When Seattle-based masked crusader Phoenix Jones was arrested last week for pepper spraying a group of people he claims were fighting, he piqued the curiosity of thousands across the nation. A real-life superhero? Stopping crime in the dark of night? Suit, boots, mask and all?
It turns out Jones isn’t the only ordinary guy whose nighttime is filled with crime-fighting, caped adventures. The Web site RealLifeSuperheroes.org boasts 720 members. Posts on the site suggest there are dozens, if not hundreds, of real-life superheroes currently in action in St. Petersburg, Fla., New York City and Milwaukee, among other cities.
But though these superheroes have attracted thousands of adoring fans, city cops don’t count themselves among them.
“Just because he’s dressed up in costume, it doesn’t mean he’s in special consideration or above the law,” Seattle police spokesman Detective Mark Jamieson said of Jones.
Other police say vigilantes like Jones risk hurting themselves and others.
When Michigan resident Mark Wayne Williams was caught in May hanging from a building wearing a Batman outfit, police promptly arrested him for trespassing and possession of dangerous weapons, according to Michigan’s Petoskey News-Review.
As part of his probation, Williams, a member of the so-called “Michigan Protectors,” is not allowed to wear any more costumes. That includes his baton, chemical spray, and weighted gloves.
And yet the movement keeps growing. Last year’s hit movie “Kick-Ass,” which follows a kid without special powers who decides to be a superhero, and the recent HBO documentary called “Superheroes,” may have given the movement a push.
The drama that accompanies real-life superheroes has likely also helped the cause. When summoned to court last week, Jones whipped off his normal clothing to reveal a flashy gold and black costume beneath. He also gave an impassioned speech outside the court, designed to appeal to any citizen with a sense of justice:
I will continue to patrol with my team, probably tonight. ... In addition to being Phoenix Jones, I am also Ben Fodor, father and brother. I am just like everybody else. The only difference is that I try to stop crime in my neighborhood and everywhere else.
As the movement has grown, it has also sought to become more organized, with some members proposing a uniform set of standards, others publishing tutorials on how people can join, and a few even considering a sanctioning body to oversee it.
There are now many sub-movements within the movement, such as the Rain City Superhero Movement in Seattle, of which Phoenix Jones is the leader.
“The movement has grown majorly,” Edward Stinson, a Florida-based writer who advises real-life superheroes, told MSNBC. “What I tell these guys is, ‘You’re no longer in the shadows. You’re in a new era. ... Build trust. Set standards. Make the real-life superheroes work to earn that title and take some kind of oath.’ ”