Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Photo from MySpace

Citizen Prime, of Salt Lake City, is pretty famous for his full body metallic suit, which is kind of medieval mixed with Robocop. It is widely reported that the suit cost added up to 4,000 bucks.

He recently reported on his MYSPACE that he is hanging up his cape and calling it a day, citing a need to be more involved with his family.

The only thing puzzling about this announcement is that Prime, with his photogenic suit, has been on a media bulldozer blitz since 2007, a full court press that has garnered him, I would hazard a safe guess, more media coverage than any other RLSH.

The eclectic stack of media appearances begins with his initial audition for the Stan Lee reality bonanza Who Wants to be a Superhero?. Local press picked up the story in Phoenix magazine and the local news, which in turn was picked up by tech mag Wired.

The London Times, the National Enquirer, and even weird news/kinky sex mag Bizarre, all ran stories that featured Prime and his photo.

He also made TV appearances on Geraldo At Large, the CBS Early Show, and a pretty long segment on the G4 Channel show G4 Underground with Morgan Webb. And that isn’t a complete list!

According to a write up at Reallifesuperheroes.org, Citizen Prime “was one of the original founders of Reallifesuperheroes.org as well as the short live super-group the Worldwide Heroes Organization. He also founded Kid Heroes, a group dedicated to educating kids on personal empowerment and taking action in emergency situations.”

Prime’s strategy as a RLSH was to be open and involved with the community and to establish community programs. Here’s an excerpt from an article on zimbio.com:

A financial executive by day, Citizen Prime dons his $4,000 costume, which includes custom-made breast plate armor, and patrols the streets. Citizen Prime separates himself from other neighborhood watch style "superheroes" by distributing literature on how to help in the community and making appearances to talk to children about drugs and crime.

While Citizen Prime has said he respects the work of other superheroes, like the Black Monday Society in Salt Lake City, he takes a different approach by focusing on community involvement. He says the most useful tool at his disposal is a keen sense of humor for diffusing awkward situations.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


The Watchman (right) with Blackbird in Bay View

The Watchman has gotten responses from at least a couple people from Riverwest, wondering how they might be able to offer assistance. If you'd like to read more about The Watchman and Riverwest, I blogged about it quite a bit, and a good starting point is HERE. What Watchman is suggesting is perfectly legal, unarmed citizen foot patrols.

This is not a new concept to Riverwest. You can read two brief articles at the Riverwest Currents HERE. The first is written by the Currents editor and is on a group called the Riverwest Walkers. I’m not sure if they’re still active, but I’ll find out.

The second article is written by yours truly and is on a group I was part of, started by my awesome tough girl roller derby friends, the Brew City Bruisers. The Bruisers are no less than a team of superheroes in my opinion.
Watchman would like to see people walk with him or in separate groups that will stay in contact with him (or possibly patrol by car or bike).

A second way people could participate is by hanging out on their porch(with the nice weather and all) and offering a “checkpoint.” Meaning you can be the watchman(or woman) of your block, and the foot patrols will swing by periodically to say “hi” and see what’s going on.

Lastly, people can help out by e-mailing The Watchman (or myself) with suggestions, ideas, or simply to talk about what is going on in the neighborhood.

The Watchman: wi.watchman@gmail.com
Tea Krulos: teakrulos@gmail.com

Here is some words from The Watchman himself:

“In discussing what we'd like to accomplish in Riverwest, I've brought up talking to people in the community. We want to speak with these people, and if people want to meet with me to find out what I'm all about and discuss what we can do together to better the community, I'm all for it.

There are a lot of things everyone can do to help. We are still in planning stages of how we want to take this on, and part of that is figuring who will be involved and to what capacity. To begin figuring out just what it is you could help with, I'd like to know a little more about you and what you might be interested in doing.

We then can figure out what would be best for you to do and coordinate that with the big picture. Tea and I have discussed meeting with people who are interested in helping and coming up with better ideas on how to proceed. We have not yet set a time, date, or place for such a meeting, but it will likely be an upcoming Saturday afternoon/evening in Riverwest.

Some general ideas range from just watching out for your neighbors and calling police if you see any type of criminal activity to doing coordinated patrols with us. Another idea being passed around is to have people providing checkpoints for us on patrols.

Any suggestions are welcome. We are very much open to hearing other people's ideas.”

Friday, March 26, 2010


[Part of Law and Lawlessness Week]

In comic books, superheroes have had a long, complicated history with the police. Perhaps one of the most famous of these relations is between Batman and Police Commissioner Gordon. In some depictions, like the campy '60's show, Gordon is very pro-Batman and relies on his help heavily. The bat-signal has become part of our popular lexicon, a universal word for putting out a call for help.

In other depictions, though, Gordon turns to Batman reluctantly and skeptically. He is unsure about teaming up with a mysterious vigilante dressed as a giant bat.

In real life, RLSH have had a mixture of experiences. Some, like Superhero and Thanatos, have had open communication with law enforcement. Captain Jackson was even endorsed by the Jackson, Michigan police department.

Others have had negative reactions.
Motor-Mouth, for instance, recalls in a blog post about how he and other California RLSH were on a patrol, when they encountered 5 San Francisco motorcycle police. They explained what they were doing and the officers called them "trekkies" and "losers."

I still have more work to do as far as interviewing and understanding law enforcement opinions, but I would like to share my experiences so far.


When I was in Seattle, I thought I should talk to the police department there. I had read two references about Seattle RLSH encounters with crime and police that I wanted to see if there was any record of.

The first involved the Black Knight. There is a lot that can be said of the Black Knight, but at this point I'm going to limit it to this incident and to mention that he retired his Black Knight persona and apparently related activities.

Anyway, I think just copying our e-mail exchange is all that's needed.

TEA KRULOS: "The first reference I have is from the Black Knight. In a blog entry, he says he was doing a solo patrol of downtown Seattle on May 16, 2009. Around 2AM he was walking toward the Seattle Aquarium. As he approached the intersection of Madison and 1st street, he saw what appeared to be two guys fighting each other. He decided to get involved and was attacked by the two men and two of the men's friends, being kicked in the face and ribs. He says a passerby called 911.

The second reference I have is from June 12, 2009. Mr. RavenBlade says in a blog that he, Black Knight, and White Baron were patrolling downtown Seattle when they encountered the Seattle PD, who warned them that walking around with masks on wasn't a good idea. I don't know if a report was filed."

POLICE SPOKESMAN MARK JAMIESON:“I have searched, but cannot locate any contact between Seattle officers and the superheroes Mr. RavenBlade or Black Knight. If the information in the first reference is correct, then I think it illustrates some of the dangers of attempting to insert yourself into a violent situation.

The best advice, one that we would tell anyone, would be 'Be a good witness.' If you see something such as a fight, call 911 and report it. Get a description of those involved, a direction of travel if they leave, etc. The fact that Black Knight involved himself in the middle of a fight and then was attacked himself should be a lesson.

I think the advice that the group was given by officers, if in fact it is true, is very good advice and should be heeded. One doesn’t need to wear a costume or mask to do the right thing. In fact, walking around in a mask will probably generate a lot of calls to 911. It is best to leave the crime fighting to the police.”


Here's an excerpt from an article I wrote on Civitron and other New England RLSH. For the article I put in a call to the New Bedford Police Department to get a reaction.

"We prefer to be the only costumed crime fighters out there," says Lieutenant Jeffrey Silva, a police spokesman. He says the department is aware of real-life superheroes, but they have yet to cross paths with them.
"Although they might be well-intentioned, we don't endorse citizen patrols, because we don't know the level of training," says Silva. Even so, he concedes that any help to police is welcome.

"Anytime someone wants to get involved and help police, we see it as a good thing, so long as they don't work without police participation. We prefer people to be the eyes and ears of the police."
But what about the strange costumes?
"Well, fortunately, we're not the fashion police," states Silva.


