As long as I’ve been keeping an eye on the Real-Life Superhero movement, the question has been posed: Gimmick, or no gimmick? If you know anything about the various branches of the Initiative, you should be aware that we don’t use masks for anything other than on Facebook or “safe” public appearances – and note my judicious placement of the word “safe” inside quotes because honestly, you shouldn’t be letting your guard down, ANYWHERE.
In any event, the Initiative isn’t about using masks or gimmicks on the streets. This is just one of several reasons why we don’t consider ourselves RLSH, and why some in their midst tend to frown upon us.
Still, the fact is that many of us in the I are immigrants (graduates?) of the RLSH movement, so we have some experience in creating alternate identities, and designing a “look” for ourselves. And say what you will, but a costume (or gimmick, or uniform – whatever you prefer) can definitely turn heads, and can be a useful tool in drawing attention to the overall cause of do-gooding.
“So why don’t you wear costumes?”
Okay… let me start from the beginning.
When I first started patrolling (and I use the term loosely – since my earliest pre-Initiative patrols were often accompanied by previously-unannounced journalists, cameras, and/or lights), I basically wore what I could scrape together at the time: A colorful hoodie, full facemask, and reflective goggles.
A pair of cargo pants (with belt) and combat boots rounded everything out. For keeping my identity hidden, this ensemble did the trick; I could have been anyone under there. As far as actual function goes, it was a failure on oh-so-many levels.
Here is what I consider “the fail,” from bottom to top –
The boots were actual combat boots from Vietnam… I kid you not. Don’t get me wrong – they’re rugged and can stand up to a lot of punishment (in fact, they even have steel-plated soles). I still own them. At one point on my first night out, however, I ended up having to run a few blocks to catch up with the other half of our group. I’m in decent running shape, but let me tell you: these boots are NOT comfortable to wear for long periods of time, let alone take off at a sprint. No arch support, no Dr. Scholl’s inserts… nothing. By the end of that night, my feet were screaming all sorts of obscenities at me. They are also harder to take off than they are to put on.
My cargo pants were okay; several pockets allowed for the stowing away of various useful bits of gear. As they were originally purchased at Old Navy however, they offered little in the way of any actual protection. If you’re going to gear up for any kind of work where strenuous movement or conflict is a possibility, I highly recommend shin and knee guards at bare minimum, and some kind of groin and thigh/femoral protection would be even better.
The basic black web belt I chose to wear that night kept the cargo pants up, and that’s about it. It wasn’t wide or thick enough to effectively hold any gear pouches – if I’d even had any to attach to it. I could easily have obtained a more appropriate belt to carry a flashlight, pepper spray, first-aid kit, etc.
My hoodie was probably the only true bit of color I had – black with bright red highlights. The long sleeves kept me warm and also served to hide any identifying tattoos. It also almost completely negated any use of my peripheral vision, and for someone who is constantly trying to keep his awareness up, this forced me work at least twice as hard. I definitely had to keep my head on a swivel. I’ve seen hoodies with mesh “viewports” on the sides, but they are a rare find.
The black facemask was simple and unadorned, and in combination with the goggles, completely hid my features. Unfortunately, despite how thin it was, breathing through it was still pretty difficult. And on a cold night, the condensation from my breath made it get really damp in a hurry. It also helped to create a situation with what had to be the worst part of my outfit that night:
Sure, they looked cool. No one could see my eyes, so they couldn’t tell where I was focusing my attention. But the facemask I had on was constantly forcing a portion of my hot, steamy breath directly UP into the goggles, fogging them up to the point that I had to remove them every 5-10 minutes and wait for them to clear up. I had planned ahead for this to happen, and bought some anti-fogging wipes, but either I run hot or these wipes just didn’t work. Honestly, even if they hadn’t fogged over constantly, they only served to further convolute the peripheral vision issue.
Clearly, dealing with your gimmick can often be cumbersome at best, hazardous at worst. As much as a love it, even my newer mask – the one I’ve used ever since I received it from Dave Montgomery of the Black Monday Society – kills a bit of my peripheral, and can get in the way. Once Rock and I were given the CA branch of the Initiative, outfits quickly became something that we only used for special-purpose situations.
Now, if you’re an RLSH reading this, I’m not saying that you can’t wear something you enjoy; I’m not here to re-start the age-old debate about the choice to use a uniform. Just take the time to consider all the ramifications of what you’re going to wear. Your chosen attire may not be as restrictive as what I’ve described, but you WILL attract attention, both negative and positive. And if you’re going to attract attention, you might as well make sure that what you’re wearing can stand up to potential problems that can arise from it.
Now get out there, have fun, and more importantly, BE SAFE.
NightBug is one half of the dynamic founding duo behind the California Initiative (CAI), is a rabid fan of Star Wars, Spider-Man, and his iPhone 4.