Have you seen Captain America: Civil War and wondered why there aren’t any of these crime fighters in reality? Well, it turns out there are. Real costumed crusaders started to crop up in the mid-2000s, paralleling the popularity of comic convention cosplay and the rise of superhero movies. Known as the Real-Life Superhero (RLSH) movement, there are now hundreds of these figures around the U.S. There are websites devoted to them, and even a cottage industry of people who make RLSH masks and costumes. Before you dismiss these costumed characters as geeks who need to get a life, consider that many of them really have stopped crimes in progress and helped apprehend suspects. Oh, when not fighting crime they feed the homeless, raise money for charity and visit children’s hospitals.
10. Crimson Fist and Metadata
This couple has been protecting Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill neighborhood since 2006. The husband and wife also entertain the neighborhood with their superhero shenanigans. Although they’re armed with pepper spray and a taser-equipped stun glove — that’s the “crimson fist” part — the two are quick to mention that they call the police at the first sign of trouble. Most police departments have an uneasy relationship with the RLSH movement, believing it borders on vigilantism; they would prefer that any would-be heroes stay out of harm’s way.
9. The Watchman
On his Facebook page, the Watchman bills himself as the “first-ever real-life superhero from Wisconsin.” These figures often band together in associations, just like the Justice League and the X-Men. The Watchman is part of the Great Lakes Heroes Guild as well as Milwaukee’s superhero brigade known as the Challengers. Like many RLSH, the Watchman acts mainly as a sort of one-man neighborhood watch, albeit in a mask and cape. His day job limits his activity to the weekends.
Based in Portland, Ore., Zetaman went from neighborhood patrols to a featured role in the award-winning 2011 documentary Superheroes. In addition to monitoring the streets for crime, Zetaman has helped the homeless and many other charitable causes. And all that apparently earned him enemies. Showing the downside of the RLSH movement, Zetaman several years ago announced his retirement on his Facebook page: “I am afraid due to the constant harassment and my own personal real life and physical safety I have to retire. I am sorry to say this but there are people in my life whose lives are being threatened and I can no longer have a blue target on me. I wish the rest of the world well and to stay safe.”
The eponymously named Superhero may not have a Batmobile, but he does ride around his own personal Gotham of Clearwater, Fla., in a 1975 Corvette. A professional bodyguard and former wrestler named Dale Pople, Superhero often helps stranded (and most likely surprised) drivers in distress. He’s a co-founder of Team Justice Inc. Among other superhero feats, the group helped raise money to send a sick child to the Mayo Clinic. As Superhero himself told HLN TV, “I tell people all the time, they can be a superhero in everyday life, too. All they have to do is help people.” Superhero doesn’t have the most original name, but it’s hard to argue with that philosophy.
German for “ghost,” Geist covers Minneapolis and elsewhere in southeastern Minnesota, feeding the homeless, raising money for charity and keeping an eye out for evildoers. Geist was even featured in the 2013 book, Heroes in the Night, by Tea Krulos, detailing the real-life superhero phenomenon. Ironically, Geist may not even be Minneapolis’s most famous superhero. He shares the streets with Razorhawk, a former professional wrestler. Inspired by 9/11 to become a superhero (“There had to be a polar opposite to that evil”) Geist told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune he knows some people don’t believe in heroes. “People can believe whether it’s true or not that there are heroes in the world,” he said. “Maybe it’s a myth, but it’s the belief that’s important. I really doubt I’m one of them, but on that day when I meet them, I am a hero to them. That’s the hope we give to others.”
5. DC’s Guardian
No, he’s not something out of the pages of DC Comics … the Guardian’s territory is Washington, D.C., where he hands out copies of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. A former member of the U.S. military, perhaps this masked avenger feels he’s a one-man army, taking on the modern-day political villains inside the D.C. beltway. With a star-spangled outfit that includes a full-face cowl, DC’s Guardian tells Reallifesuperheroes.com that his red, white and blue costume reminiscent of Captain America is a “great conversation starter.”
4. Black Monday Society
Sporting such names as Fool King, Professor Midnight and Asylum, the Black Monday Society roams Salt Lake City in search of crime. Not only does the gang dress like the heavy metal band Slipknot, but they also count some ex-gang members in their ranks. Asylum says that RLSH have gotten a bad rap in some circles, no thanks to movies like Kick-Ass, about a fictional hero. “Those movies have done more damage to the real-life superhero community than anything else,” Asylum, aka Mike Gailey, told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “You can’t just go out and beat someone up for jaywalking.”
3. Dark Guardian
Also known by his alter ego, Chris Pollak, the Dark Guardian is active in Manhattan. The Dark Guardian has confronted drug dealers, broken up fights and prevented muggings, mostly in and around the Washington Square Park area. One of his favorite tactics is to sneak up on drug dealers and shine a flashlight in their face, yelling “this is a drug-free park!” But Manhattan is a big place, and the Dark Guardian is actively recruiting fellow superheroes for patrol duty. He has an even grander dream — a “superhero school” where he can teach youth mixed martial arts and heroic ideals. “I’m really hoping to convey that there’s a hero in everybody,” Pollak told the New York Daily News. “Do something good. Don’t be a bystander. Don’t turn a blind eye when you see something bad going on.”
2. Xtreme Justice League
An association of superheroes based out of San Diego, the Xtreme Justice League is currently recruiting new members in southern California to help fight crime. With a logo bearing more than a passing resemblance to the National Football League’s logo, XJL members patrol the “crime-ridden streets” raising “awareness of crime and safety-related issues.” Mr. Xtreme (wearing the helmet and goggles in the above image) founded the group in 2006. XJL’s website dispels common misconceptions about the group, and RLSH in general. “We are not vigilantes. … We do not punish criminals. We work with the police if a crime is committed. … We do not do this for thrills or want to fight anyone. … We would much rather talk a potentially volatile situation down then have to get physically involved. A slow and boring night on patrol is a good night for us.”
If you’re interested in joining the XJL, the website helpfully notes that prospective members should have a way to get to their patrols, although, “Occasionally carpool options are available, and sometimes we can give you a ride back.” Apparently, no members of the XJL can fly …
1. Phoenix Jones
Originally Benjamin Fodor, Phoenix Jones is a well-known figure in Seattle. He is likely the best-known Real-Life Superhero, having been featured in stories in the national media. A professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, Phoenix Jones says he took to fighting crime after several personal incidents, including an assault outside a bar and a car break-in. Bystanders let both incidents happen, and Jones resolved to do something about it. Part of the Rain City Superhero Movement, Jones has an outfit that incorporates stab-plating and a bulletproof vest. As for the crimefighting, he once helped stop a bus hijacking, has broken up fights, and helped subdue felons after stabbings and other assaults. It’s not all easy — Jones says he’s been shot and stabbed and had his nose broken. He was once arrested for pepper-spraying people involved in a fight (charges were dropped).
Even though he signed a new MMA contract in 2015, Jones has no intention of abandoning his superhero persona. In fact, the professional fighting is just a means to an end for him. “I put on a suit and I go after real gunmen in a situation where I could really die,” told USA Today. “My only goal in fighting is to improve and gain skills that I will use on the street, where there are real consequences.”
Slideshow photo © Theodore James Production/Superheroes documentary