Batman, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, and Captain Australia are some of our most beloved costumed vigilantes -- wait, don't we mean Captain America, you ask? No snub to Captain America, but Captain Australia is a real-life superhero, who, like the nine other alter egos on our list, protects the city streets from crime and makes a positive difference in the community (or tries to, at least). And yes, he wears a utility belt.
Capes, utility belts, boots and of course a mask for anonymity are all part of the superhero image, and the real-life superheroes on our list do not disappoint. Being a real-life superhero isn't all about the costume, although it's often the first thing that comes to mind. It's about the crime fighting and keeping citizens safe, and it's also about being a role model. But we all know that the costume is important.
While our real-life superheroes don't have superhuman powers, they, like fictional superpower-less hero Batman, don't disappoint in their dedication to others and to fighting crime. Real-life superhero work can be risky; many of the estimated 200 masked crime fighters patrolling our cities have been injured while on duty. Shadow Hare, Cincinnati's costumed vigilante, has dislocated his shoulder while protecting a citizen, and Phoenix Jones Guardian of Seattle (another of the superheroes on our list) suffered a broken nose after being kicked in the face while fighting crime. And because of that risk, vigilantism isn't for everyone. One self-proclaimed superhero -- Knight Warrior -- in Salford, England, for example, gave up his costumed, crime-fighting capers after being punched in the face.
In no particular order, we bring you 10 real-life costumed superheroes. Let's begin with Mr. Xtreme.
Mr. Xtreme and his fellow superheroes in the Xtreme Justice League (a group founded by Mr. Xtreme) are committed to fighting crime in the city of San Diego and surrounding area.
Mr. Xtreme, identity unknown, works as a security guard during the day. Motivated by his own personal history as a survivor of violent crime, Mr. Xtreme takes to the streets every night, protecting and empowering citizens and intervening as needed.
Each superhero in the Justice League has their own individual style, and Mr. Xtreme's costume is an eclectic mix, including body armor and pinhole goggles -- in total he carries 30 to 40 pounds of gear with him.
Who wears a light-blue leotard, a gold mask and gold boots, carries a very big saw, and only comes out at night to help citizens of Great Britain? That's Angle Grinder Man, the superhero of Kent (and on the weekends, London).
Angle Grinder Man, identity currently unknown, patrols the streets each night looking for motorists stranded by wheel clamps -- those clamps put on cars after too many parking tickets. Motorists with cars that have been clamped can either pay the associated fees to have their car freed, or they can wait for this local superhero to liberate their vehicles with his gold-painted circular saw – and it takes him less than a minute.
Marco Rascón Córdova, known also as real-life superhero Superbarrio, is an advocate for tenant rights and for the rights of families in low-income neighborhoods, as well as labor rights for Mexican workers. Superbarrio's costume, like his rhetoric, is attention grabbing: It's based on the masked hero character El Santo (the Saint) seen in old Spanish-language wrestling movies, and includes not only a red mask and leotard and yellow cape, but also a pair of gold shorts.
Once a high school dropout, this caped vigilante has become part of the fabric of Mexico and a symbol of protest in Mexican politics in the last two decades.
Captain Australia is a 30-something father of two who is good with animals, has a green thumb, and has been on a mission since 2009 to prevent crime in his city of Brisbane, Australia.
You'll recognize him, but probably not because he's been patrolling the streets of your neighborhood --his costume is based on "Kick-Ass" (both a comic book and a movie), with the addition of an @ symbol logo on his chest. He carries only a flashlight, a cell phone and a video camera.
Captain Australia is a self-professed master of judo, ju-jitsu, kung-fu and karate. He's also an amateur boxing champ, skilled in parkour and a master escapologist. He's also knowledgeable in criminal psychology, hostage negotiation and counter-insurgency. He is also afraid of heights.
The Crimson Fist fights his nemesis on the streets of Atlanta, Ga. That nemesis? Homelessness. And he also has the occasional crime intervention.
Between 700,000 and 800,000 people are homeless every night in the U.S., estimates the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), and more than 10,000 people go homeless each night in Atlanta alone [source: HomeAid Atlanta]. When he's not working as an IT programmer, the 5' 6" superhero dons a white and red costume -- with a red mask to protect his identity -- and distributes items to the homeless in the Atlanta area. These items include clothing, such as shoes and cold-weather clothes, as well as food, bottled water and other objects and services that are needed in the homeless community. The Crimson Fist's outreach and supplies are self-funded.
Menganno means Joe Blow in Spanish, and is the name that Argentine Oscar Lefosse uses when he patrols Buenos Aires as a costumed vigilante, wearing a full-face blue helmet and armor.
Lefosse, a 43-year-old retired police officer, was outed as Menganno in 2013 when he had a run-in with the local authorities after firing his pistol at criminals. He was charged with carrying an unlicensed gun (his license, as it turns out, had expired), but the superhero says he was only returning fire to protect himself and wife as they were fired upon first. And as for the gun, Menganno says he leaves it at home while out fighting crime on the streets.
