| August 6, 2011

When everyone is hero, no one is, which is why the self-proclaimed real-life superheroes in director Michael Barnett’s debut feature documentary are vigilant do-gooders in costume. Director Michael Barnett follows theses ten average people, inspired by their favorite comic heroes/heroines, who go out at dark to find evil, but wind up acting as EMT, philanthropist, and sometimes bait danger.
Barnett weighs the testimonies and intimate portraits of the real and often times transgressive “characters” he follows with expert talking heads, police Lieutenant Sandra Brown, and psychologist Robin S. Rosenberg, author of Superhero Origins. Comic legend Stan Lee (Creator of Superman and Captain America of the Fantastic Four) can’t image people acting out their superhero fantasies to face real danger. For him, the characters in his stories are strictly an art form.
These real-life superheroes don’t think of themselves as heroes with supernatural super powers. They believe they are real-life equivalents of their favorite comic book stars like Green Lantern, Batman, or one of their own making. The serious hobby of superhero patrols start after their other responsibilities end. When they’re not playing their superhero roles, they are a stay home dad, teacher, security guard, or martial arts instructor. The call to duty is for many inspired by a past trauma, addiction, or criminal offense, which plagued them before they recovered. Some might ask, have they or will they ever fully recover?
The nature of disguise is to mask identity, but gay super hero Zimmer chooses not to mask his face because it reminds him too much of being in the closet. Zimmerman is a member of The New York Initiative, probably the most organized real-life superhero collectives in Barnett’s film. While Mr. Xtreme and Master Legend certainly have unmistakable personalities and superhero fantasies, they don’t make contact with much criminal activity or reality, but they do good in spite of those who don’t recognize their sincerity and commitment to the cause and costume.
A prescient question and also concern for these well-intentioned vigilantes is whether they can do anything about actual crime? The answer is double sided. They are more a deterrent than cape crusaders. From what Barnett presents, the superheroes skirt danger to intimate, bait, and trap criminals, but the result is often reporting the incident to the police. In other instances, the evil doer is poverty and homelessness, but the ultimate enemy each superhero confronts is the apathy.
A Theodore James Production. In association with Freestyle Filmworks and O’Malley Creadon Productions. A Film by Michael Barnett. Edited by Doug Blush, Derek Boonstra, Jeff Chen. Associate Producer Ian Christy. Consulting Producer Peter Tangen. Music by Ceiri Torjussen. Illustrations by Titmouse, Inc. Animated by Syd Garon.

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