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While he was more into Star Trek than comic books, Sorvari had been sketching himself as a superhero from a DC Comics drawing book since he was a teen. This summer, a coworker mentioned Seattle superhero Phoenix Jones, who had not yet been arrested for pepper-spraying a group of club-goers in October. Sorvari Googled Jones, and was intrigued that someone was actually acting on the desire he'd had for years.
Jones and others are Real Life Superheroes (RLSH), the international confederation of purportedly average civilians who don costumes to fight crime and perform good deeds. Sorvari friended Jones on Facebook, who put him in touch with Nyck Knight in Antioch, one of about a dozen local heroes who were patrolling downtown San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. They dole out food to the homeless, host toy drives, and pick up dirty syringes. One in Hayward drives a glowing purple "Mutinous Mobile" with a rifle in the backseat.
At midnight on a Saturday this summer, Sorvari was in the Antioch Safeway when he says some 60 people — again, black — rushed in and started opening food and eating it without paying. Other shoppers kept their heads down, but Sorvari tried in vain to obstruct the wrongdoers with his shopping cart. (A Safeway rep says that 30 or 40 young people came from a house party and ransacked the store for liquor and food. The store had to shut down for the night.)
From his bedroom bookshelf Sorvari pulls far-right Mormon political theorist Cleon Skousen's The 5,000 Year Leap, a 1981 book recently hitting bestseller lists after fierce evangelization by Glenn Beck. Sorvari quotes passages about personal liberty and property rights, which he felt were violated in the Safeway raid. "I just felt like helping, intervening, doing something. That they can walk right in and do whatever they please and get away with it doesn't comply with the principles of freedom."
Inspired by the RLSH, Sorvari went to work: He molded plastic "stab-proof" armor glowing with LED lights to strap over his all-black supersuit. He rigged up a 6-foot ninja staff with Tasers mounted on either end. When that proved too heavy for street patrols, he attached magnets to the back of his suit to instead hold a homemade Taser sword.
After a few patrols, Sorvari met Motor Mouth, an aptly named special education teacher and former security guard and Eagle Scout who refuses to give his civilian name to reporters. Two years ago, Motor founded the Nor-Cal Protectorate — just four members strong after losing one to boot camp and multiple defections — the local affiliate of the RLSH's Pacific Protectorate.
The Nor-Cal Protectorate voted to let Sorvari join on a probationary basis, taking him out on patrols and homeless handouts in low-crime areas in San Francisco and Oakland. Motor Mouth suggested Sorvari drop his "Nightshock" alias in favor of "The Ray," explaining, "I see in Roy the potential to be a ray of light and hope in an uncaring world."
Sorvari continued his solo work in Antioch. He hung signs around town bearing a pine tree over crossbones, the RLSH Pacific Protectorate seal; they read like edicts from the Old South: "A neighborhood watch has found reason for concern for the city of Antioch. There have been sightings and reports of African-Americans comiting robberys and muggings in large group of 60 or more through out Antioch" [sic].
The signs suggested people call the authorities or Sorvari's cell phone. Most were ripped down.
News of The Ray's arrest at Occupy Oakland buzzed through the superhero network. Motor Mouth saw The Ray's shield on KRON news among the items confiscated by cops in the riot and cursed himself for not being there, too. It was Motor who first took The Ray to Occupy, to drop off food and medical supplies at the San Francisco and Oakland camps. Occupy security saw the guys in their armored costumes (they'd planned to patrol downtown Oakland afterward) and asked them to pull shifts at the self-policing camp.
The Ray latched onto some Occupy principles — freedom of assembly, freedom of speech against disconnected politicians — and returned in costume to volunteer during the week of the general strike.
Within the superhero ranks, costumes are a point of contention: For meek comic geeks, it lends spandex courage. For others, it's a new identity: "I'm speaking to you as Do-Luck," one told SF Weekly over the phone. For a sensitive few, it's kind of embarrassing.
The California Initiative, a superhero collective whose founders recently broke off from Motor Mouth's Nor-Cal Protectorate, also pulled security shifts at the Oakland encampment, but they wore black civilian clothes. The nine-member group uses superhero names, yet reserves costumes for do-gooder events, like volunteering at soup kitchens.
"I think you look like a troublemaker," Rock N. Roll, one of CAI's founding members, says of costumes. Her superhero credentials: Desert Storm vet, self-defense instructor, former head of security at the End-Up. "A bunch of people in weird masks tend to look like they're trying to remain anonymous, and not for the right reasons."
But Motor Mouth has argued on Facebook that "RLSHs wear body armor to protect themselves as well as to protect others, not to look fancy."