If you always wanted to be a super-hero…

Rolling Stone has one weird story: The Legend of Master Legend. It’s about people who think they are superheroes, right down to donning costumes and calling their run-down suburban ranch house a secret lair. These people are deluded, all right, but they seem mostly harmless, and the story is written in a tone that doesn’t mock them.

One surprising piece of information is that there are enough of these people around that there are actually hero supply houses for them. One is called Hero Gear, which will make your costume for you (no mass-produced items here, since every super-hero is unique), and ProfessorWidget, who will make all your special gadgets for you.


  1. Wowbagger says

    Excellent. Now I can fulfill my dream of becoming The Sesquipedalian – who baffles his enemies with his use of long and complicated words.

  2. Bob of QF says

    just goes to show, people will believe in anything, if they are not trained to think…

    …and if you repeat a lie often enough (even to yourself) sooner or later, you start to believe the lie is true.

    Just ask Bush if he thought Iraq had WMD’s….

  3. SC, OM says

    When I read your post, I thought this was sad. Now that I’ve read the RS article, I think it’s a bit scary.

    When Master Legend bursts into a sprint, as he often does, his long, unruly hair flows behind him. His mane is also in motion when he’s behind the wheel of the Battle Truck, a 1986 Nissan pickup with a missing rear window and “ML” spray-painted on the hood. He and the Ace head off to patrol their neighborhood on the outskirts of Orlando, scanning the street for evildoers. “I don’t go looking for trouble,” Master Legend shouts above the engine. “But if you want some, you’ll get it!”

    Like other real life super-heroes, Master Legend is not an orphan from a distant dying sun or the mutated product of a gamma-ray experiment gone awry. He is not an eccentric billionaire moonlighting as a crime fighter. He is, as he puts it, “just a man hellbent on battling evil.” Although Master Legend was one of the first to call himself a Real Life Superhero, in recent years a growing network of similarly homespun caped crusaders has emerged across the country. Some were inspired by 9/11. If malevolent individuals can threaten the world, the argument goes, why can’t other individuals step up to save it? “What is Osama bin Laden if not a supervillain, off in his cave, scheming to destroy us?” asks Green Scorpion, a masked avenger in Arizona.

    What crime are they fighting? Since I doubt they’re running across many Al Qaeda cells in their neighborhoods, which more minor supervillains will they go after?

    I don’t know if they really are harmless. Vaguely unsettling is more like it. Or just silly. But still unsettling.

  4. sparkomatic says

    I can’t help but think of “Mystery Men”. William Macy as The Shoveler saying with dead seriousness, “I shovel…I shovel well…

  5. Kimpatsu says

    Let’s not forget shoes like “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?”, which actually encourages this lunacy…

  6. cassandraclaire says

    This article reminds me of the movie “Boondock Saints”, where two brothers, crosses around their necks, become vigilantes of a sort and kill those whom they believe have “sinned” unforgivably. Now, there’s nothing as sinister here, but it worries me that these people take it upon themselves to search for “evildoers”, and that their opinion of good and evil is probably based in religion. Harmless? I’m not so sure…

  7. Twin-Skies says

    And since when did becoming a fan become socially unacceptable? Becoming obsessed, on the other hand…

  8. Twin-Skies says

    @Tabby Lavalamp

    You grossly underestimate my refined taste in this art from QQ

  9. H.H. says

    I think these are what are termed “fantasy prone individuals.” As to their relative harmlessness, it depends entirely on the fantasy.

  10. Jules says

    A few years ago, there was a man like this who dressed as batman and “patrolled” his apartment building in Connecticut to stop drug dealers from loitering near it. I will never forget reading about this poor, poor man. Neighbors and family said he was the sweetest, most harmless guy.

    He was mentally retarded, but a dear man. He volunteered at a community center, and won a state award as an advocate for self sufficiency. He volunteered to help others who were mentally retarded become self reliant as well.

