Real… Life… Superheroes

Originally Posted:
May 25th, 2010 by Jim Gourley
When you think about it, the concept of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass is a bit absurd.  No, not in the fact that it puts a 16-year-old kid and a 10-year-old girl in costumes and has them battle gang bangers and mobsters.  And not in the fact that Millar’s oh-so-explicitly-stated premise was to investigate the question “what if real people tried being superheroes?”  So, that pretty much squashes the reasons everyone else says it’s absurd.  So what’s left?
The fact that Millar convinced us that he was doing something incredibly unique with his story.
Don’t get me wrong.  I love Kick-Ass as a comic.  I don’t know about it as a movie yet because I haven’t seen it.  Getting an English language version in Italy takes a while.  Nor do I think Millar is some kind of idiot who writes simplistic tripe in between fits of masturbating to online porn like some people believe (scroll down on the link to see my response to that column).  All you have to do is check out some of the man’s political musings on his website to see that the guy is plugged into the greater social discourse.  If you’re not seeing subtle overtures to greater cultural issues in Kick-Ass, then you’re not looking hard enough.  But that’s another blog entirely.
No, the reason that Millar’s premise is just a tad absurd is that every superhero book tries to explore what it would be like if real people became superheroes.  But, like all superhero books, the realistic elements of the person necessarily have to stop at the personality traits and human relationships.  If the person wasn’t extraordinary, then nothing very extraordinary would happen in the story, and we’d be bored to tears.  So, the story is real up to the point when a teenage boy incurs lots of consequences when he makes a (perhaps misguided) decision to fight crime.  Then Dave Lizewski commences to take superhuman amounts of physical abuse, after which he takes inhuman levels of abuse.  Then he kills lots and lots of people.  So some people come away from the story feeling cheated that the premise wasn’t upheld.  Dejected, they comfort themselves with an issue of New Warriors.
Because Night Thrasher is more believable as a concept for an angsty teenage superhero confronting the consequences of his actions while struggling with lots of life problems.

So people shouldn’t hate Millar for Kick-Ass.  They should hate be angry at themselves for expecting it to deliver something that it never could, and really never promised to.  I mean, come on.  Did Mark Millar, as good as he is, ever profess to have done the kind of in-depth research, shadowing clinical psychologists and interviewing airline pilots for a year to gain the kind of insight required to develop a character that would believably put on a cape and a mask?  No.  So we should never have expected him to write the comics version of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Besides, superheroes don’t exist.  They couldn’t exist.  Believing that you could actually make yourself into a superhero is absurd.
And yet there are people who dare to believe anyway.
Superheroes really do exist.  They are out there, even as we speak– dozens of them.  They’ve even dealt with the issue of registration, without the help of Brian Bendis.  As you can see, they are a very realistic, very unpretentious group of people.  They’ve even foregone the snappy title of something like The Justice League of Extraordinary Adventuring Avengers and simply called themselves what they are– Real Life Superheroes.
But don’t let the unassuming nature of their heroism fool you.  These men and women are quite extraordinary by virtue of their choice to become heroes itself.  They are unique because theirs is a story that even the greats like Bendis and Millar can’t tell.  As I discussed last week, writers and artists in our medium dwell predominantly in the “what if”.  The challenge to making a story believable is answering the “how” and “why.”  But that’s hard when you can’t go out there and get those answers from people.  Thanks to these truly special people, now it can be.
Much of what follows might seem a let-down.  As they answer the questions asked of them with the unabashed honesty you could find only in a superhero, we find that the life and work of a real superhero is unglamorous, boring, and tiresome– and not in the ways we’re used to hearing about in the comics.  In fact, as they relate it, the only thing ‘epic’ about their tales is the mundane nature of their work.  They have never saved the world.  They’ve never been part of earth-shattering events.  They have, with simple costumes and superhuman-sized hearts, gone out to offer themselves in service to their fellow man, despite acknowledging that the call to action will be rare.  They are ordinary people, capable of only ordinary feats, whose stories are, perhaps disappointingly to comics fans, ordinary as well.  With that general introduction, let’s meet the Real Life Superheroes that grace us in today’s discussion.

A self-described objectivist, Death’s Head Moth is a martial arts practitioner from Norfolk, Virginia.  Dark, silent, and fearsome, his purpose is to serve as a warning sign to criminals that there really are things that go bump in the night– but only on their heads.  Working out-of-costume, Death’s Head Moth (DHM to his friends) performs charity and volunteer work.  Whether behind the mask or out in his alter-ego, this is a guy that is constantly fighting the good fight.
Geist hails from Olmstead County in Minnesota.  While perhaps a bit more flamboyant with his costume and approach to his activities, he’s no less of a force for good in his region.  In fact, as he reveals later in the interview, his notoriety is a force unto itself.  Though they adhere to the same code of ethics for Real Life Superheroes, they probably couldn’t be more different.  So they make a great pairing to discuss the life of a real super hero.  The questions follow.

