Caped crusaders on patrol - meet the real life superheroes
Janill Gilbert stashed this in Seattle
As the sun sets over Seattle, Phoenix Jones straps on his bodysuit and pulls a black and yellow mask over his face. He is getting ready to venture into the night, looking for anyone who may be breaking the law.
The 25 year old is not a policeman with a quirky dress sense, but one of the most prominent members of the real-life-superhero community, a movement of people who wear costumes inspired by comic book characters, trying to prevent crimes in their area.
Jones patrols Seattle's more troubled neighborhoods five nights a week with his group, the Rain City Superhero Movement. His wider network, The Alliance, has 34 members across the United States, London and Dubai.
His decision to become a real-life caped crusader came after his car was broken into, and his young son was hurt by the shattered glass. He said: "I decided to actively fight crime and threw myself completely into it. After my experience I just felt there was so much apathy around and wanted to do something to make my community safer."
Jones, whose day job is teaching autistic children life skills, says he didn't read many comic books when he was young, because he couldn't identify with the heroes. "It never appealed to me," he said. "For example Batman, he was this billionaire living in a mansion and I was just a broke kid."
Then, at 14, he came across a little-known character called Nightwing who worked as a waiter during the day, and fought crime at night, and was hooked. "I fell in love with this idea, that you don't need to have a lot of money to go out there and make a difference," he said.
Jones doesn't tackle criminals unprepared. He is a former mixed martial arts fighter, and wears a $10,000 bulletproof, Kevlar reinforced, fire-retardant jumpsuit, made with D3L smart fabric which hardens on impact.
His superhero activities landed him in trouble in 2011, when he was arrested for pepper spraying people outside a bar in Seattle. Jones said he was trying to break up a fight, and he was later released without charge.
The so-called "Guardian of Seattle" is married to fellow superhero Purple Reign, who uses her hero persona to raise awareness of domestic violence.
She said: "I was in an abusive relationship, and a lot of people around me noticed but said nothing. Now I want to inspire others to be heroes and stop minding their own business when they see abuse, as well as speak up for victims who have not yet found their voice."
In her purple superhero bodysuit and mask, she gives anti-bullying talks at women's shelters and schools, organizes city clean-ups, and runs a project against domestic violence. Her campaigning earned her the University of Washington Women of Courage honor last November.
Purple Reign says her superhero name represents the transformation she underwent from a victim to survivor of domestic abuse. "Purple is a color which is very often used in domestic abuse awareness campaigns, and reign comes from the fact that I now reign over my own life," she said. "Wearing the suit has helped me feel more confident and in control, and move on from my past. I am not a victim any more, I feel powerful."
She uses the skills developed in her day job as an accountant to bring a more organized approach to the Reign City Superhero Movement's crime fighting. She uses 911 call information released by the Seattle Police department to create crime maps which allow group to target troubled areas of the city.
Wearing the suit has helped me feel more confident and in control, and move on from my abusive past.
Purple Reign also regularly patrols with the group, for which she maintains high levels of physical fitness, a condition her husband says is crucial for anyone who wants to be a real life superhero.
In fact, Jones is adamant that only people of military, police or martial arts background should consider becoming superheroes because their training could help them deal with potentially dangerous situations.
In order to be to admitted to The Alliance, the rules are even tougher -- potential heroes must have: a steady job, must not have committed any crimes of dishonesty, be able to run two miles in eight minutes and 30 seconds in full gear, and be able to train with Jones for three days a week during the trial period.
For aspiring superheroes overseas, The Alliance fundraises over its Facebook page. Funds are used to help newcomers to travel to Seattle for a two-week intensive crash course in superhero crime fighting.
In spite of being shot at and stabbed twice, Jones insists that Seattle heroes don't deliberately try to get involved in trouble. "Ninety percent of what we do is watching," he said. "If we see somewhere is being burgled, we will call the police and track the perpetrator. We don't intentionally go in to tackle someone, we are just regular people who want to help their community."
When it comes to continuing to fight crime into his old age, Jones is pragmatic. "I don't think I will be doing it forever," he said. "When I hit 33 or 34 I will either have to stop, or have some amazing gadgetry."
But he insists that it doesn't take a supersuit to be an involved citizen. "What Purple Reign and I are trying to do is promote community activism. Anyone can campaign for a cause, with or without a superhero suit."