    “A 39-year-old retarded man who liked to dress up like Batman and tell neighbors he was a crime-fighter was beaten to death in the lobby of an apartment building where he had been placed by state officials. Ricky Whistnant died at the scene Saturday…police arrested two 14-year-old boys and one 13-year-old…Whistnant, who weighed 300 pounds, occasionally dressed in a homemade “Batman” costume and shouted at drug dealers from the sidewalk outside his cinder block apartment building.” (Journal News 04-09-03)

    There is a brief article remembering him in this newsletter for those with similar problems. It’s heartbreaking. (Page 8, last page of the newsletter) http://www.peoplefirstofnh.org/SABEnewsletterspring2004.pdf

    And another write-up of the tragic incident http://www.cyc-net.org/features/ft-taunting.html

    There is really nothing funny about it, this man was mentally ill. I suspect that many others who dress as superheros are mentally ill as well – whether they have been properly diagnosed or not. They need help. They are sick. We should not mock them. We should refer them to resources that can help them.

  11. Bullet Magnet says

    I will insist to anyone who asks that I am indeed a mad scientist supervillain bent on world domination via an army of incompetent fish-chimp hybrids.

  12. says

    I still have classmates from elementary school who vividly remember me going around insisting that I was Supergirl — at age 9 I genuinely wanted to fly, to travel to distant galaxies, and be respected as a great hero.

    By age 13 I was content to wish my music teacher would ask me to run off with him.

    Not sure if that was maturity or a drastic lowering of standards.

  13. SC, OM says

    SC, OM – Are you feeling better today?

    Patricia, OM :) – Quite a bit; thanks for asking! Working slowly through a stack of final papers (not too bad so far)…

  14. druidbros says

    My wife hates it when I get dressed up and then go to bed as my favorite superhero…..the Flash. Whooops, you missed it.

  15. Bluegrass Geek says

    I’m betting the reporter left out the important parts. Like, where these people don’t go out and act as vigilantes, but just post on chat rooms and attend conventions.

    I have a feeling they’re no different from Star Trek fans, otaku, and furries: they’re just people who’ve latched onto a fandom they enjoy. Some may indulge to an unhealthy degree, but most are fully aware that it’s just a fun pastime.

    This wouldn’t be the first time a journalist has left out the rational bits of the interview to make the article more juicy.

  16. Captain Crunch says


    I’m betting you didn’t read the article.

    “His mane is also in motion when he’s behind the wheel of the Battle Truck, a 1986 Nissan pickup with a missing rear window and “ML” spray-painted on the hood. He and the Ace head off to patrol their neighborhood on the outskirts of Orlando, scanning the street for evildoers.”

    Yeah, sounds to me line “these people don’t go out and act as vigilantes, but just post on chat rooms and attend conventions.”

  17. RamblinDude says

    When I was 10 years old I was . . . Sun Boy! My costume (in my mind) was red and yellow with a cool sun design emblem on the chest, and I had rockets attached to my red boots so I could fly through the air and rescue damsels in distress.

    Hey . . . it’s not too late!

  18. clinteas says

    I went through a period of delusion when I was around 10 or so,where I believed I was Superman,and ran around with the red cape and the dress…..
    But I grew up,and realized how wrong I was.Of course,I wasnt Superman ! I was Batman !

  19. kamaka says

    Ahhh, playing dress-up, there’s role playing games, Rendevous, Renaissance fairs, Trekkie conventions, Tattoo conventions (a whole ‘nother level of dress-up), Wicca, Bondage, Catholicism, Judaism, Greek Orthodox, Halloween, Cross-dressing, Suit-and-tie, Magic underwear, Prom-dress (no underwear), Biker leather, Orange robes…

    Adding Superheroes to that list? -Yawn-

  20. AFakeGuy says

    This sounds like psychics. People who think they have super powers, foretelling the future, but actually in reality are just deluding themselves and just promote the delusion to other so called psychics. Crazy is what crazy does.

  21. Twin-Skies says

    Blame-thrower’s better, imho.


    I used to dress up as a ninja as a kid, only to have my delusions of shurinken-wielding grandeur shattered by getting my ass kicked by a girl in grade school.

    Such is life.

  22. kamaka says

    AFake @36 “This sounds like psychics.”