I'm planning on speaking more with my local police department, including trying to arrange a ride along. While on patrol with Watchman and Blackbird we ran into Milwaukee Police Department officers. Here's my description of the police encounter...

Watchman is explaining how he has never been stopped by the police, when another squad crawls by slowly, then turns around and pulls up, parking on an angle near us.
“What’s with the masks?” A female officer asks out of her car window. She has a wary smile. Her partner, a gruff looking male, stares at us, frowning.
It seems like she thinks we are on a destination- maybe a late night costume party. When Watchman says we are just walking around, keeping an eye on things, both officers get out of the squad.
“I need you to take the masks off.” The male cop says.
“What- really?” Blackbird says.
“Yeah really. Masks off and I need to see IDs.” Something Watchman has told me many times, is that he will always cooperate with police. The two remove their masks, their hair messy. Blackbird is somewhat surprised that under the mask; Watchman is…[DESCRIPTIONS DELETED].

I go on to explain, that while the initial reaction was confusion, and possibly concern, after Watchman had a couple minutes to explain what was going on the officers eased up. Although I think the female officer was still confused she began to process that the guys weren't up to trouble, and ended our encounter with a "God bless ya, guys!" delivered in a thick Wisconsin accent.

Also- neither of those two officers had ever heard of "real life superheroes," despite Watchman being in Milwaukee magazine and FOX 6 News.


Thanatos has been careful to work with the Vancouver Police Department instead of against them. He has told them in the past that he is handing evidence over to them, and as he told me this in his van, he showed me black plastic security folder that he uses to put evidence in.
On one of the nights I was in Vancouver, we decided to do a patrol of the downtown area, which was filled with drunken Canadians, half crazed about their victorious hockey teams. In a blog entry, I recall the scene only a half block into the patrol.

We head downtown, and almost immediately meet police officers on bicycles. They’re concerned because there was a recent appearance by an anarchist black bloc(1)who smashed window fronts in Vancouver in protest of the Olympics.
“I think it’s the wrong time to do this with masks. The crowd might get the wrong idea and if there’s drunk people, they might be a target themselves.” An officer tells me.
Thanatos and Motor-Mouth heed the officer’s advice and decide to do the patrol maskless.

Like the Milwaukee officers, I think they were initially confused and concerned about RLSH becoming targets themselves.


Mr. Xtreme of San Diego has tried to establish ties with his local law enforcement, but as the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, it's been a mixed bag for him:

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.”

Source: "Homemade Heroes Offer Low Level Law Enforcement," by Kristina Davis, San Diego Union-Tribune, Jan. 17, 2009

"Real life supervillain" Poop Knife has done two interviews with members of law enforcement about RLSHs in "Ask a Cop" Part 1 and Part 2. I don't know what his sources are. I'm not saying that he's fabricated anything, I just don't know what his sources are.

At the RLSH-Manual, Superhero has written advice for RLSHs dealing with police in an essay HERE.


I'd like to end again with asking any RLSH (or similar) to share any encounters with the police you've had. What happened? How did it go?

1. An anarchist black bloc is a group of individuals who all wear black ski masks and handkerchiefs to disguise their identity and show solidarity. Although some use non violent forms of protest, others (like the ones in Vancouver) use vandalism, property damage, and rioting as part of their demonstration.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

HERO PROFILE #14: The Legend of Nostrum

[Part of Law & Lawlessness Week]

: Formerly New Orleans, last rumored to be heading north.

Battle wounds: Rumored to have lost vision in one eye due to an altercation with criminals.

Weapons: Rumored to be packing heat in addition to other weapons.

About his name: As posted on a website comments section in July 2007 by Nostrum himself:
“For your reference: Nostrum (NASH-trum): a scheme, theory, device, etc., esp. one to remedy social or political ills; panacea.”

Symbol: Nostrum’s symbol (as pictured), whether intentional or not, is very similar to the international squatter’s symbol.

Author's notes: Nostrum is the first (and probably) last person profiled who I haven’t actually contacted in person. Not that I haven’t tried- no reply to a message sent to his MySpace page, which hasn’t been logged into since December ’09. When I first started on the book last April, I e-mailed a couple of people who knew him.

“Nostrum has been MIA since early January. But he wasn't one who liked being interviewed much.” One person told me. This appears to be a true statement. The only write up I found on him was not based on an interview, but on info found in a publicly available profile at the outdated World Superhero Registry.

“Unfortunately, I haven't heard from Nostrum in some time. No one's been able to get in contact with him since the beginning of the year.” Another person e-mailed me.
Additionally, other people told me things that they heard, but not things that they knew as fact.

Therefore, I can’t report any facts. I can only report that I’ve heard he was one of the only people involved with this scene that carried a firearm.
I have also heard he had damage to one of his eyes following an altercation with criminals. I’ve heard this range from temporary blindness to actual loss of eye. There is also different speculation on where he is now and what he is doing.

Nostrum- real life superhero fact…or folklore?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


[Part of Law and Lawlessness Week]

VIGILANTE! Throughout my writing, I’ve run into people anxious to duck the “V” word, the dreaded member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); also : a self appointed doer of justice-vigilantism.

In fact, soon after starting work on this book, I had a team of “costumed activists” tell me in an official statement they wanted to have nothing to do with the book. Why? They didn’t want to be trapped in between the same two book covers with the vigilantes. Their exact words: “guilt by association.”

When I asked RLSH in an interview form what they felt the biggest misconceptions about RLSHs were, a study of the results revealed “that we are vigilantes” was the number one answer. Many people have gone out of their way to distance themselves from the word with the press and when meeting the public.
Even Vigilante Spider told me, in so many words, that he wasn’t a vigilante! (Rather that he was a formerly, but not a currently.)

There are some who have adopted a persona who have some kind of ties with the RLSH (although they usually don't use the "RLSH" term) who do label themselves as vigilantes, but there's only a handful of them. Maybe 10? I haven't done my vigilante census yet.

So why do so many people react like it’s a hot potato? Well, some of the groups that have been associated with the word in the past haven’t set a great precedent.


Top of the list would be the Ku Klux Klan, who began their terror filled night rides in 1865, beating and lynching, and burning crosses. They dressed in white hoods and sheets meant to symbolize fallen confederate soldiers. Although today the group numbers less than 6,000 members in sheets, the group had a very real reign of terror in the 1920’s, when membership was an estimated 6 million members.

The Wild West was sort of a “golden age” of vigilantes. With law enforcement few and far between, it was easy for people to decide to take the law into their own hands. These people were sick of having their livestock stolen, so groups like Stuart’s Stranglers of Montana, and the Tin Hat Brigade, of Texas, began hanging and shooting the thieves.
Other groups like the Anti Horse Thief Association (with a pretty straight forward motto: “protect the innocent; bring the guilty to justice.”) operated within legal means.
A Bald Knobber

A good vigilante cautionary tale is the story of the Bald Knobbers of Missouri. The Knobbers also wore masks- weird looking black ones with red and white patterns sewn around the eyes, nose, and mouth, and cork horns with tassels on top. From 1883-99 they rode out capturing and hanging horse thieves and murderers who had escaped the justice system. At first people supported the Bald Knobbers for protecting their property and safety.

The Bald Knobber’s power went to their head, though, and they began scaring and horsewhipping people they accused of immoral behavior; drunks, gamblers, unwed couples “living in sin,” people supporting a political candidate they didn’t like, and even people they simply considered “ornery.” Needless to say, the people got pretty pissed off with vigilantes telling them how to live their lives, so an anti-vigilante vigilante group formed (the Anti-Bald Knobbers) and the law cracked down on the Bald Knobbers as well, arresting 16 and hanging 4 of them.

Another bloody image of vigilantes is Central and South American death squads.
Los PEPES were a vigilante group, for example, who formed to try to take on and flush out Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar. It’s likely they were funded and assisted by the Colombian and American governments. Eventually they did get to Escobar, but not before leaving a bloody trail killing many of Escobar’s associates, lawyers, and family members. It was like six degrees of separation, except everyone associated was being brutally murdered.

