My conversation with Ben Fodor begins interestingly enough.
“I’m going to shut this door to make sure that my brother doesn’t hear me,” he says. “We don’t like each other very much.”
Ben works side by side with his adopted sibling, Strikeforce veteran Caros Fodor, running the foster care service for autistic youths they inherited from their mother. The two have not spoken in months. This information is unknown to me at the time of our first telephone interview, but it quickly becomes apparent that the conversation I had intended to have about Phoenix Jones, Ben’s famous superhero alter-ego, will invariably lead me back to the two brothers.
A Known Commodity
Without his suit, few other than the initiated fight nerds of the Pacific Northwest would recognize Ben’s name. Phoenix Jones, on the other hand, has been interviewed by GQ Magazine and featured on the national news. A resident of the Seattle area, he leads the Rain City Superhero Movement and patrols the streets at night, alongside more than a dozen compatriots who have joined his cause. Once a decorated amateur mixed martial artist, the 24-year-old’s fights now take place outside the cage.
Clothed in a form-fitting black and gold rubber costume, he has become one of the country’s best known masked adventurers, though he would probably take exception to my use of that descriptor. His reputation now preceding him both far and wide, Ben tells me that sometimes his mere presence now proves sufficient to prevent a crime.
For instance, imagine several less-than-honest individuals approaching a blind man one night on the streets of downtown Seattle, telling him they are police officers. They begin to pat him down, assuring him the process is necessary, while actually reaching into his pockets to rob him. Suddenly, a muscular figure emerges from the shadows. Hearing the footfalls, one suspect whips around, caught in the act, and recognizes the masked face of the man about to spoil his easy payday. He and his associates flee, only to be apprehended minutes later after Ben’s team calls the police.
“It used to be that every gangster, criminal and drug dealer wanted to fight,” he says. “They’ve all learned that it doesn’t work well.” The instance is just one of hundreds Ben has encountered since he began working graveyard as a full-time superhero about two years ago. Prior to donning the mask, however, he was just a man looking for a helping hand.
‘I Was Super Pissed’
Not traditionally tabbed as one of America’s more dangerous destinations, Seattle is better known as the birthplace of Starbucks Coffee and the place most associated with the soaring popularity of grunge rock in the 1990s. Nevertheless, Ben’s opinion of the Rain City began to change when he became the victim of a car break-in. Heading to his vehicle with his son after a day at a local water park, he noticed one of his windows had been smashed. While running to the car, his son tripped and cut his knee on a piece of broken glass. Unable to stop the bleeding, Ben asked a man holding a cell phone to dial 9-1-1. The man refused on the grounds that it would ruin his potential viral video in the making.
“I was super pissed. I’m thinking, ‘My son is bleeding, and you’re recording a YouTube clip?’ I took his phone from him and dialed 9-1-1,” he says. “It was frustrating. The police basically said there was nothing they could do because nobody helped.”
Following the break-in, Ben found the culprit’s ski mask in his car and stashed it in his glove compartment. Nearly two weeks later, another incident drew his ire, but, this time, he had the ability to act.
“One of my friends got assaulted outside of a nightclub. I ran back to my car to grab my phone, and the mask just fell out,” he says. “I ditched my shirt, threw on the mask and went after this guy.”
Ben’s MMA training was now suddenly being applied in a real-life scenario. It was not an unfamiliar occurrence for him; in his younger days, he and several members of his MMA fight team had thrown on their fight shorts and four-ounce gloves to break up bar fights and beat up purse snatchers for kicks. Ben hit a double-leg and took the back, where he held the man until the police arrived, avoiding arrest after witnesses testified to his intentions. Though he wished to remain anonymous, Ben was required to give the police his real name. For the report, however, he was told he could use a pseudonym, and Phoenix Jones was born.
Trial By Error
The situation was pretty messy in the beginning. Following the night club incident, during which he injured his leg on the uneven asphalt road, Ben paid a visit to his local Walmart in search of knee pads. While there, it dawned on him that hiding his identity might prove useful in avoiding retaliatory attacks.
“It started out with me wearing my spandex fight shorts, a fedora, a sock that I had cut in half and tied around half my face and some blue knockoff Under Armor,” he says. “I was out there with just my fight gear on and a mouthpiece in.”
Ben’s first order of business was to return to the place of the car robbery. Angry about the injury to his son and the apparent indifference of those who watched it unfold, he camped out and waited. When someone tried to break into a car, he went to work.
“I beat the ever-loving crap out of him,” Ben says. “That was the first crime that I ever intentionally ‘superheroed’ up for with no intention of calling the police, and after it was over, I didn’t feel any better. That’s when I had to ask myself what I was doing this for.”
As his motivations began to change, he also learned that sometimes the best of intentions can lead to disastrous results. Stabbed for the first time after breaking up a knife fight under a bridge, Ben took a ride to the emergency room in what would become a regular habit.
“After that,” he says, “I realized I needed to get smarter, you know?”
Bigger, Faster, Stronger
Ben took out a line of credit through a local credit union and set about building himself his first super suit -- an involved process that called for him to take a sculpt of his chest. After sending the mold to a costume effects company, he received a rubber torso piece in the mail, which he then sent to a ballistic shield manufacturer for bulletproofing. When it was all said and done, the torso piece weighed about 50 pounds and cost several thousand dollars.
To discourage would-be imposters, Ben then copyrighted Jones’ name and image and began preparing himself for the additional physical stress of carrying his new suit on patrol. He wore body weights during day-to-day activities and at the gym, acquainting his frame to the extra weight and re-learning how to move with some degree of agility.
Now far more protected physically, he also realized he would have to cooperate with the law rather than work around it. On the advice of his girlfriend -- the woman who would eventually become his wife and superhero Purple Reign -- Ben applied for a media license through the police department and was granted access to the city’s crime maps. As more individuals joined his group, he began using radio to communicate with his teammates, relaying info on the whereabouts of potential suspects. He also installed a camera in his chest piece that continuously records while he is on patrol. The device can be linked to police car computers to show cops exactly what transpired in a given situation. In addition, Ben uses his iPhone to track the positions of his teammates and to live stream video back to his home in the event that his suit is ever confiscated or his primary camera is damaged.
These extra efforts would pay off after he was arrested last year for assault for his use of pepper spray while trying to break up a street fight. Luckily for Ben, he had by then acquired free legal representation through a friend, a service from which he continues to benefit. His team of lawyers presented the video evidence, and the case was dismissed, but not before he was asked to take off his mask.
“When I put my mask back on, the judge came off the bench and shook my hand and said she liked what I do and told me to be careful,” he says. “That was the trial.”
Finish Reading » Phoenix Jones has been involved in more than 250 police cases during his time as a full-time crime fighter. He has been shot, stabbed, arrested, embarrassed, cheap-shotted, celebrated, challenged and called-out, but, for all of his training and toughness and ability, the masked man who has made it his business to personally defend Seattle holds no jurisdiction to negotiate whether two brothers are friends or foes.