    Teh psychics comes in two versions.

    The “I think I might be psychic” explorer who co-operates with other’s delusions seeking validation.

    The other version is the “I know it’s bullshit, but I ain’t tellin’ you” supernatural industrial complex.

  23. Rob H says

    Ironically, there’s now a comic book mini-series about this phenomenon called “Kick Ass,” which is being made into a movie so fast the mini-series has been delayed because the artist needed to work on the movie. Really nasty stuff from the guy who wrote the “Wanted” comics series (which became the Angelina Jolie movie earlier this year), about a kid who decides to become a super-hero with predictable results (the series is only half over, but he’s already taken quite a beating).

  24. Jeeves says

    The article in question is not produced in full and seems to be posted from the future as well. In the full article, it mentions how many of the masked crusaders volunteer at soup kitchens and hand out supplies to the homeless among other good deeds. Yes, they do it in a amusing get up, but their hearts are in the right place. And no, they don’t seem to be doing it for religious reasons. Why does it always have to come back to that?

  25. alex says

    One surprising piece of information is that there are enough of these people around that there are actually hero supply houses for them. One is called Hero Gear, which will make your costume for you

    is this a subtle hint of a request, PZ? is someone wanting to wake up on Christmas morn to a shiny new Cephalopodman suit as gifted by the loyal readers of Pharyngula?

  26. woodstein312 says

    Wow, I didn’t such stores existed. Now I can finally begin my career as a masked crime-fighter… Thanks PZ!

  27. procyon says

    Further evidence that the human brain has not evolved fast enough to handle the culture it has created. We’re going nuts as a species.

  28. Hairhead says

    Hey, Wowbagger @ #3 — I got you beat by 23 years. Back in my High School Yearbook, yes, in 1975, I was called, “Sesquipedalian Tergiversationalist” and “rumoured to be continuing his reign of intellectual terrorism at University.”

    And I didn’t mind! (What a giveaway!)

    Remember, NERD stands for, Nearly Everything Radical, Dude! And GEEK stands for Generally Excellent, Exceptional, and Knowledgeable!

  29. Crudely Wrott says

    My dad knew the principal of our local elementary school. He took my younger brother to register for first grade by taking him to the principal’s office.

    The principal, a very nice man as I recall, greeted my brother and asked his name. My brother replied, “My name is Clark Kent.”

    You see, for a while there during 1959, my brother was Superman. No way around it.

  30. Zetetic says

    Who Watches the Watchmen?

    I figured there must be real people who do this, but never bothered to look into it before. Thanks for the links, PZ.

  31. Longtime Lurker says

    The NY branch of the 826 group (a nonprofit which works on childhood literacy and creative writing) runs a superhero supply shop on 5th Ave in Brooklyn. Now, that’s a real Federation of Heroes.


    As far as these X-treme cosplay types, it’s all fun and games until a real problem pops up, and someone gets hurt. They should stick to toy drives and nursing home/soup kitchen volunteering.

    Having said that, has anyone else seen the episode of the Tick in which he fights El Seed? Carpeted Man is the best superhero AYVAR!

  32. John C. Randolph says

    They’re probably harmless, but it sounds to me like they have a pretty high risk of getting severely beaten by a mugger.


  33. shonny says

    Loopiness isn’t the exclusive domain of the religious, but this seems one helluva lot more fun. If you are a weirdo, at least this makes a bit of sense (but not very much, just a smidgen).
    Wonder if any of them have a day-time job, or can make enough out of their weirdo-ness.

  34. John C. Randolph says

    I once worked at a company where one of the managers was into the vampire fangs thing way too much. He used to wear them to the office, and seemed oblivious to the fact that nobody took him seriously once he started doing so.


  35. ben says

    Jules (#23) — “Mentally ill” and “mentally ‘retarded'” are far from the same thing, regardless of what Jonathan Swift may have thought about “fools and mad”.

  36. Jeff says

    I have a feeling that these guys (and gals?) are mostly neighborhood watch type people who wear fun costumes.