Somba Negra
(“Black Shadow”) is a group of police and military that hunts down gangs and criminals in El Salvador. They cover their faces to hide their identity and shoot the criminals they catch in the back of the head.

Perhaps the most famous case of the solo modern vigilante is Bernhard Goetz-the “Subway Vigilante.”
On Dec. 22, 1984, Goetz was approached by four young men from the Bronx, one of who demanded 5 dollars. Goetz pulled out a .38 special Smith and Wesson and shot all four men. All of them lived, but one was paralyzed for life. Goetz fled the scene, but turned himself into authorities later.

“You decide.” Goetz said about his guilt in his confession. “I became a vicious animal, and if you think that is so terrible, I just wish anyone could have been there in my place. Anyone who is going to judge me, fine, I was vicious. My intent was to kill ‘em, and... and you just decide what’s right and wrong.”

The case was controversial. Some people viewed Goetz as a racist who went out with his gun that night looking for trouble. Goetz also had many supporters, people sick of living in fear in their own city.
Time magazine reported at the time:
“When New York police set up a special hot line to seek evidence in the case, they were deluged with phone calls backing Goetz; many of the well-wishers suggested that he run for mayor or receive a medal.”

A wide variety of other groups are also known as “vigilantes.”
Groups like the Earth Liberation Front are labeled eco-terrorists, and some of their actions could be considered vigilante behavior. Same with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society- despite their scholarly sounding name, this group actively attacks and sinks whaling and fishing vessels.

The Minuteman Project and Ranch Rescue are vigilante groups formed to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent and expel illegal immigrants.
One of the more famed “cyber-vigilante” groups is Perverted Justice, made famous by Dateline NBC‘s “To Catch a Predator” series. The group poses as minors on the internet to lure sexual predators out into a trap.


Despite some ugly vigilantes in the past, and depending on your opinion, the present, I think one thing is clear; our culture loves vigilantes. It’s part of who we are.
Go back to the very beginning. What were the founding fathers, if not a crew of hard hitting vigilantes? The Boston Tea Party was a vigilante action, complete with the participants wearing disguises to conceal their identities.
Since then, our culture has embraced vigilantes as folk heroes.

Here’s a pop hit list of some of our beloved vigilantes:

Robin Hood- The original man in tights! Yes, I realize he’s actually British (first appearance: "Robin and the Monk," 1450) but he’s made the voyage across the pond pretty well. He’s been portrayed by Errol Flynn (1938), a cartoon fox (1973), a mullet sporting Kevin Costner (1991), and Russell Crowe (in a film to be released in May). See also: Zorro.
The Vigilante from Action Comics

The Wild, Wild West
- As mentioned before, one of the great pieces of Americana is the legend of the West, the vigilante being forced to take the law into his own hands. We all know the set up; the quick drawing hero meets up with the villains that have been terrorizing the village on the dusty, tumbleweed littered street at high noon. The posse tracks down the cattle thieves and delivers frontier justice.
There’s a cowboy comic character that first appeared in Action Comics in 1941, simply named The Vigilante.
The Vigilante vowed to fight crime after his father, a Sheriff, was killed by a gang of bandits. He rode the plains of Wyoming, armed with a lariat and his sharpshooting skills, tracking down spies and banditos with help from his sidekick, “Stuff the Chinatown Kid”. There are many other examples of Western vigilantes. There’s even a Dallas indoor football league who has adopted the image, named The Dallas Vigilantes.
Batman demonstrates the dangers of vigilantism

Batman, Daredevil, The Crow, Green Arrow, and most every single comic book superhero
- Justice League of Vigilantes.

The A*Team- Fool pitying vigilantes.

The Big City
- In the 1970s and 80s movies like Death Wish and Taxi Driver became popular. I think it’s safe to say that the general public, upset by rising crime and the crack epidemic, found some vicarious thrill in these “you talkin to me?” style vigilantes.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Vigilantes in a half shell.

Dexter Morgan- Blood splatter analyzing, serial killing vigilante. Dexter is an odd one, because the show is set up so that we feel sympathy for creepy Dexter instead of the garbage bags full of criminals he’s hacked apart.

Now, why do these characters appeal to us so much? That’s easy. A lot of people in this country are sick of it.


In his book Into Their Own Hands, author Gary Provost writes a true crime book about everyday people who have become vigilantes. A women shoots her abusive ex-husband, a father shoots in revenge for the death of his daughter, etc.
These people decided to skip the justice system and become judge, jury, and executioner.
In the introduction to the book, Provost says he and his friends had theorized something called the “Bristol Plan.” The Bristol Plan envisioned a justice system with just two punishments- 2 years in prison or death by hanging. He and his friends weren’t really serious about the idea, but he found himself talking to a lot of people about the plan, and he shared their response.
“What I was hearing in people’s response to The Bristol Plan was rage. You couldn’t enjoy an evening walk in the city, because you might get mugged. You worried about buying that sports car you always wanted because there was an excellent chance it would get stolen. Your kid couldn’t play basketball in the gym because there had been a knifing incident there. Your hairdresser had bruises on her face because her husband was beating her and the cops wouldn’t arrest him. Your taxes went up to pay for more cops, more prisons, more prosecutors, more judges-and all this more didn’t seem to make the slightest bit of difference.”

“The people I talk to are wringing their hands and shaking their heads. They cannot believe how incredibly cumbersome , slow, and ineffective the criminal justice system is. They believe that when a crime is committed, justice comes slowly or not at all. They believe that most criminals go unpunished and the ones that are punished are not punished severely enough. And the people that believe these things are absolutely right. The system is a disaster.”

Provost’s responses are similar to responses I’ve heard myself when talking to people about this book. Most people I’ve talked to feel our justice system is extremely flawed, if not entirely broken.
I’m sure any one of you can pick up your local newspaper and find something that’ll make your stomach turn.

Just a couple weeks ago, I was flipping through my local paper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, when I found an article titled “Man Charged in Sexual Assault of Student.” It turns out this guy was convicted of third degree sexual assault (1999), bail jumping (2006), operating a vehicle without owner’s consent (1996 and 1997), and issued a domestic abuse restraining order (2006).
Last month he followed a 21 year old college student to her apartment, and later was charged with first degree sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, and two counts of second degree assault. Now what makes the story even worse- at this same time he was charged with two incidents that had happened a year prior.
These were charges of child enticement and stalking in connection with 3 incidents with a 14 year old girl in September 2009 and two counts second degree sexual assault in a March 2009 in which he groped a 16 year old girl. At the March incident:
“A Milwaukee Police officer handcuffed (name deleted) near the scene, but the complaint does not explain why (name deleted) was not charged at the time or how the case was initially resolved.”

So they had this guy, and for unknown reasons he walked. And he did it again.


I’d like to say now, that I am not endorsing vigilante behavior here; I’m trying to understand it. I’m not trying to insult people in law enforcement, I think generally they’re good people trying to do their jobs, and frustrated like everyone else.
Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you think our justice system works? Do you think vigilante justice is the answer? Do you think there are certain times vigilante justice is acceptable?


-Definition of vigilante from The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 11th edition
- Phone interview with Vigilante Spider
-Ku Klux Klan info from wikipedia
-Wild West vigilante group info from Legends of America site HERE
-Bald Knobbers: Vigilantes on the Ozarks Frontier, by Mary Hartman and Elmo Ingethron
-Killing Pablo, by Mark Bowden
-A Crime of Self Defense: Bernhard Goetz and the law on trial, by George P. Fletcher
-"Behavior: Low Profile for a Legend Bernhard Goetz," by John Leo and Jack E. White, Time, January 21, 1985
-Into Their Own Hands,by Gary Provost
-"Man Charged in Sex Assault of Student," by Ryan Haggerty, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel March 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


[Part of Law & Lawlessness Week]

Illustration by David Beyer, Jr.

