08/03/2011 02:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Real Life 'Superheroes': America's Need For A Savior

The superhero: what an American notion. Imagine this idea of a knight in shining tights, flashy, immaculately good-looking, yet humble. He races to the rescue, is always available when you need him, and has all the right quick fixes to save the day.

It's no wonder "Captain America: The First Avenger" made an estimated $65 million at the box office, one of many comic movies of summer 2011. It's no surprise that New York has it's very own 'Superhero Supply' shop. And it's not a shock that beaten-down Americans, having been dragged through a painful recession and held accountable for decisions made well over their heads, would fantasize about becoming these invincible icons of stability and power.

We have an obsession, here, with the idea of the superhero. We teach our young boys to idolize them. We read comic after comic hailing them. We jokingly label helpful and insightful friends as 'superheroes.' We create a grandiose notion of this person, invincible to the harms we face in our daily lives, a savior who will make everything better if we just wait for him to come.

That's precisely the idea behind HBO's upcoming documentary, "Superheroes," an in-depth look at what happens when everyday people chose to bear the cross of public safety and make it their own mission to protect innocent civilians.

This film-based mini-series, debuting August 8, is already a festival favorite, having done the rounds in Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco. Director Michael Barnett created the project out of his own admiration, admitting to Seattle Weekly, "It was fascinating. I just sort of stumbled upon these adult men who are putting on costumes to fight crime and help their communities. I just couldn’t believe it was real."

The heroes in question, masked Brooklynite Lucid, Vancouver's Thanatos, Mr. Xtreme of San Diego, and Orlando's Master Legend, cite many reasons for joining this elite fringe group, but all seem to agree on one thing -- "if we don't do it, who will?" Judging by the website, many will; our filmed friends are hardly the only ones who yearn to take the reigns of the justice system.

From Harrisburg to Portland, hopefull vigilantes come home from their very standard day jobs, policemen and paramedic students, and drawn to the politically and socialy charged charisma of the hero, patrol their streets, coming to the rescue of abused animals, vulnerable women and the eternally high-risk elderly. The super villians? They aren't monsters or half-man half-creatures. They are politicians, greedy businessmen, petty thieves, and the criminally capable misfits. The crimes are very real, the injustices very painful, and the need to make it all stop is a daunting obsession.

But beyond all the majesty, a quick look at the 'Real Life Superhero' mantra reveals the truth behind the self-taught glory: they're just people like the rest of us. After all what actually happens when these bejeweled crime-fighters come across an issue?

"If we were to come across a crime, we would report it to the authorities and do what we could to help the situation." They are, after all, fallible humans who can't fly, can't run faster than a speeding train, and have very little say over the destiny of the universe.