Based in upper New York State, Silver Sentinel is a security professional who decided that he could, and should, do more to help the people of his locale. Having worked in the superhero business for several years in addition to his vast training and experience, he not only walks the tough walk, but talks a very academic talk as well. His blog demonstrates a comprehensive world-view with regard to his activities that come only with a great deal of experience and reflection. He’s one of the sages of the Real Life Superheroes, though he typically does not grant interviews. Hearing from him today is a special opportunity.  As such, he’ll be getting the final word on all the questions.  According to their personas, it just seems appropriate to color-code the responses.  DHM will take a darker blue color to allow grey for Silver Sentinel.  Geist, of course, will have his reponses in green.  And now to let them do the talking.
Gentlemen, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions about your experiences.  Let’s tackle the beliefs that led you to the life of a superhero. What convictions led you to don a costume and fight for justice?
DHM:  The belief that no one has the right to force their will on others. I am to the core an Objectivist.
GEIST:  When I was a teenager, two neighbors of mine were randomly murdered. In that era, I was watching TV shows like “Columbo” where the killer was always caught. The police were never able to identify the killer in this case. My beliefs in right and wrong were shattered. I couldn’t understand how the police couldn’t find conclusive clues to identify the perpetrator. 20 years later the killer confessed and turned himself in. He was someone I knew and who had once been a friend. The crime was committed purely for the thrill of it and he admitted that the victims could have been anyone, including my family.
That event was an insult to my sense of justice.
Decades later, the events of 9/11 were an additional attack on everyone’s sense of right and wrong. I began wrestling with a response to such great evil in the world. Eventually, I heard about Real-Life Superheroes and concluded that this was going to be my personal response to injustice in the world.
SILVER SENTINEL:  In one form or another, I have always been fighting for justice all my life. I pretended to be a superhero as a child. I became an activist in college. I became a minister later in life. And now I’m a security professional. The ideals and beliefs I was raised with, and continued to practice all my life, have led me to what I am today.
Jim: Hemmingway once said “the world is a good place, and worth fighting for.” Does your use of a superhero persona represent a bit of a loss of faith in the law enforcement system to protect people, or the belief that everyone should contribute more?
DMH: Neither. It’s what I wish to do. ” It’s not a matter of who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.
Geist: Both. Whether the police forces are understaffed, or wrestling with a society in chaos, the growing strength of gangs and organized crime indicates that we need a new and unusual response to crime. What could be more disturbing to a criminal than a loose cannon in a crazy costume? Here are people who don’t seem to play by “the rules.” Here are citizens who step out of the normal boundaries and seek criminals on their own. We’re unsanctioned and acting without a playbook. Who knows what we might and might not do? While we might have deep and personal ethics, it’s the doubt and fear in the criminal’s mind that’s perhaps our only real superpower.
While I know that your questions are concentrating mainly on crime, I need to add that the majority of my measurable results tend to be charitable acts done while on patrol. This is where I believe general society needs to be more proactive. When people go hungry, we can’t ignore the problems. When women and children seek shelter from abusive situations, we can’t look away. When we live in luxury while others sleep under a bridge, there must be more that we can do.
Silver Sentinel: Not at all. I believe in the law enforcement system in America, despite its flaws and mistakes. I’m doing what I’m doing because I believe people everywhere have a moral obligation to participate in the safety and defense of their communities. Apathy is the biggest reason criminals get away with so much.
Jim: I want to start with everyone on a fundamental issue. There are already hundreds of thousands of law enforcement personnel all over the country. Then again, witnesses to crime and violence stand by and let it happen every day. How do you weigh the fact that there are dedicated professionals already trying to stop crime out there against the fact that too many people give evil a pass?
DMH: The easiest action for most people is to do nothing and at the same time demand someone else do something. Law enforcement do a lot but they’re not omniscient.
Geist: As a society, we’re far too selfish. “It’s not my problem” is an excuse that allows decay to grow.
Most people console themselves in that police are paid to do their jobs while overlooking the fact that they’re also doing what they do because it’s the right thing to do. What they do is good for all of us and the paycheck is a side-issue. The responsibility to watch out for each other is something that we all share, whether paid or not.
Silver Sentinel: Sadly, often the same people that let bad things happen without trying to help, are the same ones that cry to the authorities to do something about it.. and then denounce the authorities as being brutal, corrupt, and totalitarian.
Jim: I want you to go back to the first night you took on your alter-ego. Suddenly, you’re out there on the street and actively seeking criminal activity to confront. At what point did it occur to you that you are actually looking for trouble? What impact did this realization have on you, and how did it feel to know that “the shit just got real?” I use that phrase to liken the experience to a Soldier’s first patrol in a combat zone, but perhaps my analogy is off
DMH: The first patrol was a bust. Full of exicitment tempered by disappointment. I kept having to refocus myself on the task at hand so as to not inadvertently fuck up. It wasn’t until about a month or so in that I saw any action.
