When I was young I often wondered what the world would be like if superheroes were real.

Now they are.

And I don’t mean that superheroes are real in the sense that single parents, hard working people, and people who go out of their way to help others are superheroes (though they are). I mean specifically that there are people out there who dress up in tights and help the city in costume as real life superheroes (except to be fair–it’s more like body armor instead of tights).

If you haven’t heard about this phenomenon, here are some samples, from right here in Seattle, where superheroes like Phoenix Jones and Troop and many others patrol the city and do what they can to help out. Here’s a recent article from the Seattle P.I. covering the Rain City Superhero Movement. And here’s a report from KOMO news about spending an evening with a few Seattle superheroes on patrol.

Some superheroes even participate in an international community of do-gooders called Real Life Superheroes. Take a look at their superhero registry and you’ll see that there are superheroes in Mexico, Italy, and even Iraq. It’s global.

If this is the first you’ve heard about this, you might need a moment. Breathe. The world has superheroes in it.

No, they don’t have super powers (that we know of). They just like doing good. Not all of them focus on fighting crime, either. Many do charity work of all types, from championing various good causes to helping the homeless (Nyx and Life appear to be fine examples).

You might think they’d be crazy to dress up in a strange outfit and walk around the city (much less risk their life in a potentially dangerous confrontation). And you’d be correct. But they just might be the right kind of crazy.

Some people are skeptical of the true value of superheroes. They say things like, “We already have people who fight crime,” (meaning the police), and “We already have people who volunteer for good causes,” and they’re right. We have people who do these things, and we need them.

But we need costumed superheroes, too. I know this because of everything I learned from comics.

If you are fighting crime, or helping people, or doing any number of types of good, yes–you are a superhero. But when you put a costume on, you become even more powerful. This is because you give voice to a mighty myth that says “Yes, good can win.”

This is the message infused into virtually every comic book and sprinkled throughout all superhero mythology. Good can win. It doesn’t always, and often it’s messy, but whether or not good wins in whatever specific comic you happen to be reading, there is the message that good can prevail, that it’s possible.

Thanks to comic books and superhero mythology, I believe good can win. And when I see people in costume doing good as superheroes, I believe harder.

 

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AARON DIETZ is the author of Super, a novel from Emergency Press about commitment, crisis, paperwork, and heartbreak. Dietz's super powers include a high metabolism and the ability to put things back where he got them. He's also pretty good at math. As an instructional designer, Dietz has written online high school courses on computer programming, green design, and 3-D video game creation. It’s natural for him to write quizzes. He’s worked a decade in libraries. He’s also been paid to count traffic and once failed a personality test. Dietz writes for TheNervousBreakdown.com, blogs at aarondietz.us, and is an advisory editor of KNOCK Magazine.

87 responses to “Superheroes Are Real”

  1. D.R. Haney says:

    I seem to have been one of the few children who was never particularly captivated by superheroes. I tried to find one to my liking and settled on Thor, since he was a kind of Viking, which in my mind was not completely dissimilar to an American Indian. But Thor talked funny, and I was anyway much more taken with history than fantasy. It mattered to me that someone had actually existed, with accomplishments that could be proved. Ironically, I ended up writing fiction.

    But I do think there’s power in costume. I remember, when I was doing plays, that I would feel myself changing into the character as I put on his clothes. It was subtle, but I definitely felt a difference, just as I would imagine that people who wear uniforms feel themselves stepping into their roles as cops, nurses, soldiers — what have you — as they dress for work, though they may not be fully aware of it, and something along those lines must figure with superheroes, no?

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      I’d think so. It’d take a lot of guts to act in certain superhero ways, and some superheroes have said that the costume helps them become that person.

      And about Thor–I still don’t know how to pronounce Mjolnir.

      Wait…. I just looked it up. It’s like Myolneer. Weird. If I had a pet hammer, I’d probably call it Hammer.

