HBO Documentary Films Summer Series


A favorite at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, Superheroes is a look inside the zany world of Real Life Superheroes (RLSH) – a national phenomenon comprised of hundreds of men and women who have superhero alter-egos. The 82-minute film delves into what inspires real life superheroes to patrol city streets with the goal of deterring violent crime and, if necessary, taking the law into their own hands. We are introduced to dozens of real life superheroes across the country, including “Mr. Xtreme,” the San Diego-based founder and sole member of the Xtreme Justice League (XJL); “Zimmer,” an unmasked, openly gay RLSH from Brooklyn who, along with three RLSH roommates, conducts bait missions to catch criminals in the act; “Master Legend,” who hands out toys to needy kids in Orlando; and others. Though each of these crusaders could be dismissed as eccentric, Superheroes shows that, at the very least, their shared goal – to bring justice to those that would harm others, and to lend a helping hand to those in need – is worthy of admiration.

Among the superheroes we meet:

“Mr. Xtreme” – An Asian-American in his mid-30s, Mr. Xtreme lives alone in a disheveled San Diego apartment that he calls “The Xtreme Cave.” Dressed in his handmade costume, which takes inspiration from Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mr. Xtreme passes out recruitment flyers to amused passersby on the street, hoping to find others who will join his “Xtreme Justice League” – though as of now, he’s the sole member. On patrol, he does team up with another RLSH, The Vigilante Spider, but their crime fighting is interrupted by cops, who ask for their IDs and take photos. The police are friendly enough, but Mr. Xtreme says a RLSH’s relationship with law enforcement is “not exactly symbiotic.” Mr. Xtreme’s parents worry about the danger of his hobby, but he says he won’t quit until there is no more violent crime. He hangs flyers all over town with the face of a groper on the loose, urging fellow citizens to report perps like this one.

“Zimmer” – Bounding across rooftops in Brooklyn, Zimmer is the only unmasked superhero we meet. A 20-something gay man, Zimmer feels that he needs to be as open about his RLSH identity as he is about his sexuality; his no-frills uniform consists of black
pants and a basic grey tee. Zimmer lives with three other RLSHs, “Lucid,” “Z.” and a young woman who calls herself “T.S.A.F.” (The Silenced And Forgotten); together, they form the “New York Initiative.” From their apartment, Zimmer and his crew regularly
launch “bait” missions, in which one acts like an “easy target” in hopes of intercepting a criminal act. After one bait patrol, the group decides to call it a night when it begins to rain, but then a man nearby is grazed by a passing car. Zimmer dresses the man’s wounds (he is currently training to be an EMT) and they help the man get home safely.

“Master Legend” – A 40-something man living in Orlando, Master Legend developed his superhero alter-ego when he was just eight, after taking on the local school bully. Today, he patrols the streets in a black-and-silver costume, complete with cape and mask. Master Legend is the founder of “Team Justice,” which he says is the only RLSH group in the U.S. with non-profit status. Among his purported powers: “super speed, high endurance, sight beyond sight, healing powers, and superhuman strength.” He also concentrates on good deeds like the Team Justice Christmas Drive, which gives toys to kids in shelters. “I’m accomplishing something,” he asserts with pride.

“Life” – A young New Yorker whose real name is Chaim (which means “life” in Hebrew), this crusader wears a black mask, vest and tie over a white shirt – a uniform he says is both recognizable and relatable. On patrol, Life gives out T-shirts, socks, and kind words to the homeless, “so they know that someone cares and they are not forgotten.” Life believes that society is in danger of losing its role-model values, idolizing rappers and movie stars instead of true heroes. He opines that the RLSH movement comes from people turning to classic myths, like the superhero, to help them in times of need.

“Apocalypse Meow” – Before she became a RLSH, Apocalypse Meow says her husband surprised her out of the blue by donning his “Zetaman” uniform. She had no idea that he was a RLSH, and initially told him to quit. When he refused, she decided to join forces with him, creating her Apocalypse Meow persona. Today, they give out what they call “Zeta Packs” to the homeless in their hometown of Portland, Oregon. The packs, which the couple pays for entirely out of pocket and cost about $20 each to assemble, contain essentials for living on the street, including toilet paper, food items and hand sanitizer.

As the film concludes, we see scenes of RLSHs doing good deeds across the country. A mile from the annual Comic-Con convention in San Diego, Mr. Xtreme and other RLSHs hand out food and water to the homeless, proving it’s not just their costumes that make them superheroes. With the alleged groper now in custody, the San Diego Deputy Mayor acknowledges Mr. Xtreme’s role in raising awareness, leading to the suspect’s capture. As Mr. Xtreme says, it’s “what’s in your heart and what you do. That’s what makes you a superhero.”

CREDITS: Director: Michael Barnett; Executive Producers: Doug Blush, Patrick Creadon and Christine O’Malley; Producer: Theodore James; Editors: Doug Blush, Derek Boonstra and Jeff Chen; Director of Photography: Michael Barnett; Animation: Syd Garon; Music by Ceiri Torjussen.

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