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I actually wasn’t aware of the Real Life Super Hero movement before reading this book. I’ve seen the movie Kick-Ass, which deals with a fictional version of similar issues- everyday people getting fed up with injustice and taking matters into their own hands (while wearing colorful costumes). However, I didn’t realize this was also happening in the real world.
I grew up as a huge comic book nerd, so I find the concept delightful and intriguing. I wasn’t sure what to expect, though. Were these going to be cartoonish caricatures, high on spandex and their own delusions? Was this some kind of grown-up role-playing game? It turns out to be much more.
Fezzani uses her reporting skills to embed herself into the RLSH community, gaining their trust and thus offering us an insiders look into their world. There seem to be different groups and factions of super heroes- and even super villains- all over the country. Their approaches to heroism are as varied as the individuals themselves.
Some, like Phoenix Jones, engage in hands-on crime fighting, seeking out situations which the police are overlooking or ignoring and physically intervening. Jones and his team are trained in everything from martial arts to emergency medical care, allowing them the confidence to step in where others might not.
Others provide outreach for the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics and various groups that society has left behind. Some roam the streets giving out food, blankets and care packages or spend time talking with people, trying to intervene before violence breaks out. They venture into some of the most dangerous neighborhoods, the ones even cops pretend don’t exist.
As with any community, there are warring factions and wild disagreements on how things should run. The villains seem to serve both as a sometimes humorous foil but more importantly as a dark conscience for the heroes. They spend time helping police their own community, trying to weed out faux heroes who pop up just to harass women or find some sort of limelight without any real work.
There are a few photos, mostly posed portraits of the RLSH. I do wish there was a larger section of pictures. I realize many of them probably decline to be photographed to help protect their identities, but I was eager to see more of the motley characters described.
The author has an obvious admiration for the heroes, yet still lets their stories speak for themselves. Ultimately what emerges is a tapestry of varied humanity, imperfect but seeking to improve- to leave this world we share a little better than they found it. Yes, they don masks and costumes to do so, but the real heroism comes from their dedication to helping others. It’s hard not to be inspired after reading this. You might find yourself eyeing the sewing machine and running through hero identities for yourself in your head.
From the publisher:
Like heroes from comic books and action movies, Real Life Super Heroes dress up at night, fight crime, save people, and some of them even have secret identities. Are they ordinary, mild-mannered-citizens, or are they larger-than-life characters, determined to fight crime, risking life and limb to defend victims of violence and injustice? In her revealing new book author and investigative journalist Nadia Fezzani shines a spotlight on the people who come home from work, change into their uniforms (or costumes), and patrol the streets looking for crime to fight and victims in distress.
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