      • Matt says:

        In spoken English, it sounds mostly like “mill-ner.” At least according to a Norwegian I used to know.

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          That sounds better than dictionary.com’s pronunciation sound file….

        • I always thought Myolnur, but then again, I always thought being a superhero by virtue of being a god was a bit like cheating at Scrabble.

        • Matt says:

          That’s as good a phonetic way to write it out as what I came up with. When I heard it, it was being said by a Norwegian guy with a Norwegian accent.

          And that’s pretty much the same reason I’ve never found Superman interesting. Too powerful, too noble, too god-like. Boring!

        • I only ever found Superman interesting because I’ve always so desperately wanted to be him.

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          I often find myself disliking Superman’s alien, seemingly-cold viewpoint, perhaps because it’s too darn close to how I behave at times….

        • I think the thing about Superman–and what really works with regard to his character–is that he’s an alien trying to be human. The alien is what gives him his powers. The Kryptonian in him is what makes him able to fly.

          What really drives him, however, is his desire to live up to the goodness he sees in the rest of humanity. His doing good is what he feels makes him more like us.

          I like that about him.

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Nice summary of his character, and you’re completely right. If an alien can be human-ish, then there’s hope for the rest of us, right?

          I was always jealous of Batman, though. All passion, but intelligent too. By comparison, I had to go to therapy just to learn how to recognize when I was feeling emotions. And what they were called.

    • Matt says:

      I can think of some non-superhero, adult-themed comics that you’d probably enjoy immensely, Duke.

    • Matt says:

      Hmm….well, Duke’s not a fan of fantasy & sci-fi, so I’d go more with crime & historical stuff. Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips Criminal series springs right to mind. Modern noir, drawing influence from the old pulp crime fiction and film noir. Plus, the creators take the time to include bonus material in the individual issues that isn’t in the collected trades, such as essays in the back about the book’s various influences by noir scholars and critics.

      Brian K. Vaughn’s graphic novel Pride of Baghdad brought me to tears when it came out a couple of years ago. Also, while Vaughn’s now-complete series Y: The Last Man is technically soft sci-fi, that’s mostly as the setting…and the lead character is an amateur escape artist and major book-nerd.

      I haven’t read much of Vertigo’s current ongoing Scalped, though I’ve loved the shit out of what I’ve read: a modern crime saga set on an Indian Reservation.

      Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon’s Preacher might also be good, as well as Ennis’ War Stories.

      The sci-fi element to Transmetropolitan might be a handicap, but I love the premise: what amound to a Hunter S. Thompson character running around in a cyberpunk future, waging a one-man war against a corrupt politician.

      I’m sure more will come to me when I get home and look at my shelves….

      • Heh. I’m reading down and totally didn’t see this. Woops.

        • Matt says:

          No biggie. I’m not even sure why this nested down here. WordPress was just having a HAL 9000 moment, I guess.

          Curious as to why you thought Preacher went off the rails. I mean, bits of it are certainly almost slapsticky (if brutally so) but the plotting was tight as it gets; by the final story arc all of the plot pieces fell together like clockwork.

        • Matt says:

          Oh, and you’re spot-on about Maus. I’d pair that with Persepolis.

          Never read Love and Rockets.

        • Given the theological overtones established fairly early on, as well as the coolness factor (Custer’s executing The Word by telling an angel to “Cut the shit” is truly one of the greatest ftmfw moments ever), I thought that all the stuff with the weirdo old man and the conspiracy, not to mention the backwater hick stuff, seemed extraneous. Then again, that may have just been me hoping that the story would tackle all the lapsing-Catholic moments I was personally having.

          Still, Daisy, Cassidy, and Jesse were great characters. Jesse particularly. I think that was my ultimate disappointment; that the execution didn’t match the premise/set up.