Imagine the scene- a somber looking judge, a confused looking jury box, an evidence table piled high with ray guns and bat-a-rangs. On the witness stand is the latest lunatic to escape from the Arkham Asylum, or an eccentric gadget builder. And at the defense table, a caped crusader, clearly annoyed he has to sit through days of courtroom trial examining the property damage he caused in a high speed chase after criminals through the city, or a race around the world with the Flash.

Any superhero in this situation would probably want Zack Levine as representation. Zack started a blog called SUPERHERO LAW that examines comic book situations in a real world legal system. Although some of these are out of this world (like examining what kind of permits you’d need for a secret lair in space), several are relevant to “real life superheroes” out on the street today. Zack was kind enough to answer my questions in an e-mail interview posted in its entirety below.


Could you explain what Superhero Law is, how the idea developed, your background in law, and your interest in superheroes?

Superhero Law is a blog that analyzes the legal issues that comic, TV, and movie superheroes would face if they were subject to real-world laws. As the site develops I intend to include more discussions of the real laws that directly impact the recent "real life superhero" movement.

The idea started when I was in my first year of law school. I used comic book characters and situations to remember the analysis for intentional torts and criminal law. When I was studying for the California bar I found a number of topics that I had analyzed in class notes and outlines and decided to start a blog to organize the idea.

I manage a transactional law firm in Glendale, CA that handles contracts and intellectual property concerns primarily for new and small businesses. My job definitely has nothing to do with superheroes, but I have been a long-time fan of comics and cartoons. My father was an avid collector of comics in the '50s and '60s and passed his passion on to me.

Let’s start with anti-mask laws. I heard some compare these to the “Keene Act,” the law banning costumed crime fighters in Watchmen. My understanding, though, is that many of these laws on are the books because of the Ku Klux Klan. Could you explain?

I've heard the comparison of anti-mask laws to the Keene Act as well and plan to do a post in the future on the constitutional challenges such an act would face if the government actually tried to implement one.

You are correct though that none of these mask laws were actually drafted to address superheroes. Quite the contrary, most are rooted in efforts to thwart organizations like the Ku Klux Klan from holding public meetings. The theory was that if these groups were unable to hide their identity in public that their activities and membership would be curbed.

Some more modern anti-mask laws are focused more on public safety and law enforcement efforts. For example, many states have laws forbidding drivers from covering their faces while driving or from entering a bank with a mask on.

When researching my post on anti-mask laws for Halloween, I found laws in the following states: California, D.C., Florida, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Violations of these laws range from misdemeanors, which carry small fines, to class 6 felonies, which can land you in jail for a few years and cost a few thousand dollars in fines.

A few RLSH have copyrighted their names and image. How much protection does this give them from being featured in media? I’ve heard of at least a couple journalists being told they couldn’t write about someone because they had copyrighted their name.

Copyright law protects an original expression of an idea that is fixed in a tangible medium. So while a superhero's persona could technically be registered under copyright law it would have to be "fixed" such as in a graphic novel or movie. Regardless of whether these persona could even be registered, writing about a superhero is almost certainly not an infringement of the copyright protection. All intellectual property protection carries certain exceptions for things like news reporting because the government, which grants protection, balances the benefits
to society of reporting the news against an individual's right to exclusively use an artistic work and determines that the dissemination of news is more important.

When it comes to taking pictures (in a journalism/news context) you're free to take pictures of pretty much anyone who is out in the open, with or without their consent. When you are in public you have almost no expectation of privacy and have to accept that someone can take your picture. Modern privacy law is actually an outgrowth of the development of modern cameras in the 1890s. The analysis is slightly different if you're using the pictures you take for something other than news reporting but there is still very little that someone can do if the picture was taken in public.

A production company was working on a reality show about RLSH. Their subjects had to sign a release form, and some of these RLSHs signed with their superhero alias names. Are contracts signed with superhero aliases valid?

Most contracts do not have to be in writing to be enforceable, in fact, the physical document that most people refer to as a "contract" is actually just a written memorial of the true contract, which is the intent of the parties to bind themselves to certain terms.

That being said, a contract that is signed using a pseudonym, or even not signed, is still enforceable against the party as long as that person intended to enter into an agreement. Absent some other evidence that the parties did not agree on specific terms of an agreement, it doesn't matter whether the superhero or his/her alter-ego signed the contract, it is still enforceable.

There seems to be some debate on what separates legal behavior from vigilante behavior.

Let's say one of the RLSH is out on patrol and he (or she) sees a man angrily yelling at a woman and slapping her. The hero makes the right first step and calls the police. What next? Can they physically intervene? Is it possible they will be breaking the law if they do?

The line between legal behavior and vigilante behavior is definitely unclear and is not only different in every state, it is constantly changing. Using your fact pattern as an example I will explain some of the more universal rules, but the details still vary from state to state.

After calling the police, if the hero witnesses the woman still being accosted, he/she may be privileged to physically intervene. While the altercation is still taking place, the woman is entitled to protect herself (self-defense), which includes taking action that is reasonably necessary to protect herself and stop her attacker.

The determination of what is "reasonable" in the self-defense context takes into consideration things like relative size, the level of aggression used, and even statements made by the attacker. If the woman were to overstep what is reasonable then the roles would reverse and she would be the new attacker and the former villain would have a right to defend himself against her. So for example, if the man is yelling at her and slapping her and she pulls out a gun and shoots him, that response may not have been proportional to his attack and if he survived the first shot he is probably privileged to take physical action to stop her from shooting him again.

Similarly, if she were to use physical force after he had stopped and there was no need for self-defense then she would be seen as the aggressor.

As a third party, the superhero watching these events unfold is able to step in and exercise whatever actions she could have taken on her own behalf. So, if she could have wrestled him to the ground as a reasonable response to his yelling and slaps, then the superhero could do the same.

The hero is also subject to the same limitations about taking action after the aggression and need for self-defense has come to an end (basically you can never chase a criminal down and lay a hand on them after the fact).

Additionally, I have been using the word "privileged," which comes into play when responding to your next question of whether they would be breaking a law. Technically, any use of physical force against another person is a criminal act, but in the case of self-defense or defense of a third party, the acts are privileged meaning they are excused under the law. Raising a self-defense or defense of others defense if you are charged with a crime such as battery is essentially an admission that you committed the crime but that you had a right to do so based on an exigent circumstance.

About the illustration- David Beyer, Jr. is a Milwaukee illustrator and cartoonist who actually had a brief stint as a courtroom sketch artist. You can see more of his work on his LiveJournal. The people depicted in the illustration are not based on actual RLSHs, lawyers, or judges.

Tomorrow- Oh boy, a whole lot of talk about vigilantes.

Monday, March 22, 2010


[Part of Law & Lawlessness Week @ Heroes in the Night]


The write up for today is different than I thought; sometimes things follow a forest trail instead of a train track.
I was supposed to meet up with Sentinel, who would travel from Grand Rapids, Michigan to meet me in Chicago. He had something important come up, so we agreed we'd plan to roll to Chicago another time in the near future.

Our plan isn't a major operation, we were just planning to cruise around and check things out, to see what we could see.

Meanwhile, I had the weekend off so I thought I'd cruise down there anyway to visit some friends, get some drinks, and check out the Field Museum.

I rode across town on the el train alone, listening to the clack of the tracks, cruising through Chicago's second story windows, over the Chicago River, past Wrigley Field, and I thought about the city unfolding before my eyes.

This Chicago idea started with a thread I posted on a RLSH forum, wondering out loud why Chicago had no Real Life Superheroes (that I knew of) as opposed to cities like Los Angeles, New York, and my hometown of Milwaukee, much smaller (and close by- just under a two hour drive, depending on if traffic is terrible or really terrible) but home to 3 RLSH.

There were many interesting but inconclusive answers.

"Fear? Lack of motivation/inspiration?" Speculated one RLSH. Another noted that Chicago can be a dangerous place and it would take a team of RLSH rather than a "lone wolf." My issue with that argument is that there are RLSH in cities I would guess are equally or more dangerous.

