No, seriously. They do:
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.”
…After training for a few days in the superhero arts, these mortals will return home and watch over their cities — maybe in a neighborhood near you.
I feel safer already. So what do these caped crusaders do, exactly? Wonder twin powers activate:
Recluse also calls New Bedford home. Clad in a studded rubber mask and a shirt with the white outline of a spider, he is a mysterious and elusive figure, true to his name. He does, however, agree to speak briefly with the [Boston. Heh] Phoenix.
“When I first started,” recalls Recluse, “I was doing patrols in one of [New Bedford’s] worst neighborhoods, the South End. A lot of drug dealers, a lot of gangs, and I got injured doing that. . . . I thought it was like the comic books, apparently. I don’t know what I was thinking. I tried to stop three people from breaking into a house and I got thrown off the porch and landed on my shoulder, so I learned a lesson there.”
Damn. I wanted superpowers