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Castle and Real Life Superheroes

on Mon, 01/23/2012 - 00:00

Castle Heroes and Villains
On the ABC drama Castle, New York City homicide detective Kate Beckett and her mystery-writing “consultant” Richard Castle have faced more than their fair share of murderous thugs, thieves, drug dealers and serial killers. In the season four episode “Heroes and Villains,” however, the duo may have come across their toughest opponent—the masked, costume-wearing, sword-carrying vigilante known as Lone Vengeance.

“Our killer is a superhero!” Castle proclaims in excitement upon first seeing the culprit on a surveillance camera. His enthusiasm is met with derision from Beckett, however, who skeptically insists that there are no such things as superheroes. Richard Castle, of course, is not dissuaded by her comments.

“What if he is a superhero?” Castle counters before showing her an online video. “Like this one, who operates in Queens. Meet the Red Maroon.” The footage features a masked crusader swooping down to rescue a little old lady from a purse snatcher. “Don’t worry, ma’am,” the would-be superhero says. “Red Maroon, protector of all and beholden to none. Sir, this is clearly not your purse. I demand that you unhand it.”

Unfortunately, the thief escapes after pushing the Red Maroon into some bushes. To make matters worse, the little old lady begins to beat the would-be hero with her umbrella. While Richard Castle concedes that it may not have been the best example he could have used, he still maintains his initial observation is legitimate. “The point is, there is a subculture of real life superheroes that actually exists out there,” he tells Kate Beckett. “People crusading for the public good.”

Not only is Richard Castle correct, but the subculture that he mentions was also the focus of a 2011 HBO documentary called Superheroes. Created by Michael Barnett, the film follows the adventures of a small handful of average American who don costumes and masks at the end of each day in order to patrol the streets of their city. From New York to San Diego to Orlando, these crusaders are part of a larger community known as “Real Life Superheroes” who have transformed the comic book concept from mere graphic illustrations into the world-at-large.

“Reach out to Bellevue, they probably admitted our suspect before,” Captain Victoria Gates tells Kate Beckett on Castle when informed that they are looking for a potential masked vigilante. “He’s clearly delusional or psychotic.” Superheroes, however, makes the case that neither of those derogatory descriptions are automatically accurate.

“Real life superheroes aren’t necessarily crazier than you or I or anyone else,” psychologist Robin Rosenberg maintains in the documentary. “They take the stance of, ‘If superheroes were real, what would it be like?’ They are dedicated to what they do. It’s a hobby for most people because it’s not a paying job, and it’s a hobby they’ve thrown themselves into passionately. And they are also doing good at the same time.”

“I do not have any super powers,” the turtle-esque looking Mr. Xtreme, who operates in the San Diego area and has a fondness for both comic books and the Power Rangers, explains. “Having super powers does not make you a superhero. I think it’s having super motivation and doing super deeds. I think that’s what makes you a superhero.”

The costume-clad vigilante known as Lone Vengeance on Castle may not have “super powers” either but their ability to weld a Samurai sword, coupled with gymnastic-like physical capabilities, translates into a formidable foe nonetheless. Many of the Real Life Superheroes depicted in Superheroes, however, are more along the likes of the Red Maroon when it comes to combat skills. Mr. Xtreme, for instance, says that he is a white belt—the lowest denomination—in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the documentary features his failed attempt to rise higher within the martial art.

“I’ve been maced before,” Mr. Xtreme’s sometimes partner Vigilante-Spider later tells the camera. “It’s unpleasant. I have been tazed by my own stun gun before. Again, equally unpleasant.”

Despite their absence of physical talents, both Mr. Xtreme and Vigilante-Spider—as well as other members of the San Diego-based Xtreme Justice League—still play a key role in keeping their community informed of potential criminal activity. Superheroes documents their attempt at finding a “serial groper” in the area, for instance, an effort that is ultimately praised by Deputy Mayor Rudy Ramirez.

“The work that Mr. Xtreme has done with posting up fliers certainly contributed to an awareness that could possibly have had something to do with the capture of the Chula Vista groper,” he offers after the suspect is behind bars. “Public awareness is something where he can really be very valuable, and so I want them to continue and to do their work in a way that is safe for themselves and everyone involved.”

The New York-based Dark Guardian, meanwhile, has a different background and mission than Mr. Xtreme. “The ingredients to be a Real Life Superhero really varies because everybody’s looking to doing something different,” he explains. “But if you’re looking to be a crime fighter, you’re looking to really do patrols, I think you have to be in shape. I think you need martial arts training. You can’t just throw on a mask and think you’re going to do something because you’re going to get yourself killed.”

In this sense, Dark Guardian most mirrors the efforts of Lone Vengeance. Like the fictitious Castle vigilante, the real life Dark Guardian focuses on drug dealers in New York City. While Lone Vengeance physically intimidates criminal kingpins and even sets their inventory on fire, Dark Guardian merely confronts his targets in an effort to disrupt their business.

“I’ve been out there quite a few times, going up against the dealers in Washington Square Park,” he says in Superheroes. “There’s times where they would get in my face and threaten me. There’s a time a guy flashed a gun at us but the thing is I’ve never backed down and the people I work with have never backed down, and we’ve always managed to be on top of that.”

During the Castle episode “Heroes and Villains,” Richard Castle invokes comic book culture as a means of understanding the psyche of Lone Vengeance. “Behold a photo of our masked vigilante juxtaposed with issues from my own Marvel collection,” he begins. “Please note how the killer has drawn inspiration from costumes of other superheroes. For example, the color scheme evokes Spider-Man, the horned helmet obviously a homage to Daredevil. The sword and scabbard, Dead-Pool. High collar, just like Black Panther. Now what do these characters all have in common? They’re driven by the death of a father figure or loved one. I believe that our killer shares a similar backstory, which is why he’s been inspired by these characters’ costumes.”

While the Real Life Superheroes depicted in the documentary Superheroes do indeed consider the likes of Spider-Man, Green Hornet and Superman as inspiration, few have experienced the traumas that befell Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker. Most are instead driven by a perceived “apathy” within society, and both Mr. Xtreme in San Diego and Zimmer in Brooklyn point to the death of Kitty Genovese in 1964 as a prime example.

“She was assaulted, brutally attacked, raped and ultimately murdered,” Mr. Xtreme explains of the 28-year-old Queens resident. “And 38 people from a nearby apartment complex, they heard it. They heard her screams. Some saw it. But they didn’t do anything.” It is thus in memory of Kitty Genovese, as well as other victims of violent crime whose cries for help went unheeded, that has most inspired the Real Life Superheroes community.

“Every superhero has a persona, a mission, origin story,” Richard Castle observes. “Learning who he is as a hero, what drives him, that will lead us to the man behind the mask.” In the case of those depicted in Superheroes, the costumed crusaders of the real world reach out to those often forgotten within society by sponsoring Christmas toy drives for the needy, delivering packets of toiletries to the homeless and simply raising the level of awareness in their community.

Still, there is a measure of caution that must be followed in regards to being a Real Life Superhero. “You can have a superhero who’s very shy,” comic book legend Stan Lee observes in Superheroes. “You can have a superhero who’s very forward-going and conceited. And you can have a superhero who’s not too bright or one who’s brilliant. Superheroes come in all sizes, shapes and types. But I’d be a little bit worried about somebody with no actual superpower who puts on a costume and then runs around challenging criminals or people who might be armed. I figure that person could get hurt.”

Richard Castle himself couldn’t have summed it up better.

Anthony Letizia

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