Thanataos, aka the Dark Avenger, patrols the Downtown Eastside in a Rorschach-like uniform topped off with a creepy green and black skull mask. He hands out water, energy bars, peanut butter, blankets, and other necessities to those in need, and leaves behind a card inscribed with the motto “I do what I can, when I can”¦” He’s a pretty pragmatic real life superhero.
Like any masked avenger, Thanatos also keeps his real identity secret, although filmmaker Michael McNamara got a rare glimpse behind the mask when he was filming Thanatos for the "Real Life Superheroes" episode of Fanboy Confessional, airing Wednesday night (July 20), on SPACE.
“We were in Vancouver for probably the hottest days last summer,” the Toronto-based director tells the Straight, “and he was out delivering water and energy bars during the day, and at night he was bringing the bundles of blankets and food and stuff, and it was really, really, really hot. And he ultimately revealed himself to us. But we’re all sworn to secrecy.”
McNamara adds that it still took a long while for Thanatos to finally fold. He says that the Vietnam vet is “incredibly fit” for a man in his 60s. "He can take care of himself. My whole crew was wilting, and he was ready to go,” he says.
Thanatos is an oddly noble figure, well known to the police and the locals of the DTES. As he tells McNamara in the show, “If hell has a street address, it’d be Main and Hastings”¦ This is the real world.” He finances his superhero work out of his own pocket. “He’s not poor, but he’s certainly by no means upper middle class,” McNamara says. “Like a lot of people involved in these kinds of fandoms, they make a choice about what they’re going to do with their disposable income, and so he actively chooses to augment his persona and come up with the raw materials he needs to help out.”
In contrast to McNamara’s other subject in the "Real Life Superheroes" episode of the six-part series, there’s a genuine gravity to Thanatos. DC’s Guardian, on the other hand, is a well-meaning but somewhat goofy patriot who stalks the Mall of the US capitol sharing his fuzzy all-American values with anyone who happens to get in his way. It's reassuring to hear that he's more innocent than delusional.“People like DC do have a sense of humour about what they do,” says McNamara, chuckling. “And they do realize that what they do borders on obsession.” He knows of what he speaks. McNamara is a proud fanboy himself, being a lifelong record collector (and friend of Allan Zweig, who made the slightly disturbing documentary Vinyl about what you might call pathological record collectors). Indeed, the overriding impression left by the Fanboy Confessional series is that the nerds really have inherited the earth, and that it’s not a bad thing at all.
“You can come home from work and you can veg in front of the television, or you can come home from work and make a ray gun,” as one LARPer (live action role-player) told McNamara. “There’s something really cool about that,” he says, “and it’s the same way with the cosplayers. The girls are learning skills like how to sew, and leather studding, and bead work, and they’re building communities, and trading these things around, and getting involved, and they’re getting out in the world, and doing cool things. It’s a way to get out of your parent’s basement. It’s a completely different kind of fandom now. There’s a kind of sharing going on that’s quite vital.”
The show is also quite thought provoking. Thea Munster, who pioneered the Zombie Walk in Toronto, tells McNamara in the "Horror" episode that "North American culture has no celebration of death." Suddenly, something that seems silly becomes surprisingly profound.
Laughs McNamara, "It’s very deep for a zombie!"