Superheroes Among Us

Like most people, when I want to get a superhero fix, I head to the movies. Nothing beats watching a complicated social misfit muster his resources and vanquish evil, on behalf of the safety and security of lesser mortals like me.

Yesterday, while listening to The Story, my local community radio station gave me a new place to watch for superheroes in action: in real life.

Yes, folks, there are superheroes among us!

And I'm not talking merely about great people who do selfless and generous things for the betterment of society. Through my work with Creative Visions and Cura Orphanage, I already know plenty of people like that -- but somehow they don't entirely rise to "superhero" status.

I'm also not talking about people endowed with super-human strength, like the Olympians who have transfixed us this summer -- or those who've accumulated the kind of wealth that affords them vehicles and gadgets and domestic help so that they may do whatever it is they do best.

I'm talking about Real Life Super Heroes, man. Real life!

I'm talking about guys with names like Crimson Fist and Mr. Xtreme and Phantom Zero. The members of this real-life Justice League is marvelous and weird, and they're fighting inequity wherever it can find it.

The official Real Life Superhero do-gooders have hometowns as geographically diverse as Boston (Civitron) and Los Angeles (Ragensi) and "southeastern Minnesota" (Geist); maybe there's one in your town?

I was disappointed to note that mine doesn't appear to be patrolled by anyone on this league's roster, but the Seattle PI's web archives were somewhat reassuring: Phoenix Jones and his band of super-associates were right here in Seattle, at least as recently as 2010, ready to lend a hand at a moment's notice.

These men and women have jobs and families and all the mundane trappings of modern life, but they are also theatrical and fabulous. No doubt they're also occasionally victims of derisive comments from not only unkind by-standers but also traditional law enforcement, who, at the very least, are concerned for the safety of these costumed, but unarmed, vigilantes.

The get-ups help them project and amplify their fictional personae, but read what they have to say about their work, and they also appear earnest and of sound judgement... And they cleverly put a name-brand on the work they do.

Thanatos, the avenger from Vancouver, BC who I heard interviewed on the radio program, is a compelling advocate for on-the-street activism, knowing that his alter-ego is a way to call attention to issues that matter to him. Far from wanting to simply do his work in the shadows, he hopes that his costumed crusade will inspire the rest of us to direct our collective not-so-super-powers to solving social problems.

His pet project, according to his website bio, is Easter Seals -- an established, mainstream charity that seems an odd pairing for his self-described and far more dramatic "war" against society's ills:

And as he remains locked in war -- a war against apathy, against drug abuse, against chronic homelessness -- he recognizes that he alone cannot win the war, just the battles. And he doesn't expect to remain in this fight all by himself. "If one person can do this, we can get ten more, then we get ten more, and so forth. We can make a real and lasting difference in a bad part of town. I do what I can, and hope it inspires other people to say 'I can do something, too.'"

He proclaims this from behind the Grim Reaper-inspired mask he wears, but isn't this what all of us involved in activism at any level -- well-funded institutional fixtures and scrappy grassroots projects alike -- all hope for?

I do.

I just don't have the guts to put on the costume.