STREET JUSTICE: Real-life superheroes are now so numerous throughout the country that they have a national organization, Superheroes Anonymous. New England regional heroes include, second from left, Basilisk, Civitron, Beau Shay Monde, and Recluse. Rapper Tem Blessed (far left) has collaborated with Civitron.
THWAK! I swing with my right fist, trying to connect with my opponent's face. In a smooth motion, he deflects my punch with his forearm, which is protected with a black and metallic-plastic arm gauntlet. I swing with my left fist, and am again knocked away effortlessly. I can see my reflection in his sunglasses, framed in white. He smiles and smoothes out his red and white spandex shirt — adorned with a letter "C," a flame shooting out of the top — and then crouches into a fighting stance.
"Oh, no," I think. "I'm about to get my ass kicked by a Lycra-wearing superhero."
This non-caped crusader goes by the name of Civitron, and lucky for me, our combat is not a battle royale to the death. Rather, we are sparring at Rebelo's Kenpo Karate, in New Bedford, where Civitron has trained under sensei Joseph "Kenpo Joe" Rebelo on and off for more than 10 years. We aren't alone.
Twelve other "real-life superheroes," striking and grappling, are crowded into the dojo for a martial-arts workshop led by Rebelo (who, despite his superhero-sounding last name, is not a member of this tribe). The heroes have flown in — by plane — from all over the country to take part in a three-day conference called "Superheroes Anonymous," which is akin to a modern-day Justice League confab. They are wearing a multi-hued rainbow of spandex costumes, but there is also an emphasis on "real." These aren't the chiseled matinee-idol muscle men and women of the comics pages — more like the people with whom you ride the bus. Yes, some are athletic and tall, but some are short with pot bellies. It's doubtful these heroes will put the fear of God into real-life hoodlums, let alone the Penguin or Dr. Octopus.
"We come in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and beliefs," says Civitron. (In the tradition of protecting a superhero's alter ego, these heroes agreed to speak with the Phoenix as long as we could assure them their secret identities would be safe.) There is Nyx, a curvy New Jersey woman, dressed in gray leotards with a red dust mask covering her lower face. She is sparring against Zimmer, who has just arrived from Austin. Zimmer, short and wiry, wears a spandex shirt, the binary code for the letter "Z" streaming down one side. Zetaman traveled from Portland, Oregon, with a suitcase full of bulky blue plastic armor (superheroes of other eras never had to get their costumes through airport security). Scavenger has on a black mask and corset; black plastic streamers hang from her arms. Her main focus, superhero-wise, is picking up litter in Waterbury, Connecticut, where she has traveled from with her friend, the mountainous Runebringer. He is wrapped in a large gray coat with runic characters decorating his chest.