Brampton’s Dark Knight meets for coffee and a chat with Enrich Magazine’s Australian Correspondent, Kelly Bettridge.
“It really isn’t a character that I chose; I really am the character.” – Brampton Batman.
A sociological phenomenon is sweeping our tiny planet. It is gaining more popularity than the sight of Halle Berry in a Catwoman suit, and is crossing more international datelines than Superman on a busy night of rescuing innocent civilians.
Welcome to the world of RLSH, or Real Life Superheroes. Members of the global RLSH community are celebrated for dressing up as either existing superhero characters or creations of their own. They help the underprivileged, fight crime within the confines of the law (although some do not), and generally offer themselves as service to their local community. Sure, it sounds a little less impressive than being faster than a speeding bullet, or having mutant powerful healing abilities, or being green and ultra strong. But this is reality, people, not a Hollywood blockbuster or a Marvel comic book. What these RLSHs are doing is significantly touching lives and being the difference they want to see in the world. If that isn’t super, I don’t know what is. I believe that Buddy, from The Incredibles, says it best, “Not every superhero has powers, you know. You can be super without them.”
You will find a RLSH in each corner of our world. We have Meganno in Argentina, Terrifico in Brazil, Dex Laserskater in Finland, Ordenanza (Batman) in Barcelona, Super Vaclav in the Czech Republic, Lionheart in Liberia, Superbarrio in Mexico, Entomo The Insect Man in Italy, The Knight Warrior in the United Kingdom, Vaktaren (The Watchman) in Sweden, and over 30 known RLSHs in The United States, including the infamous TreeHugger, Captain Ozone, who wanders the states promoting environmentalism and sustainable ecology.
Here in Australia, we too have our own RLSH community. The heroes down under include The Fauna Fighters, who publicize animal rights issues via ‘Art-ivism’ (a performance art/activism hybrid) and Captain Australia, who considers himself a mutant morphling lovechild of Batman and Captain America. Only in Australia, right? No one ever takes himself too seriously here.
In Canada, you have a plethora of willing would-be superheroes, from Anujan Panchadcharma the Polarman of Iqaluit, Nunavut, who is known for shovelling snow off sidewalks and keeping the streets safe from petty crime, Ark of Toronto, The Crimson Canuck of Ontario, Thanatos of Vancouver, who distributes goods to the homeless, and the Justice Crew of Oshawa, who embody the superhero persona by patrolling the streets, aiding the homeless and cleaning up street litter.
But behold Bramptonites! You can even hold your heads high with pride. Brampton has its very own RLSH … drum roll please … introducing The Brampton Batman!
Who can say at 9:30am (Australian time) on a Monday that she is about to chat with Batman, who is connecting via skype at 6:30pm Brampton time. Seriously though, who does that?
“What are you up to this morning, Kelly?” – friend.
“Nothing much, really. I’m going to hook up to the other side of the world via skype and have a chat with Batman … then I might hang out the washing.” – me.
Before I interviewed Brampton Batman, I did my research. I knew he wasn’t a cosplayer or a street performer like Toronto’s Batman. I knew he took his RLSH persona seriously. But what I didn’t know was how the tragic parallels between this ordinary man’s life and that of The Dark Knight led to a 24-year transformation of Stephen Lawrence into Brampton’s own Batman.
Initially I was quite taken aback by the sheer intensity of his energy, which permeated bizarrely through the ether, right from his computer to mine! I do believe my voice trembled slightly as I tried not to sound like a foolish schoolgirl when I said, “Hi Batman, how was your day?” (Who says that outside of a movie script?) I’m not sure if it was the effect of his amazing, almost intimidating Batsuit or his voice, which echoed through his microphone, strong and powerful, and … at risk of sounding ridiculous … superhero-like. He cuts quite an imposing figure, as one would expect from a superhero. Within a few minutes I actually forgot that I was talking to an ordinary man with an extraordinary past on an even more unusual mission to make a difference in the world. For me, I was really talking to The Dark Knight. So, I guess that made me Vicki Vale.
Beginning his patrol as soon as the sun goes down, and continuing until the early hours of the morning, this Batman walks the streets of Brampton, offering himself as a beacon of safety to Bramptonians young and old. He enacts his civil liberty of keeping the peace, within the law of course, because, unlike Hollywood’s Batman, this Dark Knight is no vigilante. “Since I don’t have the money to pay high priced lawyers, I have to stay within the confines of the law … and vigilantism is against the law.” quips Batman, with a cheeky grin spreading across his face.
However, when asked about the scourge of ambivalence sweeping across society with regards to common citizens unwilling to help their fellow humans in need, Batman spoke very strongly about the importance of duty and the right thing to do. “We all, as citizens, carry a loosely based power of arrest. In other words, if you see something that you think you should get into, then duty calls you to get into it.”
At one point during the interview, I soapboxed about the general loss of simple manners, and about how we live in a world where please and thank you have to be asked for, where opening doors for the elderly and offering a seat to the infirm is unlikely to occur. I was met with a wide grin from the masked crusader, and a “Well said, well said.” Batman had agreed with me. Be still my superhero loving heart!
He expanded on the loss of old-fashioned moral codes, and contemporary society’s fall from grace, giving me my first clear window into what drives this extraordinary man to don cape and cowl each night, giving up his personal life for the sake of others.
“In a world that is ever-changing, it is always the good values that stay the same,” he says passionately. It is very clear that this man/superhero is trying to lead from behind the cape as well as without it, to be the example of old-fashioned manners, of chivalry, of a knight out to protect the common folk, with no gain for himself other than the desire for everyone to feel safe. Is this, in itself, not a true trait of a super hero?
Our second window into the compelling life of Brampton’s Batman was in the parallels between Bruce Wayne’s tragic witnessing of his parents’ death and Stephen Lawrence’s tragic loss of his father at the delicate age of 14. Coincidentally, that was when he started wearing the Batman costume and, hence, embodied The Dark Knight. “If you look at the core values of the character, or if you look at how the character came to be, you will find parallels between Bruce Wayne and myself.” he continues, “When I was 14, my father suffered the same kind of tragedy that Bruce Wayne’s did.” It is at this point that I notice Batman slightly loses the ready confidence in his voice. It shakes a little and I can see that this was the creation point for the man/superhero that I can see in front of me. He goes onto to explain how the good things that he managed to do in his youth set him up as embodying the character of The Dark Knight. “These sorts of things (good deeds) fuelled me into doing further good things.”
Perhaps he drew upon this character as a way of gaining strength and dealing with, and moving on from, such a tragic occurrence at a very impressionable age. He certainly had, from a very young age, a strong sense of moral duty – stepping in at 17 to make a citizen’s arrest on a man wanted across Canada for credit card fraud, reviving a person with CPR during his college days and, as Batman recently, being able to locate a missing child and preventing a drunk driver from causing chaos on the roads. Regardless of the reason for his two outward appearances, one as Stephen Lawrence and the other as The Dark Knight, he is a person united with the values that the latter is famous for. He certainly has been able to transmute the negative experiences of his youth into positive outcomes today, giving us examples of what is possible in a mind with no boundaries.
And by the way, girls, he is single.
Where are the superheroes now? “They are living among us. Average people, average citizens, quietly and anonymously making the world a better place.” (The Incredibles, 2004.)