It’s 11:06 on a Saturday night and the superheroes are plotting outside the Hall of Justice on Broadway.
“We’ll drive up Golf and meet the foot-patrol at Sixth and Lima,” says a large figure in a French highwayman’s coat, a tricorn cap, and steampunk goggles. Five other costumed characters make statements to the affirmative and peel off Broadway to walk in formation up C Street.
“Some people think we have no idea what we’re doing, like we’re Kick-Ass or something like that, but we’re training all the time,” says a 20-year-old superhero named Light Fist, whose yellow ninja outfit calls to mind Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. “We train Krav Maga together. We spend a lot of time together. I feel like we’re saving the world.”
We come to a red light and The Grim, tonight’s patrol leader, raises a fist to the sky. The group circles up back-to-back and waits for The Grim’s signal to proceed. The Grim wears blue body armor and a skull-faced helmet. When he’s not roaming the streets dressed as a self-styled superhero and second-in-command to Mr. Xtreme, the 35-year-old Navy veteran installs security systems. Next to him stands Violet Valkyrie, homeless outreach coordinator, wearing purple skintight clothing and a neoprene half-mask. Beside her is Zoo, a young woman in a grinning Guy Fawkes mask, and Colonial, a 19-year-old new recruit in a red beret and Air Force boots. Joined by Midnight Highwayman in the support vehicle and about 15 rotating members, the violent-crime prevention team known as the Xtreme Justice League is one of the most prominent remaining factions from the international real-life superhero movement.
While many U.S. chapters have folded (the most recent entry on reallifesuperheroes.com is a profile on Mr. Xtreme from late 2011), Mr. Xtreme told me at Lestat’s Coffee House several weeks prior to the foot-patrol that the justice league has been improving.
“We’ve grown quite a bit over the past five years,” says Mr. Xtreme, whose green helmet, buggy goggles, hodgepodge body armor, and flowing cape lend the appearance of a giant child playing make-believe as a Ninja Turtle. “We’re much more organized. We have a more established patrol schedule. We’re more established in the community. Our outreach program is going well. We recently had volunteers and runners in a run for autism. We’re downtown in the Gaslamp every Friday and Saturday.”
“Basically, that’s where we feel we can do the most good,” says The Grim, who has been patrolling with the League for five years.
“Anytime you have large groups of young men gathering and you have alcohol or drugs, that’s where your problems are going to show up,” adds Midnight Highwayman, a 46-year-old extermination-business owner.
“In the early days of XJL, about ten years ago, we patrolled just about everywhere, all over the city, different days and nights,” says Mr. Xtreme. “So now we’ve got it streamlined down to what we figure are the best nights, Fridays and Saturdays, 11 to 3. That’s when we feel like we can do the most.”
The league will also patrol other neighborhoods at the request of citizens, as was the case when they were asked to watch over the College Area this past Saint Patrick’s Day and North Park during the string of violent sexual assaults in 2014.
“The community, they were so outraged,” recalls Mr. Xtreme, a security guard and groundskeeper by profession. “They were calling us to help. Even though we have limited resources and limited manpower we managed to pull it all together between North Park and downtown patrols at the same time. It was tough but we managed to get it done, and I think we did a good job.”
“Several of our recruits came from that time period,” says Midnight Highwayman, who has about three years with the league. “We were so intense about the neighborhood. The story itself got a lot of news coverage, and that’s how we picked up Fallen Boy, Silver Lining, and a few others. They saw the events happening and said, ‘Wow there are good groups out there.’”
Mr. Xtreme notes that many of the applicants are younger people who have seen Kick-Ass or are inspired by comic books. However, the league requires recruits to be at least 18 years old or have written parental permission if they are 15 to 17. Applicants with criminal records are considered on a case-by-case basis, though those convicted of murder or sex offenses will not be accepted. New members are required to have their superhero persona established and their own means of transportation to at least two hours of patrol per week. The league’s website states that “Smokers, drunks, druggies, bullshitters, e-heroes, drama queens or kings, racists, sexists, homophobes, vigilantes, fake tough guys, stinky mofos, or knuckleheads in general also need not apply.”
“This job attracts a lot of fierce individualists,” says Midnight Highwayman. “They’re people who are willing to rebel against societal norms, and that often ends up being like herding cats. Everyone has their own idea of how to do things, so developing our training and organization has been crucial.”
Another aspect that has improved is the league’s relationship with police. Public statements from the San Diego Police Department have ranged from dismissive (“These people are just private citizens. Even though they wear costumes, they’re not the respected police uniform we wear.”) to, more recently, praise (“The fact that they are choosing to try and get involved, that’s something that we applaud and we appreciate.”)
“In the beginning, I was getting roughed up by the cops,” says Mr. Xtreme. “There were some times I didn’t think we were going to come home from patrols. I thought we were pretty close to getting jumped. Some of the cops in the early days, I thought they were going to come up and shoot us. So it can get hectic out there. I was getting booted out of community meetings. I was getting the cold shoulder...well, we still get the cold shoulder, but not so much. A few years ago I would beg to get a story, but now I even have to turn people down.”