our costumes.
He pauses, sizing our group up and down. “What’s with the outfits?” he says, a grin on his face.
I feel slightly embarrassed, but my superhero friends aren’t fussed. Satisfied the situation is now under control, Dark Guardian, Phantom Zero, Life and loaded-Man continue into the night
Our new friends are all part of ‘Superheroes Anonymous’, a real world internet forum for superheroes to meet and help communities.
Chaim Lazaros (aka Life), 24, is a student at Columbia University and reckons a real-life superhero is anyone who goes out in their own unique persona to do good of any sort. “What makes us superheroes is that we actively go out to do heroic acts,” he says.
He discovered this world on Google. “I stumbled across the real life superheroes community,” he says, “I started going on MySpace and found it really interesting. I was fascinated by these stories of people doing incredible things in costumes.”
Lazaros accepts that, despite all the good work he does as life, most people tend to think he’s got a screw loose.
“The initial reaction is, ‘What’s with the mask, buddy?'” he explains. “Or some people walk past in the street and say, “Whaddup, Superman?’ But once they talk to us they realize it’s very positive- we’re talking up our own time, helping the homeless and the needy.”
Chris Pollak, aka the Dark Guardian, is a 24-year old martial arts instructor from Staten Island, New York. Pollak, who first became interested in real-life superheroes seven years ago, claims he never had a real role model in his life. “But comic books have always been a positive influence,” he says. “Their morals have always inspired me throughout my entire life.”
Unlike their comic book counterparts, though, they don’t swing fists- that’s not what being a real superhero is about, apparently.
“A lot of people are fixated on fighting crime,” he says. “But that’s the police job. I’m there to help in any way I can and inspire others to do good acts.”
That doesn’t mean things don’t get lairy on the streets for these lads, as Pollak discovered when a fella went nuts in a shop.
“He was running around the store, yelling and throwing things on the floor,” he recalls. You can tell it’s a story that he’s spun in the boozer before. “I cornered him in an aisle and tried to talk him down. He grabbed a bottle and smashed it into a makeshift knife. I stood right in front of him and made sure everybody got out while another guy called the police, who got there 20 minutes later. It was pretty exciting.”
The costumes mean that, as well as being able to save the day, they’re also targets themselves- for serious piss taking.” I get ridiculed by bloggers,” sighs Dark Guardian. “People can be negative. They say things like, ‘Check out these crazy people running around in costumes. You don’t have to dress in a costume to go do these things.”
Which is true, as loaded points out, “But the idea’s making he point of good deeds as good acts- drawing attention to it,” insists Lazaros. “If I was going out wearing my regular clothes, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.”
The most mysterious member of the group is Phantom Zero. At well over 6ft tall, he towers over the rest of the group. A black cape and a Phantom Of The Opera-style mask covers his face. He won�t even tell us his name. All we know is that he lives in New Jersey and works in a call centre. It makes us wonder if Ocean Finance staff in Blighty sneak out to don spandex and rescue kittens.
“I’d talk to people [over the phone] who had personal problems,” he says. “Then my father was extremely ill and passed away, so I wanted to help people and make the world a better place.”
It’s 1 am on New York’s Upper West Side. Back on patrol, we’re searching for homeless people to feed. *Next Line unreadable*-Webmaster
“There are homeless people there,” Life says. “Let’s not wake them. You have to be careful approaching homeless people, even if you�re trying to help.” We leave food and water.
We go on foot into Times Square, in the bustling centre of NYC. I feel truly ridiculous, but my mood quickly changes when we’re approached by groups of hot women. “Hey, can we get photos with you.” Asks a cute blonde. “Hey, sexy Batman!” says another. “You see? Being a superhero can have it’s benefits,” Dark Guardian smirks.
The night is over and our heroes are making the journey home. We’ve rescued a woman in distress, fed the homeless and spread the superhero word. “You did good,” says Dark Guardian. “This job is about sacrifice. Tonight I could have been partying, but helping others is the life I’ve chosen.” With that, the heroes speed off into the night. Meanwhile, your friendly neighbourhood loaded-Man heads back to Time Square to get those girls’ phone number.- loaded
See superheroes.com and reallifesuperheroes.org for more details.

