Masked crimefighters are cleaning up the streets of Seattle! Costumed heroes by the names of Phoenix Jones, Red Dragon and Buster Doe have been making headlines recently as they resolve disputes, help the homeless, and keep the city safe. I recently had a chance to correspond with one of the members of the Rain City Superheroes Movement – Red Dragon (left) – and asked him a few questions. Because this correspondance was via e-mail, there was no actual tea involved.
Gill: Hi, Red Dragon. Let me just start by saying what a pleasure it is to have this opportunity to talk to you. I know that there are a lot of people out there who are curious about what it is like to be a real life masked crimefighter. Let’s get the big question out of the way first, shall we? You, Phoenix Jones and Buster Doe have been compared by the media to the wannabe superheroes in the movie Kick-Ass. Do you have any comment on that comparison? Did Kick-Ass inspire you to take on the mantle of the masked crimefighter? And what are your thoughts on that movie?
Red Dragon: Actually, Phoenix Jones has been doing this since before Kick-Ass came out, as have many other people before him. I know that Real Life Superheroes.org was started in 2008 and Peter Tangen’s documentary “The Real Life Superhero Project” was also started somewhere around then as well.
The comparison has its accuracies and inaccuracies. For instance, every one of us started out as an average, every-day person who saw things happening and asked “Why isn’t someone doing something about this?” We all took up a persona to answer that very question. The big difference is that the majority of us fight crime and homelessness in our communities. We aren’t trying to travel up the criminal food chain to get at the top players. That should be left to law enforcement groups such as the DEA, ATF, and FBI. Another difference is that you don’t run into situations completely unprepared like in Kick-Ass. For those of us who are crime fighters, we wear various types of body armor and carry defensive measures that we actually know how to use. Also, most of us have martial arts training. A few of us, myself included, served in the military and/or law enforcement agencies.
Kick-Ass did not inspire me to become a superhero or a crimefighter. If anything, Kick-Ass made me ask myself a question and seeing real people in action gave me the answer. That movie was fun to watch but at the end of the day, it’s still a movie.
Finally, I want to touch on this notion of being a “wannabe.” I don’t see the people who’ve called me (and other real life superheroes) a “wannabe” going out and fighting crime. I don’t hear about them lobbying or petitioning their state and local representatives to reallocate resources to police departments to clean up the streets. I don’t see them participating
in neighborhood watches. So I have to ask the question, who’s the true “wannabe”?
Gill: Can you tell us a bit about what the RCSM does? Is it anything like the crimefighting you see superheroes engage in in the movies?
Red Dragon: The Rain City Superhero Movement does a bit of everything. We patrol the streets at night for crimes which include everything from barfights, to vandalism, to dealing drugs. We also engage in poverty and homeless outreaches. For example, this past weekend, we teamed up with other members of the RLSH community here in Seattle and tended to almost 100 homeless by handing out much needed supplies. Our allies came from as far out as Vancouver and Portland to come help.
Is crimefighting anything like it is in the movies? It’s funny, Phoenix and I have talked about this during our patrols…usually when it’s really cold and raining. What you see in the movies is a very romanticized version of what we do. This isn’t like the Punisher or Batman. There’s no batcave filled with gadgets and supercomputers. We don’t carry machine-guns or seek to carry out justice for slaughtering our family.
As far as the crimefighting itself. Unless we’ve had a tip from someone in the community, it’s a lot of walking around making sure that certain areas are safe for people to traverse at night.
What we do share, is a desire to inspire good people to come out and do good things. We want to send out a message that the average citizen doesn’t have to sit back and watch bad things happen to people.
Gill: How did police initially react to you and the Rain City Superhero Movement? How do they react to you now?
Red Dragon: Initially, I’m sure the police thought that Phoenix was some nut in a suit when RCSM first started. As far as I can tell, the only officers that don’t react well with us are the ones we haven’t been in contact with at night. We act as eyes and ears on the street when the law enforcement officers are elsewhere. Our group has stopped car-jackings, helped stranded vehicles on the highways, stopped people from driving drunk, chased down and aided in the apprehension of a sex-offender, and even escorted people to their cars late at night.
For the most part, the people we’ve come in contact with get a chance to see what we’re about and love us. The people that haven’t met us yet, well…I see them as potential friends when we do actually meet.
Gill: What is the best or funniest reaction that you have gotten from a criminal and/or victim while on the job?
Red Dragon: One with Thanatos (Vancouver RLSH). Thanatos was driving the support vehicle around when he came across two men fighting. After driving the vehicle up and honking, one man ran off and the other approached the vehicle. Thanatos stepped out of the van wearing his black duster, black hat, and green skull mask. The man stopped and stared for a moment. Thanatos shreiked at him and waved his arms and the guy ran away screaming. It was probably the funniest way I’ve ever seen a fight end.
The funniest thing that happened to me was just before I met up with Phoenix and Buster one night. To make a long story short, two people were fighting and I intervened. One person ran off and the other stood there yelling at me. He picked up a can and threw it at me. (I played hockey and soccer when I was younger…and I was a goal tender) I caught the can and threw it in the garbage…his response, “Wow, that was fast.” I said thank you and he walked away.