Geist: This sort of goes back to the planning or creating a costume and the ritual of putting it on. With each piece of equipment, putting on each article of clothing, the reality is re-enforced. So to a degree, the hero is being built long before we step out of the door.
But yes, walking down the street and meeting people is where it all becomes solidified. The first people I met in costume was a mother and child. The kid said, “Are you a cowboy?” And I said, “Yes. And I’m also a superhero!” It was then that I knew that that’s who I was protecting. I knew that in that neighborhood people had been shot and that it was only a matter of two blocks from this mother and child.
Silver Sentinel:
I’ve never viewed what I am doing as going out looking for trouble. I’ve always thought of it as going out to see where my help might be needed. But for me, the impact of what I was doing became real when, one night, I found a young woman on the bank of a frozen river, very sick, very disoriented, and half dressed.
She was perilously close to falling into the rapidly flowing icy river, just yards from the edge of a waterfall. She was very disoriented and vomiting, and I was concerned that she may have been the latest victim in a string of Rohypnol (Roofie) poisonings that had been reportedly going on in the local bars. I took her to the hospital, called her mother by her request, and went home worried. Fortunately, the next day, I learned she had simply drank too much at the bar, and lost her coat when, ill-advisedly, she stumbled down to the river to clean herself up.She baked me brownies as a thank you. I played the matter down, but she could have drowned, or gotten hypothermia. Fortunately, I had gone out that night.
Jim: The movie Batman Begins spends a great deal of time investigating Bruce Wayne’s mental, physical, and material preparation to do what he does. Death’s Head Moth and Silver Sentinel have hand-to-hand combat training, and each of you carries equipment or costume accessories that prepare you for actual confrontation. Obviously, there is a degree of mental preparation that led to your own material preparation. What thoughts went through your mind as you prepared to go out and fight crime the first time?
DHM: I kept doing a mental inventory of my equipment and at the same time consider everything around me, trying to find something wrong.
Geist: I think we all might wonder at various times if what we’re doing is something great and possibly heroic or if instead, a it could all be a stupendous error in judgement. I think that personal judgement depends on the risks and goals that you want to achieve in your own life. No one else can make those choices for you.
We admit that it’s bizarre, unusual and unorthodox. Whatever the case, we’re making a choice to do something.
Silver Sentinel: Again, I don’t specifically go out to “fight crime”, but to see where my help might be needed. But I prepared myself by getting my equipment in order, and then prayed that I either wouldn’t be needed (which is a good thing), or that I would be equal to whatever task I might be called upon to perform. Prayer is my preferred method of mental preparation.
Jim: How have your preparations changed? What things have you learned in your exploits that have changed the way you make nightly preparations? Have certain elements of your equipment or tactics changed?
DHM: I don’t eat the day of a patrol and only drink water (in case I need emergency surgery), I check all my equipment for defections, check both road maps and google maps of were I’m going and let an oracle know where I’m going.
My Equipment and tactics are constantly changing. It’s the only way to remain effective and stay safe.
Geist: Yes, I had preconceived ideas about how I might do things and they haven’t really been realized in practical experience. I imagined myself arriving and also disappearing in clouds of smoke and yes, I still carry large smoke-bombs for just that effect. I have to admit, that other than for a photography session, in practical experience, I’ve yet to light one.
The utility belt is something that constantly changes. I also have cargo pants and a coat with many pockets. I’m constantly reassessing what goes into those pockets and whether I can find what I might need within them.
Most of the equipment is only for worst-case scenarios that have yet to occur and I hope never will. I’ve “talked-down” a lot of intense situations to a peaceful resolution. I prefer that everyone goes home happy if I can help it.
My most useful items have been a cell-phone, a flashlight and neutral gray spray paint for painting over gang tags.
Silver Sentinel: All my equipment and tactics are based upon my experience as a security professional, and urban explorer. The only time I make any changes are when time and finances allow. Of course, I now have the Golden Valkyrie with me as my partner (not sidekick), so we’ve developed routines to increase our effectiveness.
Jim: Was there anything that happened to you in your “early days” that you just didn’t anticipate? How have you adapted to face those challenges in the future?
DHM: Meeting other people who do this. It still suprises me to actually make the acquaintance of people like Geist, Z, or Super hero.
Geist: I didn’t anticipate the boredom of patrolling and seeking crime. In reality, it’s basically a lot of walking and driving around. At it’s best, it’s with a purpose and a specific goal. Investigating a specific crime and following up on it is pretty exciting. There was a rapist that I investigated and also arrived at the correct identity of the perpetrator. The police caught him the next day. There was a “fake cop” who I was tracking from patterns of location and dates who I came close to catching. The police also nabbed him in the area and time that I had been patrolling.
Silver Sentinel: Patrol-wise, everything has been going according to my expectations. But I never expected to be so well received by my fellow superheroes, let alone many of the “supervillains”.