    I highly doubt they see a drug dealer on a corner and attack him (they probably just call the police tip line). I’m sure they just are dying for the oppurtunity to catch a mugger in action though.

  37. Nix says

    Ah yes, Master Legend, what does Osama bin Laden have that you don’t have? A vicious ideology, a dedicated band of ideological fellow-travellers, and about three hundred million dollars, that’s what.

    But I’m sure that’s not significant.

  38. says

    I’m pleased to say that my 12-year-old son Penguin Boy has joined the ranks of superheroes, having been fetched a nasty peck from a radioactive penguin on a visit to a zoo.

    He can do everything a penguin does, except eat fish.

  39. CosmicTeapot says

    Kamaka @35

    Biker leather is dressing up!

    Personally I wear it to protect me if I have an accident on the motorbike.

  40. RickrOll says

    my my, what have we here.

    Oh, just regular crazies. Hobbists gone wild :P

    procyon was right lol.

  41. says

    That Batman guy was an isolated special case and should be treated as such; I think throwing around blanket accusations of mental illness is a little extreme. We have one of these guys here in Portland — Zetaman — and his “superhero patrolling” amounts to homeless outreach in spandex and goggles. Some people just live weird lifestyles as a reaction to the banality of the modern world. Perfectly healthy, and probably a lot of fun.

    Besides, when the Lovecraftian terror coiled around my brainstem finishes gestating and unleashes cosmic havoc upon an unsuspecting globe, somebody’s going to have to step up.

  42. Holydust says


    As a former anime voice actress and before that, dedicated cosplayer:

    Get out. Get out now. Trust me.

  43. Michael Fonda says

    Excellent. Now I can fulfill my dream of becoming The Sesquipedalian – who baffles his enemies with his use of long and complicated words.

    I tried that in high school. They beat me up.

  44. varlo says

    Sometimes one finds one’s calling late in life. Around sixty years ago I came across the word antisesquipedalianist. Nopw I can be the evil foe of Wowbagger (#3), the Sesquipedailian.

  45. Moggie says

    I was going to comment that these guys have overactive imaginations, but then I read the article and discovered that there’s a superhero called “Superhero”. Not much evidence of imagination there. As for Ace: I can sort of see wanting to be a superhero, if I squint right, but who yearns to be a trusty sidekick?

  46. says

    You may know me as a herring called Elwood (or El for short) but in actuality I go under the alias of…

    Computer Repairman!!!

    (p.s. I switched from bicycles a long time ago.)

    (p.p.s. I’m serious)

  47. says

    I’m also closely related to Wallace and Gromit (yes, both of them). I live in a house full of gadgets, I drink tea constantly and I’m made entirely of plasticine.

    Okay, maybe that last one was stretching the truth a bit…

  48. says

    I can be Jebubus Hero? My superpower will be to change crackers into controversy by calling up my evil minion, Bill Donahue… Oh, I said too much…

  49. John C. Randolph says

    I’m made entirely of plasticine.

    Plasticine, Protoplasm, what’s the difference?

    BTW, I’ve got a poster of Wallace in the Techno-Trousers in my office. I find it inspirational.


  50. Nick Gotts says

    What we really need (and what better place to start recruiting?) is a legion of Rational Superheroes, who will fly to any place on the intertoobz where the evil Woo-man and his innumerable loopy minions are subjecting Truth and Reason to unthinkable torments…

    Bags I the name “Sceptico”!

  51. Twin-Skies says


    Way ahead of you.

    My aspirations to cosplay and to collect figurines/model kits came to rest years ago. These days, my budget’s spent mostly on video games, gym membership, training equipment (padding, helmets, sticks), and a good pair of running shoes.

    I figured “Hey, why pretend to be a superhero when I can learn to fight for real?” I’m fighting against my alma mater’s current arnis team in a tourney next year. They’ve been building for speed, while I went for bulk and endurance. They are so getting mauled. Hehehe.

    I still watch a ton of anime and collect manga, but I figured giving it a proper analysis and critique would do it far more justice than pretending to be its cast.