Lion Heart is a mask-wearing superhero in the West African country of Liberia.
Moved by the disease and death he saw ravaging his country, Lion Heart is an advocate for clean drinking water in his nation. He is an outreach worker and educator, spreading knowledge about the dangers of drinking unclean water -- including diarrhea and water-borne diseases like dysentery and cholera. And because six out of seven Liberians use the bush as their bathroom (access to toilets and sanitation are major issues in Liberia), Lion Heart also focuses on educating villagers about sanitation, hygiene, and how to boil water to make it safe for drinking.
Mark Wayne Williams is known for patrolling the streets of Petosky, Mich. every night dressed as Batman, including the mask, cape and utility belt.
Despite his best efforts to keep the streets safe, the Petoskey Batman may be better known for his own run-ins with the law than with those who are breaking it. Williams has been arrested several times, including once after police were dispatched to rescue a man dressed as Batman dangling from the roof of a building. He was arrested when officers found his utility belt stocked with self-defense spray, a baton-style weapon, and other illegal items. He's also been arrested for trespassing. He's been charged with resisting and obstructing an officer and sentenced to probation for six months -- and was forced to hang up his superhero costume during that time.
Master Legend is a superhero who wears a silver cape and a mask to protect his identity, and patrols the streets of Orlando, Fla., with his superhero friends, the Justice Crusaders. But he hasn't always been Master Legend, although he knew from when he was a kid that he was special. It was in the second grade when he fashioned his first superhero mask for his alter-ego Captain Midnight, protector from the school bully.
Today, Master Legend helps to keep the streets of Orlando safe and advocates for the city's homeless, elderly and low-income families. Master Legend is also a superhero to superheroes; in 2009 he founded Team Justice, Inc., the first non-profit organization for real-life superheroes. Donations the organization receives are given back to the community in the form of toy drives and other neighborhood and humanitarian events.
Phoenix Jones, along with other superheroes in the Rain City Superhero Movement, fights crime -- and calls 911 a lot -- on the streets of Seattle. This Seattle super squad, a group of crime fighters whose members include characters such as Green Reaper, No Name, and Catastrophe, patrol every night, and among them carry batons, pepper spray and tasers -- plus cell phones.
Jones looks like a comic-book superhero, costumed in molded, Batman-style body armor, including a ballistic vest, a ballistic cup, and arm and leg trauma plates. Like his fellow superhero crime fighters, he hides his identity behind a mask; Jones' is black and gold.
His true identity, revealed after the superhero was arrested in 2011, is Benjamin John Francis Fodor, a special education teacher and father of two.
HowStuffWorks looks at a new study on what percentage of Americans have a family member in jail or prison.
Author's Note: 10 Real-life Costumed Crime Fighters
While researching this article, I learned our most favorite comic book superheroes are Superman, Batman and Spider-Man -- and that when it comes to the most well-known real-life superhero in the U.S., well, that's probably Phoenix Jones. And as it turns out, it doesn't necessarily take much to become a real-life crime fighter. While some vigilantes have some self-defense training, there are no mandatory requirements for the job. Cape optional; mask recommended.
More Great Links
- Brougham, Rachel. "'Petoskey Batman' facing felony charges." Petoskey News. 2012. (March 16, 2013) http://www.petoskeynews.com/news/featured/pnr-petoskey-batman-facing-felony-charges-20121003,0,5403676.story
- Captain Australia: The Real Life Superhero. (March 16, 2013) http://www.captainaustralia.net/
- CNN. "Defender of justice Superbarrio roams Mexico City." July 19, 1997. (March 16, 2013) http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9707/19/mexico.superhero/
- del Olmo, Frank. "A 'Viva Super Barrio' in L.A. Is Not Exactly the Message Official Mexico Likes to Hear." Los Angeles Times. March 20, 1989. (March 16, 2013) http://articles.latimes.com/1989-03-20/news/mn-217_1_el-salvador
- George, Rose. "Dirty little secret: the loo that saves lives in Liberia." Feb. 3, 2012. (March 16, 2013) http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/feb/03/liberia-sanitation-johnson-sirleaf-toilets
- Glionna, John M. "Real-life masked crusaders fight crime their own way." Los Angeles Times. Aug. 25, 2012. (March 16, 2013) http://articles.latimes.com/2012/aug/25/nation/la-na-utah-superheroes-20120826
