Beware His Sting
He lives in the middle of nowhere near the New Mexico-Arizona border. "Ish," he adds, just to vague things up.
"Do you mind if I ask how old you are?"
"Do you mind if I don't answer directly? It only takes a certain number of data points to pinpoint someone."
He says he restores antique furniture but pauses and chuckles that maybe he doesn't. He's in his late 30s, he says, then amends it to mid 30s, just to keep the press off balance.
Most of his family doesn't know.
This affable, reasonable guy on the other end of the phone line patrols urban areas in the neighboring desert states looking for criminals. He's a real-life superhero.
The Green Scorpion, he's called. And he's keen on concealing his true identity.
"It used to be that you had to be a hardcore eccentric or really, really annoyed to be doing this sort of stuff," he says. But not anymore. In the last five or six years, there's been exponential growth in the superhero field. Adults around the country are making masks, building archetypal personas, sewing costumes, and donning pseudonyms like Terrifica or Citizen Prime. The mission is different for each. But most, Scorpion says, are out to save the world.
"The whole superhero mindset kind of worked its way in," he explains. "When I was a kid, I used to carry around a little mask. I thought if I ever ran into anything that I could try and help people out.” Years later, he found himself poking through the Internet, seeking people who did it for real. "There was nothing," he recalls. Eventually, he found a blog about a superhero video game. A discussion had begun in the comments. It seemed plenty of folks had at least thought about it. "Some of the people really started around 9/11," he says, "especially in New York City. They just got this huge slap in the face by a whole lot of evil people."
There are three heroes with "Green" in their names that Scorpion idolizes—Hornet, Arrow and Lantern. His favorites were always the do-gooders that didn't have a trough of super abilities to draw from. "Green Arrow was just a guy with lots of exotic trick arrows and really good aim," he says. "Green Hornet was just an ordinary guy with a few gadgets."
He's speaking through the Scorpion Phone—which may run out of minutes during our conversation. His costume's gone through three evolutions. It began with a homemade utility belt and a mask of black silicone over stretchy fabric. The second version had a hard-shell face mask with sunglasses built in, but the ventilation was horrible and the sunglasses would fog.
Scorp costume 3.0 includes Kevlar body armor. It isn't bright green, only an olive-drab color in some places. The mysterious Professor Widget—even the Green Scorpion doesn't know who or where he is—crafted a belt buckle with a logo and also a stinger, a weapon with interchangeable end pieces and an ornate handle. Widget, who can be contacted through MySpace, makes specialty weapons and costume pieces for real-life superheroes.
In all, Scorpion's spent about $1,500 on his outfit. The stinger does a number of things, he says, "some of which are legal." One end piece is simply a light. There's also a pepper spray head and a stun gun. But Scorpion, again, won't give away all his secrets. It's stupid to let the villains know what you're working with.
He only patrols in the practical pieces of his costume—Kevlar, utility belt, etc.—because the peculiarity of the rest would just make him a target. Sometimes, like the boy Green Scorpion, he still carries a flexible mask in his pocket just in case something comes up. He brings his iPod along, though he knows he shouldn't be listening to music. He keeps the volume down, he says, and only uses one earbud. His patrol playlist includes Audioslave, Serj Tankian and Tenacious D. It also has gems on it like "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler and "Has Been" by William Shatner.
The Green Scorpion hasn't seen a lot of action. He's scared away vandals and once collected evidence and turned it over to the police after someone shot at a friend. For a while in 2005, he walked the streets of Phoenix hoping to become a mark for the serial shooters, two evil dudes charged with firing rounds at people from their cars because they were bored. Because Scorpion wears Kevlar, he thought he could take a bullet without too much damage and snap photos of the car with his digital camera.
"It's pretty uneventful most of the time," he says. Some real-life superheroes don't think patrolling is the most effective way of trying to prevent crime, he adds. "When you're operating on a budget and you've got limited time, it's something you can do that's more than not doing anything." Scorpion patrols a few times a month, mostly in the evenings.
