Real Life Superhero ‘Phoenix Jones’ has made Geek news yet again, this time accused of assault by way of pepper spray. It’s not the first time the 24 year old Seattle vigilante has caught media attention. Since early 2011 Jones, known under the mask as Benjamin Fodor, has found himself in everything from local papers to international TV. While Ben Fodor is easily the most prolific of the Real Life Superheroes, he’s certainly not the only one to get himself noticed by the public at large, nor the first to get himself in trouble with the (actual) law. A little less than two weeks ago a Michigan basedRLSH known as ‘Bee Sting’ got himself arrested and is being charged with felonious assault for his shotgun wielding take on justice.
He looks innocent enough.
While guys like Benjamin Fodor and Bee Sting (aka Adam Besso) are slowly becoming more common, they’re both extreme examples of what is an otherwise peaceful, even beneficial, hobby. The bulk of RLSH enthusiasts use their costumed identities as a means of entertainment for charity, or simply for fun. The RLSH fad, while not new, is still in it’s infancy as far as the world-at-large is concerned with most news articles treating even the most serious incidents with a tinge of amusement.
The RLSH world even has it’s own costumed villains, who ironically seem to commit less crime (if any) than their would-be-heroic counterparts. The ‘bad guys’, as it were, mostly stick to having a good time making playful threats and creating appropriately hammy videos for their pretend maniacal personalities. One such Real Life Super Villain, ‘Rex Velvet‘ is a prime example of their light hearted playfulness, taking full advantage of social networking and posting a fantastically tongue-in-cheek video in which he dramatically calls for an end to his city’s rising superhero scene.
The people's villain.
Naturally, RLSH isn’t without it’s controversy. While the villains seem harmless enough it’s the heroes who attract attention for better or worse, usually worse. Are they idiots? Well, that’s quite the question and one more than a few internet commentators have been all too quick to answer with a resounding “Yes!”. One quick search for almost any article following the adventures of Phoenix Jones will give you an overwhelming dose of responses condemning Jones’ actions. On the other side there’s also no shortage of support for the costumed vigilantes, some even going so far as to donate their own money toward their favorite hero’s legal fees. However, as with any controversy it’s easy to knee-jerk and throw everyone involved under the same bus when what’s really needed is a little perspective.
Arrests aside, most Real Life Superheroes have been doing genuine good all over the world. From hospital visits to community clean-up events the vast majority are law-abiding citizens pulling together to help their communities and have a little fun while they do it. Where the water gets murky is when heroes cross the line from getting cats out of trees to full on physical confrontation, a practice that police have been quick to criticize. Aside from putting themselves in serious danger the vigilantes, in extreme circumstances, are also endangering the people they’re trying to protect. What we need to keep in mind is that the likes of Phoenix Jones or Bee Sting are few and far between, this is rare and that’s why it makes the news. No one’s been seriously injured yet either, so it’s still funny when someone in a homemade superhero get-up gets beaten by a stiletto.
Come on dude, even George Bush can dodge a shoe.
Still, nothing lasts forever. The RLSH idea is out there and has been for years, it continues to grow and shows no sign of slowing down, how long it can go without serious incident though, is anyone’s guess. There are always going to be those who get a little overzealous with their outfits on and go from feeding the homeless to full blown vigilantism. Being capable at martial arts or even having fought in a war aren’t the force-fields in the real world that they are in the comics. Picking a fight with a real life drug dealer isn’t going to be a quick witty exchange followed by some sweet moves and a thankful police force, it’s going to end in a trip to the hospital, the morgue or prison. Heck, your spandex clad butt would probably be better off in the morgue because Johnny The Mass Murdering Rapist isn’t going to care how bad ass you’re nickname was when those iron doors clang shut.
The one item Batman's going to wish he hadn't left off his utility belt.
Armed with the knowledge a serious incident is all but inevitable, what’s to be done? An obvious solution is to make laws against Real Life Superheroes, but that’s not only a huge hassle legally it’s also enormously unfair on those who do genuinely good work. Enforcing some sort of Watchmen style anti-superhero law would be a nightmare, comic conventions and fancy dress parties now all over the police radar. Halloween would require SWAT teams patrolling the streets on the off chance some well intentioned trick-or-treater happened to stop a purse snatcher. Creating new laws also creates new crimes, and it’s not guaranteed everyone would obey. What’s cooler than being a superhero? Being an outlaw superhero! It’s just not practical.
With the banning option hardly an option at all, perhaps it’s better local governments bring in some form of regulation. The idea of superhero registration has been toyed with plenty of times in both comic books and TV. More often than not those story-lines end in tears for all involved. Unlike the violent actions of a few short sighted Real Life Superheroes however, what doesn’t work in the funny pages may very well work in real life with a regulated organization. Brought together it would be an official registry still able to perform the charity work they already do. Perhaps each member would need to sign a contract laying out a set of rules, like not wandering the ghetto at night looking for trouble. Maybe that all seems a little over the top right now, come the day Captain Fantastic’s chalk outline decorates a city sidewalk it might not appear so silly.
It's only funny until somebody gets hurt.
Neither option is terribly likely. At least for the time being, Real Life Superheroes are going to have to use their own commonsense. Once you take away the brightly coloured costumes, they’re just regular folks with good intentions. Even carrying pepper spray and a baton doesn’t make someone above the law, carrying a gun just makes them a liability to everyone. Where guys like Ben Fodor and Adam Besso go wrong is that they seem to think good intentions and some combat skills are enough, and sadly that’s just not true. There need to be rules, there needs to be sound judgement and above all there needs to be accountability for ones actions, something both of those guys are going to learn the hard way, one way or the other.
RLSH isn’t inherently a bad thing. At it’s heart the idea of throwing on a costume and helping people is wonderful. It’s a great attention grabbing way to create awareness about crime, charity and can be a lot of fun for participants and those it benefits alike. As spectators it’s important to remember that the violence we see reported in the media is a tiny fraction of an otherwise good thing. What the superheroes need to remember is what most of them have already figured out; taking the law into your hands isn’t super, it’s dangerous. I’m not saying don’t help your fellow man, if someone’s in trouble you do what you can if you can -but be sensible, use your judgement, consider the risks. Take a second to think, is it worth getting stabbed over? Am I putting other people in harms way? Recognize that just because you’re wearing a costume doesn’t make you any more special than if you were in jeans and a t-shirt. Perhaps it’s better to just call the police than run in half-cocked with no authority. Mostly, especially for the likes of Phoenix Jones and Bee Sting, it’s remembering that being a Superhero isn’t the part to focus on, it’s Real Life.