Someone suggested it was too cold, but Chicago is no colder than Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and other cities that have year round, active RLSH.

Among the other ideas was the argument that Chicago is "A Socialist city trying to deny it's residents their 2nd amendment rights." and that RLSH should not try to "protect a place that denies it's own citizens the right to defend themselves."

I don't know about this idea. I would think that is exactly what might inspire someone to become an RLSH and stand hands on hips on an el platform, the Sears tower and city skyline in the background.

I'll have to pick this story up another day.


I talk to a lot of people about this story. My friends, other writers, anyone I think might be interested. I want to hear their reaction.
Here are the FAQs I get- "Are they crazy?," and similarily- "Do they think they have super powers?," followed by "Where are they from?" and "How many of them are there?"

The "where are they from" part is pretty easy. All over (except apparently Chicago!)- Vancouver, Milwaukee, New Bedford, Washington DC, New York, Portland, Italy, Australia,I've even been in contact with a group from Brazil. So all over. Big Cities and small cities, east coast, midwest, west coast, Finland, whatever.

But how many? That is a really tough question. It's tough because people "retire," some retire and then come out of retirement, some change names (multiple times), new people show up, trolls are exposed,and some people are out there that no one knows about.

I saw a list being compiled that placed the number at around 120. That's probably a good start, but most likely incomplete due to the previously mentioned factors.
Most media sources mention some 250-300 number, but that "fact" is just a media invention, passed from one media source to the next.

So, do you want to know the incredible truth? Yes, folks you heard it here first: NOBODY KNOWS. And probably no one will. And that's one of the things that attracted me to this story in the first place. There's a certain unknown factor you have to accept.


As a postscript today, I'd like to note that if you've seen the last couple entries, things have been (as The Mask would say) "Smmmmmmmmmmok'n!" As in a fire breathing flame war.
I take responsibility for this starting myself, by allowing myself to get irritated. Let me explain. It really sucks when you put a lot of thought into a piece, as well as possibly reviewing interviews and other notes, check it twice,and push the "publish post" button, only to have someone immediately run up and scribble some crappy line on it immediately, post after post.

This should have been ended earlier. As I said I am all for hero, villain, general public, anyone commenting. I don't care if the opinions are in contrast to the blog or other commentators. In fact I think a well thought out debate is a great thing.

And I don't care if people leave jokes or one liners or whatever. I do ask people try to use a sensible level of respect and not use insane sexual comments that can be viewed as sexual harassment, threats, using sexuality as an insult, etc.

I don't want to have an environment where people feel that if they have an opinion different than your own, they're going to be bullied with sexual comments.

And actually everyone except one has been really good about this so far, so I'd like to thank everyone reading and leaving comments! It's great knowing people are reading and taking an interest.

Tune in tomorrow for an interview with the creator of the "Superhero Law" blog.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Hello, my neighbors. I've invited you here through social networking and localized media sites, because I value your keen Riverwest instincts and opinions.

Welcome to my blog, where I'm blogging material for my book, Heroes in the Night. It's about "real life superheroes"(and similar people) who adopt a persona and hit the street doing foot patrols, charity events, and other activities. There are a number of different approaches, ranging from active "crime fighting" to picking up litter, and public awareness.

In Milwaukee we have three "RLSH." The Watchman has been involved with this scene for awhile. He does "safety patrols" on foot and car. He tells me that he is looking for crime, but that he will first phone things in to the police before he gets involved. He also does charity missions- for example he donated toys to a local charity around Christmastime.

Blackbird is newer to the scene and is profiled below.

We also have the MoonDragon, who I haven't been in contact for awhile. Last I heard he does street patrols in Walker's Point/ South side area.

Now, the reason I asked you to read this, is I detailed a Riverwest patrol with Blackbird and the Watchman in three parts.
The background PART 1 and PART 2 is probably not news to you at all. In it I express my feelings on crime in the neighborhood.
PART 3 details the patrol itself. I end it with some questions I am posing to you, because the Milwaukee RLSH would like to possibly do a series of Riverwest patrols in the future. I would like to get opinions from the community. Opinions from elsewhere are also welcome, of course, but I want to here as many comments from Riverwest as possible.
Honestly, how do you feel about real life superheroes walking the streets and alleys of Riverwest?
Do you support them, or do you think they should "take a hike?"

Please comment below or anywhere in the 3 part series, and thanks for stopping in.

--Tea Krulos

p.s. Stop back next week for "Law and Lawlessness Week," where I'll be posting material daily.

Monday- A report on my meet up with a RLSH in Chicago, set for this weekend.

Tuesday- Legal questions are answered by Zack Levine, a lawyer who has practiced theories of law applied to comic book heroes.

Wednesday- A look at the history of vigilantes, their appearances in real life and pop culture, why they are celebrated, and criticisms.

Thursday- Hero Profile (tba)

Friday- I detail police reactions to RLSH, through firsthand experiences and stories relayed to me.

So check out the blog and buckle up...it's the law!

HERO PROFILE #13: Blackbird

Operates out of
: Milwaukee aka The Brew City

: Patrols, crime surveillance

: Surveillance gear such as binoculars and listening devices

Author's notes: I just met Blackbird last month (for a patrol detailed HERE), so I don't know much about the mysterious avian crime stopper.
I do know he wants to perch his eyes and ears on the streets of Milwaukee, watching for crime, and ruffle a few feathers if he has to.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Editor's note: Pictures coming soon!

I’m sitting at my kitchen table, eating jellybeans, and my friend Paul Kjelland is the first to arrive. Paul is a photographer, and I’ve used my incredible charm capabilities to connive him into collaborating with me on many projects over the last few years. Its great working with Paul, he’s calm, smart, and has a very creative eye.

I think something we have in common is that we both really enjoy getting into the middle of the action and working on things “street level.” And Paul isn’t a stranger to Real Life Superheroes. He’s shot photos of them before here in Milwaukee, as well Minneapolis and Rochester.
Krulos- what’s going on?” He says in greeting, and then starts examining the control panel on his camera.

The Watchman shows up next, and takes a seat at the table. I give him a photocopy of the handmade map I’ve drawn of the Center Street area.

Before I go into this story further, I'd like to point out that our plan for the evening is not to run through the alley in a flurry of BAM, POW and OOFs, punching criminals vigilante style. The goal is not crime fighting but crime surveillance. We're hoping that our presence may deter crime, or that we might spot crime in progress that can be phoned into the police.

Watchman informs us he has found an Oracle for the evening- Metadata, from the east coast.

Right now is probably a good time to explain what an “Oracle” (1) is. A good starting point is probably the comic book character of the same name. In the Batman universe, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara Gordon, first gained popularity as Batgirl. In the storyline A Killing Joke (penned by Alan Moore) Barbara Gordon is shot in the spine and paralyzed by the Joker.

Subsequent DC writers used this story to invent a new persona for Barbara Gordon: Oracle. Now in a wheelchair, she became tech support for Batman, and later other heroes. With high tech computer gear, she was able to find information and maps, read classified files, hack into computers, and act as a communications coordinator.
“Real life Oracles” do much of the same, minus the hacking and comic book dramatics.
When I joined Watchman and his Great Lakes Heroes Guild teammates Razorhawk, Celtic Viking, and Geist on a patrol of downtown Minneapolis, they had Guild member and Oracle Doc Spectral standing by. I later did an e-mail interview with Doc, asking to explain the Oracle business.

“An Oracle is like a long distance spotter.” Doc Spectral told me. “When Geist, or sometimes another RLSH feels like they may need an extra something on the field, someone to keep Google handy for info on the fly, or just to know where they were last, in case something happens. Usually they supply me with an emergency contact number in the area, the local PD or a confidante. Fortunately, I haven't needed to use these yet.” Doc Spectral says. Doc gave a specific example of being able to translate some graffiti for Geist before he painted over it. Doc enjoys his work as Oracle.
“The RLSH's are mostly a group of really good people who dare to do something different to make a difference in the world. I'm just stoked to have some small part in it.” Doc said in the e-mail.