        • Matt says:

          Ah but with all the religious (specifically Catholic) allegory in the book consider the backwoods/redneck stuff in this light: it’s Custer’s version of the Garden of Gethsmane, where he confronts his doubts and gathers his strength to face the ultimate destiny that lies ahead of him. Which, after that story arc, he then does.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I’m a huge fan of Dan Clowes, but I have a feeling that’s predictable.

          Scalped sounds interesting. I’ve gotten a lot of free books over the last year or so — it’s one of the few perks of being a writer — so maybe if I say something good about Scalped, it’ll magically appear in my mailbox.

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Clowes is great! Who cares if it’s predictable?

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Aaron,

    This is really creepy, but in a good way.
    I did NOT know this existed at all, let alone in this magnitude!
    You had me clicking on every link, and it was worth it.

  3. Wow, I had no idea. And I guess they don’t have real superpowers, like you said, at least, not yet. Though I once heard that every few hundred millenia, evolution leaps forward. I can’t remember who I heard that from, some professor.

  4. What? No mention of the world’s greatest superhero, Invigilante?

  5. Wait a minute, didn’t I just see this movie the other night when it was called Kick Ass?.

    But, you know, this has inspired me, Aaron. I am a mere blanket-cape away from become The Imprecator and zipping downtown to hand out some sandwiches.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Whatever you do, make sure to get a photo. And plaster a fancy cool logo on your chest.

      Oh, also, bring sandwiches. Apparently, you can’t just hand them out without having some!

  6. Tom Hansen says:

    When I was a kid I loved Fantastic Four (the Jack Kirby era). I loved The Thing especially cuz he had such cruddy luck. He got changed, but kept his girlfriend, the blind girl, because she couldn’t see him, but then he couldn’t sleep with her, with is a huge bummer, and then the Silver Surfer came long and stole her. Damn. “It’s Clobberin’ Time”

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      I’ve got a soft spot for the Thing, too. He always seemed more human than the brainiac and the jock and the invisible girl/woman who was unfortunately written into having to be rescued all the time.

  7. SkyMan says:

    Its true, none of us RLSH have any superpowers; they just dont exist here in the real world of everyday life. What DOES exist is the power of inspiration, the power to help the common man, the power to be bold and daring,… etc. I could go on as to the powers of Real Life SuperHeroes. We do what we do because we see the world falling to pieces and we see the general populace become increasingly apathetic to everyone around them. Im not advocating the lifestyle I have come to live in the past six months… its been awesome for me though. What I am advocating for are more regular citizens to show concern and take action against the apathy that is all around us. Stand up and make a difference!! Every act of charity will lead to another and soon there will be ordinary people making a difference everywhere!!

    SkyMan Salutes!!

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Love it, SkyMan. Thanks for making an appearance!

      It sounds like a very grueling lifestyle (Phoenix Jones, for instance, has a dayjob and patrols five nights a week. Those are harsh hours. And tough working conditions (especially as it rains all the time here in Seattle).

      I love your hint of a list of powers that superheroes have. Great stuff! And a great summary of what you’re all up to. Thanks for doing good!

    • Reno j. Romero says:

      skyman! (damn, this is awesome) come down to the CA desert (hesperia) and do some good down here. we have cheap criminals doing lame shit like stealing bikes from fronts of stores; tagging someone’s car that’s sitting in a lot that’s for sale; trying to cash a stolen check for $20! there’s work down here good sir. think about it. thanks for your time.

      • Aaron Dietz says:

        Real life superheroes comment on posts. I’ve never read a comic where Superman did that (though to be fair, I haven’t read many Superman comics since the Internet came about).

  8. Matt says:

    Aside from the X-Men (which I loved, and have been reading in one format or another since 1992) I never got much into other superheroes, preferring the slightly more adult books like those published through DC’s Vertigo imprint, though occasionally books like The Authority or Ex Machina dragged me back into the caped vigilante fold. I’ve gotten a bit fed-up with all the massive, cross-over “events” that’ve been happening lately, though, and for budgetary reasons have had to cut my monthly purchases down.

