The Xtreme Justice League: The secret lives of San Diego’s costume-wearing, crime-fighting, real-life superheros
Originally Posted: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7931967/Xtreme-Justice-League-San-Diegos-crime-fighting-vigilante-team-real-life-superheros.html
- The Xtreme Justice League is a group of crime-fighting citizens who dress up in superhero costumes to perform community service in San Diego, California
- They are part of a popular worldwide movement known as ‘real-life superheros’ – where members create a ‘superhero’ alter-ego and dress-up in costume
- Mr. Xtreme started the XJL in 2006 as a response to the violence and gang activity in his community, he insists they are not vigilantes
- There have been over 60 XJL members since 2006; many of which are military veterans or active-duty service members
- The XJL patrols San Diego’s busy Gaslamp District on Saturday nights, helping break up bar fights, protecting the homeless and assisting drunk party goers
- San Diego Police Department does not endorse the Xtreme Justice League
Published: 15:06 EDT, 26 January 2020 | Updated: 18:22 EDT, 5 February 2020
Almost every Saturday night in downtown San Diego, a team of real-life superheros outfitted in head to toe action figure regalia convene on the steps outside the Hall of Justice. It’s a fitting location for the crime-fighting squad of volunteers that call themselves the ‘Xtreme Justice League’ and want to make very clear: they are not ‘all cosplaying basement dwellers.’
The assembled cast of capes and helmets huddle their fists together in a circle to punch the sky in unison and shout their rallying cry: ‘Extreme Justice!’
They begin patrol of the Gaslamp District around midnight, just as weekend revelries start to reach fever pitch in the neighborhood teeming with millennial night life spilling out of its nightclubs, restaurants and cocktail lounges.
Their goal is to ensure the safety of their others which could entail anything from breaking up bar fights, administering medical attention, assisting in drug overdoses, helping those imbibed by too much liquor and protecting the homeless community from hunger, violence and the cold. ‘Basically anything we can do to be a good neighbor,’ explained ‘the Grim’ – one of the league’s longest serving members.
The Xtreme Justice League is part of an ever-growing and popular movement called ‘real-life superheroes’ that has affiliate teams across major cities worldwide. Heavily steeped in comic book lore, real-life superheroes establish a persona and christen themselves with a superhero name in order to fight for justice, peace and the safety of their community through public service.
Clark Stark by day, but ‘Mr. Xtreme’ by night is the President and founding member of the Xtreme Justice League, San Diego’s first and only real-life superhero chapter. He explained that his self-appointed moniker was inspired by Mr. Fantastic, leader of The Fantastic Four. ‘But I also felt like what I was doing at the time was kind of extreme, nobody else was doing anything similar.’
By the time Stark launched the league in 2006, he already had 12 years of community crime prevention experience under his belt working for Curtis Sliwa’s red beret wearing Guardian Angels. The Xtreme Justice League seemed like an obvious next step; it combined two passions that defined his life since childhood: an intense love for the noble, outsize characters in comic books with his devotion to helping others.
‘I was definitely different when I was a kid. I felt like I didn’t fit in with a lot of people,’ said Stark to DailyMail.com. ‘There were a lot of shootings in San Diego back in the 90s, a lot of kids were joining gangs looking for that sense of belonging but the Guardian Angels, that was the first group where I felt I belonged.’
The beginning wasn’t easy. He struggled finding other members to join and to be taken seriously in the community, especially among those in the San Diego Police Department. An unflattering HBO documentary titled ‘Superheros’ from 2011 might be in part to blame. ‘It showed Mr. Xtreme in his apartment watching Power Rangers as a grown man. Kind of like a late in life virgin’ said Nyght. ‘But he had a lot of heart and dedication in what he was doing.’
Some argue that flamboyant costumes undermine their credibility but real-life superheroes insist that they are integral to the work they do. Foremost, they serve a safety function. Grim wears a menacing blue skull mask with protection plates and shoulder pads covered in scale maille pennies under his hoodie so it ‘doesn’t look too freaky,’ he explained: ‘my quote, unquote costume was specifically made to just protect me.’
That’s another thing, real-life superheroes don’t describe their regalia as ‘costume’ because to them, it’s a uniform. Much like a police officer or an EMT, ‘when you wear a uniform, it’s clean, it’s professional looking, it informs what you are doing and why you are doing it,’ said Nyght, who sports an 80 pound ballistic vest over a red Iron Man-reminiscent shirt with turquoise blue pants and a black ventilated facemask.
