Laura Parker*, 29, Melbourne, Vic
*Names have been changed
Peeling open the package, my stomach tingled in anticipation. As I carefully unfurled a bright yellow cape, my boyfriend Stuart*, 31, plucked a matching latex face mask from the wrapping.It might sound like we were preparing for a fancy dress party but in truth, Stuart's costume had a far more serious purpose.
Although he worked as a store clerk by day, when he donned his yellow and black ensemble, Stuart transformed into an alter ego working for the force of good. It sounds like the stuff of comic books and in fact, when Stuart and I had met four years earlier, it was a love of comics that cemented our relationship.After a difficult break-up I was cautious about getting involved with someone new. But when Stuart turned up to our second date in a Superman T-shirt I knew I'd found a man close to my heart!
When I told him about the time I dressed in black as a 12 year old and sneaked out of the house, pretending to be Catwoman, he didn't bat an eyelid. 'I pretended to be a crime-fighter too,' he grinned. His hero had been Superman - hence the T-shirt! But it wasn't just a love of comic book characters that bound us together. We shared a passion for animals and their welfare was important to us.
After we moved in together we turned vegan, eating no meat or animal products. We also became the proud owners of a dog called Lois (named after Superman's sidekick/love interest Lois Lane) and a rescue pup called Indy. As our interest in caped crusaders continued, we'd visit comic book conventions and we even dressed up as Catwoman and The Joker as part of a world record attempt to get the most superheroes and villains together in one place.When a film called Watchmen, about everyday people who turned into superheroes to fight crime, came out we settled down to watch it straight away. The DVD featured an interview with a real-life American guy who took on a superhero persona to fight crime.
Afterwards, I couldn't get it out of my mind and when I Googled the term 'real-life superheroes' otherwise known as RLSHs, I was shocked to learn there was a whole community working across the world.As Stuart and I read about their daring deeds we were fascinated. Some fought crime while others helped those less fortunate, and gave food to homeless people. Inspired, Stuart had a radical suggestion. 'Let's do it,' he said excitedly. 'We can make a real difference.'
I've got to be honest, while I was keen to do my bit, the thought of walking the streets of Melbourne dressed as a superhero filled me with dread. I had another suggestion. We could dress up to spread the word about animal cruelty. While it seemed there were lots of crime-fighting RLSHs out there, I hadn't found any fighting for the good of animals. Stuart agreed it was a great idea and so we got to work.
First we devised our character names. Stuart chose 'Thylacine', the extinct Tasmanian tiger, and I came up with 'Flying Fox' because we both wanted names that were Australian.We decided to call ourselves the Fauna Fighters and got to work designing our costumes. Trawling the internet for inspiration, I got a black all-in-one jumpsuit, topped off with a corset, red mask, wig and black cloak. But Stuart's tiger-themed costume was more tricky. We tried fashioning a cloak out of raincoat material but it just didn't look right. Finally, after months of looking, we discovered a company that would create a costume to Stuart's design. It wasn't cheap and overall his outfit ended up costing over $1000. But when the package with the yellow cape, mask and black body armour arrived, we were thrilled.
Squeezing into our outfits for the first time we couldn't stop giggling. You can't wiggle into brightly-coloured Spandex and take each other seriously! But as we set up the video camera for our first internet broadcast, I felt all my worries evaporate. Being dressed up, I no longer felt like my everyday self - a university student working part time in a gym - I felt different, more confident. I even enlisted Indy as my sidekick and gave him his own superhero mask! We'd been working on a website for months and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous as we posted our pictures on there for the first time, before each setting up our own Facebook profile. What if we got a bad reaction? We decided to keep our real identities secret just in case.
Fortunately, we were inundated with support and I realised that even if people didn't like what we were doing, we wanted to get a reaction to raise awareness. That was the whole reason we were dressing up in the first place.Since our website went live late last year, we've gone from strength to strength - urging people to think twice about eating meat, waging war against puppy farms and helping abandoned dogs find homes.
We pick up rubbish in our area and hope to organise an annual clean up day, encouraging more people to look after their community.The Fauna Fighters have even gone global - with nine international supporters dotted around the world. My alter ego Flying Fox has more than 1000 Facebook friends. It's incredible! While I might not wear my costume forever, I will always be dedicated to the cause.
As for Stuart and me... maybe a superhero wedding will be on the cards one day! But for now, being caring caped crusaders is enough for me. He'll always be my super man after all!
For more info on the Fauna Fighters visit www.faunafighters.com.au