    There’s one of those moder-day superheroes here in San Diego, calling himself Mr. X. He patrols downtown. I’ve never seen him, though an article in one of our local alt-weeklies inspired me to start outlining a novel based around the idea…hope it isn’t too close to Super….

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Sounds great, Matt. I’m sure it’s nothing like Super–I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like Super, which is probably why it was difficult to get it published and out there.

      Those crossover events are terribly blatant sales gimmicks. And usually the writing is a little lesser in quality because come on–they’re pushing these weird unnatural constraints on the writers! I thought the Fall of the Mutants series way back when, though, wasn’t too bad, as far as X-Men / mutant comics go.

      • Matt says:

        They’re big sales gimmicks, which is one of the reasons I’ve dropped ALL of my mainstream Marvel/DC titles from my pull list. Both companies have been doing nothing but “events” for the last five years, and I’m so fed up with them. It’s refreshing to read something mostly self-contained like Witchblade which started off back in the day as basically just a T&A book, is now this great fusion of dark fantasy and police procedural.

        I’ll e-mail you about my idea. I don’t want to post it here. Intellectual property, and all.

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Looking forward to hearing more, Matt.

          Yeah, I think that was what appealed to me about Spawn for a while–I was enjoying McFarlane’s Spider-Man, and then when he jumped ship it was actually kind of a release to get away from this intricately connected universe (and dollar signs, if you wanted to keep up with the universe). The gimmicks were killing me.

  9. Slade Ham says:

    I still haven’t discounted the possibility of doing something similar myself. I would have to have a really badass costume designer though. Nothing homemade – I want something movie quality. And something that bloodstains wash out of easily.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      I went to an apparel designer friend to have something made for my book release (superhero-themed novel), and wallah–the final product was very nice. I highly recommend it. It does make you feel like a superhero.

      However, I’m not really great in physical combat, so I’ll limit my super power exhibitions to writing well as often as I can.

  10. Zara Potts says:

    There is a little boy who lives next door to me who is convinced he is spiderman. He wears his spiderman outfit day and night. I am pretty sure he is going to be a superhero when he grows up.
    I also knew a little boy whose mother couldn’t decide what to name him when he was a baby and instead left it up to him to choose his own name when he got old enough – he chose Steve Austin at first and then settled on Robin (after Christopher Robin)
    There is another man who lives in New Zealand whose name is: Mr President Sir The Hat. I think that in itself should confer him with superhero status!

  11. Grim says:

    Very nice article, thanks for the words. I think for many of us who choose to take the leap and do something like this, it’s only because we feel we can. It’s that simple. You see something you can do, so you do it. It’s no different than anything else really. It’s too easy to say, “There are already a million coffee shops out there, so why bother making coffee?” Because you want to. Because you can. It’s true that there are police officers, EMT’s, Firefighters, and volunteers out there every day. But the other truth is that there will never be enough of them. There’s always room for one more person doing good in the world.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Very well put, Eliass Grim and thanks for stopping by!

      I hope this form of activism creates a whole new era full of strong social awareness and the desire to be a global community that cares.

      And you’re right–we can’t ever have enough superheroes, in costume or not. Thanks for doing good!

  12. Simon Smithson says:

    I completely and totally salute these guys. If I had access to a good costume designer, I would superhero the hell out of my town. Proudly, and upstandingly.

    I’ve heard of one heroine who patrols bar areas and makes sure no men are escorting women too drunk to be making rational sexual decisions home. I can’t remember her name, however.