Jim: Also part of the Wayne character’s preparation in Batman Begins is a period spent actually being a criminal. He thus comes to understand the criminal mindset. The military and FBI put a great deal of importance in understanding terrorist and gang culture. Have you done any research to get more ‘in touch’ with the criminal’s mind or prepare to face an antagonistic individual?
DHM: Constantly. I can be extremely disarming when I need to and I can use this to get people to accept me who normally would not. old tricks, new drugs, and who’s doing what irredeemable things and were. You can learn a lot just by listening.
Geist: I’ll have to say no to this. It’s an interesting concept, though that I hadn’t considered. No, I’m really not a “profiler” by any means.
I’m afraid to say that I’ve only seen “Batman Begins” once, although a dear friend of mine, Peter Tangen did the photography for that as well as all of the “Spider-Man” and “Hell-Boy” films. I only know Peter because I’m a Real-Life Superhero and very soon, there’s a substantial gallery exhibition featuring portraits and posters of 20 of us for sale. The proceeds, of course, will go to children’s charities.
Silver Sentinel: Both as a security officer, and a superhero, I benefit from talking to others in both professions. Bouncers, police officers, security personnel, and experienced heroes like Thanatos, and others. I also read a lot of material that deals with the subject matter.
Jim: Our comics stories often describe the hero as fighting “a never-ending battle for good”, which seems rather noble. But the sad part is that the battle never ends because we can never vanquish evil. Do you ever feel despondent about this, and how long do you intend to keep this routine up?
DHM: On occasion, certainly. I haven’t yet figured that out. I guess if I ever start do do it half-ass I’ll retire on the spot and let someone else take my place.
I’m one of the older among the RLSHs and no, I don’t intend to ever give it up. I’ll always find some capacity to contribute to the movement. There’s a role that we call an “Oracle” who is someone who assists active patrolling RLSHs on the streets by keeping in phone contact and assisting via computer. Doc Spectral is my frequent non-RLSH Oracle. He’s researched gang-tags, run license plate checks and looked up phone numbers for me. It’s a very viable way to contribute to a hero in the field. If nothing else, I’ll do that.
Do I ever feel discouraged? No more so than anyone else who becomes appalled by the extent of the capability of mankind’s dark side. It’s all the more reason to take a more positive and active role in the betterment of society.
Silver Sentinel: Just because the war never ends doesn’t mean we should ever stop trying. The cause is both just and necessary. We have to take solace in the many victories we bring about, learn from our mistakes, and be content that we have left the world a better place each night as we lay our heads to rest. Because what I do, is about who I am, the only way I could stop is by dying.. which I hope is many many years away.
Jim: Let’s talk about your costumes for a second. With all due respect, I can’t imagine you not worrying about looking silly the first time you went out. A major part of the psychological element of confrontation is looking tough. I remember COL Michael Steele (of Blackhawk Down fame) telling my unit that you have to constantly “present yourself as the dominant predator” on the street to command respect. Have you found that your costume has helped or hurt you in the intimidation department?
DHM: Of course. After protection and freedom of movement that’s one of the most important aspects.
Geist: When I was designing my costume and “look” I was very conscious that I definitely wanted to ride the border between friendly and also potentially frightening. When I go around to charitable missions, I wear the mask down and smile. The kids and social workers seem to love me. I want to be friendly and approachable to them. When they see my smile, it really helps, I think. I’ve often been on my knees or sitting on the ground talking to kid or a homeless person who needs someone to bend an ear and have someone who will listen and understand their dilemma or point of view. What I do is really not all about fighting crime. There are so many other ways to help the world.
If even a friendly person gets nuts, I can incapacitate them. I’ve found that trust is a better weapon in my arsenal, though. The people I help so rarely see that.
But when the mask is up, I’m a bit intimidating. I use the mystery and fear to the imagination of who I’m dealing with. It’s their choice. I can be either a frightening specter or a kind soul. It’s really up to them. I also want to re-iterate that I’ve talked-down almost all problems to a peaceful resolution and didn’t need a legal or forceful response. And I prefer it that way.
Sometimes a guy in a strange costume is the outsider who anyone with a world full of problems can talk to. Meanwhile, I’ve got martial arts training, my stun baton and my cell-phone to call the cops at the ready, just in case. But yes, I’m glad when the situation can be resolved without using any of those.
Silver Sentinel: I save the costume for special occasions. Frankly everyone in my hometown can immediately identify me by my beard, and my general presence. Ask Dark Guardian, in or out of uniform, what you see is what you get with me. I patrol the local neighborhoods as myself. The police, and the people of the community, all respond positively to my presence because many of them know I’m “the neighborhood watch guy”.
Jim: On a broader scale, it seems you could perform your activities without the costume. That being the case, what does the costume add to your image, and what does that image contribute to your cause?
