¡A luchar por la justicia!

Originally posted: http://www.semana.com/noticias-gente/luchar-justicia/152468.aspx
rlshprojectmontageA phenomenon in the streets of the various cities, walking the line between reality and fiction. These are the Superheroes, 100’s of average citizens who fight against evil, dressed in trousers, capes, and mask.
It’s one o’clock in the morning, two drunken gang members are exchanging insults, punches and kicks in a park in Milwaukee, USA. Then suddenly someone who was hidden behind the trees steps out of the shadows and shouts “Stop what you are doing!” The two youths remain frozen, suspended staring at the man dressed in black wearing a red mask with “W” on his chest, who with hands on his waist, threatening to intervene if they don’t stop the fight. The scene isn’t from a comic nor from a movie, it’s any day in the life of “The Watchman,” an average, big guy who is currently 35yrs old, who by day works in an office and by night walks the streets of his neighborhood to “fight against crime”.
Watchman (vigilante) is a part of a movement known as the Real Life Super Heroes, a well organized 400 mortal men and women, who, like the business card for www.reallifesuperheroes.com says, an internet page that is used to connect them, choose everyday to mark a difference. They are not crackpots in costumes as it might seem at first glance. These modern heroes are our neighbors, our friends, our family members. They are artist, musicians, athletes and yes, politicians. The majority patrol the streets of their cities looking for thieves, rapist, and drug traffickers. Others hand out food to homeless, donate toys to sick children in hospitals or hand out copies of the constitution to transients so that they learn about their country. There are also others who care for prostitutes; protect drunken women in bars to prevent men from taking advantage of them.
All of them create their identities and costumes, which generally include a cape and mask. They also have their accessories to help them complete their missions, like a 1st responder’s first aid kit, pepper spray to drive off bad guys, and a cellular phone to call police in case of problems. Some go out alone and others in groups similar to the Justice League of Superman, Flash, the Green Lantern and company.
“It’s an incredible movement” a week ago commented Dark Guardian, superhero and administrator of reallifesuperheroes.com. “We help people, and fight crime, and do it with our own money”. Chirs Pollak is the real name of this New York teacher of martial arts who at night patrols the city to look for drug dealers who work in the parks. Chris feels he was a kid with lots of problems until he started to read comics and discovered what he wanted to be like the protagonist in these adventures. And so he bought a bullet proof vest, cut proof gloves, boots, shades, flashlight, and a megaphone, and went out to pursue delinquents.
The phenomenon of the superheroes that don’t fly and don’t have x-ray vision has grown during the last few years so much so that it has expanded into some European countries. In England, for example, the famous Statesman, a banker who cleans up the streets of London, and says the he has helped the police catch more than a few bad guys. It’s has been four years since publications like The New York Time or the magazine Rolling Stone started to publish articles on this theme. At that time it was calculated that there were approximately a 100. Two years later there was talk of 250, and today they say 400. Though they admit it is almost impossible to get an accurate number, for many youths join the movement week after week.
These superheroes of flesh and bone have become so famous that they already have a documentary movie, which premiered at the most recent Sundance film festival. They have also received photographical exposure thanks to Peter Tangen, who fell in love with the stories like that of Knight Owl, an anonymous EMT who served in Iraq and who after becoming a superhero decided to write a manual so that his colleagues could learn from firsthand knowledge. Peter has also covered the life of Mr. Xtreme, who after he was abused as a child decided that he needed to protect the defenseless and had been patrolling for some ten years now. Also that of Life, a film producer who every night wears his tie, mask and hat to food, soap, shavers and tooth brushes to the homeless in New York.
“I believe that the phenomenon has grown due to interest in comics, movies and TV series base on the theme. Also because many of us want to change the world and since we have always seen superheroes as powerful beings who can get the job done, who we try to emulate” commented Life to this publication. He organizes meetings for superheroes through the net site www.superheroesananymous.com, and who real name is Chaim Lazaros. “The Heroes have always been there, but only started to network with each other after the “hero boom” on the internet. In 2007 I united them to make a documentary and complete my transformation into one of them.”
Tea Krulos is an independent journalist who writes a blog called “justice seekers without superpowers,” and is finishing a book on the same theme he’s planning to call “Heroes in the Night”. Krulos says that the first real superheroes he found during his investigation was active during the 70’s. He was a fat man with a beard who was called Captain Sticky, and he was devoted to uncovering scandals. Years later, other appeared. Like the Mexican born Superbarrio, an ex-masked luchador who defended the housing rights of those injured in the earth quake of 1985 who participated in the presidential elections. Then the phenomenon kept growing until it became what it is today.
“One of the most amazing things about these superheroes is the range of people who participate in this is varied. There are rich, poor, Christians, Atheist” said Krulos about a week ago. But when they put on their outfit they are all the same. They see the wrong that is happening and say this nigh I will go out to help instead of staying home and watching TV.
But not all of them have had good luck in this. Like Dark Guardian who accounts to being threaten and having a gun pointed at him, even though nothing has happen to him yet. The British Newspaper, The Times, published a few years back a story about Mr. Invisible, a Californian who took years getting ready to hit the streets. When he finally did, he found himself confronted with a man yelling at his wife. He wanted to intervene, but the woman punch him in the face and broke his nose. Then he sat on the sidewalk and a beggar urinated on him. The publication commented, what has been done to confirm his invisibility.
For other the hardest part isn’t confronting delinquent but confessing to their love ones that they are superheroes. They explain that not everyone likes the idea of them going out dressed up at night. “Hey today isn’t Halloween!” someone yells at Watchman, he takes it with a sense of humor, it’s precisely his look that has saved him. “In general, Gang members get distracted with my outfit”, he says. “They laugh and they ask me what the hell I am. In a short while they forget they were fighting or causing problems”. And so he is satisfied that he completes his mission to “Make the world a safer place”.

