Real-life superheroes step up to help the neighborhood
Originally posted: http://www.jsonline.com/entertainment/90806899.html
By By Steve Ramos, Special to the Journal Sentinel
Shadow Hare has a catchy theme song, courtesy of an Internet radio station. He has a secret headquarters on the border of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood – or, at least, it functions as one when shop workers aren’t busy selling Segways. He even has a pretty female sidekick named Silver Moon.
Donning black handmade tights and a lightweight ski mask and hitting the streets via a zipping Segway to fight crime, Shadow Hare, like the rest of the growing number of costumed heroes around the country from Utah to Ohio to Wisconsin, is about more than dressing up as a favorite fantasy character.
He’s a real crime-fighter. So is Watchman, who patrols Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood and other parts of the city in a red mask and loose black trench coat that help hide his identity, although the bold “W” insignia on his sweatshirt and his red latex clothes identify him as a member of Real Life Superheroes, a Web-based group with the aim of supporting and inspiring street-level efforts to make a difference – in costume or not.
These costumed crime-fighters have their share of fans: A pair of news clips about Shadow Hare on YouTube each have had more than 500,000 views.
Now, on the eve of the movie “Kick-Ass” – a violent action comedy based on a graphic novel about real people dressing up as superheroes and fighting crime, opening in theaters Friday – Shadow Hare and his real-life costumed-hero counterparts face a new threat: company from copycats.
“Based on the previous history of superhero-related movie releases, I expect a large influx of people to join the movement,” Watchman said via e-mail. “Many of them won’t stick around for long as the novelty wears off quickly. Those who stay on will be a mixture of people who think it’s cool and those truly wishing to make a difference in society.
“But the difference with ‘Kick-Ass’ is that it’s sort of being promoted as real life. Because of that, there is a general fear that some people may try to mimic the violence displayed in the movie. I think I speak for most, if not all, people within the movement when saying we do not condone those types of actions.”
Tea Krulos, a Milwaukee writer and creator of the real-life superheroes blog Heroes in the Night (heroesinthenight.blogspot.com/), has called Riverwest home since he was 18 and acts somewhat as a personal historian to Watchman and other costumed heroes. Krulos, who is working on turning his blog into a book about the real-life superhero movement, frequently travels around the country to meet with other real-life heroes.
“A director came to town shooting footage for a proposed TV reality show on real-life superheroes and called me the Jimmy Olsen to Watchman and the heroes, which I thought was cool,” Krulos said. “One of the Real-Life Superheroes told me that I should put on a costume and join them, but I think the best way I can help them is to write about them.”
Online stores, reality TV
They’re already pretty organized. The World Superhero Registry offers a 12-step guide for new heroes and advice about whether one should include a cape in one’s costume (the consensus: capes get in the way). And there are other groups, including the Heroes Network, Superheroes Anonymous and the Great Lakes Heroes Guild, that use the Web to talk shop and coordinate community and charity efforts.
One hero, Captain Ozone, sells merchandise online, including boxer shorts and a $8 thong with his logo. Razorhawk, from Minneapolis, runs the Web site Hero-Gear.net, a business where “real-life superheroes” can buy their fighting togs.
Creating a stir
And even before the hype surrounding “Kick-Ass” started surfacing, the buzz has been building around the movie’s real-life equivalents.
Ben Goldman and Chaim Lazaros are working on a documentary about real-life heroes in New York and New Orleans. Two production companies are competing to set up a reality TV series about real-life heroes. A comedy called “Super” is in postproduction, with Rainn Wilson as an average guy who becomes a superhero called The Crimson Bolt to save his wife from a drug dealer.
What’s driving art – and real life – to everyday super-herodom?
“I think the most common theme that has inspired people in this movement is the general state in which we see our world,” Watchman said. “It is all of the bad things we see repeatedly, day in and day out. We are sick of it and we no longer wish to sit by and do nothing. This is our way of making a stand.”
“As far as the costumes,” Watchman said, “it’s difficult to pinpoint specifics on inspiration for our choice of attire, but most of us have been inspired by fictional superheroes of one type or another.”
In “Kick-Ass,” the characters show little reservation – if not always skill – in using violence. In real life, the reaction isn’t so uniform.
Amateur heroes use Tasers, handcuffs and pepper spray instead of super powers.
Krulos said a couple of amateur heroes have left organizations such as the Heroes Network over disagreements about the use of violence when fighting crime.
Missing in action?
Other heroes, such as Salt Lake City’s Captain Prime, who sports an elaborate rubber suit similar to the “Kick-Ass” character Big Daddy, have retired. Shadow Hare, too, has been missing in action lately, although some speculate he hung up his tights to attend college full time.
But the biggest threat facing real-life superheroes may be that few seem to take them seriously.
By By Steve Ramos, Special to the Journal Sentinel
On a warm spring afternoon in Milford, Ohio, a small town east of Cincinnati that Shadow Hare identifies as his hometown on his Facebook page, most shopkeepers say they’ve never heard of him. If you watch news reports on him and other costumed heroes – including one by WITI-TV (Channel 6) last winter on Watchman that’s available on YouTube – they’re shown as curiosities more than crime-fighters.
The release of “Kick-Ass” could put them into a brighter spotlight.