Superheroes Anonymous

It's a bird...it's a plane...it's people in makeshift superhero costumes, helping the homeless. Join them on Thursday 25.

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Photographs: Beth Levendis

You don’t need to crawl up the Empire State Building in a red and blue leotard to be a superhero. All it takes is a desire to make the world a better place—although some conspicuous costumes certainly helps. Friends Ben Goldman, 23, and Chaim Lazaros, 25, cofounded the organization Superheroes Anonymous in 2007, back when they were just two film students making a documentary about Real-Life Superheroes, a community of unusually attired do-gooders. But after seeing the heroes in action, the dynamic duo wanted to do more than observe—they wanted to join them. Concealing their faces behind domino masks, they became Cameraman and Life.

SA’s embellished guardians tackle problems more suited to the uninvulnerable: They patrol neighborhoods like Harlem, organize toy drives for St. Mary’s Hospital for Children and assist New York City’s vast homeless community. In fact, homeless outreach is one of the primary missions of Superheroes Anonymous. “What crime is to Gotham City,” Goldman says, “homelessness is to New York City.” Every week, usually under cover of darkness (they attend to their civilian lives during the day), the heroes take to the streets, dispensing food, clothes and sundries to the less fortunate—who are almost always grateful for the help, despite its unusual source.

While SA has more than 100 members across the country, only five live in New York City. The group is hoping to add new crusaders to its guild, especially women—the NYC chapter currently has only one superheroine. Starting Thursday 25, SA will hold monthly meetings open to both regulars and newbs, at which prospective champions of justice will get a crash-course in street outreach, and eventually learn SA’s 12 Steps to Superheroism (No. 2: choosing to become a force for good; No. 8: picking a superhero name), participate in self-defense clinics taught by fellow hero/martial-arts instructor Dark Guardian and learn other valuable superheroic skills, like how to design costumes. According to Goldman, dressing up emboldens people who might otherwise lack the courage to act. For some, like Cameraman, a simple cape and mask thrown over an SA tee suffices; Dark Guardian reaches for red-and-black motorcycle leather; while Life prefers skinny jeans paired with a military-style jacket.

But would-be watchmen inspired by movies, such as the forthcoming action-comedy Kick-Ass, should be warned: Beating up criminals is far less glamorous than Hollywood makes it look. Dark Guardian, also known as 25-year-old Chris Pollak, is one of the few members of SA who confronts New York City’s baddies. With vital organs safe behind a bulletproof vest, Pollak faces off with drug dealers in places like Washington Square Park, asking them to cease and desist. “I’ve done some dangerous things,” he says with a laugh, recalling an incident in which a pusher pulled a gun on him. Beyond the Kevlar underwear, Dark Guardian takes further precautions: “[Pollak] will only do something if I’m there with a camera,” Goldman says, referring to the camcorder he wields for justice like Green Lantern’s ring. “To deter [criminals] from doing anything bad, and to provide evidence for the police.” In turn, Goldman posts his videos of fellow heroes in action on Vimeo (vimeo.com/user277676).

Ultimately, Superheroes Anonymous isn’t interested in beating people up; they put on capes and cowls to help those in need. “It’s about doing the most good possible,” Lazaros says. “You can do exponentially more good when you’re getting noticed for it.”

BECOME A HERO! Superheroes Anonymous holds its first monthly meeting Thu 25 at Think Coffee, 248 Mercer St between 3rd and 4th Sts. (superheroesanonymous.com). 7--8pm, free. Costumes not required but strongly encouraged, no matter how minimal. R.S.V.P. to ben@superheroesanonymous.com.

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