Monday, July 4, 2011


Many people consider The Fox to be one of the first Real Life Superhero prototypes. He used a code name and sometimes used disguises (as described in his autobiography- Raising Kane: The Fox Chronicles) usually what I call the "Russian spy" disguise- trenchcoat, dark sunglasses, fedora or fur hat. The Fox passionately fought against polluters of the environment and the Fox River from 1969 until his death in 2001. He lived in Aurora, IL.

I became very interested in the story of The Fox and wrote an article about him for the Riverwest Currents about a year ago (see his profile HERE)

Another person very interested in the story of The Fox is Chicago documentary maker Matthew Pniewski, who is working on a doc about Midwest RLSHs titled More Than Just a Mask.
Pniewski, familiar with the Aurora area, did some research and found that a Fox memorial had been constructed in Oswego, IL. He also discovered a nearby museum, the Little White School Museum sold The Fox's autobiography, a documentary about his life, and had an archive of articles related to him. If we do indeed consider The Fox to be one of the first RLSHs, this discovery is significant for these reasons-

1. It is one of the first memorials built to commemorate a RLSH (there is also reportedly a statue built of Super Barrio in Mexico City).

2. The documentary is probably the first documentary on a RLSH.

3. The museum holds the first special collection relating to a RLSH.

I asked Matthew to give an account of this discovery for Heroes in the Night readers, and you can read this below. Thanks, Matthew, and good work!

The Fox and Me

By Matthew Pniewski

I've been working some time on "More than Just a Mask", the story of real life superheroes, fighting to make a difference in their communities. I admit, of course, I'm not really the "Hop to it" type of person. As it is, I've spent admittedly the lesser part of my free time filming interviews, going on patrols, and cutting the footage together. My first day on the job, which turned into the first few months, was all research. My research led me to an obituary for a man named Jim Phillips.

People knew him better as The Fox.

Phillips was a high school teacher, and to fit the cliche ever so perfectly, he was by all accounts mild mannered. One day he, almost out of the clear blue (though the mechanisms had allegedly been at work for a while) he decided to start a fight with the Dial Soap Company, which had been polluting his beloved Fox River. He plugged the industrial drain, posted various signs, left roadkill on CEO doorsteps. After a while, it wasn't just Dial Soap, but any company he felt was polluting the environment.

I decided he was certainly worth a mention.

More research lead me to an article about the dedication of a monument, which would be three plaques at an Oswego-Area park. Violet Patch Park, to be precise. I took a quick ride up there, took a few photos of a rock that bore his insignia as well as the three plagues (only one of which was dedicated specifically to him). I handed the photos off to a friend of mine, and I must confess, I still haven't looked at those photos.

Another search, this time looking for the publishers of his highly-recommended autobiography, brought me to the "Little White School Museum", also located in Oswego, Illinois. On their website, they offered not on his autobiography but a fifty-four minute documentary that chronicled his adventures. I decided it was worth another look. I ran out to the museum, with a couple of friends, and purchased the book and tape (it's not available on DVD) and engaged in a long discussion about Jim Phillips with the museum curator. She then went downstairs into the archives.

Five minutes later she came back with a folder labelled "The Fox", full of letters, newspaper clippings, political cartoons, all relating to the Fox. I had always been a fan of his, and a supporter of his, but to read these articles, some dated as early as 1969, I really began to feel a genuine connection to the man. Here was a man who wasn't just a colorful character. He had been compared favorably to Robin Hood, or Zorro. This isn't just PR. He was the classic example of the rogue. He was a man who stayed on the edge of the law, occasionally crossing over, but always remaining true to a strong moral code. He made Dial Soap back down, he took on US Steel, and he never harmed a soul.

I went back to the memorial, and took over sixty pictures this time, not stopping for a good five minutes, when I sat down to have a word with the man himself. Yes, I'm a praying man. Not much of one, but I do it from time to time. Maybe it's the fact that I had learned so much about him from these articles, or maybe it was simply that I had been working on this project for so long, but I honestly felt a sincere connection to the man.

My friends dropped me off around nine O'Clock at night. I sat myself down in front of the TV and watched the documentary. It wasn't for another hour that I looked at my phone. I got a text message from my friend "We saw a fox run across your front lawn-THEY KNOW!"



  1. Matt, can I get a copy of that doc? or a link?

    Matt Harrison
    Citizen Heroes


    Order from the store. It's only available on VHS. It literally is a VHS with a blank, home made label.

  3. Whoa, I had no idea the doc was titled "The Legend of the Fox" which is the same title I gave my Riverwest Currents article before I had any idea it existed.

    That is really funny, and strange. And I am buying a copy of it as soon as I get paid Friday.

  4. I don't get the logic in capes claiming this Fox guy to be "the first RLSH". That's like furries staking claim over Egyptians because they chiseled images of humans with animal heads. It's a weak and pathetic attempt at self-validating your weird, socially retarded life-style. Besides, this guy was a vigilante; the kind of person the RLSH have stated on many occasions that they do not associate themselves with. He broke the law in his property-damaging exploits and claimed himself justified in the name of "nature".