Superheroes Anonymous

Photos by Paul Quitoriano

Photos by Paul Quitoriano

Originally posted in Death + Taxes Magainze MarchApril 2010 issue
Scanned pages:
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Missing page 3- Admin
By Breena Ehrlich
Hollywood abounds with stories these days. But somewhere out there just beyond the shadows, from New York City to Mexico City to New Bedford, Massachusetts, lurks a bona fide, HONEST TO GOD NETWORK OF REAL REAL –LIFE SUPERHEROES. They are not Watchmen. They are not even Kick-Ass or Red Mist. No bullet-proof vest, no Chinese stars. These are normal people- students, bankers, what have you. They just happen to patrol over society in costume, fighting crime and doing good deeds under aliases like Life and The Dark Guardian. They are Superheroes Anonymous. For real.
What’s going on here?” Life asks, ambling up to a pair of cops as they peer though the dusty glass doors of a seemingly abandoned building. The copes turn around, take in the young man’s young face; he looks like one of the Culkin brothers- like that kind from Igby Goes Down. The kid’s fedora is set at a jaunty angle, his black cargo pants are tucked into black jungle boots, his backpack weighs down his shoulders, even though they’re thrown back confidently. He looks like a Brooklyn-dweller. A college student. A kid. Perhaps a nosy kid, the kind that watched too many cops shows as a kid. They probably don’t notice the black mask hanging from his belt loop, or the tzitzis poking out the bottom of his black winter coat.
One of the cops, a jowly man with buzzed hair and a gently swelling belly, gives Life a slight smile. “WE got a call. Some woman can’t get a hold of her husband who’s a security guard. She says she works here, but this place seems abandoned,” he answers with surprising candor and a perfectly stereotypical New York Accent.
“Yeah,” says the other cop, running his hand over his slicked-back gray hair, which still has comb tracks in it from earlier grooming. “I mean, there’s tap on the windows. That means it’s abandoned, right?”
The copes continue to peer though the darkened windows as Life jumps down to inspect a basement-level door. The radios on their belts buzz and crackle: “The missing child is approximately four feet tall, wearing a striped sweater. The suspect-“ Life joins the copes on the steps in mutual consideration of the darkened building, a gray stone apartment building near the Columbia University campus- close enough to Riverside Park that the assemblage can feel the cold air off the water buffeting their backs and faces. The jowly cop’s cheeks are red.
The men in blue bang on the door a few times and then turn to Life with equally stern brows. “Stand back,” says the gray haired cop and positions his shoulders as if to break the door down. Life hops back a little and the cops laugh. “Just Kidding,” Comb Tracks says.
“So are you a student?” Jowls inquires, apparently in no hurry to solve the mystery of the missing security guard.
“No, actually I’m a Real-Life Superhero, Life says with a slight smile, fingering the mask that hangs from his side. The cops look at each other with raised eyebrows and more than a hint of amusement.
“Oh yeah? Well, can you tell us where Columbia security is?” Jowls says with a brief smile. “Maybe they can help us figure out where this guard is
Life gives them directions and follows them to their car,” I can get in and go with you guys if you’d like…” he says, lingering near the cruiser.
“Ha, ha, nah,” says Jowls. “Thanks.” The cops drive off into the night, leaving Life and his backpack in front of the darkened building.
With the squad car disappears the glimmer of danger, the opportunity to race off in the night, the blue and red flashing. In a movie or a comic book this would be the point where our hero’s story really heats up: He discovers that the mission guard has been captured by an evil avenger with a rampant disdain for any and all authority figures- and now the poor old man is being held hostage in some fortress in the dark recesses of Governor’s Island. And because the bumbling cops neglected to adequately hunt for clues our hero is tasked with his safe return. But this is not a move. This is no adaptation- just plain old New York.  IN the realm of the real, Life watched the cruiser disappears into the night, sighs a puff of cold-etched air, and jaywalks across the street. As he hops from the sidewalk, his boots clearing the curb, he indulges a brief exclamation: “Zing!”
LIFE A.K.A. CHAIM LAZAROS is a real-life superhero- designation that would likely cause many a reader to snort in derision or laugh in abject mockery. Visions of plump, sad comic book fans in spandex leap to mind- images of computer geeks wandering around darkened streets, desperately seeking some nefarious B-level crime to debunk. That’s not Life. Life is a do-gooder. He doesn’t fight crime per se– he takes to the streets and provides aid to the poor souls who many of us outright ignore: the homeless.
In a sense, this is his superpower. Where comic superheroes might manifest their powers through a supernatural affinity for controlling the weather or assuming arachnid capabilities, Life’s chosen specialty is the homeless- although he’s the first to admit that he doesn’t actually have any special abilities. “I hate when people ask where my cape is,” Life says. “Capes are stupid and ineffective. No one flies… I don’t have any super powers,” he adds. “I’m just a person. A poor, young person in New York City- and I help a lot of people. I’m not special.” Nevertheless, as his name suggests, Life provides sustenance and, well, life, to the downtrodden, specializing in a particular realm of aid- and to do so he tapes into his two natural abilities: kindness and an aptitude for spin. Life is a natural PR man, an organizer who uses the aesthetic of the super hero, the sheer flashiness of the concept, to attract others to his cause.
Photos by Paul Quitoriano

