Behind the Mask, by Martha Thomases
In the early 1980s, conspiracy theories were all the rage. There seemed to be a cottage industry in debunking the conventional theories about the Kennedy assassination. Paul Krassner once said that he read so many articles on the subject in Penthouse magazine, next to the pin-ups, that he became aroused every time someone mentioned the Warren Report.
These ideas were everywhere. I remember seeing a long rant (printed up, on a poster in Washington Square Park) explaining that Mark Chapman and John Hinckley were both brainwashed by the CIA as assassins, with Chapman’s murder of John Lennon being a test run for the attempt on President Reagan.
While this seemed far-fetched, there was one aspect that made sense to me. Both Chapman and Hinckley were said to have acted in imitation of Travis Bickle, the character played by Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. Robert DeNiro has never been more physically compelling than he was in that role, but Travis Bickle did not seem to me to be a happy person. It did not look like fun to be him.
Mark Millar plays with this idea in Kick-Ass. In this series, a scrawny young kid, feeling left out, puts on a set of long-johns and goes out on patrol. He gets the crap kicked out of him at first, but he also learns how to fight, and he attracts the attention from the media he can’t attract at school. Soon he’s considered a hero, and inspiring imitators of his own. Through it all, he remains a skinny kid, with few apparent social skills. I want to adopt him.
If people were going to base their actions on fictional characters, I thought it was much more likely for them to try to imitate Batman. After all, Batman and other non-super-powered heroes (like The Spirit, The Sandman and The Green Hornet) were beloved by millions, and Taxi Driver was a relatively small independent film, celebrated by elitist New York intellectuals.
Where were our costumed vigilantes?
It’s only taken a quarter century, but they’re here! According to a recent story in the New York Daily News, there is a group of people who dress up in costume and go on patrol.
According to this story, they are crime-fighters only in the most liberal sense of the word. These folks don’t attempt to stop criminals, but rather they give food to the homeless and comfort to the sick.
It looks like fun!
The police aren’t very excited about this development (although big props to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin for getting into the vibe). While I don’t begin to have the training or the inside sources to know why the police feel this way, I would imagine that a band of roving heroes would be handy. The police wouldn’t have to spend their time rousing sleeping homeless people from park benches or doorways, and they wouldn’t have to find treatment for the mentally ill. Instead, they could actually stop violent criminals.
It’s as if there were a group of people getting cats out of trees, freeing up Superman to stop tornados and alien attacks.
Except for the one guy, the costumes don’t seem to be inordinately revealing. We don’t see the women on the team, but of those people we do see, they don’t seem to need to flaunt their muscles to do good, and they don’t need the flexibility of spandex or the protection of armor. And that one guy who is wearing tights, I think, should consider wearing a cup, for his mother’s peace of mind if not his. She might want grandchildren some day.
I don’t mean to demean their efforts. As a form of charity, it’s supposed to be more blessed to give anonymously than to give publicly. Wearing a mask while giving is more anonymous than not wearing a mask, even though it’s less anonymous than a church poor box. However, there’s a lot to be said for the human contact, for not just helping people but entertaining them at the same time.
Best of all, they don’t seem to be hanging out anywhere near the White House nor Paul McCartney.
Martha Thomases, Media Goddess of ComicMix, wishes all her readers a sweet new year.
Photo from, and copyright 2008, NYDailyNews.com. All Rights Reserved.