The flashy colors, sweeping capes, menacing helmets, and neon spandex bodysuits have become their calling card; it’s a way to ‘draw attention to us because we’re a group of people that do altruistic things throughout the city and there are other groups that do altruistic things not in uniform.’
Their goal is to embolden their community to participate by bringing as much attention to what they do. ‘If I give a homeless guy a sandwich and I’m wearing a flannel with jeans, you’re going to walk right past me,’ explained the imposing 200 pound former Marine. ‘But if I’m walking down the street looking like Superman, you’re going to be like, what is that? Is that Robocop? Then you’re paying attention to what I’m doing and maybe that might inspire you to be a little bit compassionate.’
There have been more than 60 members involved with the XJL over the years but right now the team operates with 12 core members; half of which are veterans or active service men who live fairly normal lives by day. Mr. Xtreme works full time as a security guard, ‘being a superhero, that’s only part time,’ he said. Grim installs private security systems, Nyght is a kindergarten teacher getting his master’s degree in special education and his fiancé, Nyghtingale is a nurse by day, and Xtreme Justice League medic by night.
‘It’s a common misconception that we’re all cosplaying basement dwellers. But the reality is, I hold eight black belts in eight different martial arts. I have EMT training. I served my country for 10 years, I went to war and fought,’ said Nyght to DailyMail.com. Grim echoed that statement, ‘We’re not just a bunch of sexless virgin, nerds’ he laughed, ‘all the people I work with are just ridiculously awesome.’
Some might say that becoming ‘a spectacle’ for the sake of others, is in itself – an act of heroism. Naturally, a group of adults dressed in superhero ‘costumes’ might encourage negative attention but Nyght said, ‘It’s usually just from drunk women who might say ‘oh my god, he’s so scary’ or drunk guys that want to heckle you.’
Generally the uniforms have a way of announcing their virtuous intentions since superheroes are an internationally recognized symbol for good. ‘I don’t think that it’s more intimidating to a woman by herself feeling vulnerable than just some guy off the streets,’ said Grim. ‘Nobody has ever shouted ‘get away from me’ which has happened when I’ve tried to just help them in plain clothes.’
In 14 years of operation, the superheroes are hard-up to remember the craziest thing that ever happened to them on patrol. Mr. Xtreme and Grim recall a time where they stopped a sexual assault and performed a citizen’s arrest on the perpetrator until the police arrived. Most nights now are spent keeping the peace in party city among intoxicated revelers. ‘I never had a gun pulled on me doing this,’ said Grim before correcting himself, ‘I take that back, the police have pulled several guns on me, multiple times while doing this.’
While the Xtreme Justice League’s relationship with local police over the years has been complicated at best, Mr. Xtreme claims that it has dramatically improved since the early days when superheroes would be stopped and detained on a regular basis. ‘They called us vigilantes and stuff like that,’ said Mr. Xtreme.
When asked why ‘vigilante’ is a trigger word for real-life superheroes, he responded: ‘Yes, we are vigilant but we’re not vigilantes. We don’t take the law into our own hands. We don’t violate people’s civil rights, we don’t render punishment, if we see a situation we call the police.’
‘Personally I’m not the biggest fan of police,’ said Grim. The admission comes as a shock considering that most of his family works in law enforcement: ‘My mom was a CSO (community service officer), my uncle was a homicide detective and my dad is a Sheriff Deputy. But I also recognize that the police often murder and frame marginalized people on the regular.’ Despite his opinion, Grim said that his law-loving family is ‘surprisingly supportive’ and has given the Xtreme Justice League training in first-aid and de-escalation techniques.
In recent years, the former foes have learned (at the very least) to exist with one another; though the San Diego Police Department in no way endorses the Xtreme Justice League. ‘Sometimes I’ll stop and ask them if there’s any specific areas that they would like us to patrol around but that’s about it,’ said Nyght. Mr. Xtreme takes stock in the minor successes: ‘We walk by them, we wave to them and they wave back. We talk to them and things seem cool for the most part and they always respond to our calls for support.’
Sergeant Matthew Botkin, a media representative for the SDPD admits that he didn’t know ‘a whole lot’ about the Xtreme Justice League and wasn’t sure if the real-life superheroes are taken seriously in the community. He told DailyMail.com: ‘I think I remember seeing a couple pictures and they’re all dressed up in costumes and I wonder if their effectiveness is more perceived than actual reality.’
To be clear, the XJL’s goal isn’t to serve as a para-police force in San Diego, they are merely looking to be a support system for the community – whether that means helping those too inebriated to find their way home or reconnecting friends that got separated through the night or rendering medical attention to anyone that may be hurt or sick.
