Superhero for a day

The original story, as it appeared in the Sunday Tribune, April 22, 2012, on page 11.

EVERY child grows up wanting to be a superhero, but Durbanite and graphic artist Luke Molver actually got to be one.

For four nights he patrolled the streets of Seattle in the US with a group of so-called Real Life Superheroes, who dress up in full costume trying to deal with crime on their streets.

It was a dream come true for Molver, who first heard of the group in an article in Tribune sister paper the Daily News. That article was about Phoenix Jones – real name Ben Fodor – who was arrested on assault charges that were later dropped.

As he faced the charges, his true identity was exposed. Phoenix, in a black and gold, almost Batmanesque costume complete with over-emphasised pectoral muscles, is the leader of the Rain City Superhero Movement in Seattle. It was just a short story, but it got Molver’s attention.

“I thought, ‘Wow. This is amazing’. I googled them and was surprised at the things they do. I was thinking, ‘What completes the equation?’ The answer was a comic book. They needed a comic book. I started bugging them about this idea, but I didn’t hear from them,” Molver said.

It was when the superheroes launched a campaign called “Everyday heroes against domestic abuse” and a competition that went along with it that Molver got really involved.

“The competition was to design a comic-style poster for this theme. I had no idea who or what I would be up against, but I put everything into it. I won, which was really cool.”

Molver’s prize was a $50 (R390) ticket to the Emerald City Comicon, but it was one that he would have to fork out a lot for.

“I was told at the beginning of March that I’d won, and the comic convention was at the end of March. I had to get a visa and tickets and all of that, and at one point I never thought I would get there. I don’t think they expected anyone from outside America to enter.

“It cost me a chunk of my nest egg, but it was worth every cent,” he said, adding that his flights alone cost R12 500.

Molver’s love for comic book and superhero culture made it a no-brainer for him to go. It also helped that this was what he was researching for his master’s qualification in graphic design at the Durban University of Technology.

“I had to do this trip for my own joy, but I’d also registered for my M Tech (master of technology) course and am doing my dissertation on post-modern superheroes. This was a perfect opportunity.”

Molver is nothing if not enthusiastic. At 28, his eyes light up and a smile consumes his face as he talks, illustrating, about the Rain City Superheroes and the time he spent with them on the streets.

Luke and "superhero" Phoenix Jones.

His first meeting with Phoenix was interesting, to say the least. They were eating lunch near a parking lot when Molver heard a loud crashing sound behind him.

“A car had driven into the back of a parked vehicle. The guy looked at us, took a sip of beer and drove off. Phoenix just bolted after him. I’d met the guy for 10 minutes and we were already fighting crime. Ten minutes later he came back, the dude had gotten away, but they got his licence plate number. Phoenix phoned me later that afternoon and said they caught the driver because of the licence plate. It was fantastic that what he did actually made a difference.”

Molver describes the patrols as the “most amazing experiences of my life”.

“These guys all have martial arts, police or military training. Their lives are genuinely in danger.  When I went, I got to wear my first bullet-proof vest. It’s dangerous, but they do it anyway.”

Molver believes their message goes hand in hand with the superhero message in comic books.

“It’s about regular people standing up to bad things happening around them. The ‘super’ in their names has nothing to do with super powers – I mean, the guys are trained, but they can’t shoot lightning out of their eyes or anything, obviously – it is symbolic because of the deeds they do.”

The question is why this is such a big deal in North America and not elsewhere. To Molver, it’s about culture.

“There’s a massive comic book and superhero culture in America. You can have a conversation with just about anyone about it.

“In Durban, there isn’t even a comic book shop, let alone a comic book culture. I don’t think it would work here.”

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