This is from Sarah Lyall’s “London Journal” column in the New York Times:
“[T]he masked Englishman who calls himself Angle-Grinder Man … has been trawling London for four months dressed in a homemade superhero outfit, complete with gold lame9 underpants and cape, removing the security boots from people’s illegally parked cars.Like all superheroes, he has an origins story: When his car got booted, and he was told it would cost a395 (around $150) to free it, he instead rented a circular saw for a330 and removed the boot himself.
As a one-man vigilante force, Angle-Grinder Man, who takes his name from the boot-destroying circular saw he wields, has made only a modest impact: by his own estimates, he has freed about 20 cars so far (he does it only part time). But his campaign against the city’s effort to immobilize cars for parking violations and other infractions has touched a nerve in a city of strict parking regulations, zealous traffic police officers, ubiquitous speed cameras and car owners increasingly aggrieved at what they believe is mean-spirited law enforcement.
Although he hardly melts into the background, particularly when he switches on his noisy machine, Angle-Grinder Man has so far managed to elude the authorities by a mixture of luck, cunning and quick work: once he gets going, he can liberate a car in less than a minute. …
Long-haired and lanky, he is becoming well known in some parts of south London. About a month ago, 25-year-old Petite Tendai arrived home to find a boot on her illegally parked car. (“There were no signs saying `no parking,’ ” she declared.) She had barely begun to rail at the injustice of it all when Angle-Grinder Man suddenly appeared.“Basically, he jumped out of his car in his outfit and said, `If anyone can, Angle-Grinder Man can,’ ” Ms. Tendai said in a telephone interview. “Then he just started sawing it off. It was wicked.” He was gone almost as quickly as he came. “It was just a `good luck,’ and what-not, and then he was off,” she said.
But Angle-Grinder Man knew he was on to something. “There was so much injustice out there,” he said.He heard the call, and answered it.
I’ve always been a little dubious about the average comic book superhero’s undifferentiated urge to “fight crime”. If that’s how they feel, why don’t they just become police officers, or join the military or the FBI or something? The urge to put on a costume and hit the streets makes far more sense if the person is motivated by a single issue. After all, non-costumed lone crusaders always crusade for something specific. Why should the costumed ones be any different?
Angle-Grinder Man has one specific issue that motivates him. So does that young woman who dresses as a superhero and patrols the NYC singles-bar scene, giving out taxi fares and prudent advice to other young women who are in danger of being abused. (Terrifica! Thanks to Edward Liu for diggin that up.) I’d like to know whether the pattern holds. I believe I’ve heard glancing references to a Mexican lucha libre wrestler who’s taken it to the streets, but that’s all I know about him. Does anyone know about other real-life costumed adventurers?Addendum: Jon and Emmet both dug up articles on that Mexican superhero, who turns out to be named Superbarrio. The article Jon found, from CNN Online, says:
A high school dropout with a humble upbringing, Superbarrio has become one of Mexico City’s greatest folk heroes. For the past 10 years, he has stood as the champion of the working class, the poor and the homeless.This would tend to support the single-issue superhero hypothesis. So does the piece Emmet found in the New Internationalist:
“I opened my eyes and found myself as you see me with a voice telling me, ‘You are Superbarrio,’” he said, explaining that his name means super-neighborhood. “I can’t stop a plane or a train single-handed, but I can keep a family from being evicted.”
His true identity remains a mystery, masked behind his quirky outfit. By day, he’s a street vendor, but at any time he can squeeze into the flashy tights to fend off evil. Little else is known about the masked man, fitting of a true superhero.
His role is primarily symbolic as the protector of low-income neighborhoods. But on behalf of squatters and labor unions, Superbarrio leads protest rallies, files petitions and challenges court decisions. Rumors also have circulated that he attempted to run for the president of the United States to better protect Mexican workers.He says his mission is simply to protect the right of ordinary people.
[I]n the wake of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, which killed up to 30,000 people, new local heroes emerged from the rubble. They put on masks and strode out to rescue their neighbourhoods from the Government92s incompetence. Super Barrio was the first to burst out of the comic books.Further examples or counter-examples will be regarded with interest.
Initially, Super Barrio was three people who took turns donning the scarlet-and-canary tights and cape. But the role eventually fell to a corpulent candy vendor whose simple, earnest pronouncements soon captured attention. Super Barrio became the emblem of the Assembly of Barrios, one of the liveliest of the darnizificado (earthquake victims) groups to evolve. …The popularity of Super Barrio has spawned many copycat superheroes, including: Super Animal Crusader (wears black with a gold lame9 cape and eagle crest mask); Super Eco, an environmental crusader who began life as a symbol of opposition to Mexico92s nuclear-power program (wears verdant green, with yellow piping and codpiece); and El Chupacabras Crusader, who defends and avenges debt-wracked members of Mexico92s middle class (wears a fanged mask and business suit).
Further addenda in due course: Olsen Ross of Olsen Blog has advised us of the existence of Polarman, Masked Hero of Iqaluit, and gives instructions on how to access Polarman’s story and photos while minimizing the irritations of the CBC website that carries them. Short version: As a young man, Polarman was inspired by a picture of the Lone Ranger to devote himself to protecting the children of Iqaluit from the bullying he himself suffered during his childhood there. His first heroic activity, back when he was younger and went by the name of Polar Lad, was to go out in his costume and mask, early in the morning, to shovel the snow off people’s walks. Polarman may not have great power, but he’s got the great responsibility part down cold.