by Mike McMullen (2010): ISBN: 9780806531380 (Kensington Books)
I love superheroes. I was never a comic book fanatic (I rarely had the money or opportunity to buy comics as a kid), but I loved superhero cartoons or the occasional DC “Who’s Who” issue I’d come across. My favorites were Batman and Spider-Man. I think what connected with me was not their extraordinary powers, or wealth, or intelligence. It was that they chose to do good with whatever talents they had at their disposal. Don’t get me wrong: I wanted superpowers badly. But, beyond the glitz of the Batmobile or the fun of super-normal strength, I wanted to save the day. The draw for me was not necessarily the super, but the hero.
Apparently I wasn’t alone. Mike McMullen’s I, Superhero takes us into the world of RLSHs (Real-Life Super Heroes). These are men and women who actually try to live the hero-life…costumes and all. McMullen profiles several of these heroes through interviews and by actually going on “patrol” with them as they try to make a difference, however small in scope or awkwardly executed. Finally, he immerses himself in the life by creating his own hero persona (“The Amazing Whitebread“) and walking a mile or two in the shoes (or custom-made superhero boots) of a real-life costumed vigilante…
…which is actually a bit of a misnomer. It turns out that most RLSHs don’t actually get into altercations with criminals. Most of their time is spent in doing charitable works around their community. While they also patrol the area looking for trouble, they seldom find it; more often, they simply find opportunities to help their neighbors or to remove graffiti.
McMullen’s account of several of these citizen-heroes is a hilarious read. His incredulous, yet sympathetic, tone is perfect for the subject matter. He certainly has fun with his subjects; how can one not? These are people who wear outrageous costumes and claim to be superheroes. To be sure, they are a…colorful…lot; in particular, the section on the hero called Master Legend is a hilarious train-wreck of a interview. But at the same time, by examining his own motivations in investigating the phenomenon, McMullen finds the genuinely caring and heroic hearts that beat behind the spandex. These are obviously odd people, but they are ultimately just human beings that actually want to make the world around them better. In many ways, their attitude is far more refreshing than the cynical, world-weary aloofness of most so-called normal people.
I, Superhero is a hilarious and yet sincere book that actually manages to take a seemingly ridiculous topic and give it emotional resonance. It is probably the funniest and the most humanely genuine book that I’ve read all year.