Archive for Real Superheroes

The Supercar of my Dreams

I’m not a big car guy. I don’t get a thrill out of car shows, there is nothing duller to me than looking at your new car’s engine, and the only reason I ever go to a car dealership is if I actually want to buy a car. Sure, I like having a car to get me around town, and I think there are a lot of really pretty but wildly unaffordable sports cars out there, but I just don’t get a kick from automotive ephemera.

However, having said that, this car makes me want to touch myself inappropriately.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the 1938 Phantom Corsair. It was a prototype, created by Rust Heinz, second son of the guy who owned Heinz Ketchup, among other things. As far as I can tell, he built only one of them, showed it at the 1939 Worlds Fair, planned to sell them for about $14,000 (a huge price tag back in the ’30s), then died in a car accident in ’39. All plans to produce more of the Corsairs died with him.

The Corsair’s aluminum panels were hammered into shape and fastened to a tubular frame.  A layer of cork, at some places 1.5 inches thick, was applied to the inside of the body, then sealed with rubber.  The 1936 Cord L-head V-8 engine and 4 speed front drive transmission were fitted, along with the suspension and some instruments and other mechanisms.  Inside the vehicle, Heinz installed monitors for everything, including direction and altitude.  An overhead panel contained switches and indicator lights, and gauges filled every space of the instrument dash, which ran the width of the interior.

The front seat could accommodate four, and two in the back seat sharing space with beverage cabinets holding spun aluminum tumblers and decanters.  Other touches including a hydraulically operated hood, and push-button solenoid door buttons that actuated small panels above the door to flip up when pushed.  Tinted safety glass – a rarity then – was used for the windshield.  The bumpers were on telescopic mounts designed to increase impact protection.

Man, do I want that car. I know, I know, it’s priceless, there’s no way anyone could afford to buy it. But holy guacamole, do I want that car. I don’t know if I’d ever drive it — who’d want to run the risk of someone hitting it?

Here’s the other thing — you may have seen articles recently about so-called “real-life superheroes” who dress up in spandex and run around cities either doing charitable work or pretending to fight crime. Normally, that’s the kind of thing that just makes me roll my eyes. It’s wildly, wildly silly. But if I had that car — if I had the 1938 Phantom Corsair… I don’t know that I’d be able to stop myself from going out, buying a black trenchcoat, black fedora, and a nice, vintage gas mask, and then go cruising around town looking for an excuse to fight crime. Who wouldn’t?

The car itself probably qualifies as a superpower all its own. Rolling up to the curb in that would either send the bad guys running for the hills or dropping what they were doing to take some pictures. “We were gonna rob the bank, but we had to stop and stare at this beautiful black car that pulled up…”

Oh man, I want that car.

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Real-Life Superheroes?


I don’t know if this is cool or just really, really weird, but here ya go: People who dress up as superheroes and go out to fight crime and/or improve their communities.

By most observers’ reckoning, between 150 and 200 real-life superheroes, or “Reals” as some call themselves, operate in the United States, with another 50 or so donning the cowl internationally. These crusaders range in age from 15 to 50 and patrol cities from Indianapolis to Cambridgeshire, England. They create heroic identities with names like Black Arrow, Green Scorpion, and Mr. Silent, and wear bright Superman spandex or black ninja suits. Almost all share two traits in common: a love of comic books and a desire to improve their communities.

It’s rare to find more than a few superheroes operating in the same area, so as with all hobbies, a community has sprung up online. In February, a burly, black-and-green-clad New Jersey-based Real named Tothian started Heroes Network, a website he says functions “like the UN for the real-life superhero community.”

Once you’ve honed your body and strapped on your utility belt, it’s time to decide how to focus your heroic efforts. Within the community of Reals, there’s a buffet of choices. Some choose mundane tasks — The Cleanser strolls around picking up trash, while Direction Man helps lost tourists find where they’re going. Most Reals also lend their personages to charities, donating to food banks or organizing clothing drives.

Other Reals scoff at the idea of being a glorified Salvation Army bell-ringer and instead go looking for action. “I fight evil,” says Tothian, the New Jersey crimefighter who founded Heroes Network. “I don’t think picking up garbage is superheroic.”

Master Legend, a chrome-suited 41-year-old from Winter Park, Florida, patrols the streets looking for crimes in progress, and claims his efforts have paid off. “I’ve dumped garbage cans over crackheads’ heads, I slam their heads against the wall, whatever it takes,” the Silver Slugger says with bravado. “They try to hit me first, and then it’s time for Steel Toe City.”

I dunno — the concept of “real” superheroes, of people dressing up in costume to pretend to be superheroes, has always just struck me as severely silly. I’m a big fan of having an active fantasy life — but dressing up and playing out my fake fantasies for all the world to see? That’s a bit much.

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