The Watchman and I sit at the kitchen table and talk with Metadata as she looks at crime maps of the Center Street area online and tell us where and when the most recent crimes have occurred. She also is acting as a checkpoint- Watchman places calls to her at certain assigned times and that way she knows we’re safe and trouble free.

After talking with Metadata, Blackbird arrives, dark and mysterious as always. He has a new mask he’s fashioned, which looks more comfortable and easier to adjust. It was Blackbird’s idea to find a rooftop to have someone stationed on, doing surveillance.

We didn’t find a rooftop, but were able to gain access to the second floor of a tall building on Center Street,a bird's nest with a good view east and north. The plan is that Blackbird and Paul, armed with binoculars, will watch the streets while Watchman and I patrol the side streets and alleys on foot, walking around the neighborhood in more or less a circle, with Blackbird’s position being the center of the circle. We have walkie- talkies to keep contact between the two teams and with “Team Cthulhu” who are mobile in a car.

First, the name. That’s actually the name of the car. Groschopf named it after the weird-ass squid God found in the stories of horror author H.P. Lovecraft.
Don’t worry; Groschopf isn’t into worshipping the squid Gods with the Cult of Cthulhu (2). At least not that I know of.

Groschopf has been doing the same things RLSHs have been doing for a long time. He’s the complete opposite of the Kitty Genovese scenario- when he hears a loud noise, he runs out into the street to see if he can locate the source. I’ve seen him do it. When he drives somewhere, he takes the long way, cruising the alleys to see if anything is going down. I was with him one winter when he encountered someone who had just been mugged. He jumped in Cthulhu to see if he could find the guy and report his location.

I also know in the past he’s confronted someone in a domestic abuse situation and chased a purse snatcher down the street. He’s trained in martial arts and Cthulhu is kind of a homemade crime fighting mobile- equipped with a police scanner, emergency lights, and a driver who knows how to hang a U-turn at an insane speed.

Joining him tonight are his friend Red, a security guard, and W, a former Marine. The plan is the three of them will drive around in a slightly larger loop, keeping in contact with us. That way, if we have trouble on foot, we’ll have a car full of back up very close by.

So there you have it- by air(kind of), by foot, by car, and by someone at home ready to access information, all honing in on the southeast part of Riverwest.


We start in on it. The rough trail we’re following takes us through the alleyways running parallel to Center Street, past the vandalized energy efficient homes, past the bars of nearby Clarke Street, circling around the bird’s nest. Team Cthulhu passes us several times, sometimes without us seeing them.

After the first half hour, Watchman checks in with Metadata. We pass people in the street. Not tons, but there are people leaving the bars here and there. One woman recognizes Watchman from a FOX 6 News report, and snaps a photo of him with her cell phone. Later, a guy hanging out by his house eating a piece of cake recognizes the masked crusader from a write up I did on him for the Riverwest Currents.
Other people seem mystified and give us confused looks.

A little bit after 11:30, Paul needs to lock up the bird’s nest and go meet up with some other folks, so Blackbird joins us on street level. We continue on, walking a similar path of alleyways and side streets. It’s pretty quiet. We decide to lock into a stationary position for awhile, in the dark basketball courts across the street from Riverhorse. We observe a couple of suspicious vehicles. There seems to be a lot of movement of people between the two cars, including transporting something out of a trunk.

Team Cthulhu cruises by them a couple times. It’s hard to tell- are these people suspicious, or are they just hanging around on a Saturday night talking? Would calling it in be helpful or a nuisance to the police? The cars drive off and we decide to take a short walk away from Center Street up to Burleigh Street, also an area with perennial problems.

On our way, we run into Rabbi outside of the Foundation bar. Rabbi wanders from bar to bar, trying to sell flowers to romantic feeling bar patrons. I figure he's a good person to talk to briefly since he spends a lot of time walking around the streets of Riverwest.

"What's with the get ups?" He asks, when he sees Watchman and Blackbird. After explaining who they are, we ask if he's seen anything going on in the streets. He shakes his head, but tells us North avenue, on the nearby east side is out of control with drunk college kids and that he had to help one who could hardly stand into a restaurant to get a glass of water.

We walk up to Burleigh and find the streets there to be pretty empty, so we head back to Center Street. There we meet up with Team Cthulhu, shake hands and part ways.
On our way back to my house, a jeep full of excited young women pulls up, very curious as to whom we are. Although somewhat disappointed we don’t know where the S and M party is, they are equally excited to see that we are out trying to make the street a safer place. The ladies shake hands with the heroes and tell them they are awesome and they are glad they’re out there. One of the ladies even claims she is going to dress as Wonder Woman and join them.

Crime is random thing. It’s not like a comic book, where you can expect to see some scar faced thugs around every corner. My understanding is that a lot of RLSH patrols are like this. We walked and drove around and encountered nothing. But we were out there, with our eyes and ears open on several levels.

I think the premise for the set up was good. A couple of stationary people doing surveillance of an area with teams of people on foot and in cars circling the same area, all within close enough distance that they could be quick back up. I think that’s a lot safer approach.

The bird’s nest was an interesting idea. The set up in the building limited the surveillance, though, to two directions. Also being indoors limited the sense of hearing. In the future, it might be more effective to find building owners willing to allow roof top access, with the pitch being “free security.”

Once Blackbird was down from the bird’s nest, we kind of struggled with trying to decide whether it was more effective to stay stationary in one area and observe or walk and do a patrol.

I don’t know about the other guys, but I felt a lot safer out there seeing Team Cthulhu cruise by periodically and only being a walkie-talkie button away.

The Watchman wants to try to do a series of patrols in the same area, seeing if sticking in one area rather than random patrols will be effective. In other words- will a consistent presence of RLSHs patrolling a small area make a difference?

Watchman would like to discuss this with the citizens of Riverwest, and I’ll be glad to act as liaison. What do you Riverwesterners think? Is Watchman fighting the good fight? Will you support his cause? Will you dress as Wonder Woman (or male equivalent) and join him? Would you wear your normal clothes and join him? I would love to hear any and all opinions.

1. Like almost every title in this scene, some people don’t like the term “Oracle”- to them it implies mysticism and claims of psychic powers, so they use the term “Operator” instead. To prevent people getting lost with terminology juggling, I am sticking to “Oracle.”

2. The cult is well known for annoying everyone with their constant chanting of: "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn", which translates as "In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Smashed windows in Riverwest

If you read my last entry, you’ve probably figured out that I’m not just talking about the ups and downs of my neighborhood for the hell of it. Tonight I’ll be joining Milwaukee Real Life Superheroes Watchman and Blackbird for a patrol of Center Street. Also joining us will be “Team Cthulhu.” More on them and our methodology in the third part of this story, to be posted tomorrow.

First I’d like to share the word on the street. Whether you’re a writer, a RLSH, or just want to know more about your surroundings, it’s helpful to know the word on the street. In this case I started by phoning Jan, the editor of the Riverwest Currents, a community newspaper I mentioned last entry. Jan gets an earful of everything that goes on in Riverwest, including crime and as expected, she has a few things to pass on.

Number one in Riverwest news this week is the repeated vandalism of a couple of energy efficient houses recently built, but not yet sold. The expensive, thick, energy efficient windows must have been smashed with baseball bats or a crowbar last weekend. These houses have had their windows smashed before with graffiti of the anarchy symbol and “YUPPIE SCUM MUST DIE” scrawled in black spray paint.
The people who built the houses have a small company based here in the neighborhood. Acts like this discourage people from building and buying in the neighborhood.
Jan also reports that park benches are being stolen from Reservoir Park- probably to sell the metal. She recommends a local business owner to talk to, who has “always got a sharp eye on the street.”
Lastly, she reminds me that with this being the first warm weekend night alleyways can turn into danger spots.