While the SDPD has warmed up to the Xtreme Justice League over time; others have not. Particularly Mr. Xtreme’s parents who ‘respect’ what their son does but have always ‘discouraged’ him from doing it. Originally they felt like the endeavor was too dangerous, and that he was devoting too much of his time, effort and own money to keep the league afloat. ‘They never wanted me to do it and they pretty much want me to give it up,’ he explained to DailyMail.com.
Indeed, the league has come a long way since the days Mr. Xtreme funded the team with his own financial means, and at one point- was forced to live out of his car to make ends meet. Now they are designated a non-profit organization which has led to more monetary support specifically with their homeless outreach program that provides the impoverished with sleeping bags, water, socks, tissue, food, sunscreen and sunglasses.
Given their strong military background, it’s no surprise that XJL members run a tight ship. Each member occupies an important role team logistics and is designated a specific job while on patrol. There are code words like ‘Code Xtreme’ which indicates that the team is involved in a violent and life threatening situation, or ‘Code Four’ which means everything is ‘A- OK.’
There is also a system of protocols established to guide how the superheroes respond in various situations. There is a patrol schedule, delineated by teams of five and scheduled by Midnight Highwayman who also commandeers the supply vehicle. When you’re lacking Clark Kent’s supernatural ability to fly, a revved up car will do the job: ‘He’ll drive to the areas that we can’t get to on foot patrol because of time constraints or you know, because of human capabilities,’ explained Nyght.
Midnight Highwayman serves as the Xtreme Justice League’s ‘spokeshero’ and Vehicle Patrol Leader. His persona and uniform is inspired by whimsical folklore tales of altruistic highwaymen bandits like Robin Hood. It’s an all-together charming concept until you see it out of context in sunny San Diego, where his Elizabethan trench coat, studded tricorn hat, steampunk goggles and leather gloves is downright terrifying. In an interview with 7 San Diego, he explained that his startling look has the benefit of ‘breaking the momentum in conflict’ by diverting attention onto himself.
The same can be said about the more playful costumes, like Hawt Flash, who Mel Magazine described as a ‘buoyant, 54-year-old ‘menopause crusader’ in a pink cape and yellow glasses’ that ‘brings some much-needed levity’ to the team in tense situations.
During winter, people are less inclined to go out so it might be weeks between Code Xtreme situations. Grim told Mel Magazine in October 2019: ‘It can be very anticlimactic out here. To be totally honest with you, most of what we do is just walking.’ Regardless, the average eight-mile hike around town necessitates a need for physical aptitude.
As ‘Athletic Coordinator,’ Nyght ensures that all members of the Xtreme Justice League are in top shape by arranging thrice weekly workout sessions and formulating a fitness test that was adapted from police academy standards. The rules are strict: ‘if you don’t pass, you don’t get to come on patrol,’ and the exam is rigorous: ‘hard enough that we’ve actually had teammates pass out.’ The test is a gauntlet of agility drills, short sprints, a bear crawl, push-ups and a buddy carry. Nyght told DailyMail.com: ‘I don’t care how many pull-ups you can do, I just need to know if you can pick up a 200 pound person and carry them a hundred yards.’
Mr. Xtreme told DailyMail.com: ‘I had a tough time just finding my place when I was growing up. I had a lot of experience with being bullied, kids taking my lunch money, getting beat up and made fun
Mr. Xtreme told DailyMail.com: ‘I had a tough time just finding my place when I was growing up. I had a lot of experience with being bullied, kids taking my lunch money, getting beat up and made fun
Aside from the physical test, the XJL also runs members through a fairly laborious vetting process. ‘Right before I joined there was someone else who joined and was not all there. I guess he just didn’t have the best intentions so they wanted to make sure that I wasn’t a psycho,’ said Grim, who declined to give further detail about what happened. Now, potential superheroes looking to sign up are placed in a six month trial period where their main job on patrol is to act as an ‘auxiliary.’ After the try-out is over, the new member trades in their black and white Xtreme Justice League patch for an official red, white and blue one.
‘Generally we just want to make sure that someone is dedicated and showing up on patrols with a genuine interest in making a difference in the community,’ said Mr. Xtreme to Dailymail.com. ‘I would rather have somebody that’s dressed like a regular person and that has a good attitude than someone that has the best costume but isn’t committed and isn’t really a team player.’
