It is a typical Sunday; launching a public awareness campaign to bring a home-invasion rapist to justice.
Well, maybe not a typical Sunday – at least, not for the average citizen. San Diego’s resident superhero Mr. Xtreme – as the missing vowel suggests – is far from average.
Think Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – just less … super. No high-flying, no web-slinging, no expensive gadgetry, no dino-morphing; essentially, none of the frills that make a superhero super.
That isn’t to say Mr. Xtreme isn’t super – or a hero. Quite the opposite, in fact. It takes an out-of-the-ordinary person to sacrifice his Sunday to hand out flyers warning women about a sexual assault suspect who has been on the loose since June 2008. And it takes an extraordinary person to offer an out-of-pocket $1,500 reward for information leading to the “evildoer’s” capture.
He must be brought to justice, Mr. Xtreme says, and he’s just doing his part to help.
The 30-something superhero has read news releases about a drop in crime in the county. He has no reason to believe crime is on the rise, but, he says, “Try to tell a victim’s family there’s been a drop in crime – they’ll tell you to get lost.”
“Victims of violent crimes shouldn’t be treated as a statistic,” says Mr. Xtreme, who asked we keep his identity a secret.
Sure, he talks a big game, but Mr. Xtreme has no illusions of grandeur; he isn’t secretly developing an Xtreme-mobile, or jumping from building to building in the East Village after dark.
It’s a pretty simple operation, to tell you the truth. He patrols neighborhoods in his costume – black cargo pants, a green “Xtreme Justice League” shirt, black boots and a camouflage lucha libre mask – and he wears a utility belt, equipped with a stun gun, 2.5 ounces of pepper spray, and a flashlight.
The Xtreme Justice League, the organization his shirt refers to, is a small, loose network of superheroes Mr. Xtreme works with to coordinate patrols and fight crime. Locally, he doesn’t have much help. He’s the most active, visible member of the local Real Life Superhero (RLS) community, which stays connected through sites like WorldSuperheroRegistry.com.
Mr. Xtreme’s primary goal is to be a visual deterrent to crime; a would-be evildoer, for example, might see the masked man patrolling, and rethink his malevolent misdeeds.
But, Mr. Xtreme said, if push comes to shove, he isn’t afraid to intervene in gang violence, a carjacking or a sexual assault.
“If someone’s safety is at stake, if a victim’s life is at stake, I’ll step in no matter how dangerous the situation and risk getting injured, or even risk losing my life to save the day,” he deadpans.
OK. Hmmm. That may be a little beyond the call of duty. But, it’s all in a day’s work, the superhero says.
Every now and then, Mr. Xtreme delivers a line or uses a phrase that borders on melodramatics. And, in part, that’s the purpose. He enjoys the theatrics.
He’s a building security manager by day. So, I ask him: Why not work with a community patrol group that collaborates with the police department? Instead, he operates independently, a pariah at public forums (he’s often asked to leave) and a nuisance to the cops. Sure, with an organized community patrol, he’d have more status in neighborhoods. But, he’d be missing the theatrics – missing the fun.
“I grew up in a household of abuse, I was bullied in school, and I see all the apathy and indifference in society,” he says. “It really strikes a nerve with me. I looked up to superheroes when I was a child; they were role models. And they’re still role models today.”
“I have so much respect for what community patrols do, but I want to be out and interact with the community,” he says. “I couldn’t do that from a car. And being a real-life superhero is really a symbol to illustrate my commitment to an ideal, and it can inspire people … I want to send a message to youth. You can live an ‘extreme’ lifestyle and you don’t have to be a killer or a gang member or a thug or a waste of human life or a parasite.”
So, for the time being, Mr. Xtreme doesn’t mind being an outsider – just don’t call him a vigilante.
“I don’t condone vigilante behavior; I condemn it,” he says. “It’s an insult when someone calls me a vigilante. A vigilante wouldn’t try to go to community meetings to interact with the public. A vigilante wouldn’t try to work with police.”
The superhero hopes to build a working rapport with the police. It doesn’t seem likely, but he’s hopeful. He seems eternally optimistic; that he can build bridges in communities; that he can prevent crime; that he can make a difference in the world. He may not have a super-utility belt, or a super-power, but this superhero’s heart is in the right place.
The Sunday I tag along with Mr. Xtreme, we canvass shopping centers in Kearny Mesa, handing out “WANTED” flyers, with information about the sexual assault suspect. This case really irks him.
The home-made flyers are more eye-catching than your run of the mill posters. They say “WANTED” in bold, Sharpie’d letters. A sketch of the sexual assault suspect has the word evildoer written on it. The Xtreme Justice League logo is pasted at the top and a “no evil” logo is pasted near the bottom.
He approaches people in shopping centers to give them flyers. Surprisingly, very few dodge him. It may help he’s being followed by a reporter and a film crew, who is interested in making a documentary film about real-life superheroes.
By and large, the response to Mr. Xtreme’s effort is enthusiastic.
He greets one woman sweeping a sidewalk outside a big-box business.
“Hi ma’am, I’m with the Xtreme Justice League, and we’re looking for a rapist,” he says, handing her a flyer.
“For real? Him? Still?” the woman says. The suspect has been at large for a year.
“Yes ma’am,” he says.
“That son of a bitch. Well, I hope to God you find him. I warn my kids every day. If you have any other flyers, I’ll help put them up.”
Later, he meets another grateful citizen.
“You guys are doing good work,” the man says, taking a flyer from Mr. Xtreme. Mr. Xtreme thanks him and walks away. The man’s young daughter runs out of a nearby store to see what her dad is up to.
“Daddy, who are you talking … OH MY GOSH WHY IS THAT MAN …?” The little girl isn’t quite sure what to make of her father cavorting with Mr. Xtreme.
At a market down the road, our superhero greets a woman he’s met before in the restaurant she owns. She has his flyers posted there – but she has a question.
“Why do you have to have a mask on?” she asks.
“Well, it’s a part of my uniform,” he says. “I’m a superhero.”
“Oh” seems to be the standard response, when Mr. Xtreme explains himself; it’s as if no one quite knows what to make of him, but aren’t comfortable prying, so they say, “Oh.”
For every passerby who seems a bit confused by the getup, there’s the driver who honks his horn, or waves. They might recognize him from television news spots, or the Union-Tribune story about him, or the cover of The San Diego Reader. He welcomes the media attention. After all, it makes his job crime fighting a little easier.
“Some superheroes think I do this for popularity,” he says. “That’s not the case. We’re trying to build community support to make our jobs easier.”
Despite the name recognition, it’s a lonely life, he says. “My social life is basically non-existent. That’s the sacrifice I choose to make so I can be able to do this. It can be difficult to get people to understand. I usually only speak in depth to folks who want to listen. If they’re going to come at me with a barrage of nonsense, I usually just walk away or ignore them. I just take things as they come and do my thing, and not care what people think if it’s negative. No time for negativity.”
Nope. No time for negativity for Mr. Xtreme. Saving the world, after all, is daunting task. Even for a superhero.
Joseph Peña is a contributing editor for San Diego News Network.
Read more: http://www.sdnn.com/sandiego/2009-05-29/lifestyle/local-superhero-fights-crime-his-own-way#ixzz0Vm4t6HOd