The Legend of Master Legend

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Another casualty of the superhero lifestyle is career advancement. Unlike Peter Parker, Master Legend has no cover job. He can't hold down a nine-to-five, he says, because a life on the precipice of action means always being available to answer the call. "I'll walk right out the door if someone needs me," he says with a laugh. Three years of trade school exposed Master Legend to electronics, welding and other "skills" he drew on while dabbling in odd jobs over the years: shrimp fishing, tree trimming, roofing, salvage work. Lately, he's been working as an assistant to elderly people. Here again, Master Legend finds himself locked in a battle between good and evil. "All these people are waiting to kick out the old folks, put them in the old-folks' home," he says, working himself up with indignation. "But as long as I'm there, they can't! And they hate me for that." For Master Legend, it's all just another type of superheroing. "These are the two sides of my life, which is really one side," he says, "and that's the side of making things right."

The Ace tells me about his conversion to the cause one night as we fetch some Chinese takeout to bring back to the secret hide-out. (Master Legend can't come with us, because he still won't remove his mask in my presence.) "I met Master Legend a long time ago," the Ace says. They hit it off at a party, bonding over music, and discovered that they had a lot of mutual friends. "Before that," the Ace says, "I was married. Had a good job." The Ace made good money setting up stage shows – Nickelodeon events, Blue Man Group, that sort of thing. The Ace used to be a performer himself. In a surprising digression, he tells me he once led a "dance revue" called Male Factor. "This was before Chippendales," he reminds me. "Not like they do now, with just bump and grind, and no imagination. We had choreographers, like in Vegas. In fact, we even did Vegas! Movies, too. Ever heard of Spring Fever? 1982. Starring Susan Anton. Check it out."

But that was years ago, before the divorce. And the brief stint in jail last year. I didn't ask exactly how bad things got for the Ace, but eventually his wife's boss moved into his house, and he moved in with Master Legend. "That's when I got sucked into the whole Justice Force thing," says the Ace. He'd helped Master Legend before, but at a distance and never in costume. "I was getting more and more involved. Then M.L. got me a mask and convinced me to put it on. And that's when I saw the light. It's a powerful thing."

Late last year, when the Ace made his first public appearance, he worried what other people might think. But in the ­protective warmth of the costume, he says, the fear is quickly overcome. "There's the flawed you and the good you," he says, striking a philosophical note. "And this" – he holds up the mask – "gives us the chance to make up for our flaws."

The windows are rolled down, letting in the sound of cicadas from the dark stand of trees across the empty parking lot. "I know it sounds silly," he says. "But once you change someone else's life, even in a small way, it makes you realize you can change things in your own life."

Back at the secret hide-out, as we lay out the Chinese feast on the table, a friend stops by for a quick conversation with Master Legend. It is dusk, and I watch two silhouettes against the twilight out on the porch, conferring quietly.

"That was the Black Panther," Master Legend says when the friend leaves. The Black Panther "doesn't want to get caught up with the press," so Master Legend didn't introduce him to me, but make no mistake: Black Panther is a Justice Force fellow traveler. Besides sometimes jamming with the band – Black Panther is known to introduce a "reggae vibe" – he helps out on missions. Not too long ago, Black Panther told Master Legend about a local family that was having financial trouble and was in danger of being evicted. So Master Legend helped raise money to cover their rent. "Sometimes that's all people need," he says. "A little boost."

This generous spirit is what so impresses the Ace about Master Legend. "He'll buy a neighbor groceries if they're between checks," the Ace says. "He'd give a guy his last dollar." I've only known Master Legend a short time, but I've noticed that people are always coming by or calling, seeking his advice and help. One of his neighbors even sends his son over to the secret hide-out for guidance, which he gets in the form of Master Legend's boundless optimism and personal training in the Way of the Diamond Spirit.

One day last year, Fire alerted Master Legend to a controversial freeway extension up near Apopka, where the state was clashing with activists over the plight of the gopher tortoises living on the site. "I couldn't believe it," Master Legend says. "These are beautiful prehistoric creatures, and they wanted to bury them alive with cement. It's crazy, but that's the way of the world. That's why the world needs us." The Justice Force joined the protest, costumes and all, and the state was forced to relocate the tortoises. "That was a great mission," Master Legend says. "Those tortoises are the nicest little guys you'd ever want to meet. They look like living cartoons, just eating their lettuce. They're adorable."

But nothing is more satisfying to Master Legend than helping those who are less fortunate. On their last big Christmas mission, he and the Ace filled the Battle Truck with supplies they bought, having pooled funds from the Justice Force, and headed to skid row. When they arrived, they were mobbed. Master Legend reckons that they gave something to every single homeless person in Orlando: toothbrushes, razors, soap, blankets, canned goods, cigarettes, candy. When the bags were empty, he and the Ace headed back to the secret hide-out to celebrate with a few beers.

"We aren't that much better off than the people we're helping," the Ace notes, gesturing to the squalor of the hide-out. Neither Master Legend nor the Ace received any Christmas gifts themselves, but neither of them is complaining. "A lot of people talk about doing right by other people," says the Ace. "But what are they really doing?"

Despite their successes,things have been hard for the Justice Force lately. "These are bad times," Master Legend says, opening a few "thirst quenchers" after dinner. I've already noticed there are always a few empty twelvers laying around the secret hide-out. Outside the front door, a mountainous pile of crushed cans suggests that Busch is the Justice Force brand of choice.

"This is our one vice," Master Legend says, "the ol' brewski."

"That's right," adds the Ace.

"With all our aches and pains from fighting off so many criminals, we gotta have our beers," Master Legend says.

"Hear, hear!" The Ace hoists his can.

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