  52. marilove says

    I don’t know if the “supply houses” are really all THAT abnormal. My grandmother has her own unique, registered, one-of-a-kind clown outfit, for instance, and she certainly isn’t deluded into thinking she’s a real clown. Quite a few people DO invest in real costumes for various reasons (she is in theater and, obviously, does a bit of clown work with children). I’m not surprised at all that there are places you can get unique costumes…

  53. Liberal Atheist says

    Reminds me of Dr Utonium’s neighbour who was jealous of how seemingly perfect Utonium’s and the Powerpuff Girls’ lives were, so he made himself a supervillain, apparently using a hairdryer as a weapon.

  54. jc says

    check out the body suit templates.
    The body types that buy them do NOT seem to match in any way, shape or form.

  55. CaptainKeyboard says

    What we really need (and what better place to start recruiting?) is a legion of Rational Superheroes, who will fly to any place on the intertoobz where the evil Woo-man and his innumerable loopy minions are subjecting Truth and Reason to unthinkable torments…

    Bags I the name “Sceptico”!

    It’s already been done. In fact, one of the nodes for the modern superheroes is….Pharyngula.

    These are real 21st century superheroes fighting real supervillians and their henchpeople. We all know who the Legions of Evil are. Hordes of Fundie trolls, Vox Day, Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, Dobson, Robertson, Hagee, Parsley, Morris, creationists, flat earthers, geocentrists.

    It is the old struggle, light against dark, good versus evil. Mostly it is a cold war fought over an entire continent in the media and on the internet. Occasionally the religious crackpots, being prone to violence and not very smart, resort to threats and physical violence.

  56. says

    I like SuperBarrio who has saved quite a few people from home eviction by corrupt officials in Mexico City. He would announce himself when an eviction was about to take place, and a huge mob of people would gather at the home in question. When SuperBarrio eventually arrived, he had such a large crowd of followers prepared for action, that the eviction had to be cancelled.

  57. fortunate says

    Geez. If they want to be superheroes so much, why don’t they work out? Fat ass + spandex = not very intimidating.

    Other than that… More power to them, if they like to dress up as heroes, I don’t see any harm in that. It’s actually kinda cool. I mean, if you have the right mindset. Uhh, never mind the last two sentences.

    It’s not very different from LARP, either way its just a bunch of geeks turning their fantasies into reality.

    Oh, by the way, my city has got its own superhero. Not the same sort as the guys in the article. He doesn’t fight crime, just shows up on various cultural events to promote the city. His name’s Captain Culture. 8) (And yeah, he’s a real person. So, that counts!)

  58. Sanity Jane says


    Biker leather is dressing up! Personally I wear it to protect me if I have an accident on the motorbike.

    So it’s okay if your leathers are some color other than black? ‘Cos otherwise they start to look like a uniform for nonconformists.

  59. AlaskanPsycho says

    As a mental health professional, I find this quite tame; in fact underwhelming. Then again, I live in Alaska.

    Please don’t blame me; I didn’t vote for our current Gov.

  60. Jason Failes says

    We could go on all night and day about all of the issues surrounding vigilantes, superheroes, and self-deluded maniacs of all stripes,

    or we could all just go read Watchmen.

    (When the author himself notes that he’s not going to watch the film adaptation, take it as a sign you should read the book instead or, at the very least, first.)

  61. frog says

    The coming of the virtual age! Re-enactment and virtual fantasies become more important than the drudgery of real life.

    This is the future of religion — fantasy worlds blurring the line of reality and fiction, but not as a hierarchy of priests bludgeoning a solo scriptura fantasy life, but each one creating their own. We don’t have to “follow Jesus”, but our own self-created god or daemon.

    Some of it’ll be nasty, like anything else… But hopefully we’ll get fewer witch-hunts and crusades (But we’ve already gotten the down-side — serial killers).

    All Hail the Post-Modern God — as Nietzche prognosticated.

  62. Jules says

    Ben @#60 – Yes, mentally ill and mentally retarded are two different things. Perhaps I was not specific enough in my post and it appeared I had the terms mixed up. I used both terms because the man who dressed as batman and was beaten to death was BOTH mentally retarded and mentally ill. That is, he was clinically developmentally delayed, and also suffered from a mental illness that was serious enough to require hospitalization and forced medication in an institution earlier in his life to keep from harming himself.

