Heroes come in every shade, from light to dark. And Z, who describes himself as “by definition, a radical. No other way to say it,” struggles to embody the full spectrum on a near daily basis.
First entering the scene in 2001, he began from a place of anger and depression, looking to lash out as strongly as possible, all in an effort to “tame the flames inside my head.” He patrolled his neighborhood, searching out a fight, welcoming the chance to engage, clad in battle gear that included a full, daunting mask. “Look, you have a list of people in your life who should die. People who hurt, molest, rape. I’ve seen how much damage they’ve done in my life, and in the lives of others, stealing the innocence from those they claim to love.”
A personal torment that led him to attempt taking his own life. Twice.
“The second time, I tried a little harder. But when I woke up, I realized that I had a lot of things I was able to do. I found a reason to live, and decided to go down in a good light, rather than for nothing.” Still, the past clings to him, and he grapples to access his better angels. “As much as I’m capable, I’ve lost quite a bit of that darkness. On purpose,” he says. “The me before was consumed with cocooning myself inside that darkness, it was my truth, my edge.” But with the realization that an aggressive stance would only be met with aggression in return, he came to understand that those actions closed people off from his point of view. “I’m starting to think of people in a more connected way now,” he says.
So he began patrolling again, this time without the mask, and correspondingly, with a very different endgame in mind. “Now I’m more interested in a more pragmatic approach, avoiding conflict. I can still handle myself, if need be, but I would rather engage a potential criminal creatively, distract them, start a dialogue,” he continues. “As much as I want to, I can’t write anyone off. I can’t ignore the fact that people need to be redeemed, and nearly everyone in the world can be redeemed.”
And that list of those he wanted to suffer? “The biggest sign of maturity is that the list keeps getting smaller,” Z explains, “until there’s no one on it, and you realize that these are human beings caught in the web of the loss of their own compassion. And when you refuse compassion, you’re the same as they are.”
Oftentimes at odds philosophically and tactically with the wider Real Life Superhero movement, Z is a founding member of “The New York Initiative,” committed to maintaining the safety of their Brooklyn, NY neighborhood, while “providing a better communication network for help resources.” Yet the life lessons handed to Z through his participation in the community of heroes have not been lost on him. “It’s a beautiful thing if you can let yourself sink into Time, and be present. There are too many things to live for, no matter how perception messes with you. That one took me the longest.”
An accomplished artist, sculptor and designer, Z could easily go off and live life as a fully private citizen, but professes to never feeling the need to live in that manner. “I like to be in the worst parts of the world,” he says, “I need to because I think I have a plan, and I want to make sure that I never forget that reality. My patrol is every day of my life. I am a lifer.”