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.
BIRTH OF A HERO
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 (worldsuperheroregistry.com), 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.”
A SECRET LIFE, NOT-SO-SECRET PROBLEMS
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.”
AN ONLINE HEADQUARTERS
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.”
NO PAIN, NO GAIN?
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
phxmag@citieswestpub.com

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