    If anything 'The Fox' was more of a militant environmentalist (also read: vigilante, also-also read: CRIMINAL) and less of someone that laid the ground-work for grown men strutting around in spandex unitards and paintball masks at four in the morning. I am afraid I will have to stamp the RLSH's request to claim this guy as one of their own with a big ole "NO". Sorry guys, but you can't have what isn't yours.


  5. I stopped referring to The Fox as a Real Life Superhero a long time ago. In Jim Phillips would feel slightly embarassed by the term. If he saw people running around in Spandex in his name, he'd probably shake his head and laugh.....

    The term I use to describe the Fox, and have since I first saw the monument, was "Rogue". He worked in and outside of the law to further his cause, and he did manage to make US Steel and Dial Soap back off. He's been very successful at bringing about positive change, perhaps more than any RLSH has done individually.

    Will I defend his alleged "Real Life Superhero" title? Of course not. Will I claim he was not a Criminal or Vigilante? No. Was he effective? Yes. Was his cause just? Yes.

  6. Matt, there is absolutely nothing wrong with vigilantism, heck I rather enjoy seeing people do illegal things for crazy reasons (cable TV is great!), but it's the RLSH themselves that snagged Mr. Phillips' persona, dubbed him one of them, and then continued putter on about how vigilantism is "wrong". You can't have it both ways, I'm afraid.

    Your stance on The Fox had nothing to do with my comment and I salute you for your clear thinking on the subject.

  7. Thats so awesome that theres a memorial to him. Ok, so if he wasnt one of the first "RLSH"... then what was he?

  8. If you want to use archetypes as a basis, rather than a hero, he would be the Rogue. He's a high minded, conscientious person who goes against the law. He's the same archetype as Robin Hood.

    That is not to say he was not in anyway influential to the Real Life Superhero Movement. In the sixties and seventies people like him, Superbarrio, and Terrifica started popping up. Nothing TOO close to what a "RLSH" is, but definitely people who inspired heroes later on.

    Tea referred to them as "Prototypes". Maybe a bit too close, but maybe it will do.

    Regardless, the Fox is a man to be honored.

  9. I would still have to disagree of him being some kind of do-gooder. He broke the law, caused property damage, and engaged in terrorist activity by actively stalking and intimidating CEO's. Honor is not leaving dead animals on peoples doorsteps and screwing with peoples jobs in his attempts at sabotaging these plants.

    You don't like my cooking? Fine, then you don't have to eat it, just don't go blowing up my kitchen.

  10. Malvado, there is a big difference between me not liking your cooking, and me not liking that your cooking is illegally releasing cancer-causing gasses and dumping raw sewerage directly into my kitchen.

    I assume you haven't read the book, seen the film, or read much about the Fox. These companies that you are defending were actually breaking the law. They just got away with it because they had the police chief and various politicians in their pocket. They were not following the proper environmental laws when the Fox was going after them.

    The Fox never hurt anyone. The companies were literally killing people around them. What the Fox did was not terrorism, it was civil disobedience.

    If you want to talk about "honor," how honorable was the way we won our independence from Britain? Americans dragged sleeping people out of their homes in the middle of the night to tar and feather them. THAT is terrorism, not putting a dead skunk on someone's roof. How "honorable" was it to win independence by with guerrilla warfare? It isn’t. I guess since the colonist “broke the law, caused property damage” during the Boston Tea Party that they’re all criminals too?

    This country was founded on the idea that sometimes in order to ensure the safety of yourself and others you must break the law. That is what the Fox did.

  11. Greetings, are there any photos of Jim Philips? If he was a teacher than surely there are yearbook photos someplace? I would like to do a painting of the Fox but need something to look at. As for the controversy about whether or not he was vigilante or rlsh...

    My friend Blackmage defined the difference between a hero, anti-hero and vigilante as follows.

    A hero focuses on stopping crime first. He strives to inspire, to be accountable to those he serves and embraces the responsibility of his position (The Superman Method)

    An Anti-Hero focuses on stopping crime and evil alike. He is willing to bend the law to accomplish his task. He creates apprehension in those he opposes and inspires those he serves and saved directly. He lacks accountability, but embraces the responsibility of his actions. (The Batman Method)

    The Vigilante focuses on stopping evil first and addressing crime secondly. He is willing to break the law if necessary. The Vigilante is a terrorist. He exists as a necessary evil existing to rival the evil that he combats. He cares not about responsibility or accountability. This is a path that he is compelled to travel. He is the warring angel in the bowels of Hell. (The Punisher Method)

    Many in the current rlsh movement claim that only heroes belong to it, but this is not so. Anti-Heroes and Vigilantes fall under the same umbrella whether they like it or not.

    The Fox was an Anti-Hero, just like a real life Batman or Zorro for whom he shared his name.
    Had he chosen to attack physically those who harmed the environment, he would be a vigilante or eco-terrorist, but this was not the case. He found creative ways to get his message across while harming no one. Thus he was an Anti-Hero, in my opinion.

    If you find any photos of him please email them to

    Masked Crusader since 1989

  12. There's an article at making the connection between the Fox and "Paul Revere", an eco-themed masked vigilante character from an early 1970s TV show.