Reporter: Allison Langdon
Producers:Stephen Rice, Julia Timms
It's a comic book staple; a geeky, mild-mannered guy suddenly discovers he possesses super powers.
Before you can say "to the bat cave", he's wearing his undies on the outside and saving the world from evil.
No one really believes that happens but, as Allison Langdon discovered, super heroes really do exist.
And while they get around in some pretty outlandish costumes, these caped crusaders take their work very seriously indeed.
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ALLISON LANGDON: Early morning a rooftop in downtown Seattle. At my side, a masked figure keeps watch over his city. Suddenly an alarm rings out and our caped crusader springs into action. This is a job for Phoenix Jones. It’s no comic book fantasy. My costumed, crime-fighting companion is real. So too is the car thief, who’s about to get some roadside assistance, Phoenix Jones-style.
PHOENIX: What I’m doing is definitely shocking but I think it’s crazier to let people run around and just assault people and you can make a difference or make a change.
ALLISON LANGDON: The world’s most popular superheroes sprang from the pages of DC and Marvel comic books and leapt onto our cinema screens when modern special effects made it possible to create their astounding superpowers. But recently, in movies like ‘Kick Ass’, we’ve seen a new breed of crime-fighter. Ordinary people taking the law into their own hands and it’s inspired a growing number of self-proclaimed “super-heroes” like Phoenix Jones to do the same. Do you think you make a difference?
PHONEIX: Absolutely, in the city of Seattle for sure. And you know people ask me if I’m making a worldwide impact and I say not yet, but I’m on my way.
ALLISON LANGDON: Phoenix doesn’t have special powers or even permission to fight crime. But despite the very real danger, there’s a growing league of these characters striding the streets of America in capes and masks, believing they can make the world a better place.
NYX: My name is Nyx. I’m a real life superhero and I patrol New York City.
DC’S GUARDIAN: Communities aren’t safe any more. It’s people not being able to walk down the street without being mugged. That’s wrong.
CRIMSON FIST: I’m one guy, I can’t save the world but I’d like to inspire the world to save itself. A lot of people doing it will make a difference.
ALLISON LANGDON: Do you feel like you’re a better person when you wear this outfit?
LIFE: Definitely, you know, when I put on the mask and when I put on the tie and everything like that I do feel empowered. I think maybe a lot like when a policeman affixes a badge or a priest puts on his collar.
ALLISON LANGDON: Meet Life. Recently, he formed a dynamic duo with Dark Guardian, patrolling the mean streets of New York. Armed with nothing more than truth, justice and cool costumes, they sought out and confronted drug dealers.
LIFE: It’s definitely very scary because these people are armed; these people have been to jail for violent offences. You’re messing with their business. So yeah, it gets hairy, it gets hairy.
ALLISON LANGDON: On this night at least, good conquered evil. The dealer eventually moved his business off the street. Shade and his crime-fighting team face that same New York vermin every night. But they come prepared. When you go out on patrol, do you carry weapons?
SHADE: I would actually carry this with me.
ALLISON LANGDON: Really, what you are doing, shouldn’t that be left to the police?
SHADE: If the police did their job, we wouldn’t have to. Someone’s gotta do something, right?
ALLISON LANGDON: Handling a weapon is one thing, but when you design your own super-costumes, you also quickly learn new skills. So this is very impressive. We’ve got a superhero who fights crime and can sew.
SHADE: When people to get to know me, I’m a teddy bear.
ALLISON LANGDON: Meantime, at a secret location at the rear of a dingy comic book store Phoenix Jones suits up. Like any good superhero, he closely guards his true identity as a father of two. Each night, amid the comic book covers, he transforms from a mild-mannered child-care worker to crime-fighting crusader. So we’ve done the leaping tall buildings. And before you can say “to the bat-poles”, he’s in hot pursuit of another evil-doer. Of course, Phoenix Jones is not really a man of steel. His utility belt might be equipped with tasers, zip-tie handcuffs and mace spray, but under the mask, there’s a mere mortal. And those on the streets aren’t always as easily intimidated as their comic book cousins.
PHONEIX: I’ve had a few injuries. I’ve been stabbed a couple of times. I got shot once. Hit with a baseball bat, ah.
