- Associated Press - Sunday, August 6, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Green Phantasm is on a lunch break.

Baton Rouge’s resident superhero sips on a Dr Pepper and waits for his hamburger, his green-banded fedora and mask lying on the table.

A cook from the kitchen shyly approaches his table.

“Excuse me, sir,” he says. “Would you mind if I took a picture of you? We don’t get many people in costumes.”

“Sometimes this happens,” the Phantasm says with a shrug. Then he slips on his mask, unfurls his cape and strikes his attack pose, his fists ready for a fight.

Of course, the Green Phantasm would never dream of throwing a punch. In fact, his greatest super power is probably putting a smile on people’s faces.

For the past several months, the Green Phantasm has been spotted in various spots around town - strolling along Airline Highway, eating tacos at Superior Grill, kicking back at the bar at Cadillac Café.

The Green Phantasm’s not-so-secret identity is George Robert Coates, a 41-year-old Pepsi truck driver, author and lover of crime-fighting superheroes.

“I have always liked them so much that I decided to create one of my own,” Coates says.

In 2012, Coates published “The Green Phantasm,” his 580-page novel about the adventures of James Paul Clifton, a nuclear engineer who gains super powers after an encounter with a meteorite on a camping trip. He glows green with “radiant energy,” which he focuses into laser beams and uses to levitate.

Eventually, Clifton encounters his ultimate foe, Doctor XT and X-Termination, his evil organization.

“Until either myself or someone finally shuts down their business, no one around here is safe,” Clifton says after discovering Doctor XT’s plans.

The book’s hero closely resembles Coates in appearance. Both are tall and solidly built with, as the book describes Clifton, “black hair, which he always kept cut very short, and hazel eyes.”

When his book came out, Coates scheduled a few book signings and marketed his work on Facebook and other social media sites, but soon sales were flat. So, he decided he’d become the Green Phantasm, or at least dress like him.

He’s not out to fight crime or right what’s wrong in the world. It’s really just all about his perhaps over-the-top bold move to market his book.

“What made me decide to do it was looking at all the businesses around me - whether they are big or small - and wondering why they are doing so well,” Coates says. “It’s because they’re out in public. That is a key reason why I decided to put my character out in public.”

With a little Googling, Coates found an Illinois company that specializes in costumes for professional wrestlers, twirlers and dancers. He sent in designs of the Phantasm’s disguise - the cape, the boots and the radioactive green bodysuit with an interlocking G and P emblazoned on the chest.

While Coates won’t disclose the cost, it was expensive, he said. The company’s wrestling costumes run $450 - cape and fedora not included.

A graduate of Woodlawn High School, Coates grew up loving Superman and other comic characters. He grew to enjoy writing in high school and began working on the craft during an English course at LSU. He’s never been involved in any acting or theater until now.

Coates says he dresses as the Green Phantasm nearly every day when he isn’t at work (and when his costume is not being dry cleaned). He’ll don it to run errands, grab lunch and buy stamps at the Post Office.

He’s as tall as the Green Phantasm pictured on the book’s cover, but doesn’t quite have a superhero physique, his paunch hanging over his belt a little.

Coates insists he doesn’t get nervous appearing in public as his creation. But early on, a police officer did inquire what exactly he was doing while walking beside a four-lane highway.

“It felt a little weird at first,” he says, “but at least I felt a little relief when I found out that simply putting on an outfit like this was not against the law.”

Coates says he would like to have the Phantasm’s super powers but has no delusions that even that could rid the Earth of evil.

“Even for the Phantasm, it’s still dangerous with them (super powers),” he says. “There are many times throughout the story he almost got killed.”


Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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