Shazam! Real-life superheroes to the rescue

Originally posted: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/Shazam+Real+life+superheroes+rescue/5740438/story.html
By Douglas Quan, Postmedia News     November 20, 2011

By day, they are regular folks with full-time jobs, bills to pay and mouths to feed.
By night, they are masked and sometimes-caped crusaders, who troll the streets looking to help the needy, stamp out crime and fulfil their comic-book inspired dreams.
But lately the mostly anonymous members of the so-called Real Life Superheroes movement (known as RLSH) in Canada and the U.S. have been feeling a bit of angst and more than a little misunderstood after a bout of bad publicity.
First, there was the arrest last month of Seattle’s high-profile crime fighter Phoenix Jones (whose real name is Ben Fodor) over an alleged assault. Jones, who wears a black-and-gold uniform complete with Batman-like fake abs, says he unleashed a canister of pepper spray to break up a fight.
Then last week, Canadians learned about a group of B.C. teens who posed as underaged girls online, lured men into encounters and then confronted them at designated meeting spots in Batman and Flash costumes while video cameras rolled. Police immediately rebuked the sting operations, saying the teens put themselves at risk.
“I’m sorry if I am being cautious, but you do understand … we are in a fragile state because a few of us have been seen as, well, vigilantes or worse,” said Ark, a Toronto-based superhero in an email.
“Media is a powerful thing, and I honestly don’t want you or any other kind of reporter dragging the Canadian RLSH down.”
Members of the movement, which was the subject of an HBO documentary earlier this year, insist their mission is simple: to do good deeds and inspire others to do the same. That includes participating in neighbourhood patrols, working with charities and helping the homeless.
Sure, their costumes are gimmicky, but the shtick sticks in people’s minds and draws attention to their causes, they say. Vigilantism, they insist, is not condoned.
“They’re not vigilantes. They’re not doing anything against the law. They may be using unusual methods, but they’re using symbolism to market good deeds,” said Peter Tangen, a Hollywood movie poster photographer who has done photo shoots with dozens of real life superheroes across the U.S.
There are more than 600 people worldwide listed as members on the website reallifesuperheroes.org. Most are based in the United States.
They include New York City’s Dark Guardian, who flushes out drug dealers in Washington Square Park; red-white-and-blue-uniformed DC Guardian, who patrols the nation’s capital while dispensing copies of the U.S. Constitution; Super Hero in Clearwater, Florida, who drives around in a Corvette Stingray and helps stranded motorists; and Urban Avenger, who breaks up fights outside bars in San Diego.
There are at least a handful of real-life superheroes scattered across Canada. In Vancouver, there’s Thanatos, a married 63 year-old ex-U.S. military officer and self-proclaimed “comic book geek,” who is named after the Greek god of death.
Thanatos, who works in the death industry – he declined to say what he does exactly – says he acts as an extra set of eyes and ears for the police in the Downtown Eastside and also hands out food, blankets and socks to the homeless every month.
He cuts a creepy look, dressed in a black trench coat, black and green skull mask and flattened Australian bush hat. The getup, he admits, can freak out some people.
But accompanying each care package is a slip of paper bearing the words “Thanatos – Real Life Superhero” on one side and “Friend” on the other.
“They know they have a friend out there, even if it’s a crazy guy with a mask,” he said.
Toronto’s Ark is a 26-year-old guitar-playing security guard, who says he feels compelled to jump in to help the “less fortunate, the troubled and the weak.”
“I, for some reason, care for the unfortunate, and I don’t tolerate people who take advantage of other people,” he said.
Though he has broken up fights over the years, Ark says he’s “not really a crime fighter. I don’t go out of my way to find trouble.” He prefers walking around handing out sandwiches and coffee to the needy.
His uniform is simple – “I don’t dress to impress,” he says – consisting of black tactical pants, black tactical jacket, black military hat and partial face mask.
He also wears a bulletand stab-proof vest and brings along his “tactical hard knuckles and soft padded gloves” – for “deterrent” purposes.
One of the newer members to the movement is exreservist Crimson Canuck, a married, 24-year-old father, in Windsor, Ont., who works as a telephone technician.
He says he was drawn to the movement out of a desire to make the city better. “I don’t want my daughter to be afraid to go downtown,” he says.
Crimson Canuck, whose outfit consists of a crimson shirt, red tie, black vest, grey slacks, combat boots, black fedora and partial face mask, recently blogged about his first-ever downtown street patrol.
Before he left the door, his wife “called me a fool and made sure I brought mace, in case things got hairy,” he wrote.
But things didn’t get hairy. In fact, it was a quiet night.
“No action,” he wrote. “Not even a car alarm.”
He ended the night instead by grabbing some food from McDonald’s and sharing some of it with a homeless man in a wheelchair.
“I’ve done my share of bad things,” he wrote. “But now might be a good time to make up for it all. I’m not a clean-cut good guy. I’m just a guy who wants to do good.”

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