DHM: I do this in normal clothes too. When I’m in my suit I’m simply more focused.
Yes, we could do what we do without a costume. But the costume and all the imagery that goes with it have the power of symbolism and resonance.
If I’m a regular guy who walks down a street looking for trouble, no one knows it. If I’m a regular guy who gives a hot meal to a homeless person, no one notices. If I’m in a costume, doing the same things, I’m an example.I’m also anonymous and could be anyone, including your neighbor, uncle, nephew, post-man or brother. I could be you and you could be me. To repeat, you could be me. That’s an important part of the message.
We certainly don’t all need costumes or kooky gimmicks, but we can all do our part as citizens to step up and make our society better as we are able. Are we consoled to think of ourselves as a good person if we put some dollars in a church collection plate, but also are willing to pass by someone who is hungry or having obvious problems? This is nothing against church-going, but I think we simplify our means of giving. The sense of giving and social responsibility cannot end within an hour.
Silver Sentinel:
It has to be an all the time thing. And no, what I do isn’t based upon religion by any means. By most people’s standards, I’m probably not very religious. What I do is based upon what I think is right.The costume helps bring notice to the specific activities I use it for. Because I present myself positively, and professionally, it usually meets little skepticism. Friends, family, and most locals think that what I’m doing, and what I represent, are pretty cool.
It’s my activities as, “a superhero on the internet”, that some people have a problem understanding.
Jim: Turning to a more procedural note. It’s apparent that you put yourself at several forms of risk, including bodily harm and running afoul of the law. Simply in terms of physical injury, do you have health insurance and are your carriers aware of your activities? Does this factor into your premiums?
DHM: Yes, I have health insurance. Now let me make sure I get the second part of the question right. You want to know if I’ve told my carrier that I dress up in a stylized moth suit and utility belt and fight crime? No, I have not.
Of course, I haven’t told my insurance company about what I do. And they’d never believe me if I did. Nor did I give them a heads-up before I sky-dived, scuba-dived or bungee-jumped.
I’m at a certain age where I sometimes ponder how I might die. I’d rather go out on two feet than in a hospital bed. I mean, really, we’re all going to die, so how do we want to do it? And what, if anything, did our life mean?I have a choice to make as to whether I’m a positive or negative influence on the world. I’ve also made enough mistakes in my life that I feel I need to make up for. If I need to make atonement, it should be anonymously and without pats on the back. So the mask comes easy.
Silver Sentinel: Insurance companies don’t raise the rates of people involved in neighborhood watch programs, or who take martial arts classes.. so why would what we do be any different?
Jim: You’ve become well-known in your local areas. Certainly, law enforcement is aware of your presence. Have they counseled you on your activities and any limits or rules they expect you to follow? How do you coordinate your activities in order to remain a help to them?
DHM: I stay away from cops while in uniform.
Geist: Yes, the police know exactly who I am. I’ve had several interesting encounters with them and they’ve all ended well. I’m not quite sure what they think of me. I have reason to believe they might think I’m a well-meaning nut or they might even be rooting for me unofficially. Tolerance might be a good word for our encounters. I also wonder if I don’t have a good friend in the chain who I haven’t met yet. Some sort of mucky-muck who hides his idealistic and also kooky standards and also might have wanted to be a superhero them self, or at least understands the idea.
Silver Sentinel: Because I’m a security professional, I’ve already been educated in the rules of engagement, and what I can and can not do legally, so the police don’t worry about that. I’m involved in working with my the neighborhood watch, so I operate within that framework. Because I go unmasked, and the authorities know who I am, I present myself as a credible witness and an extra pair of eyes. I never attempt to do the policemen’s jobs for them.
Jim: Now on to actual conflict with criminals. You seek out instances of wrongdoing. Do you have specific areas you patrol? What research do you use to choose the areas you go to? Do you have a particular search method?
DHM: I patrol different parts of the seven cities area. simply watching/reading the news and talking with people. Usually a grid pattern.
Geist: There was a horrendous unsolved rape and murder of a young housewife that I’m constantly investigating. The killer used arson to attempt to cover up his crime. I patrol that neighborhood every time I suit up. These sorts of unsolved crimes are where I hope Geist might be feared. Much like the 20-year-old confession, I need this guy to spill his guts unless I can find evidence to bring to the police. I need him to that there are people looking for him. It’s been five years-plus and I don’t want this perp walking around free without believing that I’m looking over his shoulder every day and night.
And yes, I want him to fear that I might find him before the police do. I don’t have to play by their rules, do I? Not as far as he knows, at least… Maybe I’m a nut-job with a penchant for retribution. Who knows when I find him?
My city has a very interesting website.
A private citizen tracks crime, based on police reports and logs it on a map. I watch the site and use the information on my patrols. I’m not sure why he does this and although we’ve had some email contact, I don’t know if he’s sure why I do this, either.
