Jon Ronson is best known amongst Bleeding Cool as the father of our twelve year old columnist Joel Ronson (currently taking a well earned summer break). But amongst less enlightened fellows, he’s known as an observational columnist with a knack for placing himself in ridiculous situations next to larger than life figures, then reporting it all in as mundane a fashion as possible. He’s been chased by Bilderberg agents, spied on American political rituals, hung with terrorists and saw his experiences fictionalised in Men Who Stare At Goats, with Ewan McGregor playing a rather action hero version of himself.
And now he’s on the streets of America with the Real Life Super Heroes and goes on patrol with the most active of all and another Bleeding Cool favourite, Phoenix Jones, and unearths the envy from other Real Life Super Heroes over their most famous member. He writes for GQ… here are our favourite bits.
It begins in hospital…
At 1 a.m. I arrive at the ER and am led into Phoenix’s room. And there he is: a young and extremely muscular black man lying in bed in a hospital smock, strapped to an IV, tubes attached to his body. Most disconcertingly, he’s wearing a full-face black-and-gold rubber superhero mask.
Finally the doctor arrives with the test results. “The good news is there’s no serious damage,” he says. “You’re bruised. Rest. It’s very important that you go home and rest. By the way, why do you name a pediatrician as your doctor?” “You’re allowed to stay with your pediatrician until you’re 22,” Phoenix explains.
We both look surprised: This big masked man, six feet one and 205 pounds, is barely out of boyhood.
There’s the drug dealer confrontation;
We’re ten feet away now. The superhero chatter ceases, and the only sound is the squeak of my luggage wheels as I roll them down the street. Up close, these dealers and addicts look exhausted, burnt-out.
“You’ve got to respect people’s block, man,” the guy is saying. “You don’t come down here with your ski masks on. What are you doing, getting yourselves entwined in people’s lives? You guys are going to get hurt. You understand? You want to see our burners?”
And then it all changes. “I feel threatened right now,” the guy says. “You’ve got ski masks on. I don’t know if you’re trying to rob me. A guy got shot last Friday in Belltown by somebody with a mask on. Is that you?”
“You don’t have to be here,” says Phoenix. “You’ve got choices.”
And then, suddenly, the whole gang, all nine of them, some with their hands down their trousers as if they’re holding guns just under their waistlines, walk toward us. I can’t see much of Phoenix under the suit, but I can see by the way his hands are shaking that he is terrified.
There’s the grudge against Phoenix;
“When you wake up one day and decide to put on spandex and give out sandwiches, something’s a little off,” Phoenix says. “I call them real-life sandwich handlers.”
The chief gossips have been N.Y.C.’s Dark Guardian and Seattle’s Mr. Raven Blade. They say Phoenix is not as brave as he likes people to believe, that he’s in it for personal gain, and that his presence on the streets only serves to escalate matters. To support this last criticism, they cite the Taco Incident.
He says Phoenix is fortunate to have the scary district of Belltown on his doorstep. “Google ‘gunshots in Belltown’ and you’ll come up with a hundred stories of gunshots being fired in, like, the last year,” he says wistfully.
There are the origin stories;
The robber had left his mask in the car, so Phoenix picked it up and made his own mask from it. “He used the mask to conceal his identity,” he says. “I used the mask to become an identity.”
Tangen’s origin story is as remarkable as any of the RLSHs’. By day he’s a Hollywood studio photographer, responsible for a great many movie posters—Spider-Man, Batman Begins, Thor, Hellboy, Fantastic Four. But he’s always felt like a cog in the machine. “I’m one of those guys who toils in obscurity,” he says. “Nobody knows my name, because you don’t get credit on a movie poster.”
And the practicalities;
“If you’re going to do some serious crime fighting, there’d better be a good reason for a cape,” he nods. “And grappling hooks—no, no, no, no, no! What? You think you’re going to scale a building? What are you going to do when you get up there? Swoop down? Parachute down? You’re not going to have enough distance for the parachute to even open.”
“I found out this morning I have tetanus,” he tells me.
“I think the problem with the plan,” I say, “is if a prostitute turns up at a hotel room and sees three men in masks, she’s not going to immediately think ‘superhero.’ Plus, she may have to travel all the way across Seattle. It’ll be an hour out of her night.” They agree to abandon the idea.
Ronson even goes to that scariest of places… a comic convention. Enjoy, you’ll have your own favourite moments I’m sure.