Superheroes. Generally they’re the fictional product of a creative imagination, but as of late these costume donning vigilantes have been patrolling the streets, intent on making the world a better place. The reactions towards these real life superheroes range from ridicule to reverence, from indifference to interest. I had the chance to speak to Steven Caldwell, also known as Aristeroi, and was able to learn about the extraordinary humanity of someone who is, traditionally, not human.
I, Artisteroi have been an active superhero for several years, my colleague Superhero has been active for over a decade. I was requested to join the Team Justice and use my knowledge of engineering to build gadgets for the other heroes. I am one of only a handful of “Gadgeteers” in the community. We Gadgeteers try to keep the technology used by other members grounded in reality and physics. Many members won’t live up to the comic ideal and are unaware that grappling guns, jet packs, collapsible staffs and bulletproof armor are things of science fiction. Though these things actually exist, they are not like in the comics, and they are almost completely useless to the average Real Life Super Hero.
Most RLSH are the same person in or out of gimmick, the only difference being a simple name change. There are a few of the “villain” class who do seem to have an alter ego, though I believe it is more along the lines of an actor portrayal of the alter ego. I don’t think any of them seriously believe they are two different people.
My day-to-day life didn’t allow me to experiment with machinery the way the super hero life does. I had a pretty normal 9-5 life. I worked for someone else, never got to do my own thing and was rapidly approaching a mid-life crisis as a result. Becoming a superhero afforded me an excuse to explore a fantasy world by turning my garage into a workshop where I could build “Super Gadgets”. It also gave me and my wife a reason to get healthy and exercise more. We took on some charity work, do some civic duty and sometimes help brighten the day of a sick kid. It’s pretty good to be a Real Life Super Hero.
At the beginning I expected to be doing more things in costume. But the reality is, where I live, it’s a pretty peaceful and sleepy town. There isn’t much call for any type of street patrol locally. Occasionally I do travel to more metropolitan areas for missions with other members, but usually just on special occasions, when there are street festivals going on and the like.
Anonymity is another comic book fantasy. Trying to keep your ID secret just isn’t possible. Not if you have contact with other members of the community you live in and almost everyone who has tried to do so was eventually identified. This causes grief for the individual when it happens, all manner of turmoil as they play out scenarios in their head about bad guys tracking them down. Fantasy. After a few weeks, no bad guys show up, everything is as it was before and the secret ID has no value. I always recommend to new members that they just spill their ID to friends and neighbors. We call it “coming out of the phone booth”. It causes less stress to all persons involved and you actually get support from friends and family. They are proud of us for trying to make the world a better place.
I, as most RLSH, have a day job. It is the day work that affords us the finances to do our charity/superhero work. Many of us have relatable professions: some people work security, or EMS, or even police officers, several members are martial arts instructors, or professional athletes. These sorts of professions blend well with the RLSH lifestyle. Myself and the other Gadgeteers are professional engineers by day and specialize in building devices and gear for use by others by night, as opposed to being “strong men”.
There are and always will be some members who want to be taken seriously as a superhero. They don’t seem to embrace that what we do is kinda silly. I try to get a laugh or at least a smile from those I interact with. We try to do activities with kids. With a child, a superhero can strike a silly pose, say something corny, and still totally inspire the child. Inspiring a child, that’s a super power.
We mostly appear at charity events to help raise money for special causes like the Humane Society. We’re involved with helping to send sick kids to the hospital and we often induct sick children as honorary members of Team Justice and send them some fun toys and stuff to help keep their spirits up. We make videos and have a certificate, and even go visit them in the hospital when we can. One of our members, Lady Hero, who works for a window washing company, arranged for the window crew to be dressed as super heroes while cleaning the windows of the children’s hospital in St Petersburg Florida.
We helped a family, with a sick child, have a place to stay while he was in the hospital for treatment. The family insurance paid for his treatment, but would cover hotel reservations for the family for the week long stay at the children’s hospital 2 states away. Team Justice produced a video asking for donations, set up a charity account and in a matter of a few days raised over four thousand dollars for the family. This allowed the sick boy, Now known as Power Boy, honorary member, his mother and 3 siblings to have a hotel room near the hospital during his treatment for ALD (Adrenoleukodystrophy). This week we are making a similar video for a boy who in the hospital for a brain tumor. In a few weeks we will be paying a personal visit to him. He will be known as Electro Kid.
I want to teach some superhero classes. I have hopes of creating, even if just for summer camp, some classes that will teach children how -and more specifically why- to be a superhero. Our world has becomes far too dark and self centered. A Real Life Super Hero brings color and imagination into the world as we use our talents, or simply our time and money, to help others around us. Most of us would love to see a society where people help each other, more than they harm each other. The only way to instill that level of helpfulness into society is to start by teaching the children. This has been one of my primary dreams for superheroes ever since I joined the movement.
One thing the heroes in the comics always seem to have, or be able to acquire easily, it’s financial support. Many of the RLSH members fund charity events out of our own pockets. Sometimes we don’t have much more money than the homeless people we are making sandwiches for. Comic heroes always seem to have the support of rich members, or government funding or inheritance. Even the ones who work for a living seem to have pretty well paying jobs as scientists and public office holders. This is a comic fantasy that might actually be possible but doesn’t seem to have happened yet. In the real world of RLSH, our members work as bus drivers or security guards, some are military. Average jobs, with average pay. It affords us a place to live, but not there’s not much left for superhero missions. A wealthy philanthropist could fund our whole community and let us do so much good in the world. That is something I would like to see.
I don’t know that we have any actual “Fans” though we are recognized when we go out sometimes. People ask for pictures the occasional autograph. Some members in the broader community actively seek fandom. We in Team Justice feel this is often detrimental to accomplishing our missions.