- HomeAid Atlanta. "Why Help - Homelessness by the Numbers." (March 16, 2013) https://www.homeaidatlanta.org/helpnumbers.php
- Johnson, Craig. "Amid hard times, an influx in real superheroes." June 4, 2009. (March 16, 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/06/04/real.life.superheroes/index.html
- McCormack, Simon. "Mark Wayne Williams, 'Petoskey Batman', Gives Interview." Huffington Post. Nov. 5, 2012. (March 16, 2013) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/05/mark-wayne-williams-batman_n_2078873.html
- McNerthney, Casey. "Police alerted to 'superheroes' patrolling Seattle." Seattle PI. Nov. 18, 2010. (March 16, 2013) http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Police-alerted-to-superheroes-patrolling-Seattle-821425.php
- McLaughlin, Michael. "Mark Wayne Williams, Real-Life 'Batman,' Gets Probation In Mich." Huffington Post. Oct. 18, 2011. (March 16, 2013) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/18/mark-wayne-williams-batman-probation_n_1017782.html
- Mental Floss. "Real World Superheroes of the South." Aug. 17, 2010. (March 16, 2013) http://mentalfloss.com/article/25493/real-world-superheroes-south
- Nsubuga, Jimmy. "Salford 'superhero' hangs up cape after being punched in face in Manchester." Metro UK. March 16, 2013 (March 16, 2013) http://metro.co.uk/2013/03/16/salford-superhero-hangs-up-cape-after-being-punched-in-face-in-manchester-3545109/
- Omaat.org. "Real Life Superhero: Lion Heart." (March 16, 2013) http://www.omaat.org/2013/01/20/real-life-superhero-lion-heart/
- Pearlman, Jonathan. "Wheel Clamp Man with his hard hat and angle grinder on the streets of Perth." The Telegraph. Aug. 27, 2012. (March 16, 2013) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9502363/Wheel-Clamp-Man-with-his-hard-hat-and-angle-grinder-on-the-streets-of-Perth.html
- Prieto, Bianca. "Master Legend: Orlando's real life super hero." Orlando Sentinel. Sept. 16, 2011. (March 2013) http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2011-09-16/features/os-master-legend-orlando-super-hero-20110916_1_super-hero-patrols-downtown-mask
- Real Life Superheroes.org. "About Superhero." (March 16, 2013) http://reallifesuperheroes.org/about/about-superhero/
- Robinson, Bryan. "Meet the Anti-Sex in the City Superhero." ABC News. Nov. 5, 2002. (March 16, 2013) http://abcnews.go.com/US/Valentine/story?id=91072&page=1
- Ronson, Jon. "It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's...Some Dude?!" GQ. August 2011. (March 16, 2013) http://www.gq.com/news-politics/newsmakers/201108/real-life-superheroes-phoenix-jones
- Ross, Winston. "Meet the Superhero Vigilantes." The Daily Beast. Dec. 6, 2010. (March 16, 2013) http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2010/12/06/the-rain-city-superheroes-seattles-amateur-crime-fighters.html
- Rojo, Gabriela; and Elvia Velazquez. "Marco Rascón Córdova." Agencia Informativa de la Izquierda Mexicana. March 16, 2012. (March 16, 2013) http://www.izquierdamexicana.com/component/content/article/133-2012/4172-marco-rascon-cordova
- Sacks, Ethan. "Phoenix Jones, costumed super hero arrested in Seattle last month, loses civilian job." New York Daily News. Nov. 4, 2011. (March 16, 2013) http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/phoenix-jones-costumed-super-hero-arrested-seattle-month-loses-civilian-job-article-1.972509
- Scrivener, Zoltan. "At Last--A Real Superhero!" Car and Driver. November 2004. (March 16, 2013) http://www.caranddriver.com/news/at-lasta-real-superhero-car-news
- Sky News. "Argentina 'Superhero' Menganno Is An Ex-Cop." Jan. 24, 2013. (March 16, 2013) http://news.sky.com/story/1042293/argentina-superhero-menganno-is-an-ex-cop
- Smith, Graham. "Self-proclaimed superhero 'Shadow Hare' declares war on crime... although at 5ft 7 ins tall he might need a little help." Daily Mail. May 2, 2009. (March 16, 2013) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1176031/Self-proclaimed-superhero-Shadow-Hare-declares-war-crime---5ft-7ins-tall-need-little-help.html
- Templeton, Anthony. "Captain Australia is Queensland's first superhero, and has vowed to clean up the streets of Brisbane." March 4, 2011. (March 16, 2013) http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/captain-australia-is-queenslands-first-superhero-and-has-vowed-to-clean-up-the-streets-of-brisbane/story-e6freon6-1226015976662
- The Real Life Super Hero Project. (March 16, 2013) http://www.reallifesuperheroes.com/
- The Telegraph. "The Real Life Super Hero Project by Peter Tangen." (March 16, 2013) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturepicturegalleries/7973066/The-Real-Life-Super-Hero-Project-by-Peter-Tangen.html?image=1
- Zunger, Nurit. "Seven Real-Life Superheroes." GQ. Aug. 4, 2011. (March 16, 2013) http://www.gq.com/news-politics/newsmakers/201108/real-life-superheroes-mr-extreme-geist-insignis-master-legend