Silver Sentinel: Yes. Golden Valkyrie and myself actually have several patrol routes we have planned around frequency of disturbances, types of disturbances we’re likely to encounter, and peak activity times when such disturbances occur. We live in a small town, and you can practically tell what day of the week it is by what’s happening in each part of town.
Jim: You see instances of wrongdoing. What are the “typical” events you witness? Soldiers and law enforcement officers have established “rules of engagement”, based on pretty thorough scientific analysis, that help them resolve conflicts as peacefully as possible. Do you have similar rules, and what are they?
DHM: Drug dealing, assault, prostitution, drunk driving ect. I try to end conflicts as quickly as possible. I won’t initiate violence only respond to it with greater force. In cases were I don’t believe my involvment would be benificial (crimes to small to warrant costumed intervention/ situations that are beyond my scope of operations like fires or car crashes) I call from a pay phone or third party purchased prepay.
Yes. Again, my cell-phone is my greatest weapon. But given that, I would much-prefer that a volatile situation can be “worked-down” to a level of talking and resolving. I might not be representative of a lot of RLSHs, but I’d prefer that everyone goes home peacefully and not go to jail. Of course, there are limits of attitude and volition that I will not tolerate, but for the most part, I just want everyone to have a good night. If I don’t have to punch someone or call the cops on them, it’s a good night.

I see domestic disputes going on in yards and intervene.

I see gang-tags and paint over them. Supposedly, that’s a “lethal” insult. Fuck ‘em. They can fear ME.
Silver Sentinel: Oh yes. Unnecessary confrontation is pointless. Never engage a suspect when a call to the police will suffice. Never escalate a situation for any reason. Only engage in physical intervention when bodily harm, or worse, are definitely going to happen and can not be avoided. Never carry weapons, or equipment, that are not legal in our jurisdiction. And always co-operate with the authorities under all circumstances.
Jim: What is your threshold for the use of force?
DHM: I’m not planning on killing anyone if that’s what your asking.
Geist: I’ve held a guy down at someone’s request while the police were called. I never knew the offense, but the cop dragged him away without questions for me. I was civilian and undercover at the time which makes me wonder why the person in charge asked me to do that.
I’m not going to use force unless someone is at risk. If someone else is at risk, I’ll go nuts with anything I have to use (all of my equipment is completely legal for my state.) Ideally, I can give the cops a call about what’s going on, but in the meantime, I’m there and they’re not.
Yes, I’ve been called a martial arts “expert” in the press, but I’m really a perpetual student.
For some of these crimes I’ve tracked – the violent bike-path rape of an innocent teenager, the murder of a young housewife? Do I know what I would or would not do if I found/find the perp before the police? No. I don’t know. I came close to finding the bike-path rapist before the police. A day late.
As I’ve mentioned, it’s the uncertainty of what I might do before, or if I call the police that I want the criminals to fear.
Silver Sentinel: Words don’t hurt, I’ve been called worse. I will never engage in physical confrontation unless I am directly preventing bodily harm, or worse, from happening and can not be avoided. I’m a trained security professional and will always obey the law in this regard.
Jim: Have you ever been in an actual fight with a criminal while in your superhero persona? Can you detail the incident? What were they doing, how did the fight start, how was it resolved, and what was the law enforcement/community reaction?
DHM: A few. A few years ago I was doing a patrol in Richmond. I was walking through an alley when I heard a party up ahead. I decided to skirt the edge of light comming for the back of the house so no one would see me. As I was about to come past the end of the house I saw two people behind a camper. There was a woman trying to unlock a bike and a young man alternately talking to her and hitting her. Without hesitation I stepped foward and said ” Don’t hit her again!”. He looked at me with a very confused expression( high as a kite) and casually turned and hit the girl again. I grabbed a handfull of his hair and stepped into the back of his knee, guiding his head into the side of the camper. He fell over moaning and I turned to the girl and said “I have some money if you need cab fair” she just looked at me with dialated eyes and walked her bike away down the alleyway.
Geist: Not other than a guy I held down for the cops to arrive. And I found it quite easy to hold him down. I still wonder what his crime was.
I truly try to resolve conflicts a lot more peacefully than in the comics or movies.
There are a lot of more viable resolutions than slugging, stunning or spraying someone. I’ve found that talking and understanding someone’s issues and problems can be more powerful than a punch. And ideally, everyone goes home without hand-cuffs.
But if someone wants to resort to violence, the cops are my first call and then I’m taking them on until they arrive.
I truly want to toy with the line in criminals minds about how law-abiding I might be.
Meanwhile, I can perform a Citizens Arrest in my state and wish to adhere to every legality within that. However, that means that after a proper announcement, I can use “Like Means of Force” to hold and subdue the alleged perpetrator. “Like Means of Force” might mean that if they produce a gun or a knife they might not want to have pulled those items due to my various legal responses to that.
