By Daniel Fallon
Sporting blue tights, black cape and gold rimmed goggles, Angle-grinder Man stands apart from the rest of the world’s superheroes. For a start, he is real.
Based in Kent, the English caped crusader has taken it upon himself to free motorist’s vehicles using an angle grinder when they have been wheel-clamped for parking illegally or on private property.
He spends weekdays serving the fair people of Kent and heads to London to do the same on weekends. “My obsession with wheel-clamping is actually a rebellion against a much deeper malaise,” says Angle on his website. “This is, namely, the arrogant contempt that politicians hold for the people who put them into power, and whom they claim to represent.
“Wheel-clamping, speed cameras, new toll-roads are all good examples of inept administrators attempting to make their lives easier and solve their own mismanagement problems by persecuting the people that they have failed.”
And so the wheel-clamp vigilante dons his tights and heads out to assist taxpayers for free. But every good super-hero needs a support base and Angle uses his website as a soap box to spread the anti-clamp message, to describe his valiant efforts in the field and even to raise money via secure PayPal donations. Yes, even super heroes need a few quid to keep operating. As his ad says, “You can lord it up over your mates and tell them how you helped a real life superhero!”
An email address and emergency hotline phone number are also provided on the site so people can call for help when their car has been clamped or simply to send messages of encouragement. (Demand appears to be very high; the line was continually engaged when Icon tried to reach him and none of our emails got a reply.)
Visitors to the site are invited to share their clamp and speed camera stories and discuss the work of Angle-grinder Man in the forums section. Most gush over their hero.
“I think you are completely great,” writes Revard. “I can think of only one better use of a grinder – cutting the rear wheels off a clamper’s van! Keep up the good work.” The testimonials are equally positive if somewhat less authentic. According to Kylie Minogue, “He was the inspiration behind the gold shorts in my Spinning Around video.” And Dame Judi Dench describes him as “a diamond geezer”.
There are no reports of Angle-grinder Man being arrested by police or sued by the clamping companies. However, just before the publication of this article his website was offline and returning a “fatal error”, leaving us wondering whether the authorities had finally caught up with him. The BBC has been following him and its site is worth a visit.
Angle-grinder Man is not the only real superhero to be found online, although he is one of the few who publish a website. In fact, the net has become a place where legends are made as crusaders from around the globe begin to surface in reports on web logs and media sites. Most prefer to remain anonymous but their good deeds still echo through cyberspace.
In New York City, a gallant heroine named Terrifica has set out to protect women from the unwanted attentions of slimy men in nightclubs.
Unless it is a fancy dress night, this gal is sure to stand out among her peers – she wears a blonde wig, golden mask and red leotards. The outfit may be comical but her mission is a serious one: looking after women when they are most vulnerable and trying to spread the message of sensible alcohol consumption.
“I protect the single girl living in the big city,” Terrifica told ABCNews.com’s Bryan Robinson. “I do this because women are weak. They are easily manipulated, and they need to be protected from themselves and most certainly from men and their ill intentions toward them.”
It’s in the early morning, when people are intoxicated, that a nightclub becomes a spider’s web, and that is when Terrifica steps in to provide sobering advice and lead any potential victim away from the bar or off the dance floor.
Preferring to remain anonymous, she has done this task for more than seven years. “I created Terrifica, I guess, to deal with my feelings of vulnerability – being young and single in New York City,” she told Robinson. “I had a couple of run-ins with men that really shocked me, left me feeling confused and really hurt.”
The costume makes Terrifica feel empowered in this environment. As fate would have it, she has an arch-enemy, a man named Fantastico, a regular Romeo who says that Terrifica has often foiled his attempts to meet women in nightclubs.
Meanwhile, blogs are buzzing about a local hero in Nunavut, the capital of Iqaluit, Canada, who goes by the name of Polarman. This fearless chap wears a black balaclava, white jogging pants and dark snow boots.
When he is not stepping in to protect youngsters against street thugs, he shovels the snow off the steps for older citizens and at day-care centres. Then, in summer, he keeps the playgrounds in order for kids. He is a well-recognised figure in the local community, even an attraction, according to the Kids on the Net – Iqaluit site, which has a picture of him in its virtual tour.
“The last thing I needed was a name to call myself,” he told CBC Radio 3 last year. “I wrote down all cold-based names I could think of: Mr Freeze, Icelad, Snowlad, Shoveler, Polar Bully, Captain Cold, Captain Icicle, Frosty the Boy Wonder. Then I decided that since I came down from the polar region, I would use the name my cousin teased me with.
“I believe that I will go on as Polarman for the rest of my life to prove to kids that anything is possible.”
There’s an even more legendary character in Mexico, a masked hero called Superbarrio who fights to defend the rights of the poor.
The former street vendor initially donned a tight red suit and carried his impressive girth into battle for the poor to win government funding to rebuild homes destroyed by the earthquake that rocked Mexico City in 1985. Or so the story goes.
He continued to fight for the poor, often turning up with media in tow, to stop local authorities evicting residents from their apartments. He also led rallies to increase support for low-income earners.
According to a CNN report, “he is one of Mexico City’s great folk heroes, the champion of the working class, the poor and the homeless.” His name means “super neighbourhood”. A statue of Superbarrio was erected in his honour, while an online comic strip at The World Children’s Prize website tells his story.
At one stage, a man named Marco Rascon came forward to claim he was Superbarrio before entering politics. Rascon served as a federal representative in Mexico, according to another online report.
The word on the street
Not all real-life crusaders turn out to meet the expectations they create online. One example of this is Sydney’s own Brokenman, who drummed up hype and traffic to his website by chalking its address, as well as fake crime scenes, thousands of times on footpaths across the city.
He remained anonymous for a long time, despite the simple website promising a great deal. “Can you picture a terrorist-free world? A drug-free environment? People valuing freedom of speech? Peace in a war-free earth? Then ‘SOMETHING UNBELIEVABLE’ is exactly what you need. COMING SOON.” After a couple of years building the hype, Brokenman finally revealed himself as aspiring pop musician Jordan Ellery on April 1 this year when he launched an independent album at the Metro Theatre on George Street.
As far as changing the world goes, Ellery is contributing the performance royalties from one of his songs to the Make a Wish Foundation – an admirable and generous act, if a little short of expectations.
“In a time of crisis and uncertainty it was raising people’s hope, if anything – that’s what Brokenman is all about – rising up,” he says.
“But sure, people’s expectations ranged from ‘the next messiah’ to some X-generation soda-pop salesman. They just didn’t expect their messiah to turn out to be a kid from Dulwich Hill who writes songs. What they didn’t know was that Something Unbelievable was going to be their new favourite song.”
Ellery is satisfied his guise as a crusader worked as a springboard for his musical career and hopes his songs will change people’s lives. “Personally, I’m more than happy with what’s become of the project,” he says. “Based on the amount of record sales and especially people’s feelings shown in their emails, there’s definitely something special evolving here.
“To me it’s all about the songs themselves. It’s about me getting those messages across to my listeners. That’s why I’m out on the streets late at night pushing a message while all the other bands have gone to bed.”
The first comic book superhero was Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in Cleveland in 1933. DC Comics bought the rights to the character in 1938 and the era of comic books was born. The company soon produced Batman, with The Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern to follow