He's been at it for four or five years, he estimates. He doesn't carry a gun and doesn't endorse other real-life superheroes using them, either. "It just raises the stakes way too high," he says. "Anybody that's doing this sort of thing has who-knows-what level of training. It's not a valid way to be doing this." Heroes argue about plenty of aspects of herodom, but most are anti-firearm. "Even edged weapons are getting kind of dicey," Scorpion says.
He eats cheese popcorn before he goes on patrol because he likes it and that's what he keeps around the house. He doesn't kill scorpions when he finds them in his living quarters. "Instead of squishing them, I usually just put them in a cup and toss them outside. I guess that's kind of like an affinity. I'm a little more tolerant than average."
He does not have a Scorp-Mobile. He tries not to park too closely to the areas he patrols so people won't know what he's driving and use his license plate to figure out who he is. "Ideally, I'd like something that's nice and custom and speedy that could get me away in a hurry," he says. "But like a lot of the real-life superhero people, I'm generally broke a lot of the time. As far as I know, there's not a Batman level of funding for anybody."
He doesn't monitor a police scanner. If it's on the scanner, the police are handling it, and a real-life superhero would just be redundant. He's not overly eager to make himself known to local police as a citizen crime fighter. He's thought about joining the police for the additional training in crime-fighting skills. The real drawback of police, he says, is that "law enforcement and justice don't always coincide. Go down South. Up until 10 years ago, you could get arrested for being gay," he says. "If you're a police officer, you don't have a lot of choice about what actions you're taking." The Green Scorpion has no ambition to write speeding tickets.
There isn’t a love interest in the tale of the Green Scorpion. "I am completely single," he says. He's not interested in casual dating, so he knows he would need to tell a potential girlfriend that for years he's been scouring cities on his days off looking for crime. "You need to present yourself in a realistic light, and that's something you might want to let them know about early on," he says. "The sort of person I'd be attracted to would think it was kind of cool and quirky. If they thought that was just incredibly stupid—well, like the majority of women would—then it probably wouldn't be someone that it’d be fun to hang around with anyway."
So far, the media paints real-life superheroes as a novelty. Usually, according to Scorpion, there's one of two reactions: "It's either, Aren't these people crazy? Or, These people are doing something that's a little bit noble and a little bit out of the ordinary."
A December profile in Rolling Stone on Orlando's Master Legend was largely reviled by the nation's real-life superheroes, according to Scorpion. The article on Master Legend and his sidekick The Ace focused on how down-and-out the duo was, he adds. It made them seem like losers, Scorpion says. "Master Legend—I wouldn't have wanted to be him.”
Scorpion is apathetic about appearing in the press. "I could take it or leave it. It's not really the point of the thing." There are many schools of thought regarding publicity in the community. Some take the crime-fighting aspects seriously and believe real superheroes shouldn't have MySpace accounts—in fact, shouldn't have any online presence at all—and shouldn't appear in the media.
One such hero is Albuquerque's own Ghost Shadow, who's a friend of the Green Scorpion. Actually, Ghost Shadow is not really his superhero name—he requested the Alibi use a pseudonym for his pseudonym. He wouldn't do an interview in person or over the phone, though he answered a few questions via e-mail. “I have enemies and plan on having more as time passes,” he writes. (Find the complete exchange at alibi.com.)
Other real-life superheroes patrol their neighborhoods but would never try to stop a crime themselves, says Scorpion. Instead, they’d phone it in to the police. There are also superheroes who contribute to charity events or participate in walks for cancer, but Scorpion says they don't agree with the heroes who are trying to fight crime. "A lot of them think anybody in crime fighting is just a rampaging lunatic who ought to be picked up by the cops."
Someday, a real-life superhero will do something that will get national attention, he says. "Hopefully,” he tacks on, “for a good reason."
The Green Scorpion says he'll be a real-life superhero until he dies. Or until he gets shot. Then he might take a little break, he laughs. His life is different now that he's a hero. "The biggest change is just the satisfaction, knowing that I'm doing something that I should be doing," he says. "I've always felt like I should be doing more to make the world a better place, and in some small way, I think I'm at least trying to do that."
Are you a real-life superhero? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 346-0660 ext. 245.