Silver Sentinel: No. I haven’t been in a physical altercation in years, though I am trained and prepared for it. I have a command presence that dissuades people from thinking about taking a poke at me. You’d be amazed at how much violence can be avoided using a calm voice and the proper attitude.
Jim: Staying with conflicts, whether it was a fight or not, you’ve all had altercations with antagonistic people. Can you explain the feelings you have when this happens? Is there an adrenaline rush? Are you afraid? What do you do to keep calm and win?
DHM: I don’t really think about it until afterward.
Geist: I’ve had my knuckles clenched and ready more than a few times. But no, it’s never come to that and I’m quite glad about it.
There was this one time patrolling with Razorhawk and other members of the Great Lakes Heroes Guild in downtown Minneapolis when we walked up to this urban house with a rowdy porch party going on. The guys had clearly been drinking a lot and it seemed like we were asking for it, just by walking by in our admittedly-strange costumes. The guys were sort of confrontational, but also curious. We said, “Is everything alright here? Are you folks all cool and all tonight?” A few of the guys started getting in our faces about the costumes and drunkenly wondering what we’re doing. As we started to explain ourselves and our friendly motives, one of the guys runs forward and says, “Dude, you were in the City Pages! You’re that superhero dude!” I told him that yes, I am and that we all were. After that we held a brief Q&A session on the sidewalk, told them that we wanted to make sure that everyone was safe and walked away leaving a group of people wanting to also do the right thing. (Even if they were way-drunk).
Silver Sentinel: Prepare for the worst. Get your head in the game as you go in. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted. Adrenaline is meant to help you, not control you. There’s time to be scared afterward. You can cry, shake, and rage all you want.. later.. away from the situation.
Jim: Regardless of whether there was a fight, have you ever encountered a situation that you weren’t prepared to handle or feel like you did the wrong thing? What did you learn from the incident?
DHM: The incident with the crack dealer, I wear a protective mask.
Geist: I had one mission like that in particular. I had to call the police to rescue ME. It was so embarrassing. Here I was, all “Geisted-up.” Full costume. The works. I had decided to paint over some very nasty gang graffiti, which included a swastika. I lowered myself down a wall and took out the graffiti. Then, I couldn’t get back up the wall at the side of a river.
I had just put my emergency contact on a plane out of town so I paced and paced in the small cement landing, wondering what to do. So I called the police. Despite my assurances that all I needed was one guy with a strong grip, they sent a two fire-trucks and fire-man’s boat to get me out of the predicament. The boat was overkill, but it’s the route they took. And yes, the police officer who arrived had a lot of questions. But yeah, he was cool about the whole thing. I think he especially appreciated it when I showed him before and after pics from my cell-phone.
As he asked me to wait behind his squad car so he could talk to his boss, I said, “But yeah, there was a swastika, Man…” He said, “Yeah, I know.” When he got out, after a long conversation with his captain, (meanwhile, I’m just waiting idly behind his squad car in full costume looking at the sky and everything else) he emerged and said, “Y’know, we could charge you with trespassing because you jumped a fence to get down there, but we understand what you wanted to do and you’re free to go. Give us a heads up next time you want to do something like this.”
He got sort of “fan-boy” and asked to take some pics of me, and of course I was still feeling guilty. I told him that I knew there was more than one reason for that, but let him do that. “He said, it’s not everyday that I get a chance to meet a superhero.” I knew that he also wanted photos to identify me in the future and he totally admitted that that was part of the reason. Even in my abject state of mind, he suggested I strike a heroic pose and I did my best.
It’s my belief that if the cops know who NOT to shoot if I’m wrestling with a mugger someday, that’s a great thing. I think I’m misguided, very charitable, potentially helpful, and also might put some fear into the people that they’re also looking for. Y’know, after 3 or 4 encounters with them, I bet they’ve got a special code for me now. Who knows?
It was my biggest screw-up. I had to call the cops to rescue ME.
They have me on record, but I also believe they sort of know what I’m trying to do for them, whether they officially approve of my methods or not. They know I’m not doing anything illegal, if not un-wise.
Silver Sentinel: Not really. I’ve learned a lot over the years, and one of those things is to never get involved in something I don’t know anything about. I let those who know what they’re doing handle that. I’m here to help, I’m not a substitute for police, firefighters, or EMTs.
Jim: I mentioned the “never-ending battle” earlier. On the whole, has your superhero persona made your local area a better place? Have there been any negative impacts?
DHM: In some ways. Not yet.
There’s been nothing negative yet and I hope there never will be.
One of the best things has been when I walked into a homeless shelter, the Dorothy Day House with donations. They have rotating volunteers. There were a couple of teenage guys manning the front desk that night.As I walked in with groceries, they said, “Oh my God, are you Geist?” I had recently been featured in some national media. With a little bit of vanity, I said, “Yes. Did you guys hear about me on CNN or something?” And they said… “No, Man. Word on the streets. Word on the streets.”
Wow. You can’t get much better than that, can you?