Photos by Paul Quitoriano

Life is one of the heads of Superheroes Anonymous, a collective of citizen who have made it their mission to do good by the world. Some do it in much the same way as Coalition for the Homeless or Habitat for Humanity, and some do it with the more dangerous, risky flair of vigalantes- but they all do it in costume. Each year it holds a sizable conference during which heroes from all over the world assemble. So far there have been three conferences: one in Times Square, New York City, one in New Orleans, and the most recent in New Bedford, Massachusetts, also known as The Secret City due to its large volume of unsolved homicides.
Superheroes Anonymous, which coalesced into its current state in 2007, hardly marks the first incarnation of real-life superhero-dom, although it is probably the most organized superhero affiliation. According to a history written by Hardwire, a hero from Greensboro, North Carolina, the first real-life superhero date back to the seventeenth century- his name was William Lamport, or Zorro. The modern ideal of real-life heroes started to solidify in the seventies with Captain Sticky, a man by the name of Richard Pesta who would patrol San Diego in a bubble-topped Lincoln clad in blue tights and a cape, working to launch investigations into elder care. And then there was Rick Rojatt, a daredevil known as The Human Fly, whose entire family was killed in a car crash that left him temporarily crippled. The nineties heralded the arrival of Marco Rascon Cordova, a Mexico City resident who became Superbarrio and championed the poor and working class, and Terrifica, a New Yorker who took it upon herself to protect drunken women from unwanted advances. And then there’s Civitron, a father and former counselor for children in transition who patrols New Bedford, Massachusetts with his son, The Mad Owl, a superhero-in-the-making with a love for woodland creatures.
In short, this underground community was flourishing, the network reaching across the world. But it was a fractured connection; these do-gooders mostly communicated via Internet forums and MySpace pages, connected only through the currents of the digital age- until Life came along.
Like all superheroes, life has his own creation myth, which more closely mirrors that of the famed comic book authors that of yore than the apocryphal tales of Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne. Like the majority of old-school creators- immigrants and children of immigrants who invented heroes to battle the myriad woes of their woes- Lazaros is a Jew, the son of an Orthodox rabbi who has seven children in all. The second –oldest child, Lazaros is kind of the black sheet. “He’s a very idealistic kid and he has a lot of pity on people that are downtrodden and homeless. He’s a do-gooder and he wants to do go,” his father says, recalling how, as a child, Life took on his entire bunk at sleepaway camp when they were picking on smaller boy.  Still, he hasn’t quite taken the path that his father would like him to.” I thought it was more like a hobby,” his father says of Life’s superheroing. “But it became a very major part of his life. And obviously as a parent I think there are more important priorities. He’s just turned twenty-five. I’d like to see him get married. I’d like to see him have some kind of a vocation that earns a living. This is a nice thing to do on the side, you know, if you have another career. You have a family and you want to do something like this in your free time, that’s okay. But I don’t think it should be taking up the main part of your time.”
