Social Activists

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Marathon Quest

Marathon Quest

Revised and Updated
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback eBook
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Mona Parsons

Mona Parsons

From Privilege to Prison, From Nova Scotia to Nazi Europe
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Books without Bosses

Books without Bosses

Forty Years of Reading Between the Lines
edition:Paperback
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Rick Hansen's Man In Motion World Tour

Rick Hansen's Man In Motion World Tour

30 Years Later—A Celebration of Courage, Strength, and the Power of Community
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
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Real Life Super Heroes
Excerpt

A good friend of mine initially piqued my interest in Real Life Super Heroes. He told me about a news story he was watching. Some guy in a mask and Batman-like costume was making headlines by running around Seattle fighting crime. My friend explained that “Phoenix Jones” had been involved in a skirmish with a man who’d been beating on some other guy. Jones, the news said, was a mixed martial arts expert. He had intervened and was attempting to hold the attacker down in a headlock after calling 9-1-1. Before the authorities arrived, however, one of the assailant’s friends showed up and forced Jones at gunpoint to release the attacker. When Jones complied, the man he’d been holding kicked him in the face, breaking his nose. The story made the rounds of the national news. Even Saturday Night Live picked up on it and mocked Jones. But I was intrigued. Having spent the previous four years researching and writing a book about serial killers, I thought that maybe I’d stumbled onto a more positive story. I began research to see what else I could learn.
It wasn’t easy entering the world of Real Life Super Heroes. People who wear masks usually do so because they don’t want to be identified. It’s not like guys like Phoenix Jones have publicly listed phone numbers! I did manage to find an email address supposedly belonging to Jones, or PJ as people have come to call him. But my inquiries went unanswered. Other than what had been on the news and what little I could find online, I had nothing.
Well, not entirely nothing. In the course of my research I learned that there was a whole subculture of these Real Life Super Heroes. I came across a guy calling himself “Thanatos,” the personification of death. He was operating out of Vancouver, Canada. Unlike Jones, Thanatos didn’t “fight crime” per se, but spent his time doing outreach with Vancouver’s large homeless population. I didn’t quite understand at the time how his mission fit in with what Phoenix Jones was doing, but I was at least getting somewhere with this elusive community. Maybe it was his Canadian politeness coming through, but Thanatos actually answered my email and even agreed to participate in an email interview. In the course of our correspondence, I asked him if he happened to know how to get in touch with Phoenix Jones. I was somewhat surprised when he told me that he did but only indirectly. According to Thanatos, my best bet was to contact a man called Peter Tangen, a successful Hollywood photographer and unofficial PR man for a whole group of Real Life Super Heroes. Tangen was like a promoter/gatekeeper for some of the more prominent members of the RLSH community.
Reaching Tangen was a challenge. My emails went unanswered for days and then weeks. All I wanted was an interview with Seattle’s most famous superhero! I was about to get more persistent when Peter finally got back to me over the phone: “Nadia, I have an amazing opportunity for you. Something we have never done before.”
It turned out that “something” was a telephone conference call with five of the most notable RLSHs. I was especially fortunate because Jones, to this point, had refused all but in-person interviews. For once, he would make an exception.
It was already midnight as I waited by the phone and went over my interview questions one last time. Peter Tangen had arranged to have Phoenix Jones, Geist, Nyx, Phantom Zero, and DC’s Guardian on the line. The group represented a wide range of superhero styles. Jones was the crime fighter; Geist lends assistance to people who are in distress or suffering through natural disasters; Nyx was a former crime fighter who gave it up to focus on homeless outreach with her boyfriend Phantom Zero; and DC’s Guardian took it upon himself to teach people about their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
I dialed in to the conference number a few minutes early. The New Yorkers, Phantom Zero and Nyx, were already on the call. According to the pictures I had seen, Phantom Zero had one of the darkest and most frightening of the superhero costumes. He wears a black cape over his broad 6'4" frame. A white skull-like mask disguises his upper face, and black makeup hides the rest. A white shirt and red tie accent his attire. In short, not the kind of guy you’d want to run into in a dark alley if you didn’t know that he was a “good guy”!
