The comic book superheroes we grew up with could do no wrong. They leapt over tall buildings with aplomb, sliced through steel girders with laser-beam eyes, and stopped runaway locomotives by holding up the palm of one hand. Policemen applauded them, ordinary folk adored them, and when they slipped back into anonymity by replacing their tights and masks with ordinary clothes nobody ever recognised them. Sadly, that’s all different now, with today’s real-life superheroes – there are over 600 of ‘em – having to mind their manners if they want to stay out of trouble.
Take poor old Benjamin Fodor of Seattle who bought a skin-tight black and gold rubber muscle-suit with a matching mask, a cape and blue tights, and then started operating as a real-life superhero called Phoenix Jones. He first came to the media’s attention in January last year when, armed with a stun gun and can of pepper spray, he pursued a villain who was stealing a car in front of its trembling owner. Phoenix modestly claimed in the resulting television interview that criminals left the neighbourhood when he entered it because they were afraid of his costume. He told reporters that he’d been stabbed once and had guns pulled on him several times in the nine months he’d been operating from his secret base behind a local comic store, but had never been seriously injured.
Phoenix must have been encouraged by the positive reporting on his success as a crimefighter because a few days later ABC News just happened to be on the scene when he and a bunch of similarly clad associates stopped a drunk man from driving – our hero used a stun gun to stop him getting into his car. The effect was somewhat spoilt when the TV footage showed a police officer remonstrating with the do-gooders afterwards, explaining “the negative effects masks may have on an intoxicated individual”. I’ll bet Batman never had days like that!
Undeterred, 23-year-old Phoenix carried on fighting crime, usually on Sundays, when he had free time. He set up a reallifesuperheroes.org website that now has 569 active members, married a superheroine called Purple Reign, and started the Rain City Superhero Movement to patrol the streets of the city. The local police responded by suggesting that black-clad groups of would-be superheroes hanging around in ski masks wasn’t really a good idea after they almost shot one running out of a park at night.
Early in October Phoenix suffered a rush of blood to the head after successfully pepper-spraying a man assaulting another in the street. Flushed with success, the caped crime fighter then used his spray again to break up an apparent fight between two groups outside a nightclub, calling out “I’m a superhero!” for the benefit of the cameraman that he’d invited to record his achievements. It all turned pear-shaped when the police arrived and determined that there had not in fact been a fight – two groups of friends had been messing about. Phoenix was arrested for assault, and spent seven hours in a cell before appearing in court. The jig was up when officials insisted he remove his mask and give his real name. Perhaps the most amusing thing about the whole affair was the subsequent news that another superhero had filed a restraining order against Phoenix following a heated turf war conducted over the internet.
On the other side of the Atlantic resides another modern superhero, a fellow who protects his real identity as if his life depends upon it, which it probably does. This bouncy Czech called SuperVaclav hides away in Prague’s public parks watching people walking their dogs to see if they pick up their dogs’ mess after a pit-stop. If they don’t the vigilante, who wears a mask, helmet, boots and presumably gloves, picks up the evidence, creeps up on the offending owner and lets him have it with a fast-moving droll. Then he demonstrates his only real superpower – running away very fast to avoid retribution. He also dumps buckets of ice-cold water over the heads of smokers who enjoy their habit at bus stops; he once mistimed his getaway and had his camera smashed by an enraged victim who resented having his morning puff so rudely interrupted. One would have presumed that people who walk dogs in parks would make better runners than those who catch buses and smoke, but apparently that’s not the case.
Google “SuperVaclav” if you want to see video clips of this true superhero in action.