Before he became Life, Chaim was on a path that any proud Orthodox papa would approve of. He attended Yeshiva University- a college that focuses on Jewish scholarship- in New York for one year before deciding that he was too smart for the religious school. He also wanted to study film. He applied to NYU and got in (twice), but his family didn’t have the money to send him. So he left college and worked at one of the country’s top ad agencies, J Walter Thompson, where he executed the mindless task of paying invoices before realizing that he wasn’t going anywhere. He had been attending Brooklyn College at night and living in Crown Heights when his girlfriend suggested he apply to Columbia. He got in, they provided him with ample scholarships, and he was able to follow his chosen path: film studies. Little did he know that becoming a superhero would also be apart of his course of study.
Three years ago, Chaim’s friend Bend Goldman, a senior at New York’s New School, saw a sign reading “Real Life Superheroes” outside a comic book store. He was intrigued, so he Googled the term. The sign turned out to be an advertisement for a drawing class, but Goldman’s internet search revealed the rich history of the movement. Both film students, Lazaros and Goldman decided that the subject was ripe for documentation. “This whole project started off as a documentary,” Ben says. “It’s like a case of Gonzo Journalism where the documentarian becomes the subject, especially with Chaim, since he became a superhero through the project.”
“They’re very isolated in all these different communities and only communicate through MySpace and stuff like that,” Chaim says, “There had been a few very small meet-ups, but it was really this Internet culture. Basically we realized that if we made the first all-encompassing gathering of all the superheroes, then we would be able to shoot a documentary in a day.”
And so it began- the first meeting of Superheroes Anonymous. For Chaim, the convention became an all-consuming task. He barely slept. He lost fifteen pounds. He dedicated every moment to orchestrating a massive gathering to take place in New York’s Time Square. And then the duo hit a snag.
“There was a lot of this bullshit started by this one particular superhero that founded the biggest forum on the Internet for superheroes. He’s named Tothian,” Chaim says, “At the time he was respected just because he was a moderator of this forum he started.”
Tothian is a mysterious figure who resided in New Jersey and likes to keep his persona under wraps. On Facebook, his name is simply Tothian ApmhibiousKnight- He refuses to reveal his real name- and his burred picture shows a man with close-cropped hair, wearing what appears to be armor or a bulletproof vest. “I’ve been patrolling since I was about five years old,” Tothian says. “I knew form as early on in life as I can remember that I would be doing this, not as a game,” he adds. “When I was sixteen I graduated from a military high school. At seventeen I joined the Marine Reserves as an Infantryman. I’ve trained in various styles of martial arts for many years. I study criminology, private investigating and foreign languages.” Now Tothian, an ardent fan of Sherlock Holmes, patrols his local streets, striving to mitigate crime in hotspots like Newark, New Jersey. “I make it a point to never set patterns in times nor patrol routs,” Tothian says. “I have to keep it randomized for two reasons: One I don’t want people to work around my pattern. Two, I don’t want people to track me down.”
Photos by Paul Quitoriano

