The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

January 23, 2014

Costume-clad activists hit Chicago streets to spread altruism

CHICAGO — On the kind of snowy Saturday that begs you to stay inside, Chicago’s Real Life Superheroes descended upon our fair city to hand out blankets and food to the Loop’s homeless.

But first, Crusader Prime, a masked 40-something Indiana man in red spandex, a fedora and a thrift store trench coat, had to figure out how to get his supply-laden wagon out of the Millennium Park garage.

He would soon be joined by Patchwork, another Real Life Superhero — RLSH for short — who was coming from Kenosha with a suitcase full of socks to be handed out.

“And we have The Variable, who should be here any minute,” said Crusader Prime, his breath creating a growing wet spot on his red face mask. “His train was running 15 minutes late. But, you know, Chicago.”

Call it comic book fantasy come to life or 21st-century altruism. The RLSH movement has ballooned across the country since the mid-2000s. United through the Internet, hundreds of grown men and women (mostly men) are donning costumes and performing the kinds of good deeds that would make their comic book idols nod approvingly from the printed page. Most spend their spandexed hours on neighborhood watch patrols and homeless assistance, but some attempt to fight or deter crime, to varying degrees of success.

Like RLSH nationwide, members of the Poverty Assistance Team of Chicago Heroes are normal working stiffs, Crusader Prime said.

“A lot of us are maybe two paychecks away from being the people that we help,” he said.

Crusader Prime, Patchwork and The Variable revealed their true identities to the Chicago Tribune but asked that those identities not be made public, citing job security and safety concerns.

They also said that revealing their identities would defeat the purpose of their work: to create a symbol for good without taking personal credit, much like a masked hero in a comic book.

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