Saturday, June 26, 2010


I think first heard about the “Night Rider book” as it’s usually referred to, in Vancouver from Knight Owl while cruising around in the Thana-van. What I was hearing was that an individual had written a guide book to be a real life superhero…in 1980.

I talked with Zimmer about this book again when I was in NYC, and of course both times I discussed it, I realized that it was important to me to read this book.
I finally got a chance to read it a couple days ago. Reading a copy is a rare opportunity, and some details on the book will tell you why.

-The book actually titled “How to be a Super-hero” by The Night Rider, was published in 1980 by GEM Enterprises with a PO Box in Morgantown, WV listed as the address. Judging from the lay out, style, and typos my guess is that this enterprise was a name Night Rider used to self publish the book himself or with a small group of people. This sort of thing is easy to do now with Lulu and other sites, but was significantly more difficult back then- you had to commit to a certain print run for you book- ranging from a very small one to a few thousand.
----> Point being: No one but Night Rider and his publishing partners know how many copies of this book were printed.

-Fun Fact: Night Rider’s book was published two years before the David Hasselhoff/ talking car TV show Knight Rider aired in 1982.

- The only known copy of this book is in the special collections department of the Michigan State University Library. It can’t be checked out or even taken out of the small reading room in the special collections.

Tracking it down took an international RLSH effort- Toronto based detective Wolf located the book and then RLSH worked together and got Blue Lightning to go to the library, convinced the librarians that he needed to photocopy the entire book (they usually allow only 5 pages copied for copyright reasons) for scholarly reasons. They agreed and he photocopied the whole thing- the book is only 54 pages- and then scanned the pages.

Night Rider provides chapters on physical and mental training (mostly “visualize yourself as the person you want to be" type techniques) a chapter on selecting an effective “uniform,” a chapter on weapons- mostly talking about different ninja weapons; nunchucks, bo, sai, tonfa, manriki-gusari, etc.
I think the most interesting is the last chapter, titled “More True Stories of Real-life Superheroes.” Yes, Night Rider uses this term a few times in his book, 30 years ago!

According to Night Rider, he was not alone out there and gives short accounts of the Phantom Avenger and Ms. Mystery.

The Phantom Avenger, he says, swung into action after a friend of he and his wife came to them for shelter from her abusive husband. The book gives an account of what happened next.

Betty(woman being beaten)'s husband pulled up the driveway and exited his car, an expensive white Continental. As he opened his front door, Jim(aka the Phantom Avenger!)hit him with a flying tackle that carried them both into the living room. Betty's husband looked up at Jim and cried, "Who are you?

"I'm the Phantom Avenger and I'm going to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget!"
With that, Jim hit his opponent with a terrific right that sent him sprawling over the coffee table. Pouncing on him, he raised him up to his feet by gripping the man's throat.

He tried unsuccessfully to fight back, but The Phantom Avenger was too much for him. A flurry of blows knocked the wifebeater across the room, each one hitting the mark. His mouth was bubbling red.

"You like slapping women around, eh?", the Phantom Avenger asked. "Well, get this. If you try to get at Betty at June and Jim's house or anywhere else, I'll be back to give you a real sample of what I can do"

Night Rider said the Phantom Avenger continued his quest:

And occasionally, a drunken and violent wifebeater is found tied to a tree with a sign around his neck:

Up next is Ms. Mystery, who in a similar fashion decided to bring street justice to her boss. Ms. Mystery’s secret identity worked as a secretary, and her and her fellow secretaries were being assaulted at the workplace by their sexist boss and his horny hands.

She called the boss and without revealing who she was told him to meet her in the office, luring him with a sexy, suggestive voice. When he arrived, she was dressed in a disguise, hit him in the shins with her nunchucks and handcuffed him to his desk, leaving a note in the typewriter:


It is unclear as to whether she operated as Ms. Mystery outside of that incident.

Although these stories are interesting, nothing supports these stories except Night Rider’s book, so we have to take his word. Two other people he mentions, however, do have a lot of documentation: Curtis Sliwa and The Fox.

Night Rider talks about Curtis Sliwa and his first organization, the Magnificent 13. This group did street and subway patrols together in a group. Membership rapidly expanded and Sliwa renamed the group the Guardian Angels, identified by their red berets and jackets. At first the Angels faced some controversy, and occasionally still do, but have been recognized and awarded by a few mayors of New York City, American presidents, and other world leaders. They have chapters in 140 cities in 14 countries. Sliwa is still active with the group.

The Fox was an environmental activist at the very beginning of the environmental movement, before the term came into use. The name is clever in its simplicity- The Fox became active after seeing pollution, mostly unregulated, damaging the Fox River. Zorro also translates as “fox,” and The Fox became a Robin Hood or Zorro figure, especially to environmentalists.

The Fox was an environmental science teacher and lived on a farm in northern Illinois. His first action as The Fox was trying to plug up a sewage drain that was pouring waste from a soap factory into the Fox River. The Fox returned to see if the drain had been unplugged. It had. He describes the scene in his autobiography, Raising Kane: The Fox Chronicles.

"Before me lay a mini-disaster. Bank-to-bank soap curds filled the water from the dam back to the sewer. Looking into the pool, my heart sank.

"Floating upside down, with their orange legs relaxed in death, was the mallard hen and all of her baby ducks. The shock of seeing such carnage gave way to sorrow and then rage. Wading into the glop, I saw one tiny duckling’s foot feebly kick. Scooping it up and stripping soap waste off its partly fuzzy body, I tried to open its little beak and blow breath into its lungs. The little body went limp in my hand as the final spark of life flickered out. Everything got blurry as tears of sorrow and anger rolled down my cheeks."

The Fox decided to fight back against companies like this with direct action. When companies were polluting the air, he would put caps on their smokestacks or leave dead skunks by the doorway to the factory. In one case he walked into the reception area of a company and dumped several gallons of their chemical onto the carpet of the floor. At one point, he held a mock funeral for the Fox River. He fought back with signs, delivering sewage, plugging up drains and pipes, and dead skunks. He left messages at all of these scenes, signed with his calling card- the word FOX with a cartoon fox face peering through the “O.”

At one point, he held a mock funeral for the Fox River. He caught the ear of Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko*, who wrote about The Fox several times, leading to wider media interest.
The Fox died in 2001,at age 70, and his supporters held a memorial service on the banks of the Fox River.

If The Fox were around today, do you think he might dump gallons of oil in the offices of BP? And do you think most people would view him as a hero?
Bumper sticker of a supporter of The Fox.

*Royko first wrote a column for the Chicago Sun-Times, until Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 1984. Royko said he would never work for Murdoch and moved to the Chicago Tribune. He is quoted as saying, "No self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in a Murdoch paper."


  1. An interesting article!
    I think that this book should have a new edition.

  2. Tea Krulos,

    Well written, and researched! One ponders;

    1) If the superheroes died out between the 70s and the 90s (except for the Guardian Angels), what killed them off (and can it be used again?).

    2) The Fox was clearly much more of a Villain than a hero. You say "no"? One points out, in recounting his story, were any people harmed? Compare to the other two heroic examples - Ms. Mystery assualted her suspect, as did the Phantom Avenger. He plotted, and took on causes greater than mere fist fights with suspects.

    3) Down with any heroes with "Phantom" in their name!

    4) Like any cult, the heroes have their sarcred text. Whoever speaks against the text must be a heretic. And who is this prophet Night Rider, and what is his story? One chooses to believe crime, insanity, and prison - but that might just be oneself.

    5) One believes heroes with their penchant for violence are doomed animals. Why do the Guardian Angels still survive? Perhaps as bad as they must be, the crime in their unique geography is worse? A kind of best of two bad options choice. New York crime rates sustaining their existance, where elsewhere they would otherwise be gone?

    6) Thana-van. Legend's Battle wagon. Is it just heroes that have unmarked windowless vans that they use to cruise around neighborhoods? Creepy.

    7) Zorro - hero or Villain? Within the fiction the establishment called him Villain, and he certainly warranted the nomenclature. If he was real, history would have been written by the establishment, and he would be known today as Villain. One points out a) Black cape, b) black mask, c) he was smarter than the so called righteous men who tried to bring him to justice.

    One thanks you for this illumination,
    -Lord Malignance

  3. Another great article, Tea! Wolf was kind enough to send me PDFs of the book and aside from casually skimming it, I've yet to sit down and read the whole thing. Sounds like I should get to it, though. I agree that it seems to be self-published.

  4. Wow!!! A book written by a Real-life Superhero back when the concept didnt even exist!!! That is beyond awesome!!! So that means we arent the first generation!! Where can I get a scanned version of this holy document?

  5. Excellent post as always. I have a pdf copy of this book to and have only skimmed it. It looks really interesting and sometime when I can I'm sitting down with it and reading it cover to cover.

  6. The book sounds kind of sketchy to me. What they did sounded very strange. Beating up a friends abusive husband. Hitting and handcuffing a sexist boss.
    Fox is an eco-terorrist. If this is our past, I say our future is a big improvement.

    Sliwa and the Guradian Angels have nothing but respect from me. They started out pretty hardcore and somewhat violent, but it was a different time. They changed and become organized, more involved in their communites, their goals went past crime-fighting, and they have done and continue to do great work.

    Compare them to the supposed past RLSH and see who took the right path.

    -Dark Guardian-

  7. Back then Dark Guardian it was hard to prove crimes such at wife beating or a sexist boss. People still got caught and arrested for it but it was difficult and those were the paths they took and at the time I'm sure they believed they were doing the right thing.

    Today it is a different world.

  8. I'm sure Night Rider is pleased people have rediscovered his work after so long. It should be noted that some currently active superheroes are of the correct age to have also been active in 1980.

  9. I agree with Lazerskater. It would be rad to see a new edition printed.

  10. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm proud the rlsh movement started the same time as radical notions of racial and gender equality and gay rights. The Fox started back in 1969 and did an interview with Time magazine in 1970.

    The Night Rider book does not include the historic anonymous crime fighters 'The Lavender Panthers', of which Time magazine also covered, in 1973. They were fighting crime in a group years before the Guardian Angels, and targeted violent homophobia in San Fransisco.

  11. Thank you for this article. This book is an important find for the Real Life Superhero movement.

    The Fox was almost surely one of my indirect inspirations. I didn't specifically have him in mind when I decided to become an RLSH, but my mother was an avid Mike Royko reader, and we did talk about the Fox. His story was one of several strands that came together to prepare me for the idea that everyday people with a desire to do good can adopt a superhero identity as an aid in the cause.

    I haven't read the book yet, but I'll be doing so sometime over the next few days. In the meantime, I'll admit that some of the stories of outright vigilantism concern me too. But as others have pointed out, these occurred in contexts where legal protections for the survivors of certain types of crime were scarce. Part of the dialog around this book can involve finding ways to face these forms of violence and oppression without creating additional needless violence in the process. Just because we find this book fascinating and informative doesn't mean we have to go around repeating the behavior of people from 30 years ago. We can read, discuss, and respond accordingly.

    Anyway, thanks again for the article!

  12. Wow - I thought I was the only one in the world who still had a copy of this book. I bought it when I was 11...I seem to remember there was an ad in the back of a comic book.

    The book is a 8x11 folded in half, with red construction paper-quality cover and center staples. One of my favorite pages is the satire of the Charles Atlas comic (the one where the kid gets sand kicked in his face).

    I've been thinking of scanning it and putting it online...maybe someone already has? If not, I think I will - it's a pretty rare classic.

    There's a mention of it here:

    Also, it's worth noting that there was a movie called "Night Rider" about a masked crime fighter that came out in 1979.