Real-life superheroes (RLSH) is a phenomenon of fandom where people inspired by superhero fiction dress up in costumes or masks in order to perform community service such as neighborhood watch or in some cases vigilantism.
A journey inside the world of real life caped crusaders. From all over America, these self-proclaimed crime fighters, don masks, homemade costumes and elaborate utility belts in an attempt to bring justice to evildoers everywhere.
Early examples of this type of behavior are reported from the 1990s, e.g. with Mexico City’s “Superbarrio”, who in 1997 donned red tights and a red and yellow wrestler’s mask in order to organize labour rallies, protest, and file petitions to prevent families from being evicted. A “real-life superhero community” in the sense of an online subculture began to develop in the mid 2000s.
The Watchman didn’t arrive in a Batmobile but drove a tan, four-door Pontiac. He was in costume, of course—a trench coat, motorcycle gloves, army boots, a domino mask, and a red hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with a W logo. Journalist Tea Krulos had spoken to him over the phone but never face-to-mask. By the end of the interview, he wasn’t sure if the Watchman was delightfully eccentric or completely crazy. But he was going to find out.
Heroes in the Night traces Krulos’s journey into the strange subculture of Real Life Superheroes, random citizens who have adopted comic book–style personas and hit the streets to fight injustice. Some concentrate on humanitarian or activist missions—helping the homeless, gathering donations for food banks, or delivering toys to children—while others actively patrol their neighborhoods looking for crime to fight. By day, these modern Clark Kents work as dishwashers, pencil pushers, and executives in Fortune 500 companies. But by night, only the Shadow knows.
Well, the Shadow and Tea Krulos. Through historical research, extensive interviews, and many long hours walking patrol in Brooklyn, Seattle, San Diego, Minneapolis, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Krulos discovered what being a RLSH is all about. He shares not only their shining, triumphant moments but some of their ill-advised, terrifying disasters as well. It’s all part of the life of a superhero. As the Watchman explains, “If everyone made little changes in what they did, gave a little more to charity, watched out for their neighbors, we wouldn’t have the problems that we have.”