After talking to Jan, I head up to Center Street to get the vibe and stop in a couple businesses. As Jan said, the weather is fairly nice, a little drizzly, but warm and so a lot of the bars, restaurants, and cafes are full of people.
My first stop is the Riverhorse tavern, a place I’ve done some “deep meditation” in. If you want to get the word on the street, bartenders are good people to talk to. They hear all.

I tell the bartender I’m “writing a piece about crime on Center Street.” He has a pretty clean report- can’t think of major incidents, other than having to kick an occasional crackhead out for trying to steal tips or panhandling. His last personal encounter of crime was two years ago when him and his girlfriend were robbed at gunpoint “by a 15 or 16 year old kid” a block away on Center and Fratney Streets.

I cross the street and head into the Fuel café, which has serving coffee here for approximately 17 years. When they first opened they had several instances of armed robbery, but the employees here tonight also have an optimistic report. They say someone had a wallet stolen off of their table, and someone tried to steal a purse off of a table (but didn’t succeed) and there have been attempts to steal out of the tip jar. No armed robberies and they hadn’t heard of any customers or employees getting mugged.

That’s good news. Maybe tonight will be a quiet, peaceful night. Then again, it is a warm night and there are more people out. That sometimes equals crime.
To help everyone out there in this operation tonight, I’ve done a handmade map of the Center Street area, drawing in the businesses that will be open and a couple “points of interest.” I think the most potentially useful feature is that I’ve numbered all the businesses with their addresses. Should we have to call something in, it might help in identifying the exact addresses, which are sometimes missing or not immediately visible.

Now I’ve got to quick clean up the meet up spot. In the past I’ve joined RLSH at a variety of meet up spots- the statue of Mary Tyler Moore in Minneapolis, an abandoned carnitas stand on Milwaukee’s south side, city parks, cafes, and street corners. This time, the meet up spot, like the patrol itself, is a little bit closer to home. Literally. My kitchen table.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I love this neighborhood I live in, Riverwest. I first moved here when I turned 18, about 14 years ago. Since then I’ve lived here on and off, but mostly on.

What I loved about the neighborhood then is the same as what I love now. A huge creative class of musicians, artists, punks, hippies, bohemians, Goths, circus performers, activists, college kids, etc. live here. There are a lot of great cafes, bars, art galleries, and music venues. Generally speaking, a lot of these places have an air of being cool, but not snobbish or elitist. There are some really strong community ties here. We have a really great community newspaper, the Riverwest Currents, where I got in some of my first chops as a writer. There are neighborhood watch groups, an online network, block parties, street festivals, and I know some crazy dudes who even organize an annual 24 Hour bicycle race. And, of course, the rent is cheap.

Besides being known as a creative center, Riverwest also carries a certain stigma as being a neighborhood with crime problems. The media has run with this hysteria in the past. People get this one note song in their head about crime here. Here’s a good example- years ago my ex’s sister and her boyfriend wanted to meet us for drinks. They didn’t want to meet us in our crime warzone home of Riverwest. They would, however, meet us at the Red Room Lounge- about half a block away from Riverwest. In their heads, I guess, crime follows the boundary lines of the neighborhood, with some force field keeping it in!

I’ve actually seen the neighborhood visually improve over the years I’ve been here. A lot of shops that were boarded and barred up repainted their stores and opened up the windows again. A couple of fantastic community gardens have been developed. Gordon Park and Reservoir Park were both depressing places when I arrived- chain link fences, dried up ground tangled with litter, swing sets with no swings, basketball boards with no hoops. Gordon Park wasn’t a place you walked by at night; there had been several rapes and muggings in the park.
Both of the parks were given a major overhaul, so they are both cleaned up with new equipment. I see many families enjoying time there on a nice day.
I see these things and it makes me really, really happy.

Optimism aside though, the area still has crime. That is a fact, one that the many people who love this neighborhood struggle with. Some of the more common crimes are car break ins, vandalism and graffiti, and muggings. We also get more major crimes such as home break ins, rape, armed robbery, drug dealings and murder.
The car break ins, vandalism and graffiti are often done by the bored neighborhood kids.
We've also had an unidentified problem with arsonists in the area, as reported HERE.
The crimes sometimes seem appear in waves, but they never completely disappear.

I’ve never been mugged myself. That’s because most of these criminals are cowardly and don’t want to tango with a 6’5” dude that looks like Boris Karloff if they don’t have to. Many of the friends I have in the neighborhood, though, have been mugged at some point.

Let me give you an example, and unfortunately, it’s not the only one. A friend of mine, small female, maybe about 5’2” was working, closing up a café here on the main drag of Riverwest: Center Street.
She swept and mopped the floor. Cleaned the bathrooms. Did the dishes. Took out the garbage. Stocked. Balanced the register. She finished the work somewhere between 11PM and Midnight. She locked the door and headed east to meet some friends at a bar less than a block away. She was going to have a couple of drinks and socialize with her friends after a long shift. As she crossed the street, two young men stepped out of the shadows where they were lurking. These fucking (expletive NOT deleted) cowards punched her repeatedly in the face and ran off with her purse, which had maybe, 20, 30 bucks she got from the tip jar.

Do I wish I would have been there, also lurking in the shadows, dressed up like Rorschach or Batman? Believe it.


Pictured- Kitty Genovese

“Dear God, what have we become?”
-Reaction to Kitty Genovese case, recorded in 1964

I have heard more than one Real Life Superhero talk about the story of Kitty Genovese, a woman violently stabbed to death while her neighbors took no action. The incident led to the coining of the terms “Genovese Syndrome” and “bystander effect.” Tomorrow marks the anniversary of her death, and I know the story is on the minds of several RLSH(1).

RLSH point out that it is this sort of apathy toward our neighbors that they are trying to personally combat.

On March 13, 1964 Catherine “Kitty” Genovese had returned to her apartment building after finishing the night as bar manager of Ev’s 11th hour sports bar, at 3:20AM. She noticed a man at the far end of the parking lot. She nervously headed down the street, heading to a police call box.
The man was later identified as Winston Moseley, a rapist who had already murdered two women. Mosley chased Genovese down the street and stabbed her.
“Oh my God, he stabbed me! Please help me!” Genovese screamed. A man opened his window.
“Let that girl alone!” He yelled. Moseley shrugged and walked away. Genovese then tried to make her way back towards the parking lot, around the building toward her apartment door. Moseley appeared around the corner and attacked Genovese again, and Genovese cried out for help. Windows lit up and Moseley got in his car and drove away.
Genovese made it around the corner and collapsed in one of the stairwells in her building. Moseley then returned to attack her for a third time, finding her and stabbing her fatally on the stairwell. He raped her and stole about 49 dollars from her wallet.
In his confession, Moseley told police the motive of his attack was simply to “kill a woman.”
A witness finally called at 3:50AM. Police found that the witness who called was one of 38 witnesses to the incident. None of the other 37 had called the police during that terrifying half hour and didn’t speak to police until questioned in the following days. From a 1964 New York Times report:
“It was not until 2 weeks later that Catherine Genovese, known as Kitty, returned in death to cry the city awake.
Even then it was not her life or her dying that froze the city, but the witnessing of her murder-the choking fact that thirty-eight of her neighbors had seen her stabbed or heard her cries, and that not one of them, during that hideous half-hour, had lifted the telephone in the safety of his own apartment to call the police and try to save her life.”

Among the apathetic answers witnesses gave for not calling police from the safety of their own homes were “I was tired,” “We were afraid” (although when pressed, they couldn’t explain what they were afraid of) and several simply said “I don’t know” and “I didn’t want to get involved.”
The story generated a lot of outrage and disbelief. It was hard to accept the fact that 38 people had sat on their hands while a screaming woman was being stalked and stabbed below their windows.
The story was broke a couple weeks after the event, when a police chief told a New York Times editor about the 38 witnesses over lunch.
“The police were able to piece together what happened –and captured the suspect-because the residents furnished all the information when detectives rang doorbells during the days following the slaying.
‘But why didn’t someone call us that night?’ (Lieutenant Jacobs) asked unbelievably.