  13. Reno j. Romero says:

    aaron-

    hey, bro. this is wild. no really. fucking wild. i never heard that such a thing was happening. maybe i need to get out more. possible take my head out of my super heroless ass. but this is cool. me, i never got into super heroes. i never got into comics. but if i was partial to any of those SUPER fuckers it was spiderman. i thought he was cool. of course the movies had that bland wussy-looking actor and it blew it for me. but hey: what do i know. for all i know in the original comics spiderman was a bland wussy-looking guy who you’d think would deliver pizza or work behind an ice cream counter…

    good deal for you bringing this out. it truly is odd and kinda cool. all right, my man, keep rocking and fighting the good fight.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Thanks, Reno. You keep fighting too. You reputation is very Superhero-esque; I’m in awe.

      Spoiler Alert: Spider-Man was indeed pretty wussy. He was a science nerd for sure. However, the cool thing about him was he had normal problems, like paying the rent. This was during a time when many superheroes were rich, or aliens from another planet, or gods, or whatever–seems like everybody else had unlimited resources. Spider-Man was cool because he just made do with what he had.

  14. Gloria says:

    I don’t know… If I saw one of these people coming at me in a dark alley, my first thought wouldn’t be, “Oh good, a sane, strong, well-meaning person is here to help me,” I would think, “where’s my taser?” It seems unnecessarily risky.

  15. Joe Daly says:

    I saw the South Park where the kids all donned super hero garb and went out to actually do good, and thought it was an interesting sub-text to the show. Mind-blowing to hear that there are people actually doing that.

    I worked at a gym in Chicago about ten years ago, and a guy came in and dropped off an application for a personal trainer position. When he arrived for his interview, my buddy (the PT manager) asked him who inspired him. He said superheroes did, because they’re in really good shape and they’re interested in helping people.

    We tried to make fun of the guy after he left, but I think everyone innately knew that the only difference that mattered between him and us was that he was comfortable in his own skin.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      That’s one of the really cool elements of this phenomena–these people walk down the street dressed like that. On Capitol Hill here in Seattle, it’s probably not that much of a big deal, but everywhere else, the stares and comments must be extreme. Yet, they brave the world this way, anyway.

      Great story, Joe!

  16. I’d read recently about the real-life superhero phenomenon as well as Electron Boy (here: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2011740342_electronboy30m.html ), but I had no idea that there was a superhero registry. Coolness! Is there a super villain registry as well? I’d like to be Ultimate Cyn.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      I love that Electron Boy piece–such a super cool gift for a kid.

      So far, there is no organized collective of super vilains, though I suspect that with time there may well be. However, as super villains are usually not the type to work for a collective, I don’t expect that group to get very large. Solo super villains, however, may increase with time….

  17. Lorna says:

    Wow. I had no idea these people existed. Although, here in Vegas we do have Mr. Happy….I don’t think he fights crime, but he definately wants to make people in Vegas smile. http://www.vegashappyman.com/

    Knowing there are actual real life superheroes out there makes me smile.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Mr. Happy sounds delightful and it sounds like he’s doing superheroesque work. Maybe he should put his name in the Superhero Registry and see if they approve it!

      Happy to know about Mr. Happy!

  18. I’m not even really that into comics (though I love your novel, of course), but everything about this development makes me smile. I only hope the participants also dye their hair the customary blue-black. Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Aaron!

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      There ARE some blue-black hair superheroes, Litsa! These folks are spectacular!

      I might go out with a video crew and follow one on patrol for a night. Should be very interesting….

  19. Richard Cox says:

    I think the superhero registry is one of the most awesome things I’ve ever heard of. Thanks for the links.

    Everyone wants to be Superman at some time or another, including me, but if I had to pick someone else it would be the Green Lantern. Check out the Powers and abilities section of his Wikipedia page. Wow.

  20. […] There were many, many highlights of the evening for me, but a special thrill came in the form of the real life superheroes that joined us. If you don’t know about real life superheroes, you may want to catch up by reading Superheroes Are Real at the Nervous Breakdown. […]

  21. […] There were many, many highlights of the evening for me, but a special thrill came in the form of the real life superheroes that joined us. If you don’t know about real life superheroes, you may want to catch up by reading Superheroes Are Real at the Nervous Breakdown. […]

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