Heroes in the Night documents local masked crusader Thanatos

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      Tea Krulos is a freelance author and journalist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, whose book Heroes in the Night has just been released by Chicago Review Press.

      In it, he documents the real-life superhero (RLSH) movement, a continent-wide subculture of otherwise regular citizens who create comic-book–style personas for themselves, often involving elaborate homemade costumes. They do this to patrol the streets of their cities in search of chances to assist people in need or, in some cases, to help prevent crime.

      Chapter 8 of Heroes in the Night profiles Thanatos, Vancouver’s very own RLSH. Below is an excerpt describing Krulos’s arrival in town to meet this mysterious figure back in 2010, at the height of the Winter Olympics.

      For more info about the book, go here.

      Many RLSH don’t have a very memorable origin story. They’re bored and see a news report circulating online and decide it’s something cool that they want to try out. After some cruising around the Internet, they find the RLSH forums and begin to join in.

      Thanatos’s story is different. Before he began dressing in a trench coat, a fedora, a skull and crossbones patterned tie, and a bright green skull mask, before he had even heard of the RLSH, Thanatos was already doing what he does now, minus the costume.

      Thanatos hands out supplies and befriends an element of society in Vancouver that has often been swept under the rug, the type of element governments try to round up and hide when they host the Olympic games—the homeless, the drug addicted, the prostitutes, the downtrodden.

      One day, the man who would become Thanatos was making his rounds handing out food and supplies when he ran into a young Vancouver police officer who scoffed at his efforts.

      “Hey, man, you’re wasting your time,” the officer told him. “These people only got one thing to look forward to: death.”

      Those words stuck in the back of Thanatos’s mind. When he heard about the RLSH movement, they came back to haunt him. He decided to make his image a parody of the Grim Reaper and to help people out so that they might actually look forward to seeing death.

      Olympic Meet-Up: Day 1
      February 22, 2010

      I knew something had gone wrong. The customs official at the Vancouver airport had directed me into an intimidating warehouse-like room with concrete floors and rows of fluorescent lights. A line of grim-faced customs agents scrutinized passports and turned luggage inside out. I was the only Caucasian waiting in line, towering above families of Asians who looked like they had all of their worldly possessions in tow—trunks and huge old suitcases and even laundry baskets filled with stuff. I was called forward and approached a young Asian woman. She had not a trace of good humor in her face.

      “What is your business in Vancouver?” she asked me, as I handed her my beat-up passport.

      I tried repeating the story I had told the first customs agent in the airport. I said I had some time off work, I had always wanted to visit Vancouver, and I was going to hang around a few days and soak up some atmosphere of the 2010 Winter Olympics. This was all true, except I was omitting a key detail—I was also there for a meet-up of RLSH, organized by Thanatos.

      My story had not worked for the customs agent. He thought I was a suspicious character. Maybe it was my black leather jacket or my uncombed hair, but in any case he sent me into the deep scrutinizing department, and I could tell my story wasn’t flying here either.

      Did I have tickets to the Olympic games? No, I admitted, but maybe I’d pick some up. Did I have a place to stay? Yes, I said, perking up, pointing to a stack of pages printed off and stapled together, marked with notes. This was great, I thought. This stack of papers will clear my entrance into Canada.

      “See, this first couple of pages is my flight and bus itinerary,” I explained. She read the itinerary carefully, then flipped the page. “And this is my receipt for the hostel I booked for the weekend, and a map of how to get there from the airport.” She flipped the page.

      “This is just a map of Vancouver I printed off. I marked my hostel here,” I said confidently, pointing to a section of Vancouver named Gastown.

      “And Mountainview Cemetery? Why is that marked?” she asked, her suspicions rising again.

      “Well,” I said, “I have an interest in old cemeteries.” Although this is true, I had a different reason for marking the cemetery. This is where Thanatos traditionally invites the media to meet him for interviews. The reporters walk through the graveyard, silent except for the croaking of ravens, until Thanatos appears from behind a tomb to greet them.

      She flipped through a couple more pages, more maps of Vancouver, then she stopped. Something had caught her eye.

      “And what is this?” she asked, pointing to an itinerary labeled “Vancouver meet-up 2010 schedule of events” with Thanatos’s skull and crossbones logo on the top.

      Oh boy, I thought. Her eyebrows pinched together as she read the list.

      “Who is Knight Owl?” she asked. “Who is Thanatos? What is this ‘undercover walk around?’”

      I took a deep breath.

      What followed was one of the longest interviews I’ve done on the subject of the RLSH. Did these people think they had superpowers? Was I a Real Life Superhero? And again, who was Thanatos?

      I explained that Thanatos was just an ordinary citizen of Vancouver, that he was a Vietnam vet in his early sixties with a family. I told her that he had a strange hobby of wearing a green skull mask and handed out supplies to the homeless as well as collecting things like drug paraphernalia to turn in as evidence against drug dealers.

      “So why does he need a costume to do that?”

      “I don’t know,” I admitted. “I think it is somewhat comparable to performance art—he wants people to see him and see what he’s doing and talk about him.”

      She began asking me how I had met these people and if there were teams and a lot of other questions. Then I noticed something—she seemed more relaxed and I could see a smile in her eyes. That’s when I realized she was no longer asking questions for official business, but because she was curious. I went with it and answered her questions as best I could.

      When all her questions had been answered, she went to speak with a supervisor. I sighed and looked at the clock. I had been stuck here over an hour. Then she returned and told me I was free to go.

      “Good luck,” she said in a friendly tone. I left the airport and stood squinting in the bright winter afternoon sun of Vancouver.

      Copyright 2013, Chicago Review Press