This is the first in a 2-part series on vigilantes.
I love superheroes.
As a boy my closet was piled high with comic books. The Defenders and the Avengers were my favorite groups, and my brother and I would spend hours reading and re-reading each one. When we were finished we would pretend to rake some leaves and then run down to the drug store with our unearned quarters to get the latest edition.
Even as an adult I have watched, though not without a guilty sense of pleasure, the newest round of cartoons, movies and features involving classic superheroes, such as Superman, Batman, the Flash and Phoenix Jones.
Okay, I slipped that last one in – Phoenix Jones is the nom de guerre of one Benjamin Fodor, aka a real person. Fodor, who recently blew his own secret identity following an assault arrest, is a member of the Seattle (sorry, Rain City) Superheroes.
When I first heard about this group I experienced a boyish thrill that has lain dormant in my imagination for the better part of thirty years. But then came the realization that this new phenomenon of flesh and blood superheroes do not necessarily possess the chiseled physiques, unwavering morality and mind-blowing abilities of my comic book heroes.
Instead, Phoenix Jones and his fellow superheroes (insert air quotes as needed) are a living testament to our times. We now exist in an era where reality blends with virtual reality, where our sense of fantasy can overlap with the fantastic identities we are able to assume in the alternate universe of online gaming.
Either way, it is time to redefine the notion of superhero.
As it turns out, nothing could be simpler. According to the website entitled reallifesuperheroes.org (of course they have a website!), the group’s creed is as follows: We are Real Life Superheroes. We follow and uphold the law. We fight for what is right. We help those in need. We are role models. We will be positive and inspirational. We hold ourselves to a higher standard. Through our actions we will create a better brighter tomorrow.
I doubt the Justice League could say it much better.
There is, however, the troubling question of the vigilante in our society. As Phoenix Jones found out, following his extensive use of pepper spray on a group of people, there are a lot of issues surrounding the use of force. Adding my thick policy manual to his website would probably crash the system.
In all seriousness, public safety is a demanding profession requiring substantially more than a decent creed. The propensity for abuse of power is as likely for members of the Rain City Superheroes (and cops) as it would be for members of the Green Lantern Corps (and look what happened with Yellow Lantern!).
And yet. The combination of imagination and good intentions makes news stories of these real life superheroes a singular positive note on an otherwise negative page. Let’s face it, if we were all to stand as tall in our neighborhoods we would be much safer. Unless we got carried away with pepper spray.
The whole idea makes me wish I still had a few of my old comic books around. Since my mother tossed those about 5 seconds after I left for college my only alternative is to stay tuned to the same bat channel for the next edition of the Rain City Superheroes.
I can see it now, “Revenge of the Meter Maid.”