I made small talk with Phantom Zero while we waited for the other participants to join the call. Since many of them had not spoken with each other in a long time and some of them had never even met, I gave them a few minutes to talk among themselves. Listening to them provided an interesting glimpse into their world. Rather than serious topics like crime fighting, I heard them chatting excitedly with one another and laughing. New introductions were punctuated with, “I’ve heard about you when you did …” or “Do you remember the day …?” After a few minutes, I welcomed them officially, thanked them for joining and started the interview.
“First of all,” I asked, “what are your duties as superheroes?”
DC’s Guardian answered first: “It’s my responsibility to protect people’s rights and privileges that this nation offers by teaching it to future generations. I strive to help the helpless and to educate people.”
During his military service, DC had had many different experiences. He now works for the government and travels domestically and internationally. As a superhero, he often stands on the streets, sharing pocket-sized copies of the United States’s founding documents, such as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Some people mock him without understanding his motivation. DC’s Guardian is one of the rare colourful superheroes. Most of them only wear one colour, black, but he proudly wears the red, white, and blue of his country.
Geist is probably the one with the most unique style. He projects an image that is more like a western-style hero with a noir flair. He wears a long duster-style trench coat. A green bandana covers his face while his sunglasses hide his eyes. A cowboy hat tops his outfit.
“I fight for the forgotten,” Geist says. “I defend and protect people who are overlooked by society, who slipped through the cracks. It could even be animals who are neglected in pet shelters and are in danger of being euthanized. It could be the environment. You know, the problems that we all just kind of gloss over as we go about our daily lives.”
Nyx was the next to speak: “My main goal is to help the helpless. Most of us have seen some undesirable things in our lives where people are suffering in one respect or another. That just prompted me to try to prevent further suffering. That was pretty much instilled in me at a young age. I realized that I could take a proactive stance on that and actually do something meaningful.”
Nyx, unlike most heroes, doesn’t hide her face. She also does not have a specific uniform, but dresses in many different ways. In her most popular picture, she’s wearing an alluring black and red outfit: a black fishnet shirt revealing a red bra. A crimson sheer scarf only slightly obscures her face below the eyes, and she leaves her beautiful long brown hair loose. She is also one of the few female superheroes who patrolled alone despite the inherent risk.
Phantom Zero contributed to the discussion next. “I pledged to myself to make a difference. I want to stress free thought. In the end, there is a very important message behind it. Personally, I want people to ask questions and find their own truth, their own personal journey. I want them to learn about what is important to them and to achieve it.”
“And how do you achieve that?” I asked.
He explained that he patrolled to find people in distress. He helps many of them to write and express their often-difficult emotions. He also does homeless outreach, donates to community centres, and encourages people to do good deeds around themselves.
Speaking a mile a minute, Phoenix Jones plunged in. “You’ll see a lot of the average person walking around who sees stuff but does nothing. I thought that was pretty cold. I have years of martial arts experience, a couple years of bodybuilding, and I am a certified nursing assistant. So I know how to deal with trauma and troublemakers. My criminal father taught me how criminals think. So I search for people and look for criminal activities. Make lots of sacrifice. I literally just neglect things because I’m out doing the things that I do. It’s borderline obsessive, and when I see something that is a crime and I know that I can stop it, it’s very hard to persuade me otherwise, as DC has found out. We’ve been on patrol where DC had to talk me down from stopping crime.”
Indeed, several of the superheroes work together. They travel far and wide to meet and collaborate, and it can be expensive and time-consuming. But they say that as they work together, relationships are developed and their efforts are amplified through collaboration.
“I’m not going to say it’s everyone’s message,” added Phantom Zero, “but superheroes are not a mythology. They are ideals and virtues. They are a manifestation of people pretty much empowering themselves. So I feel a part of a community when we do this. It’s something that we do, it means a lot to us, and it’s very symbolic.”

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