Photos by Paul Quitoriano

Tothian, naturally, takes the concept of being a superhero extremely seriously and was wary of the conference. His wariness, in turn lead a number of attendees to cancel their trips, including the emcee of the event, one of the oldest heroes around, dubbed, simply, Superhero. “We didn’t know them too well yet, nor what to expect,” Tothian explains. “But after we all got to know [Ben and Chaim] we saw that they’re great guys with sincere intentions and actually want to do something good for the world.”
Regardless, back in 2007 Chaim was in a bind- he didn’t want to have a meeting without an official superhero emcee. But Chaim had dons his research- he knew about the different types of superheroes, the “community crusader” in particular. “A community crusader is somebody who is not necessarily in a costume but works from within the community to move forward the cause of real-life superheroeism” Chaim explains.
After the debacle with Tothian, Chaim went to Columbia Chabad to think. “I hadn’t slept at all the night before,” he says. “It was a totally crazy week and I was like, praying and wondering, ‘Who is gonna run this thing?’ Then I realized that all the sacrifices I had been making, the thousands of dollars of my own money, all of my time and life spent toward making this happened made ma a community crusader, and therefore a superhero. And therefore I could be the one to lead this meeting. Son on Sunday when we had the meet up in Times Square, that was when I put on the mask for the first time and claimed myself ‘Life.’”
Ben, in turn, became “The Camera Man.”
“My role in Superheroes Anonymous has always been documenting what the superheroes do,” he says. He doesn’t wear a costume, and he sees this whole project as wholly short-term. He doesn’t go on patrols like Life does, but he does accompany heroes like  The Dark Guardian, a swarthy New Yorker who dresses in head-to-toe leather, when they set out on missions to Washington Square Part to take on drug dealers. Although he denies being a hero, guys like The Dark Guardian would be seriously screwed without Ben around- the fact that he wields a camera helps keep criminals in check, proving that you don’t need freezrays or super strength to fight evil.
Life’s own arsenal is rather limited as well, He carries a cell phone, a pocket knight and a backpack filled with water bottles, military-issue meals and ready to eat, granola bars, socks and whatever else he can scrape together for the homeless he tends to . After parting ways with Jowls and Comb Tracks at the abandoned building, Life takes off down the sidewalk, passing houses wreathed in blinking colored lights to stock up at the local RiteAid. He picks up a coupon book and surveys the deals under the deals under the glare of the florescent lights. “This is where my cheap Jewness comes in,” he says with a laugh, trying to decide between Rice Krispie Treats (cheaper, but less nutritionous) and granola bars. But Chaim isn’t being cheap, per se. He’s a recent college grad who makes a small wage working for the Ripple Project, a documentary film company that focuses on social issues. But being the child of a rabbit, Life was taught to give ten percent of his earnings to charity. At the register, he checks over the receipt with the same precision as a fussy mother, but then grabs a handful of chocolate to add it the finally tally. “I love giving people chocolate because they appreciate it. No one else gives them chocolates,” he says.
Outside in the cold again, Life passes a gaggle of college kids on winter break, decked out in hats and puffy jackets, “I was so fucking wasted last weekend,” a girl squeals as she disappears down the concrete while Life heads to St. John the Divine to pass out supplies to the homeless who huddle on the steps. This is one of his usual haunts, and he tried to get there before the Coalition for the Homeless arrives with boxed meals- usually the homeless scatter after the trucks roll away. But when he arrives he sees he’s too late. The Coalition for the Homeless have come and gone and the poor have likely been shooed away. All that greets him when he arrives are granite steps blanketed in snow and ropes stretching across the stairs. “Those assholes,” he mutters, nothing that the ropes were likely put in place to discourage the homeless from hanging out on the steps.
Back in the summer time, the church was like a regular homeless clubhouse, but right now it’s too cold for anyone to linger outside for long. The homeless are all in shelters or are hiding out somewhere in the darkness. Back in August Chaim had tramped down to St. John’s every week- since graduating, he’s been sorting his life out, moving to Harlem and setting up Superheroes Anonymous headquarters (a.k.a. his apartment). Last summer he had leapt up the stairs distributing vitamins and shampoo to a man named John, who wore a giraffe T-shirt and leaned heavily on a cane. Tonight John isn’t here. “I thought at least the Mexicans would be here,” Life says with a sigh.
The Mexicans usually assemble in the front doorway, huddled together under the granite saints that stare out into the darkness like blank-eyed sentinels. The men are likely here illegally and, as they told Chaim, they have “No worky. No casa. Lots of Mexicans. It’s bad.” This summer they have taught Chaim how to say razor (navaja) and toothbrush (cepillo dental) in Spanish. Chaim had asked where their friend Edguardo was and a man wearing a shirt emblazoned with mountain ranges- the kind of souvenir sweatshirt that you buy on vacation- had pointed up at the saints and uttered, “Jesus.”
“Jesus loves me?” Chaim asked, seeming to misunderstand the sentiment. It’s impossible to tell how many streets have unwittingly become graves.
Photos by Paul Quitoriano

