Christopher Sebela

writer, wronger, rearranger

Jon Ronson on the Real-Life Superheroes of Seattle

 

"I’m in a lot of pain," he says. "The cut’s still bleeding, internally and externally. A couple of my old injuries are flaring up, like some broken ribs. I’m having a rough night."

"Maybe you’re going too hard," I say.

"Crime doesn’t care how I feel," he replies.

Just then a young man approaches us. He’s sweating, looking distressed. “I’ve been crying, dude!” he yells.

He’s here on vacation, he explains. His parents live a two-hour bus ride away, in central Washington, and he’s only $9.40 short for the fare home. “I’ve asked sixty people,” he pleads. “Will you touch my heart, save my life, and give me $9.40?”

Phoenix turns to me. “You down for a car-ride adventure?” he says excitedly. “We’re going to drive the guy back to his parents!”

The young man looks panicked. “Honestly, $9.40 is fine…,” he says, backing away slightly.

"No, no!" says Phoenix. "We’re going to drive you home! Where’s your luggage?"

"Um, in storage at the train station…," he says.

"We’ll meet you there in ten minutes!" says Phoenix.

Thirty minutes later: the train station. The man hasn’t showed up. Phoenix narrows his eyes. “I think he was trying to scam us,” he says, looking genuinely surprised.

Does this guilelessness make him delightfully naive, I wonder, or disturbingly naive? He is, after all, planning to lead me into some hazardous situations this weekend.

At 4 a.m. we finally locate his crew on a corner near the station. Tonight there’s Pitch Black, Ghost, and Red Dragon. They’re all costumed and masked and, although in good shape, smaller and stockier than Phoenix. He stands tall among them and does most of the talking, too. They’re monosyllabic, as if deferring to their leader.

They have a visitor—a superhero from Oregon named Knight Owl. He’s been fighting crime since January 2008 and is in town for a comic-book convention. He’s tall, masked, and muscular, in his late twenties, and dressed in a black-and-yellow costume. It is similar to, but less awesome than, Phoenix’s sculpted and buffed one. The crew briefs Phoenix on a group of crack addicts and dealers loitering at a nearby bus stop. A plan is formed. They’ll just walk slowly past them to show who’s boss. No confrontation. Just an intimidating walk-by.

We spot them right away. There are ten of them, clustered in a tight group, looking old and wired, talking animatedly. When they see us, they fall silent and shoot us wary glances, probably wondering what the superheroes are talking about.

This is what the superheroes are talking about:

Knight Owl: I’ve discovered a maskmaker who does these really awesome owl masks. They’re made out of old gas masks.

Phoenix: Like what Urban Avenger’s got?

Knight Owl: Sort of, but owl-themed. I’m going to ask her if she’ll put my logo on it in brass.

Phoenix: That’s awesome. By the way, I really like your color scheme.

Knight Owl: Thank you. I think the yellow really pops.

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