To better understand what it is, exactly, that Real Life Superheroes do, we should look at the two extremes of the concept.
“Crimefighters” are the guys (and girls) who go out and actively fight crime.
Some of them embrace the term “vigilante.”
They not only go out and patrol looking for crime- they sometimes invite it to come to them with “bait patrols.” Bait patrols use an unlocked car or even human bait. The bait is made to look like a vulnerable target while crimefighting colleagues lurk unseen nearby. There’s an old saying- if you don’t find trouble, it’ll find you.
I recently wrote an article on a team of crimefighters called the New York Initiative for the New York Press titled “Brooklyn’s Own Superheroes.”
On the other end of the spectrum are “costumed activists.” These colorfully clad people use their superhero personas mostly for things like charity events, visits to children’s hospitals, food drives, blood drives, litter clean ups, and “hand outs.” Hand outs consist of packages of food and supplies (socks, water, toiletries, blankets, winter clothing) handed out to the homeless on street level. Others adopt a specific cause that they try to draw attention to. Captain Ozone, for instance, is a long time renewable energy activist and is organizing a Green Power Rally for the end of this month.
I would say the majority of RLSH have found a balance of activities somewhere in between.
One of my hometown heroes, Watchman, is a perfect example of this. He does charity events and safety patrols. For the last two Christmases he and his Great Lakes Heroes Guild allies have raised money from their friends and family, used the money to buy a bounty of toys and dropped them off at charities that provide toys to needy families.
I have also been out with Watchman several times for patrol. He sometimes patrols on foot and other times in his car. He does the same thing a concerned citizen or neighborhood block watch patrol would do- observe and report any criminal activity to police, and intervene in an emergency.
Other RLSH missions vary quite a bit due to environment, the size of the city and the crime in it, and what the individual feels passionate about.
Polarman, for instance, does the simple but helpful task of shoveling snow for the elderly in his small village of Iqaluit in the Canadian province of Nunavut. The population is just over 6,000 people huddled together on Frobisher Bay. He is a RLSH unique to his environment. Blue Lightning led an anti-smoking campaign in his home state of Michigan, and Superbarrio of Mexico City used his luchador style costume to bring attention to labor and immigration issues.
Atavistik, and his associates live near a large wildlife preserve, which they patrol like costumed park rangers in Mendocino National Forest. Their mission is to “discourage poachers and illegal cultivation of marijuana.”
Scavenger dresses herself in a black spandex mask, long strands of braids exploding out of the top of her head. She has a black corset with long plastic black streamers hanging off her arms to represent wings. Although she does other RLSH activities, a main focus is picking up litter in her hometown of Waterbury, CT. She cashes in recyclable cans and bottles and donates the funds to charity.
Warp Spider exists only as an avatar on the internet. He’s located in California, but his RLSH actions are cyber based. He searches for online predators and tries to educate others on the dangers of online stalkers and was inspired to do this after a friend of his became a cyber stalking victim. “I search MySpace, Zanga and Second Life looking for cyber stalkers.” Warp Spider told me in an e-mail.
There are other ways people were able to find niche roles. Some people do detective work, build crimefighting armor, costumes, and gadgets, offer philosophy, or act as an oracle. An oracle is someone who offers tech assistance by phone during a patrol from their computers.
This, to me, is what makes the RLSH story so interesting to me- an anonymous group of worldwide people dressed as superheroes unanimous in their quest to do good, but taking a diverse amount of paths to accomplish it.