Real Life Superheroes

Originally posted: https://widerimage.reuters.com/story/real-life-superheroes

By Mike Blake

Donning superhero outfits, a dozen or so people patrol San Diego’s streets at night armed with radios, First Aid Kits and self-defence weapons.

The Xtreme Justice League have a serious task at hand: they walk through dark, empty streets, check in on the homeless and even break up fights in their effort to stop violent crime in the city and, as they say, “spread good will among the community”.

“None of them have special superhero powers, but they are all answering the call to adventure.”

Mike Blake, Reuters Photographer

The Xtreme Justice League take their inspiration from comic books and apply it to real-life situations. I followed them as they donned their superhero outfits and patrolled the streets of San Diego late at night. 

They gather on the steps of the city’s Hall of Justice at 11pm on a Saturday night. Dressed in their character’s costume, and serious about the task at hand, they are equipped with radios and first aid kits, some self-defence weapons, and an attitude of camaraderie. The dozen or so members split into two leader-guided groups and head off on their patrols. Around 2am they meet up with their founder Mr. Xtreme, who joins after working a late shift at his job. 

We walk along dark, empty streets. This is a bit of a worst-case scenario for a photographer. If it wasn’t for 1.2 lenses and newer, more light sensitive cameras, this would be impossible to record. 

From empty alleys to sidewalks packed with people in the city’s Gaslamp Quarter they post up at each intersection and cover each other’s backs. They are a whimsical amusement to some, recognised from local media reports by others, and thanked by many along their patrol.

They pose for pictures, check on homeless and inebriated people, and in one case broke up a fight – which I was late arriving to as our patrol scrambled from a block away to help. The police were already on scene but a member of the group, “Silverlining,” had taken a solid punch to his mouth while breaking up the fracas. 

While heroes have existed in literature and mythology for thousands of years, the “superhero” really came to life in the 1940s with the popularity of comic books. In fact the terms “Superhero” and “Super Hero” are trademarks shared by Marvel Comics and DC Comics.

Mr. Xtreme founded the group in 2006, all members are volunteers and have to adhere to the group’s code of conduct; you won’t ever hear them swear. They aim to stop violent crime in the city and be positive role models. In a world with many shades of grey, they operate in a realm of black and white. Some are students, some work, some are in the military, but their identities remain private. I was only allowed to shoot pictures of them “in character”.

They have a range of motivations, Vortex says: “I do it for the people,” Mr. Xtreme does it, “to make a difference”. Fallen Boy wants “to help the community” and Spartan does it “because I like helping people”. None of them have special superhero powers, but they are all answering the call to adventure.