Photos by Paul Quitoriano

Tonight, however, the streets seem free of the homeless. Life wanders past another church covered in blue twinkle lights. He sing-songs in the night jokingly, like the Pied Piper, “Heeere, homeless people. Oh, Hooooomelss people…”
“I have homeless vision,” he says. Just then he sees John, leaning on his cane across from the church. Chaim approaches the old man, shivering on the sidewalk, while college students stream by taking care to make a wide arc around him. Life presents John with handwarmers, a bottle of water and cigarettes. “Is there anything else you need?” Chaim asked. John whispers in a voice barely audible above the cutting wind, “Long underwear.”
“People always ask me how I know what to bring,” Chaim says, taking off once more across the nighttime streets. “I didn’t offer John a grain bar because he has bad teeth. But people tell you what they need. How would I know he needed long underwear if he didn’t tell me?”
And that’s one of Chaim’s greatest powers: He listens. He talked to people whom everyone avoids. The true Mr. and Mrs. Cellophanes. Chaim stops to talk to them all. IN the grand scheme of things, his actions are small- he won’t be clearing New York’s streets of the poor anytime soon, nor will he eradicate poverty and hunger. But he has no illusions in that regard. Life wants to start a movement- to inspire others to do as he does. And that’s the true purpose of Superheroes Anonymous. Chaim has taken a disparate group of misfits and rebels and given them a singular vision- shaping them into a symbol for doing good.
The night is wearing on toward midnight when Life hears a thin whine rising from a huddled mass in front of a corner bank. “I’m so cold!” squeals a man supported by a walker and little else. His pant leg is rolled up far above the knee and he’s shaking violently. “My leg is broken! I haven’t eating in three days!” the main cries as people walk briskly by him, staring steadfastly ahead. Life strides right up to him, “Here, take theses,” Life says, pressing a pack of handwarmers into the man’s shaking palms. Quickly, he hands the man water, cigarettes and the coveted chocolate. The man’s shaking continues, his voice rising in agony,” My hands are so cold.”
A woman pauses on the sidewalk, wrapped in a warm-looking black peacoat with a tailored collar. She notices Life and the man on the sidewalk- the water bottles and the chocolate. She steps forward and stuffs a handful of dollar bills into the man’s shaking cup.

Homemade heroes offer low-level law enforcement

It was an unusually warm night for January, and the sidewalks of East Village bustled with activity – people walking to the corner store, the homeless squatting in front of their tents, rock ‘n’ roll types smoking outside a tattoo shop.

It was also the kind of night that might draw evildoers out of the shadows.

So, armed with a belt full of gadgets (stun gun, pepper spray, handcuffs), Mr. Xtreme did what any superhero would do. He patrolled the streets by the light of the full moon.

He doesn’t scale buildings like Spider-Man or emit beams from his eyes like the X-Men’s Cyclops. But like his comic book counterparts, Mr. Xtreme insists on keeping his identity secret, helped by a camouflage wrestling mask with bug-shaped mesh eyes.