The Xtreme Justice League is a family affair for Nyght, his fiancé Nyghtingale and their two sons ‘Osprey’ and ‘Yce,’ (pronounced ‘ice’). ‘That’s kind-of our family thing, all our names have a ‘Y’ in them,’ he said.
The real-life version of Marvel’s ‘Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl’ started in 2016 when Nyght was on patrol in the Gaslamp Quarter. Auspiciously, Nyghtingale was out with her friends when she noticed the costumed crusaders out of the corner of her eye. Having dabbled in cosplay herself, she was instantly bemused by the out-of-place superheroes. ‘She ran across the street and took a picture with us because, you know – she’s very impulsive like that,’ said Nyght. Not long after, Nyghtingale joined the team – opting for a ‘dark Wonder Woman inspired uniform’ becoming the real-life superhero version to Marvel’s Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl romance.
When asked if a parallel exists between the military and real-life superhero movement, the former Marine responded: ‘It is absolutely, no doubt in my mind, a continuation of service.’
‘This is the most logical thing to do because you’re literally taking all of the skills that you learned in the military that have nothing to do with shooting guns, but everything to do with making the world a better place.’ Right down to the spit and polish of his superhero uniform which Nyght makes sure is always ironed and ‘good to go.’
Grim, who worked on a nuclear submarine while serving the Navy, meditates on the topic, ‘I’m not going to say that there’s no correlation between people who volunteer to serve their country and people who volunteer to like serve the community, but I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive.’ He reasons that San Diego’s booming 100,000 active-duty service member population might be the more obvious explanation but adds a poignant footnote to his thoughts: ‘I don’t really ask myself why I do this, but more or less why everyone else isn’t.’
The military mind set also informs into how they operate on patrol nights. SOAP is an acronym they created to signify Stop, Observe, Apply and Proceed. Each person is assigned a task: crowd control, medic, runner, phone operator and patrol leader – the latter of which is usually reserved for the senior most members. Patrol leaders delegate tasks among the team, a runner is in charge of coordinating resources while the superhero on phone duty is in charge of calling the police or Uber/ Lyft cars for those in need.
In line formation, the person assigned to crowd control usually stands in front, followed by the patrol leader. Nyght explains that ‘crowd control’ is responsible for breaking up fights, and/or separating anyone who needs medical attention away from foot traffic. An auxiliary member’s primary duty is to observe and film Code Xtreme situations for evidence that can be turned over to the police and XJL planning. ‘Think of it like a football team,’ said Nyght, ‘football teams watch old games so they can learn what they need to change and work on in the future.’ He adds, ‘It’s one of the reasons why we’ve become so good at doing what we do.’
Considering all the time, energy and effort these real-life superheroes devote to keeping their community safe, it begs the question, ‘Why not just become a police officer?’
The answer is simple for Nyght who said that his passion in life is teaching – he doesn’t have time to be a firefighter or an EMT and the Xtreme Justice League is a way he can volunteer on the side. ‘It’s not that I’m anti-police,’ he said. ‘It’s just than in today’s world being a policeman has to be one of the most thankless, crappy jobs – men and women put their lives at risk for a bunch of people ready to sue them at a moment’s notice.’ Mr. Xtreme echoes the sentiment, saying that he ‘never wanted to become a police officer.’
One also wonders how much impact the Xtreme Justice League actually has on the community. After tagging along with the team on patrol, a writer for Mel Magazine observed that the highly trained, good-natured superheros were ‘being foiled by the reality that not everyone needs one.’ Adding that sometimes it seemed like people just wanted to be left alone.
Mr. Xtreme disagrees. In 2016 he told Uproxx, ‘I think we definitely made a difference at least in the areas we patrol. I can tell you for a fact a lot of these situations that we’ve intervened indefinitely would have ended for the worse. There have been some situations that we weren’t able to get to and somebody ended up losing their life.’
‘Crazy things don’t happen that much anymore,’ said Mr. Xtreme to DailyMail.com. But San Diego’s superheros don’t lament the early days when their community was gripped by crime and more reliant of their protection. In fact, it’s exactly what they want.
‘It’s a lot cooler to be kind now,’ said Grim who wishes for community outreach to become even more mainstream. ‘It would be nice if we didn’t have to wear costumes anymore because, it would just be how people act.’
‘What I want is for everybody else to help the homeless. I want everybody else to keep their friends in line when they’re too drunk and at the bar. I want everybody else to not rape women who pass out in a park,’ said Nyght to DailyMail.com.
Grim agrees:’I guess in essence, my goal would be to become obsolete.’