Meet San Diego’s crime-fighting, cape-wearing, real-life superheros

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The Xtreme Justice League is a team of crime-fighting superheros in San Diego, California who fight to keep their community safe while dressed up in comic-book costumes.

Source: Meet San Diego’s crime-fighting, cape-wearing, real-life superheros

  • 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 

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 ‘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 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 ‘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.

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