Mr. Xtreme is a Real-Life Superhero, part of an international online community of about 300 comic book fans who spend their free time fighting crime and doing good deeds for mankind behind the anonymity of a mask and cape.

There’s Dark Guardian, who patrols the streets of New York City as part of the superfluously named Justice Society of Justice. He wears a black spandex body suit, black cape and hard-shell mask. And in Utah, Ghost puts the fright into bad guys with his skeleton mask, long white wig and black cape.

Other superheroes hail from Michigan, Florida, Mexico City, Italy and England. San Diego’s only other known superhero goes by the name MidKnight.

They are connected via several online networks, including the World Superhero Registry and MySpace, where they share tips on patrol tactics, costume design and dealing with the police.

“Police automatically label us vigilantes,” said Mr. Xtreme, a 30-something security guard who asked The San Diego Union-Tribune to keep his identity private. The newspaper agreed after conducting a background check on him.

“I say we’re more costumed activists. Vigilantes render punishment onto criminals. We don’t harass people, don’t violate their civil rights. First and foremost, we prevent crime. We do what we are allowed to do legally as citizens.”

Birth of a superhero

Mr. Xtreme, who was raised in San Diego, said a wave of violence in the early 1990s – and the public’s apparent apathy to it – left an impression on him.

“They just want to look the other way and pretend it doesn’t exist,” he said. “I felt I needed to do something.”

Then in 2006, he got to thinking: What if the world had real superheroes? What kind of place would it be?

He joined the online community soon after and created his first persona, The Nag. But the heavyset bachelor was looking for something catchier.

Deciding to combine his love of the comic book superhero team Justice League of America with his passion for the Xtreme Football League, he came up with the Xtreme Justice League.

His costume is still in development. Besides the mask, he wears black tactical pants, boots and a long-sleeved, camouflage shirt under a green Xtreme Justice League T-shirt. His belt bulges with pepper spray, handcuffs, two cell phones, a first aid kid, a Double Trouble stun gun and a long Mag flashlight.

He has designed a sweet new costume in his head for when he can get some money together. “I’m going to have a Kevlar tactical helmet, tactical goggles with custom lenses. Obviously I’m going to have a cape, body armor.”

In March, Mr. Xtreme and superhero associate Shadow Hare of Cincinnati spent an afternoon in Chula Vista handing out fliers about a sexual predator wanted by police. They advertised a reward of $1,000 of their own funds for information leading to an arrest.

Then the gang unit showed up and had a conversation with the masked men. Chula Vista police spokesman Bernard Gonzales said the officers were just doing their due diligence.

“Anyone who goes out and tries to assist law enforcement by handing out fliers and being proactive against the criminals is appreciated,” said Gonzales. “But when you start physically involving yourself in crime fighting, that’s vigilantism.”

‘Every little bit helps’

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin declared Oct. 13 the Day of the Superhero after about 250 superheroes converged on the city to meet and march, but that was a rare display of official recognition.

Most police officers are uncomfortable with anonymous, masked characters walking neighborhoods carrying weapons.

Mr. Xtreme has tried to attend community meetings at the police station in the Mid City Division, but police asked him to leave when he refused to take off his mask, said San Diego police spokeswoman Mónica Muñoz.

“It didn’t work out too well,” Mr. Xtreme admitted.

Police also are concerned that the superheroes are putting themselves at risk.

“What we’re looking for is for the community to be our eyes and ears. If you see a crime, report it. Be a good witness,” said San Diego police Capt. Chris Ball. But “you shouldn’t be carrying weapons and you shouldn’t be confronting people.”

Police have had similar doubts about other citizen patrol groups, such as the Guardian Angels, who seem to have developed an amicable partnership with authorities, and the Sentinels, a Los Angeles group that disbanded in the early 1990s after a member beat an accused drug dealer.

Mr. Xtreme countered the vigilante accusations by saying he has studied the law carefully when it comes to carrying legal self-protection and knows when it is and is not appropriate to make citizen arrests. He said he hasn’t made an arrest as a superhero but has exercised the right in the past.

He plans to reach out to San Diego police in hopes of finding his own Commissioner Gordon, Batman’s sympathetic confidant at the Gotham City Police Department.

