There is plenty wrong with the world. We’re reminded of that at every turn. On the other hand, strange and wonderful stories of the beautiful and absurd go unnoticed, unmentioned, all the time.
For example, last week in Seattle, Phoenix Jones was arrested on four counts of assault—while dressed like a superhero, wearing a black and yellow rubber suit. You see, Phoenix Jones is a “real-life superhero,” who happened upon what he believed to be a large altercation in front of a nightclub. And he did what any superhero would—he sprang into action, and pepper-sprayed the street-fighters. That’s when things became complicated. The “fighters” claimed that they weren’t fighting at all, that they were just dancing and having a good time. And their merrymaking, they claim, was foiled by this would-be do-gooder, this caped crusader and his can of pepper spray.
While those details, those nuances, are for the legal system to sort out, Phoenix Jones is not alone. In cities across the globe, this new wave of vigilantism has been taking hold—a strange cadre of masked men who have taken the law into their own hands, stealthily patrolling the rough neighborhoods of their communities, fighting crime as they encounter it.
It’s weird, I know. But it has become increasingly more common in recent years. And actually, the media loves to jump on stories like this, stories that seem to have it all: A real-life villain, a masked hero, risking life and limb to defend his community, the mystery, the anonymity, the intrigue. It’s like the gruesome, twisted train-wreck of Comic-Con and “Cops,” and we can’t look away from it.
A few years ago, Rolling Stone magazine did a profile of a Miami-area crime-fighting duo, Master Legend, and his trusty sidekick, The Ace. The piece was not very well received in the real-life superhero community, as it depicted the pair as a couple of down-on-their-luck losers with a very peculiar hobby. HBO Documentaries made a film last year, exploring the culture of these caped crusaders, capturing the quirkiness that compels an ordinary citizen to don a mask and fight crime.
In 2009, Albuquerque’s “Weekly Alibi” wrote about a superhero, The Green Scorpion, who, shrouded in secrecy, patrols the streets of The Duke City. The Green Scorpion claims to live somewhere near the New Mexico/Arizona border, and serves metropolitan areas in both states. At the time of the interview, he’d never thwarted any major crimes-in-progress—he’d chased off a few vandals, and once collected evidence (which he turned over to the police), after someone shot at a friend. Nevertheless, he feels that the work he does is important, and he perceives a change in himself. “The biggest change is just the satisfaction, knowing that I’m doing something that I should be doing,” he told the Alibi. “I’ve always felt like I should be doing more to make the world a better place, and in some small way, I think I’m at least trying to do that.”
Vigilantism has long been a point of contention in our society. While some applaud this surreptitious brand of crime-fighting, others argue that it’s reckless to sidestep the legal system and take the law into one’s own hands.
I think these superheroes are strange—there’s no arguing that, really—but well-intentioned, also. And, forced to choose between quirky superheroes who try to make a difference and do-nothing cynics who are resigned to stand idly by and complain, I’ll probably side with the caped crusaders, every time.
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 10/20/2011.
© Damien Willis, 2011. All rights reserved.