Remember that time you were wakened from a deep slumber with a fear in your heart so deep you could swear you were about to meet your imminent doom? I know you do, because it’s happened to all of us. Is there someone watching me? Is someone out there? Am I being followed? You might be. But it might not be in the way we tend to think. As you see, or prepare to see The Avengers (you’re not fooling me, I you know you’re going to see it), turn your thoughts to those in the world that creep about… but in pursuit of good. People like Lansing’s own superhero: Venge.
Fear is a powerful emotion with the potential to damage us physically as well as emotionally. When my husband and I had our house robbed not once, but twice this summer, I so fervently wished for a real-life superhero it hurt. I lashed out, hitting harder at roller derby practice, I hid from those I loved and I wondered why there couldn’t be someone out there watching over us like Batman protected Gotham. Where was our Batman? How could this happen?
Enter Venge. This is the only name I know. His relatively-new Facebook fan page refers to him as “what people consider a “real life super hero.” Upon messaging him an interview request, I had no idea what to expect. But, as it turns out, the life of a costumed vigilante is actually not so much different from yours and mine. He’s just a little busier, and, if I’m being honest, not nearly the whack job the teeniest corner of my brain had expected. Instead, I found myself Facebook inbox to Facebook inbox with an advocate for the homeless, a guy who’ll break up a fight if he has to, and a person’s whose passion for helping others is evident in every word he speaks. Or, in this case, types.
He came to heroism in the way you might expect. Growing up in Lansing, “I would play with my dad’s collection of superhero figures…and wondered why normal people didn’t go out and help people,” he says. So, at the age of 11 he teamed up with a group of friends and set out to do something about it. Unmasked, they simply trolled for troublemakers. “We were able to get people to call the police on people trying to steal bikes, or we would stop other kids our age from starting fights at playgrounds,” he says.
This, however, had unintended consequences. They got jumped, and the costumes were born. From that day, identity-concealing outfits were worn during missions. But, the missions continued, and the band of friends remained on the lookout for opportunities to help their friends and neighbors.
These days, Venge is basically a one-man show. His mornings are spent working; he attends LCC and maintains the social life of an average Joe. His missions are less structured, but he remains as active as possible. “It can be three nights a week I go out, and sometimes twice every other week,” he says. “Earth Day I went out with another teammate to pick up trash on the River Trail, and a bit downtown.”
He does work with others, but on what you would call a regular basis. “There’s an entire community across the U.S. and other parts of the world,” Venge says. “In January ’11, a few from Michigan and Indiana met in East Lansing for the first time and started the group the Michigan Protectors.” At an anniversary meet up this year, they reviewed their stats. In 2011 they had a membership of seven, while 2012 has seen their numbers double. While they’ve never all met in one place, there are others in Michigan who do the same.
Finding acceptance, it appears, can be difficult. Anyone who has read Batman Begins knows the internal struggle being a hero can bring. In a recent radio interview on Flint Talk Radio featuring three members of the Michigan Protectors, Venge, Bee Sting, and Seraph (location unknown), mention was made of this difficulty. “What are you, a ninja?” “What is this, Mortal Kombat?” In the interview, Bee Sting (who was recently arrested on assault charges), discusses the functional aspects of the Protectors’ attire, primarily self-defense. “I’m between 19-24 and even in broad daylight I feel like I need to keep my eyes open,” Venge says. “The neighborhood I lived in was a really great place when I was younger, now I get woken up at 2 in the morning from loud music or a loud engine.”
Venge has plans, not only for himself, but also for others. “We’re everyday people, trying to help.” This, he says, “doesn’t tie us to a specific action. We will intervene in a physical fight to help someone, but only if the police won’t be there in time. The same night we might do a homeless outreach. We only want to provide help in whichever ways we possibly, and legally, can.”
The real-life superhero movement is growing nation-wide. Venge isn’t alone in his desire to help. Even locally, the Lansing Ninjas spread kindness via postcards and the element of surprise, while ePifany Now schedules events, each with a different approach, all aimed at helping those who need it. While the Ninjas and ePifany are perhaps less likely to find themselves in dangerous situations, the heart of their missions is the same. Venge sums it up perfectly: “Almost like Batman said in Batman Begins, ‘I want to show people that the city isn’t past being saved.’”
So do we, Venge. And thank you.