Preventing crime, serving the less fortunate and empowering others to take action are at the core of his message.

“When drug dealers see us, they’ll go to the other corner. That carjacker, he’s going to take the night off,” he said.

During a patrol in the Gaslamp Quarter last Saturday night, he drew plenty of gasps, nudges and stares.

A few people stopped to ask what he was all about.

“At first thought, it’s kind of funny,” said Dushaun Fairley, a Chula Vista Realtor who questioned the costume from the patio of Nicky Rotten’s on Fifth Avenue. “But at the end of the day, every little bit helps.”

Staff researcher Michelle Gilchrist contributed to this report.

A long-ago superhero

Mr. Xtreme and MidKnight are not the only superheroes to make a go of protecting San Diegans.

In the 1970s and ’80s, a self-appointed crusader named Captain Sticky squeezed his 350 pounds into blue tights, a gold cape and glittery boots to fight for justice.

The former fiberglass contractor, also known as Richard Pesta, was credited with helping launch statewide investigations into nursing homes and campaigning against rental-car rip-offs and sugary cereal.

He eventually retired the persona but later grabbed headlines when he was investigated by San Diego police for letting his home be used to film an X-rated movie. He testified against the film’s producer in exchange for immunity. He also sold sex tours in Thailand, but the Thai government shut him down.

Sticky, whose name derived from his love of peanut butter and jelly, died in 2004 of complications from heart bypass surgery in Thailand.

Online: For more on Real-Life Superheroes, go to worldsuperheroregistry.com and freewebs.com/heroesnetwork


Richard Pesta; 'Captain Sticky'; championed consumer causes

captainsticky1By Jack Williams
February 18, 2004
Richard Allen Pesta
As Captain Sticky, a caped cartoon character come to life, Richard Allen Pesta was hard to ignore. Massive in girth and flamboyant in personality and Superman-style costume, he proudly played the role of one of America’s wackiest watchdogs.
Based in San Diego, Mr. Pesta campaigned against everything from rental car rip-offs and sugar-coated cereal to abusive nursing homes, attracting widespread media attention in the 1970s and 1980s.
“I am America’s only practicing caped crusader,” he told the San Diego Tribune in 1984. “That is the role I desire to maintain for the rest of my life.”
Mr. Pesta’s fiancee, Lynne Shiloh, said this week that he died Dec. 12 of complications from heart bypass surgery at Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. He was 57.
The couple had been vacationing when Mr. Pesta became ill and underwent surgery. Although his chances of recovery were said to be favorable, he developed an embolism in his leg, Shiloh said.
By the late 1990s, Mr. Pesta had turned his focus from Captain Sticky enterprises to a career as a La Jolla-based entrepreneur specializing in environmentally friendly soil products.
The products, marketed under such labels as Organa and Am-Kel Farms, are sold at various nurseries and home and garden centers, Shiloh said.
At the peak of his Captain Sticky popularity, Mr. Pesta drove a bubble-topped Lincoln with flags and flashing lights that he called his Stickymobile. Wearing a gold cape, glittery matching boots and blue tights, he took his causes to Sacramento and to media outlets.
In 1977, he was credited with helping to launch statewide investigations into nursing homes, resulting in tighter regulations for long-term health care.
By the early 1990s, he was promoting the Real Man’s Midlife Crisis Tour of Thailand, offering what he called “drinking, debauchery and fun stuff.” The Thai government forced him to shut it down.
“He pretty much let that Captain Sticky identity go,” Shiloh said. “What he was doing on the side came to the forefront.”
Mr. Pesta was born in Pittsburgh and moved with his family to Escondido as a child. He graduated from high school in Redondo Beach.
“His dream was to alter the course of history,” Shiloh said. “He was a huge man with a huge heart filled with love for everyone.”
After battling a weight problem for much of his life, Mr. Pesta underwent surgery in the late 1990s.
“The good doctor pulled my stomach way back and filleted me,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 1998. “They took two five-gallon pails of fat from me.”
Mr. Pesta leaves no immediate family. He was cremated in Thailand, where his ashes were scattered at sea.
Jack Williams: (619) 542-4587; [email protected]