They patrol the dark and dangerous street of our cities seeking out criminals, evildoers and villains, helping those who are in need and to save humanity all the while veiled in secret identities. Is this the tag line to yet another DC or Marvel superhero movie? Actually, no. It’s the description of the award winning documentary called ‘Superheroes’ airing tonight on HBO.

‘Superheroes’ uncovers the phenomena of real life superheroes: Everyday people who take on a superhero persona to fight crime and help make the world a better place.  With over 300 registered superheroes in the United States, the documentary introduces us to only a handful of them and finds out what compels these individuals to wear masks, homemade costumes and even elaborate utility belts in order to get their job done.

With a mix of humor and melancholy, the candid interviews and patrol footage of these real life superheroes goes beyond their eccentricities and shows how they want to be part of the community and their need to inspire change.

Some of the real life superheroes (RLSHs) that you’ll meet are:

“Mr. Xtreme” – a 33 year old security guard by day who patrols the streets of San Diego and is the founder and sole member of the Xtreme Justice League. He is a man of conviction and purpose with a loathing for apathy and indifference.

“Zimmer” – leader of the ‘New York Initiative’, he is one of 4 real life superheroes that live together and patrol the streets of New York. He is the only unmasked superhero in the film. His uniform consists of a gray shirt and black pants representing his need to be open as a RLSH as he is about his homosexuality.  The ‘New York Initiative’ regularly launches ‘bait’ missions where one of the group acts like an easy target in hopes to get the criminal caught in the act.  Zimmer is also training to be an EMT by day.

“Lucid” – part of the ‘New York Initiative’. His tattoos  represent the pain, joy and experience of his life and is compelled to be a RLSH as he has “hurt enough people in (his) life and it’s time to give back.”

“Master Legend” – the most colorful of the RLSHs, his over the top personality and energy is only exceeded by the sincerity of his convictions and his enormous heart.  He roams the
community of Orlando, Florida to help those in need.

‘Superheroes’ not only documents the RLSH world of crime fighting. There are also interviews with Stan Lee and Robin Rosenberg, a psychologist who’s done extensive work exploring the psychology of superheroes with regards to RLSH and Stan Lee comic characters.

Why make this film? As a lover of comic book and superheroes, Michael Barnett stumbled across this rare sub-culture while online and it prompted him to find out what would make a person dress up and become vigilantes.  He told Seattle Weekly, “Our first approach was to try and make people realize that each person is sort of eccentric in their own way, and they have their own reasons for doing what they do. It’s not a rational thing to do, to put on a costume and walk around a dangerous neighborhood…The other thing is showing their situation in life. Quite a few of them don’t have the resources to do what they do. But they want to help their community. Some of them were sad — financially, personally, and just in general. But it’s showing that out of that darkness they could rise above and try to do something good.”

Mr. Xtreme puts it simply, “…it’s what’s in your heart and what you do. That’s what makes you a superhero.”

‘Superhero’ is directed by Michael Barnett and produced by Theodore James in association with Freestyle Filmworks and O’Malley Creadon Productions. It airs tonight on HBO at 9PM ET/PT but you can get a taste of the documentary in this trailer below: