Wednesday, March 9, 2011


By Tea Krulos

This blog, and the book tied into it, studies the subject of “Real Life Superheroes”(RLSH) – people who invent their own persona and step out into the real world in a quest of crime prevention, crime intervention, or charity and humanitarian efforts.

Not everyone associated with the RLSH community has been comfortable with the “RLSH” branding, though.

“I used to straight up hate the term.” Says Zero, a founding member of the New York Initiative. He used to be known as the single letter “Z,” but recently switched personas to “Zero.”

“I'm still a bit uncomfortable with it, as it refers to the self as both "super" and a "hero,” Zero says, adding, “Whatever your beliefs or philosophies about that, no one in the community can deny that the term has caused some massive problems and misunderstandings. Over time, I started to see it as either one of two things: a misnomer for some, and a lifestyle choice for others.”

Zero and others have long looked for a term that describes what they do, minus the superhero imagery.

“I think that by offering a new term to those that want to operate parallel to the RLSH community and within it without being pigeonholed by it, we can open a new door for people interested in the work but not all the bells and whistles.”

Zero believes he has found that term, and explained it in an announcement:

“ As you know, I changed personas in light of a shift in personal views, and overall disposition. I figure it's time to step forward and, in the interests of transparency and truth, step up to the plate to represent this community.

“That being said, if I'm going to take part in this community, I think it best that we move to make it more accessible to everyone that wants to help, not just the mask and cape crowd. This is why when I recently saw a post on Facebook by an RLSH called Night Bug concerning a personality type known as "Extreme Altruism" (Or X-ALT, the term coined by Night Bug), I saw the possibility to finally put this argument to rest for some of us who have never been comfortable with the term.

“So, to make this nice and short... New and old RLSH alike, allow me offer an alternative to the RLSH brand, presented to you as a parallel designation, not a further schism to the community. I believe that by making this more accessible to the public, we can get some real change done.

“And to the naysayers who want to tell me that this has been done and done again, I say yeah, it has. But it's worth a shot.

This is Zero, and I am an X-ALT.”

The posting Zero refers to is an article by science writer Andrea Kuszewski who penned an article that has been heavily circulated between RLSHs online titled “Addicted to Being Good? The Psychopathology of Heroism.” The article examines people with traits of extreme altruistic tendencies (or as Kuszewski labels them, X-Altruists) and compares them with sociopaths. She finds that the two share many traits, with the key difference being that the sociopath acts in their own interest, while the X-Altruists act in others’ interests. You can read the article HERE.

Zero explains the term has a tie in to the X-Men comics, but the title isn’t as grandiose as the “superhero” label.

“It's also somewhat of a nod to the X-gene, so people that still enjoy the connection to comic fiction can have a term that doesn't automatically, and by proxy, claim anything fantastical or insinuate that they're calling themselves heroes.” Zero says. “Just a little different by nature or nurture. I personally believe it's high time we have a choice so that some of us can move on beyond terms and into real understanding of the work cut out for us.”
Zero (left) with Thre3 in New York


The team Zero is part of- the New York Initiative- was featured in a cover story I wrote for the New York Press in July 2010. At that point the team was a group of four, crammed into a small Brooklyn apartment- Zero, Zimmer, Lucid, and Tsaf.

The group has now not only moved to into a bigger space, but membership has tripled. Dark Guardian is a martial art instructor, and one of the original RLSHs of New York City. After he and the NYI resolved some differences, he joined the team. New members also include Samaritan, Blindside, BattleStar, Skinner, Short Cut, Shade, and Thre3. Members are spread out through four of the five boroughs, with one member in New Jersey.

The group works together to train, do patrols, security, and humanitarian and outreach programs. Their mission statement reads:
“We are individuals organized towards achieving peacekeeping objectives and humanitarian missions. This will translate into a variety of non-monetary services as unfolding events demand. Our primary goal will always be to help those in the most need to the highest ethical standard and to the maximum effect.”

The New York Press article generated a lot of interest and the NYI received requests from documentary makers, hopeful reality show producers, local news and radio, and a host of others. However,the NYI made only one commitment- to be filmed for Michael Barnett and Theodore Jame’s documentary Superheroes, which catches the team in action on the streets of Brooklyn. The film is hoped to be released in some capacity this Summer.

Zero reflects on the period captured in the film as somewhat dark days when the team was just trying to get by. The new NYI is more public and community friendly. They’re even looking into getting non-profit status.

In another entry in the “don’t believe the civil war” hype, Zero says the NYI has a “work in progress” trying to bridge gaps and communicate with the Rain City Superhero Movement, whose most famous member is Phoenix Jones. The two groups have been exchanging ideas, particularly with Rain City’s Red Dragon and Blue Sparrow.
Members of the NYI, (L-R): Blindside, Samaritan, Zero, Thre3, Dark Guardian


In a mysterious twist, Zero also revealed that his “Z” persona had been passed on as a legacy to a second person, an unknown person operating in an unknown city.
Zero vouched for the second Z-

“He’s definitely someone I know, and he's definitely no new kid on the block when it comes to this work.” Zero assures. “He's not a member of the NYI. I do trust him with the name, as he has proven time and time again to have more sense than I had at his age, and both the drive and the skills to carry on the DIY nature of my idea of Z.”