Silver Sentinel: Being out there has had a positive impact. The only problem now is that the more I do this, the more certain elements (criminals, mean spirited people, and buttheads) try to tear me down. They’ve been finding that it doesn’t work very well when they try to smear me and find their audience actually cheers me on.
Jim: Silver Sentinel mentioned before the difference between Vigilantism and Vigilance. It’s an interesting point. The definition of vigilantism involves a personal form of justice. Meanwhile, the “actual” definition of justice is established on a cultural basis, and is different throughout the world. Imagine hundreds or even thousands more people putting on costumes and doing what you do. Would that indicate that more individuals are breaking away from society, or that society itself is changing? Would it better serve justice or cause more chaos?
DHM: Those distinctions rely soley with the personal ethics of the people involved.
Geist: The chaos already exists. We’re just responding to it in an unusual way.
In our country there are rapes and drive-by shootings. In other countries there are machete attacks, kidnappings or beheadings. Someone has to stand up and say “No.”
Silver Sentinel: I hope more people are inspired to get involved in their communities, but don’t feel the need to put on a costume to do so. We’re not about breaking away from society, but about making society work better for itself. We’re about inspiring a message of hope, and cooperation. We’re just the messengers, it’s up to the people to live the message.
Having more masked do-gooders around would increase the chances of someone, well-meaning, but ill prepared, to get hurt, or make matters worse.
Jim: We all have a responsibility to each other to do the right thing. Then again, we’re not all as well trained or prepared to do what you do. Do you endorse or discourage people who want to become superheroes like you? What kind of qualifications should a person have? What kind of mentality should they have?
DHM: No we don’t, our only responsiblity is to our selves to do right. I don’t recomend it overall.
Geist: I don’t encourage anyone to do this and do my best to discourage it. But there is a point when it’s clear that someone is dead-set on following this path and the only viable option is to guide them to do it wisely and as safely as possible.
You can’t teach wisdom, but you can teach safety and preparation.
Are there RLSHs out there who are doing this dangerously? Maybe. I hope not, but that’s part of the reason we network and commune on the internet and also over the phone. There are a lot of conversations going on that the general public isn’t privvy to.
Silver Sentinel: I encourage everyone to learn and to think about what they can best do to help in their communities. Each individual should only do what they themselves are best suited to do, and leave the other stuff to others. They should be willing to help others, and not be out for ego gratification, or some misguided sense of vengeance.
Ultimately, it doesn’t take a saint, or a superhero, to care about others and help out in some way. We all have a hero inside of us.
Jim: What’s been the best part of being a superhero? What’s the worst part?
DHM: Every time I get to put the suit on on and fix at least one wrong thing. The overhead( My nine to five barely supports the expense).
Geist: The best part is when you can make someone smile by helping them or even just meeting them. There’s nothing like putting a smile on a child who’s full of sudden wonder or a homeless person who suddenly has reason to hope for a better tomorrow and believe in the compassion of humanity again.
I think the worst part is the sudden or gradual loss of personal friends. That’s partly because I don’t have a lot of time to invest in friendships, but also because if I care about the person, it’s really best that they keep as much distance from me as possible, just in case a gang or a criminal might determine my identy and want to “teach me a lesson.”
I also want to mention that while my private and superheroic life is pretty interesting, it doesn’t leave me a lot to talk about to friends or relatives. I constantly hear, “Hey, what have you been up to? You always have some cool project going on.” And for lack of a better response, I reply, “Not much. Nothing really. How about you?”
Silver Sentinel:
The best part about being a superhero is that I can finally be who I’ve always known myself to be. I am a helping, caring member of my community, and servant of the higher ideals I’ve always been taught to live by.. and I feel, doing God’s work. Ultimately it’s not about ourselves though, it’s about the people we serve.The worst part is, my fiancee is arguably one of the hottest super heroines on the planet. When she shows up in public.. I might as well be wearing a clown suit and playing the bagpipes.. nobody even realizes I’m there.
Jim: And so there it is, in their own words.  For these three average Joes, tomorrow will probably be just another boring day.  Then again, maybe it won’t.  Either way, they go out knowing that they’ve helped to save at least one life in their adventures.  As the Jewish Talmud says, “he who saves one life, saves the world entire.”  If that’s the case, who knows what earth-shattering events and revelations they’ve been at the center of.  And that’s why they keep going out, because though it is rarely sounded, the call to action they heed is dire.  Their battle isn’t against a super villain or the mafia or any heavily armed cabal.  It’s against the boredom, the indifference, and the urge to just quit when there doesn’t seem to be a point anymore.  It may not make for an action-packed comic book, but it’s an epic battle that the rest of us could only hope to be heroic enough to fight.  That they fight it proves that they truly are extraordinary individuals.  In that regard we should ask ourselves who the ones with the absurd beliefs are, those putting on costumes and attempting to be watchmen, or those of us standing back and watching them?