Page1, panel 1. Every corner, every nook and cranny in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has a history. Tales of tragedy, legends of love, anecdotes of apathy, chronicles of compassion.
Each person has a role to play.
Panel 2. The dark silhouette of a trench coat and brimmed hat enters the frame. Only the figure’s green skull – death itself – is visible.
The shadowy figure ominously reaches into a sack, grabs something and slowly takes his arm out to reveal… a sock.
“Hey, how are you doing?” the costumed man cheerily asks. “Would you like a pair of socks? They’re free!”
Enter Thanatos, the friendliest incarnation of the Grim Reaper you’ll ever find and Vancouver’s very own real life, charitable superhero.
For the last five years, Thanatos – a 63-year-old professional, husband and father in his “real” life – has been strolling through the Downtown Eastside handing out clothing, blankets, food and water to residents in need.
Like his comic book heroes, his driving desire to dress up and patrol the area is driven by an overwhelming desire to make the world a better place, right wrongs and lend a helping hand to his community.
“I don’t come from Krypton and wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider or anything like that,” Thanatos, named after the Greek god of death, explains his origin story. “I was working downtown, trying to help out on the streets and noticing a lot of things happening … people living and dying on the streets.
“I was told by a police officer that some people on the street had nothing better to look forward to than death. That really stung, that really hurt me,” he said, a slightly high-pitched voice barely muffled through the fabric hood. “So I said if that’s the case, then death better get out there and start taking care of these people. I developed this persona to go out there and help.”
He’s been going strong ever since, garnering international media attention while using his unique – some say crazy – approach to giving back to shine a light on the poverty and social issues afflicting one of Canada’s most infamous and misunderstood neighbourhoods.
CLAIM TO FAME
His biggest claim to fame was a starring role in the 2011 HBO documentary, “Superheroes” – profiling some of the 400 “real life superheroes” operating throughout North America.
If local residents don’t notice Thanatos from his adventures in the area, they’ve seen him on TV.
In fact, two fans had one such encounter on the hero’s recent stroll through the DTES with Metro.
“You’re awesome,” said a stranger with long, ratty hair and a teardrop tattoo under his eye. “Keep up the good work.”
A quick fist bump and Thanatos was back at delivering socks into the hands of people cowering under archways, door portals and bridge underpasses on a typical rainy day.
Onlookers laugh, passing motorists slow down for a look and camera phones are whipped out when Thanatos is near.
He’s a draw, but it’s not about him.
“It gets the attention where it’s needed,” the masked avenger says. “By using this persona, I’ve been able to spread the word about what’s going on down there, I’ve been able to get more aid in the area. I’m asked by reporters if it actually works and it’s like, ‘Well you’re here talking to me right now’ so it’s obviously working.”
And like any of his fictional heroes, Thanatos’ work is never done.
“I’m an average person that just wants to do something and make a difference. People want to know what real life superheroes are all about,” he said. “Apathy is the biggest killer out there. That’s what we do, we fight apathy. We get people involved and we inspire them.”
Final panel. The shadowy figure fearlessly runs toward his next adventure. To be continued.