Although the days of Z were over for Zero, the persona was developed enough that he wanted to see it live on.

“It's partially an experiment and partially a belief of mine that like a shaman, we all take on our ideal faces and become philosophy incarnate.” Zero says. “For me the idea of Z was dead, but through a figuratively alchemical mix of both timing and progression of character, the new Z was there and perfectly aligned to Become. Of course, this is all very dramatic, but if you're any kind of philosopher, you'll realize the weight of an identity. Sometimes they can bring you so far you don't have the heart to let them die.”

I also had a chance to exchange e-mails with the newly christened Z, who explained that he first encountered Zero on one of the RLSH forums.

“My first impression was that he was kind of a dick, and I guess I was right. But it wasn’t a bad thing. Being a dick sometimes can have definite advantages.” Z says of his initial reactions. “Anyway, I sort of took to him because he seemed like the most legitimate of anyone I saw. Looking at him, listening to him, talking with him - I could tell this guy was the real deal.”

Z talked more on the advantages of being blunt.

“Saying ‘Maybe you should get a bulletproof vest, just in case’ doesn’t hit as hard as ‘Are you stupid? Spend it on a vest or you’re going to die.’ It’s just a matter of not skirting around what needs to be said. I respected the hell out of that - his willingness to take some criticism or dislike as long as he got the (expletive) point across.”

In one conversation, Zero told the future Z that he was adopting the new Zero persona, but hinted he wanted to pass the Z mantle on.

“I said I knew I could be Z better than anybody, and I said Z is somebody who needs to exist. He was hesitant at first.” Z says. “But after a long while, he said ‘Do you still want Z?’ Naturally, I was down, so that’s when it happened. I had the name and the identity to reflect who I was.”

Z also explained the legacy of who Z is in the RLSH world.

“See, to me, Z is like the dark side of the movement.” Z says. “Not in a vengeance and murder way at all. But being Z isn’t about being a ‘super hero.’ It’s not about wearing tights and being recognized for your deeds. It’s about actually making a difference, whether people notice or not. And that’s how it should be. I’m not hating on the brightly colored guys. The charity types and whatnot. But that’s not what I’m trying to do.”

“I’m not a Real-Life Super Hero. I’m an X-ALT. I’m not going for the comic book style anymore; I’m living in reality, with a twist. I’m here to help, no matter what. No matter the opposition, support, notoriety, or lack of it. I’m just doing what I can. But I will admit: it’s hella fun.”
The New Z
Tomorrow: Profiles on Z, Night Bug, and our first "retconning" of a profile.


  1. I kind of like the term "X-Alt" and hope it might catch on and become commonly used. I'm not sure that I'll correct anyone who wants to call us RLSHs, Costumed Crimefighters, Charitable Activists, Citizen Heroes or whatever, but I think it's a good concept.

    I can't think of a better answer for why we do this other than we're "addicted to altruism." With any of my many other explanations for doing this "Weird thing" and being Geist, each and every one of them can still come back to that.

    Zero took the time to give me a call today and check to see if I was bent about the concept or anything. Of course not.

    To a degree, they're just words, but words also have power. And this term seems to have a good sense of accuracy on many levels as well as being referenced on more than one level.

    The New York Initiative seems to be onto this and a great many other good things. Maybe it's time we get as serious as they are and follow their example.

    For the time being, I'll still tell children that I'm a Real-Life Superhero because it sorta seems gives an immediate image and might seem impressive to them, but someday it might be enough to tell anyone that I'm an X-ALT.

  2. We'll see how it goes. The NYI is working hard and accomplishing things. Nice to see you write about them.

  3. This whole deal reminds me a lot of the basis behind the term "parkour." It's intentionally not a French word, although it is derived from one - the word for obstacle, because it is not really a French activity. Having less strings attached to the term gave it more freedom of meaning. I see a lot of similarities for using the term X-alt.

    Granted, many traceurs (parkour-ers) tend to put a lot less emphasis on names and words than actions. In the end, parkour is just moving. Similarly, RLSH/X-alt/whatever is just helping people.


  4. Welcome to 1998, Bridges. Do enjoy your stay and don't hesitate to phone us here in the year 2011 to see what we're up to these days.

    We're waiting for your call.

  5. I'm getting a profile here? Super!

  6. The term X-Alt just doesn't resonate with me, both aesthetically and because of the negative connotations mentioned in the article. To each their own, though.

    My comfort level with the term "superhero" is influenced partly by the work of Joseph Campbell, including his idea of a "monomyth" or "Hero's Journey." I think he went too far by trying to universalize his ideas to every single myth, but the general idea is a very good one.

    Myths are cultural narratives that help us to understand the world and our place in it. Most of them are centered around a Hero or Heroes who demonstrates the merits of leading a good life. Why not become authors of our own destiny by creating our own personal myth and going on our own personal Hero's Journey? And if we're going to do that, why not call ourselves superheroes if that's the heroic term that appeals to us?

    Basically, I only see it as a problem if you let your ego get carried away and start being mean to people or losing sight of your goals and values.

  7. X-Alt EXTREME! Altruism on the EDGE!

    Overlord approves. She's also thinking Mountain Dew should step in as a corporate sponsor, you know, revitalize the brand.