ALLISON LANGDON: But Phoenix gets little sympathy from the local police. In Seattle, you won’t find Commissioner Gordon reaching for the bat phone.
MARK JAMIESON: I would not call him a crime fighter. Not at all, no. The police are the crime fighters.
ALLISON LANGDON: In fact Detective Mark Jamieson would prefer it, if Phoenix - and his mates - just kept their costumes for Halloween.
PHONEIX: The police have actually asked me to stop doing what I’m doing and when they said that I thought you guys are really missing it. If a guy can walk around in a gold suit dressed like a superhero and actually find crime, like I’m literally finding criminals doing felonies, where are the police, like why are you guys letting that happen?
MARK JAMIESON: It may have just been an argument, a couple of guys yelling at each other because they’re drunk, but now Phoenix and his friends turn up saying, stop, stop and they get assaulted, and now we have a crime.
ALLISON LANGDON: Sounds like they make your job a lot harder?
MARK JAMIESON: Definitely, there is the potential of escalating a situation.
ALLISON LANGDON: Are they vigilantes?
MARK JAMIESON: It could be perceived that way, yeah.
ALLISON LANGDON: The cops say that you’re a vigilante.
PHONEIX: Yeah which is weird you know. A vigilante goes out, sees crime and exacts his own revenge whereas I come up and I hold you to the standards that the police and the citizens voted for.
ALLISON LANGDON: But away from the mean streets of the big city in a faraway castle we found a different kind of superhero. The one who calls himself Sir Ivan.
SIR IVAN: Welcome, welcome to the castle!
ALLISON LANGDON: Nice to meet you, Sir Ivan. I’m really getting the royal treatment!
SIR IVAN: Well I want you to feel like a princess today!
ALLISON LANGDON: Ivan’s the son of a billionaire banker, living the good life in the Hamptons who, when the mood takes him becomes Peace Man. So where does Sir Ivan become Peace Man?
SIR IVAN: Good question – I’m about to answer that.
ALLISON LANGDON: I should have known he’d have a batcave. Of course! The secret entrance and his own version of Robin. Peace Man and your trusty side-kick, come here, come here. Oh, good gracious. Peace Man believes he’s saving the world through music. He’s pumped his vast fortune into his own record label. His grand plan is to end all wars in Africa through his music. Other real life superheros, they go out and they fight crime, they feed the homeless. You don’t do that, do you?
SIR IVAN: I am saving people’s lives. I can mean the difference between life and death. My cheque.
ALLISON LANGDON: But Phoenix Jones and many like him, are taking this whole superhero business very seriously. He claims to have 28 arrests under his belt.
MARK JAMIESON: I’d be surprised if it were that high.
ALLISON LANGDON: Nevertheless the good citizens of Seattle seem to have embraced the idea.
PHOENIX: They called me a folk hero and it’s come down to kind of a I don’t know without sounding egotistical, like a batman-esque quality. People are really excited to come see it.
ALLISON LANGDON: The ladies especially seem to like a crime-fighter in uniform.
GIRL FLIRTING: Very nice to meet you. Where are you from, Phoenix Jones?
PHONEIX: Seattle area. We’re gonna go look for criminals, but it was good meeting you, Jessica?
ALLISON LANGDON: So there are perks to being a superhero?
PHOENIX: Well kind of. I mean I’m married with two kids so there’d be perks for a younger person I think.
ALLISON LANGDON: But if you really want to snare a superhero, why not use one of their own super-weapons designed to entangle a villain’s fleeing feet. My turn.
PHONEIX: Alright, let’s do it.
ALLISON LANGDON: Let’s make it interesting – run away, be afraid, be very afraid. Brings down Phoenix Jones! Rest easy citizens. Phoenix Jones was unhurt and lives to fight crime another day.
PHOENIX: I’m just lucky this covers the blushing part of my face. It’s terrible!
ALLISON LANGDON: What does your family say about what you do?
PHOENIX: My kids love it. They’re always blowing my secret identity, it’s kinda terrible.
ALLISON LANGDON: What do you say to them when you go out at night?
PHOENIX: I tell them this is the only thing that daddy can think of to make the world better, and I give them a kiss and I tell them I’ll see them when I get back.