Gill: What is the most dangerous situation you’ve ever found yourself in?
Red Dragon: Probably one of the first few nights Phoenix and I went out together. We noticed a bunch of people crowding around one person and it looked like a drug deal. It was, and they were not happy to see us. They greatly outnumbered us and the tension was enough to make my hair stand on end. Thankfully, none of them wanted to stay and play. I will say that the two guys the dealer had for “security” were definitely carrying some firepower which could have turned ugly if it wasn’t for the police presence that had followed us up the street.
Gill: Phoenix Jones has stated in interviews that he has a family. Do you? Does your family have any problems with what the Rain City Superheroes are doing? Do they even know about your alter-ego?
Red Dragon: My significant other is one of the few people I’ve told; with that said, she doesn’t live in Seattle. My parents don’t know and it doesn’t come up in conversation.
Gill: Do the RCSM worry that people will discover their identities and make an example of them or their families?
Red Dragon: Certain information is held on to pretty tightly and other information is intentionally misleading to ensure that we aren’t the easiest people to find. Some of us are a little more prominent than others, but safety for all parties is of the utmost concern for us. In the unlikely event that an identity is discovered, we have security measures in place should the need arise.
As far as making an example out of us or our families, we don’t hunt down the bigger animals. We stick to what goes on at the street level. Maybe at some point, we might cripple drug sales to annoy someone higher up, but that’s not really our objective.
Gill: Does it bother you that Phoenix Jones seems to be getting the most media attention of the Rain City Superheroes? Do you and Buster Doe consider Phoenix to be the leader of the RCSM?
Red Dragon: That doesn’t bother me at all. Phoenix is the creator of RCSM and we all bring certain skills to the table, but if there was going to be one person that I’d call the leader…it’d be him.
Gill: You took exception to me labeling the RCSM as vigilantes in an article that I wrote. How often do the media get things like that wrong? Are they often receptive to being corrected?
Red Dragon: The media often gets that wrong. If you typed in “Phoenix Jones Seattle,” or “Superhero Seattle” as a google search…most of them will use the word “vigilante” in their descriptions. There is a difference between being a vigilante and what we do. A vigilante takes the law into their own hands and dispenses their version of justice upon others. Their actions are independent of laws that are in place and are based on their morals, values, and emotional states at the time. That’s not what we do. If anything, we ensure that criminals meet justice fairly and through the proper channels. We never dole out justice in any way, shape or form.
After pointing out the error, most media sources ignore me or in one case, tell me that they stand behind the author’s article. The misuse of labels can be frustrating because it unfairly taints a story before anybody gets past the headline. As a fellow journalist, it makes me reluctant to admit a relation to them by a shared trade…
Gill: Are you concerned that you might inspire people to imitate you? Children, in particular, love to emulate their heroes. Do you have a message to kids about the dangers of being a crimefighter?
Red Dragon: Actually, I encourage people to stand up and do what’s right. When I talk to people, I tell them that they don’t need a mask or a costume to do the right thing. It can start simply by standing up for other people, or helping those who are unable to help themselves at a given moment. I always make sure to tell people that what we do carries an inherent risk, and that it’s not for everybody.
Do I worry that some kids may imitate me? Yes. But I also worry that kids are being taught that bullying is ok and that violence towards others is acceptable. We support anti-bullying legislature and efforts made by educators, parents, and even students.
Gill: What inspired your superhero name and costume?
Red Dragon: My name is actually kind of simple. The color red and the dragon carry a certain significance in eastern cultures. In Chinese culture, red signifies luck. It also symbolizes fire which is used to chase away evil. The dragon can symbolize any number of things, but more commonly…they denote power, strength, and good fortune (luck). Many also carry what is called the “pearl of wisdom.”
The reason I chose it is because I want to bring hope and good fortune to those who find themselves in dark places. I want to inspire people to have the courage to stand up for themselves and for others. And I want the wicked to face the justice system for preying on the weakness of others.
I have traveled to many parts of the world, and the theme is almost always the same. Those without power live at the mercy of those with power. While it is not as obvious here in the United States, travel to a third world country and it becomes painfully obvious. In Somalia, warlords raid food relief points…not because they need it, but because starvation is being used as a weapon. In Iraq and other places in the Middle East, violence and fear are used to suppress people seeking freedom. In China (a developing country), prisons are used to quiet voices of dissent.
Because of all of these things…I exist. When law enforcement agencies have the resources to effectively do their jobs and the citizens of this country become willing to stand up for themselves, there will no longer be a need for me.
Gill: Who’s your favourite superhero?
Red Dragon: I have many, but not the ones you would normally think of. Norman Borlaug, The Dalai Lama, and Albert Einstein come to mind. There are thousands of every day heroes.
Gill: Red Dragon, thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions. I really appreciate it.
Red Dragon: It’s been a pleasure.
Red Dragon and the Rain City Superheroes Movement operate out of Seattle, Washington, but there are superheroes all over the country doing their part to fight crime. For more information, check out the Real Life Superheroes Registry: http://www.reallifesuperheroes.org/