Dressed for Halloween? No, to Clean Up Times Sq.

Red Justice, left, and Direction Man, so-called real-life superheroes, on patrol in Times Square.

Red Justice, left, and Direction Man, so-called real-life superheroes, on patrol in Times Square.


Correction Appended
She calls herself Street Hero, says she is a former prostitute, knows martial arts and takes to the city’s underbelly to protect women who work the streets. Her uniform includes a black eye mask, a black bustier and black knee-high boots.
A Brooklyn man who calls himself Direction Man prefers helping lost tourists and locals. He wears a bright orange vest, a pair of thick black goggles and has numerous maps spilling from his pockets.
Then there is Red Justice, a substitute teacher from Woodside, Queens, who wears red boxer briefs over jeans, a red cape made from an old T-shirt and a sock with eyeholes to mask his identity. He trolls the subways encouraging young people to give their seats to those who need them more.
The Super, from left, Street Hero and the Cleanser picked up litter and handed out crime prevention literature Sunday.

The Super, from left, Street Hero and the Cleanser picked up litter and handed out crime prevention literature Sunday.

They call themselves real-life superheroes, and they were just a few of the do-gooders who gathered near Times Square yesterday for what was billed as the first meeting of a group called Superheroes Anonymous. They all declined to give their real names because they said they wanted to protect their identities.
The meeting was part news conference, part documentary film shoot and part patrol duty. There were locals and out-of-towners, most were in uniform (don’t dare call them costumes) and all said they were serious about helping make their respective communities cleaner, safer and kinder places.
The 13 or so who gathered yesterday are part of a growing community of activists across the country and beyond who use the Internet to communicate.
Chaim Lazaros, 23, a student at Columbia University and an independent filmmaker, co-founded Superheroes Anonymous along with Ben Goldman to bring to New York as many superheroes as he could for interviews and to record them for a documentary he is making about the movement.
“I found these people on MySpace,” Mr. Lazaros said, referring to the social networking Web site, “and I knew I had to tell the story.”
Shortly after noon yesterday, Mr. Lazaros stood at a lectern in a park on West 48th Street where the attendees gathered before going on patrol in Times Square to pick up litter and hand out crime prevention literature.
“This is a serious job,” Mr. Lazaros said. “We are out in the streets fighting crime in a legal way. But most of all we are fighting the worst crime of all, apathy.”
“We’re not these crazy people,” said one man, Geist, who traveled to New York from Minnesota. “We just have an unorthodox approach to doing good.”
As the group walked down Broadway in Times Square, a Manhattan woman known as the Cleanser picked up soggy debris and errant paper bags. She wore a white cape and yellow rubber gloves.
The woman who calls herself Street Hero was with the group. She says she decided to stop being a prostitute after she was arrested. Now she offers to help prostitutes in whatever way she can. “I do it on my own,” she said. “Mostly after dark. Around the city.”
The Super is a superintendent of a building in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who fixes faucets and does electrical work for people in need. Yesterday, he wore a red cape, a yellow shirt, green suspenders and green tights under black soccer shorts.
The Super, who also declined to give his real name, said he took on the alter ego after a friend was hurt by debris that had fallen from scaffolding. “I said to myself, if we have to wait around for the city or the mayor to fix everything wrong or dangerous in this city, it’ll never get done,” the Super said.
He acknowledged that his self-proclaimed role — as well as what he wears — has drawn derision.
He said he had been laughed at, stared at, egged and stoned. Once, he said, someone in a high-rise apartment building threw a frozen piece of meat at him.
“I don’t have many friends,” he said. “A lot of real-life superheroes stumble along the way. And part of it can definitely make you feel isolated, like nobody understands you.”

Correction: November 2, 2007
An article on Monday about Superheroes Anonymous, a group of volunteers who gathered near Times Square to publicize their efforts to make their communities cleaner and safer, included an imprecise reference from one participant, Chaim Lazaros, who spoke at the event. He is a co-founder of the group, along with Ben Goldman; Mr. Lazaros is not the sole founder.