Superheroes of Suburbia

Last Friday evening, I happened across one of the strangest bits of telly I’ve seen in a long time; a Channel 4 documentary called Superheroes of Suburbia. While I enjoy a good documentary as much as the next person, I do tend to shy away from the usual tat that’s on Channel 4, usually as it has a name like “The Boy With A Fish For A Penis” or “The World’s Fattest Leper”

As the title suggests, this documentary is about superheroes and therefore appealed to my inner geek. I felt compelled to watch out of intrigue. Up and coming director Christian Watt follows three individuals who don costumes and patrol the streets Kick Ass style. It sounds quite cool at first, but at times it bordered on disturbing. Here’s why.

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Our first ‘superhero’ is Will, AKA 'The Dark Spartan' (pictured far right if you don’t know what a Spartan looks like), a 27-year-old father of two who aims to smash the drug syndicates in Torquay. At weekends he patrols his hometown of Torbay dressed as Spartan warrior, a costume made from police riot gear.

We see Will out on patrol and attempting to talk to drunks. Can you imagine being slightly worse for wear and seeing this guy?! You’d either think you’d travelled back in time or your drink had been spiked. Unfortunately we don’t get to see The Dark Spartan in action because the police sort out any real trouble, while all the time ignoring our vigilante with the furry hemet. The riot gear and shield do get him noticed by the drunks, though, who are quite helpful in pointing out that being as he can’t legally use violence he’s actually powerless to do anything.

Will’s wife is worried about his safety and thinks (you think I’m gonna say he should stop being a dick right? nope) he should get backup. Ideally Will wants somebody with SAS training or a high ranking martial arts expert to be his partner in crime fighting, so he does what any good superhero would do and finds another local hero on Facebook.

The prospective sidekick ‘Dark Void’ turns up for his interview and....... well just look!

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From this point in I have no other choice but to refer to ‘Dark Void’ as Spider Gimp.

Spider Gimp, a comic book store employee, is asked if he has any martial arts skills. He promptly makes his way out into the garden to show of his skills twirling a weapon. When Will’s wife questions the legality of whacking someone with a stick, our colourful Gimp explains he actually needs the cane as a walking aid due to his IBS. Lets just hope he put a zip in the seam of that S&M ensemble.

Now we’re all getting the impression that these guys are just complete nutters. We may be right, but prepare to feel bad about it.

Since suffer a head injury 5 years ago, Will’s wife has been on a cocktail of drugs and unable to work. This means that as well as being the ultimate weekend warrior and holding down a job in finance, Will has to do pretty much everything at home. We also find out that all of this pressure has got to Will in the past causing him to have a breakdown and disappear.....

Suddenly we go from thinking ‘what a twat’ to feeling bad that we’ve been mocking a guy with some serious mental health issues.

Hero number 2 is former soldier Ken, AKA ‘The Shadow’, who is just your average borderline psychotic Somerset ninja. Ken likes to dress as a ninja to fight crime because he believes the police are failing to do their jobs and he’s not afraid to do it for them. If necessary he’s prepared to use violence — oh, and did I mention Ken’s trained in martial arts and has a garage full of weaponry?

Ken’s current mission is to rid one Yeovil car park of the boy racers there that disturb local residents. He stalks the gang for 5 weeks and plans his assault with military precision, albeit using chalk and an action figure, and then we’re ready to see him in action.

The Shadow turns up at the car park only to find it deserted — so, he does what any superhero/ninja would and hides in a bush, talking us through the fact that if necessary he is prepared to piss himself while he waits. Somehow, I can’t see a superhero movie where the protagonist has a Somerset accent and the distinct scent of a nursing home making it to the big screen anytime soon. I wonder if Alec Baldwin would be interested?

Anyway the boy racers don’t turn up and the camera crew inform Ken that they’re calling it a night. Ken agrees but vows he will return and vanquish the Yeovil yobs. He also offers to give us a demonstration of what he would have done.

He tosses a smoke grenade out of his bush and pounces out after it. Then he runs up to the van, which is providing the light for the nighttime shoot, and suggests they leave in a raised voice before running off. I’d genuinely hope that’s the worst he’d do, but it’s hard to believe it when the guy carries a fricking sword!

Once more we find out Ken has had issues ever since school, where he was put in a special needs class and bullied for having learning difficulties. Once he beefed up and learned to fight he responded with violence. Now he’s making up for it by fighting other peoples’ battles too, which leaves me with the feeling he may not have quite integrated back into civilian life.

Our final hero is 17 year old Kieran AKA ‘Noir’, the ginger kid with the conspicuous haircut. Kieran finds his first case in the local paper; he reads about a girl who’s been mugged and he sets out to track down the mugger. By sets out, of course, I mean he gets on his bicycle to look for clues in the local park.

image(The Dark Spartan, Noir and Spider Gimp waiting for the busmobile)

It’s at this point that my conscience interjects. I just can’t bring myself to sit and mock Kieran; he is just a kid with a disability. Kieran has Aspergers and is obsessed with comic books. In comic books he sees a simpler world it’s all black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. It’s just easier for him to understand.

Kieran describes himself as shy and awkward, but says that his alter-ego Noir is strong and brave. It’s with this we begin to see why he has invented a character to become; it’s an understandable form of escapism.

As Noir he sets out to investigate the mugging by asking residents of his Yorkshire hometown questions, but his real self takes over. He has a panic attack and asks for filming to stop, before eventually plucking up the courage to ask an old lady and the local butcher. When they are unable to help, though, Noir becomes disheartened and turns into Kieran again; he contemplates hanging up his mask for good, saying he’s not cut out to be a superhero and is obviously just someone who should stick to reading comics in his room.

With what was most likely some production-team-influenced luck, Noir gets a lead on the mugging and is able to find out the identity of the girl who was mugged. Understandably, she is too traumatised/sane to meet with someone who claims to be a superhero. The show then takes an unexpected and heartwarming turn when Kieran writes to the girl reassuring her that the world is full of good people and saying “If you need any help or errands run, don’t hesitate to ask. After all, what kind of superhero would I be if I didn’t help?”

This show isn’t at all what I expected, I’m not even sure what I expected from this. Maybe something in between thinking “Wow, cool!” and ‘Ha! look at that weirdo”, but with the exception of Spider Gimp I was unable to do either. It plays much more like a Mockumentary as it fails to even scrape the surface of any of the real life moral or legal issues that are involved in being a real-life superhero, instead offering the viewer either caricatures or people in desperate need of professional help.

You can make up your own mind and check it out on 4OD now.

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