“I don’t know what I would have done if that naked man hadn’t come along when he did,” says sixty-eight year old Maude Fondler, describing her experience of Britain’s latest crime fighting phenomena. “These two young thugs were trying to snatch my bag on Lewisham High Street, when suddenly this man leapt out of a telephone kiosk. He was stark naked! They took one look at him and ran off! I’ve no doubt that he saved my life!” The South London widow’s encounter is the latest in a spate of sightings of this exciting new crime fighter, who has been dubbed Nude Man by the press. In common with other witnesses, Fondler admits that she would have difficulty in identifying her saviour again. “That’s the cunning thing about his superhero identity – you could never recognise him with his clothes on,” she says. “His face is the last thing you’d be looking at!” After weeks of media speculation as to the Buff Knight’s true identity and origins, Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw revealed that he was, in fact, part of a new team of superheroes developed by his department as a contingency plan for maintaining law and order in the event that the police pay dispute resulted in industrial action. “I’m pleased to unveil the first of our new Ministry of Justice League of Superheroes,” he told a press conference last month, as he stood next to a naked man. “Rest assured, if the police were to go on strike, our team of super-powered law enforcers will be more than adequate to maintain law and order throughout Britain.” His announcement confirmed widespread suspicions that the establishment of the obviously comic book-inspired Ministry of Justice was simply a cover for the development of a race of superhuman crime fighters. Indeed, there had been much press speculation that it would be Straw and his ministers who would be donning the skin tight lycra in order to take the government’s fight against crime directly to the streets. In the event, the press were to be somewhat disappointed when a line-up including the aforementioned Nude Man, Mucus Man, The Blow Fly and the Golden Shower, was unveiled. “They’re not exactly Superman or Batman, are they? They don’t even have proper superpowers,” commented Roger Riphorn, crime correspondent for the Daily Excess. “I really don’t see how being naked, or producing abnormal quantities of snot are going to help reduce crime on our streets. Really, these must be some of the most utterly useless powers in the history of costumed heroes!” Riphorn has also criticised the new Ministry of Justice League of Superheroes for focusing too much on ordinary, street-level crimes. “Isn’t that a waste of their amazing talents?” he asks. “Shouldn’t they be using their so-called powers to deal with the big issues, like the ‘War on Terror’?”

The Justice Secretary has vigourously defended his team of superheroes against such criticisms. “I won’t deny that we’d originally hoped to develop some rather more extreme, and yes, more practical, super powers,” he concedes. “Super hearing, for instance might have been useful for monitoring private conversations without the need for bugging, whilst invisibility or X-ray vision would have been ideal for surveillance of terror suspects. However, we were advised that irradiating human foetuses to induce such mutations would probably be illegal.” Straw is also dismissive of suggestions that fighting low level crime is beneath his department’s superheroes. “Is street crime any less important than terrorism? The average citizen is more likely to be mugged than blown up by a suicide bomber,” he points out, adding that, in between foiling street robberies and drunk and disorderly tramps, Nude Man has been in the forefront of the war against terror. “Only last week the Blackwall Tunnel had to be closed for six hours whilst he was down there battling the evil Dr Softee, a super villain in the pay of Al Qaida who was threatening to render the entire male population of south London impotent with his Wilt Ray!” Sadly, the rest of the League haven’t fared as well as Nude Man during their first month of operation. The Golden Shower, who washed his foes away with a powerful stream of urine, was forced into an early retirement after a successful prosecution by the Environmental Health Agency. “It was probably a blessing in disguise – he could only muster his superpowers after about ten pints. That didn’t really sit well with the government’s anti-alcohol abuse campaigns,” muses Mr Straw. “Similarly, whilst Mucus Man looked very spectacular swinging between office blocks on those strings of snot he blew out of his nose, he could only operate effectively when he had a cold.” Mucus Man was suspended from duty after he sneezed during a school visit and nearly drowned an entire class of nine year olds. For a while, the Blow Fly – as a child he swallowed a bluebottle which laid eggs in his stomach, consequently, he was able to spew a deadly swarm of flies from his mouth – seemed to rival Nude Man for crime fighting prowess. He was apparently successful in foiling several bank raids by engulfing the robbers in flies, causing them to drop their weapons as they flailed wildly at their tiny six-legged assailants. In another infamous incident he stopped a joy rider by covering his windscreen with bluebottles. The car crashed into a bus-stop seriously injuring three schoolgirls. However, the joy rider’s evil reign of terror was cut short. Sadly, the Blow Fly’s promising career was cut short when he was felled by a teenage shoplifter wielding a can of Vapona.

The police, meanwhile, have been unimpressed with the League’s activities, pouring scorn on the idea that the Ministry’s superheroes could effectively safeguard the public from crime. “Let’s face it, this is just another example of cost-cutting by the government,” claims Edward Nobule of the Police Federation. “They think that they can maintain law and order throughout the entire country using only half-a-dozen so-called superheroes, thereby saving tens of millions of pounds every year by dispensing with a properly trained police force. It’s a recipe for anarchy!” Nobule has also warned that not only will his members be refusing to co-operate with the League, but that they will also be arresting any costumed vigilantes they encounter on the street. “If any copper sees that nude git’s todger anywhere near a crime scene, they’ll arrest the bastard for indecent exposure,” he declares. “The public needs to be protected from perverts like him!” Indeed, it seems that the police are also trying to undermine the Justice Ministry’s superhero recruitment drive. Would-be superhero Colin Woppell has claimed that he was subjected to police harassment when he recently tried to ply his trade in Solihull town centre. “All I was trying to do was show that I could keep the streets free of crime, but I was the one who ended up being arrested,” he recalls. “Mind you, I suppose some people might say I asked for it, approaching a group of teenagers whilst wearing a skin tight latex suit and rubber mask. I suppose I was lucky not to be put on the sex offenders register – you wouldn’t believe how long it took to convince the police that I was just trying to recruit a juvenile superhero sidekick.” Woppell now fears that the official warning he received could now jeopardise his chances of being accepted by the Ministry of Justice’s superhero training programme.