Some facts of this story were disputed in later years, alleging that the New York Times sensationalized parts of it. Because of the lay outs of the buildings, no one could see the entirety of the attack, and many couldn’t see it at all. It was a cold night, so through the closed windows, many thought it was a “drunken argument” or a “lover’s quarrel.”

I’m not going to get into debunking parts of the story here. The fact is, several people did see or hear something, and on that night mankind failed Kitty Genovese.


1. Zetaman has pointed out that many RLSH may feel an affinity to this story because it is part of the storyline of Watchmen. In a flashback, Rorschach recalls how he had a job as a youth in a garment factory. Kitty Genovese places a special order for a mod style, ink blot shifting dress. After he learns of her murder, he uses the dress fabric for his mask.

Thirty-Eight Witnesses, by A.M. Rosenthal, 1964
Kitty, 40 Years Later, by Jim Rasenberger, New York Times, February 8, 2004
The Kitty Genovese Murder, by Mark Gado,truTV.com
Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Thursday, March 11, 2010

HERO PROFILE #12: The Irishman

Photo by Thanatos

Operates out of: Seattle aka The Emerald City
Activities: Street patrols, often joined by his partner, the White Baron
Skills: Undercover work, good with mechanics
Drink of choice: Guinness

Author's notes: With Saint Patrick's Day approaching next week, I thought it would be only natural to profile The Irishman of Seattle. I met Irishman last month in Vancouver, and took the Greyhound back to Seattle with him. My impression is he is highly inspired by his peers to make his personal life and the streets of Seattle a better place. That's why I'll lift my first glass of beer on St. Pattie's to the Irishman! Cheers!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Sacre bleu! If RLSHs ever need back up, they can turn to the citizens of France, who apparently love the RLSH story.

I got an early indication of this at the Superheroes Anonymous 3 conference in New Bedford, where I discovered my four media colleagues were all reporting en français. There was a lady journalist named Aurelia Perreau who drove me wild a la Gomez Addams with her French accent, along with a photographer who were there covering the story for a French magazine. There were two cameramen who were also there, unaware of the other party filming footage for a French TV news magazine which translated to 66 Minutes (the French apparently prefer an extra 6 minutes of footage).

[By the way- has anyone seen the final products of these endeavors? Because I haven't and would like to see them. I tried a google search, but didn't come up with anything.]

At SA3, the 3 French cameramen were going absolutely nuts trying to grab footage- running, jumping, climbing, crawling, circling, doing trick shots off car window reflections, extreme close ups, longshots,and bird's eye and worm's eye shots, all with cigarettes dangling out of their mouths. I mean some of their moves were like parkour stunts!

I can vouch for Zetaman doing a heroic deed, here. And that is possibly saving three French journalist's lives by shouting at them to get out of the street as they tried to get shots in the often unfriendly New England traffic zooming by.

At the official SA3 dinner at the Waterfront Grille, I had a couple of drinks with the four journalists who seemed equal parts excited and bewildered. The next day I arrived at the SA3 food drive event (with rapper Tem Blessed) and saw a woman setting up a camera, talking American English. Ah-ha I thought, another Yank journalist. The irony, though, was that she was a Washington, DC correspondent for Agence France-Presse which is the French version of the Associated Press!

Besides this, I know Zetaman has met with a French television show before, who also met with Captain Jackson.

The country has produced two RLSH that I know of- Wolfram, who I haven't spoken with and Le Vigilant who I've done an e-mail interview with. He is just starting out in the city of Avignon, studying, assembling a costume, etc.

I mention all this because I've been in contact with a French photo journalist who came across this blog. He is very excited to take a cross country trip, hoping to photograph as many RLSH as he can, for photo essays in some French magazines, with a possible subsequent showing of his work in a French art gallery.
He's shown me some links to his work, it looks pretty awesome and he's had a lot of work published in some major French magazines.

He plans on traveling approximately June 15- August 12. He plans on hitting the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast. He thinks he will start in New York, a logical beginning for any cross country trip with easy access to other East coast cities.

Next, he'll be heading toward Milwaukee, where I plan to meet with him and introduce him to the Milwaukee crew (if they're up for it) and he could possibly hit up some other Midwestern cities while he's in the area. Lastly, he'll be going to the West coast. He likes Portland for a starting point there.

Sounds like a grand RLSH adventure. If you would like to be documented by him, send him an e-mail. He'll be glad to hear from you.

His name is Pierre-Elie de Pibrac.
E-mail: pierre.elie.de.pibrac@gmail.com

Monday, March 1, 2010


Scenes from the last year: On the street in Minneapolis; Inside Joe Rebelo's dojo in New Bedford; Outside the Olympic Tent Village in Vancouver.

A year ago today, I met Watchman for the first time to write about him for Milwaukee magazine and later last March I decided to explore the possibility of a book. After talking to some people, I decided there was enough of a story for a book and that it was a story I wanted to tell.

Since then I've met quite a few RLSH in person:
The Watchman, MoonDragon, Razorhawk, Celtic Viking, Geist, Civitron, Zetaman, Dark Guardian, Recluse, Basilisk, Nyx, Phantom Zero, Zimmer, Amazonia, Scavenger, Runebringer, Life, Cameraman, Sir Steampunk, Knight Owl, Blackbird, Thanatos, Lady Catacomb, Motor-Mouth, Victim, and The Irishman. Also met a few villains on the way (see last entry).

In addition I have done many, many phone and e-mail interviews, not just with approx. 100 RLSHs (or people doing something similar who do not like the RLSH title) but other people I thought might offer insight- other writers, comic book creators, etc.
I thought it would be fitting to post this excerpt from the introduction to my book, in which I describe my meeting with The Watchman one year ago. The Watchman reoccurs throughout the book, and it is through him I get to understand the scene more clearly.


Springtime in Wisconsin shows Mother Nature at her most schizophrenic. A sunny day may suddenly become a rain storm, the rain can turn to sleet, and the sleet can turn into a blizzard. There are strange, terrible weather phenomena like “thunder snow” and freak temperature changes.
It might seem like a good day to head to the beach and a good day to wrap in blankets and drink hot cocoa, all within a few hours.

I cursed my ancestors for settling here on the night of March 1, 2009. It was just after sunset, and a freezing 9 degrees, with a steady, frigid wind. I was pacing back and forth on a path in Gordon Park, your typical neighborhood park. The park lies on the corner of a busy intersection on Milwaukee’s east side, in a neighborhood I call home, Riverwest.

I rubbed my mitten-clad hands together, trying to keep feeling in them. I wondered if the story was really worth getting frostbite for, as the cold bit my face. The park was abandoned and silent. Only two people were crazy enough to be out in that weather, and one of them was me.

The other person might be called crazy for other reasons. I was waiting for my first meeting with someone who dresses as a superhero and patrols the street looking for crime. I forced my frozen hands to reach for my cell phone and stiffly dialed a number I had been provided.
The phone rang once, and a voice said “This is the Watchman.”
“Hi Watchman, yeah, I’m in the park near the playground equipment,” I said, exhaling a frozen cloud of breath. A swing creaked slowly behind me in the wind. The Watchman told me he was pulling into the parking lot.

He rolled up to the park, not in a high tech Batmobile, but a pretty normal looking four-door tan Pontiac. He exited his car and began walking through the empty park toward me,his trenchcoat blowing in the wind. For those first strange moments I felt somewhat unprepared to interview a costumed crime fighter.
I thought to myself, “Oh my god there he is. He’s real, and wearing a costume and walking toward me. Now what do I do?”

He extended a motorcycle-gloved hand to me in greeting. The rest of his costume that night included a simple domino mask, a red hooded sweat shirt with The Watchman logo (a stylized letter W that also resembles the tip of a clock hand) stenciled on it, army boots, and a black trench coat.

I had met my first Real Life Super Hero.