    There is a bit more detail on that in the links I posted. But I also vividly recall the news coverage in my area at that time. There was quite an outcry that the man should have been forced to live in a group home and not on his own. They had experts on the nightly news discussing and debating the extent of his illness and cognitive disabilities – taking sides on whether or not the state should have allowed him to live on his own without supervision.

    That being said, I suppose a person who dresses up in a costume and literally assumes the character (when not for a joke, comic convention, or a costume party of some sort) might be either mentally ill, mentally retarded, or both.

    Although I suppose there is a chance such a person could simply be a bit weird, or just trying to get on the news. The animal shelter I volunteer at has someone dress up in a big dog costume at fundraising booths – it’s good for a laugh and people donate five dollars to get a photo of their kids with the costumed character, for a good cause. But dressing up and going about daily life in a superhero costume? It’s just weird. The animal shelter volunteers take off their costume with the fundraiser is over. If they started wearing it about town, I’d be concerned for their mental fitness.

  63. Twin-Skies says

    @Liberal Atheist

    The Smiths.

    Actually, I’m more reminded of Strikeman from You’re Under Arrest. A batman/Sonic blastman-spoof vigilante who used baseball terminology and equipment to stop crime.

    AKA Santaclausman, Beachvolleyballman

  64. Kagehi says

    Hmm. Always wanted a male version of the hardsuits from Bubblegum Crisis, but I will settle for a working version of the hardsuit from the Iron Man movie. lol And actually, the BGC suits are more probable, since they don’t need fancy propulsion. The problems are power supply, fast servos, and how much armor you can apply to the suit and still be sleek. Nearly anything else, including heads up displays, weapons, etc. are all feasible right now. lol

    But, yeah. If I had money, I would probably be a bit too much like the bear suit guy. Not “using” the suit to fight crime, but I would probably have an entire lab full of microcontrollers, servos, exoskeleton parts, armor, visual displays, etc. Not as nice as Tony Stark’s, but… lol

  65. Kerry Maxwell says

    CosmicTeapot @65

    Personally I wear it to protect me if I have an accident on the motorbike.

    Granted there are legitimate uses for protective motorcycle gear, but when reading this story, one of the first things that came to mind was all the folks who sport Harley Davidson drag, as well as all the all the other types of *drag* alluded to by kamaka @ 35. And then I thought of how I look in spandex when I’m in full-on road bike drag, and suffering delusions of cycling grandeur.

  66. CosmicTeapot says

    Sanity Jane @90

    Multi coloured bike leathers make me look like a power ranger! :)

    Kerry, that would be the biker style leather gear. Any kinky stuff wearing my leathers would generate so much heat, I don’t think it would be fun.

    But then again, who knows. OK, leaving work now and going home to the wife ;)

  67. CJColucci says

    Some years ago, I tried to sell an idea to someone I knew in the comic book business. The main character would be a deranged comic book artist (“DCBA”), slaving away at (important plot point) a book inviolving a Batman-like (no superpowers) hero. The DCBA worked out, studied martial arts, and eventually got himself some spandex and kevlar and went out to fight evil. He would try things from the comic books that wouldn’t work in real situations. Chastened by the experience, he would not draw his character doing things he knew from experience wouldn’t work or weren’t physically possible for a non-powered hero. People began to find his work dull, and he’d try to defend it on grounds of realism…and so it would go.
    Not surprised it never went anywhere, but maybe because I was pitching the idea to a DCBA.

  68. teammarty says

    Whem I was a kid, I used to play “Batman and Robin” with a friend of mine. And while I was the bigger kid, I always was Robin. There were 2 reasons, 1) we played at Joe’s house and HE got to be Batman and 2) his older sister (11) Theresa was the Catwoman so I’d always have to be captured and tied up by the arch villainess. Unfortunately, I’d end up getting rescued. Damn you, Batman!!!