There’s no hulking green guy in purple britches, but a group of costumed do-gooders have become central Florida’s own version of the Avengers.
Meet Team Justice: Superhero, Symbiote, Artisteroi and Kapes. They don’t claim to be from Asgard, or Metropolis or anywhere like that. They have day jobs and bills like you and me -- and are big on helping people.
We know what you're thinking: Holy Gimmick, Batman!
So what's up with the tights? Why the costumes, you ask?
“Because it’s fun,” Superhero, the founder of the group, tells HLN. “I tell people all the time, they can be a superhero in everyday life, too. All they have to do is help people.”
And help people is what Team Justice does. In addition to safety patrols around Pinellas County, the group raises funds for charities. Recently they helped send a Minnesota boy with a rare disorder to the Mayo Clinic for treatment.
“I’ve been doing this for about 15 years,” says Superhero, real name: Dale Pople, who was a professional wrestler in the 1990s. “I grew up on a diet of comic books, action movies and so on. I started working out, became a police academy graduate. I didn’t know I was grooming myself to do this.”
Read more: Why 'The Avengers' is going to be HUGE
With the Marvel franchise, "The Avengers" doing gangbusters overseas and about to invade U.S. theaters this week, you might think walking around in spandex and posing for photo-ops with kids was all fun and games. But Superhero says it's a lot of work.
The real-life superhero community received its first major black eye recently when Michigan member Bee Sting was arrested for allegedly pulling a shotgun on another man. And in Seattle, a real-life super villain released a bizarre video Tuesday challenging local hero Phoenix Jones.
Superhero says he remembers when things were a whole lot simpler: “Back then there was only a few of us, and we all kind of found each other through new articles, saying, ‘Is there anyone else out here crazy enough to do this?'”
But their numbers are increasing. The group -- which has four active members, but many more honorary crusaders in their ranks -- is the only tax-exempt 501 organization in the real-life superhero community, according to Superhero.
Artisteroi (Ar-TIST-eroi), the resident gadgeteer of the group, says he joined the real-life superhero movement after visiting a mission.
“After getting in contact with an old friend on Facebook, I found he was a member of the community," he says. "He knew I was an engineer and asked me to build some gadgets for him. Eventually I was building gadgets for lots of people in the community. Soon I had developed my own persona as a Gadgeteer, which is primarily a support role.”
“Our mission is simply to be good guys,” Artisteroi said. “We help with kids issues quite a bit and also with the Humane Society of Pinellas. We have also assisted other members of the community with our 'A Hand Up’ branch, which is designed to help other heroes with their missions or even with personal problems."
He said this past Christmas, a fellow caped crusader with a family of four was laid off from work. “We helped keep a roof over their heads until he was called back.”
Superhero encourages more people to be, well, superheroes. "They don’t have to have the suit on to help people. If you can help someone, that’s the main thing.”