Don’t Be a (Super) Hero. It’ll Land You in Prison. Whether you’re into DC or Marvel, movies or comics, we can all agree on one basic idea: superheroes are awesome. It’s a fun fantasy, the idea of some super-powered, ultra-moral person above the agendas and borders of modern law and society, saving people and defeating evil. Usually there’s spandex involved. No one’s allowed to question why.

But there’s a reason why superheroes stay in fantasy land — and it’s not just because radioactive spiders are hard to find these days. Real life heroism, when done outside of the law in any capacity, is called vigilantism. It’s also called “illegal,” depending on the act in question.

Reality versus fiction

In comics, superheroes are often portrayed as on the same side as the law and those who enforce it. There’s always a mutual understanding — the heroes stop the crimes, the cops look the other way. What’s that, Batman? You destroyed thousands of dollars of personal property and permanently wounded petty thieves? Well, you wear a cape, so that’s okay.

The website CBR understands that, in reality, things wouldn’t go over all that smoothly for him, even with the Wayne fortune on his side. In fact, they published an article detailing the 10 comic book heroes who would get arrested immediately in real life, but here’s the thing: ALL comic book heroes would probably be immediately arrested. Seriously. Assault is not suddenly legal when someone wears spandex. Neither is property damage, vandalism, or strong-arming folks for legal testimony (still looking at you, Bat).

Notice that the issue here isn’t simple acts of heroism. You’re not an illegal vigilante if you step up for your fellow man or risk your life to save someone. Generosity and kindness are not fictional traits, and Good Samaritan laws are real. No, the issue is when you decide which laws to obey in order to enact your personal vision of justice, and the issue with THAT is that everyone’s vision of that is different. So, a world where anyone can take justice into their own hands can get very dangerous, very quickly.

In the real world, most comic book heroes (especially the ones who don’t shy away from violence) would probably find themselves facing 25 years in prison at the least. Superman would be fined back to Krypton. Daredevil wouldn’t have a day job anymore. Batman is rich…but he’d probably still go to Bat-Jail. Still, it’s not as viable as the comics make it seem.

Reality meets fiction

Now, all this being said, there are ways to be a real-life superhero and avoid all the felonies. It’s not easy, and it’s certainly not for the average citizen, but people have, in fact, made it happen.

For an example of being a legal superhero, look no further than the Black Widow of Norfolk, Virginia. Although this person denies the moniker of “superhero,” he does in fact wear a costume and go around fighting crime, armed with years of martial arts experience and a passion for helping others. The thing is, while he does take it upon himself to break up fights and deter criminals, he spends most of his time spreading joy and smiles to everyone he sees. Like I said — everyone likes superheroes. This man understands the hope and security a hero inspires is just as important as the crimefighting he does, and so he toes the line between heroism and vigilantism by focusing on that.

Of course, if being a lone hero in tights doesn’t float your boat, there are plenty of ways to act heroically and selflessly in your day-to-day life. Not only that, but there are plenty of ways to enact some vigilante justice without actually breaking the law — or at least any big ones (note: at your own risk!).

Right here in Annapolis, in fact, someone has taken this notion to heart. How do they do this, you may ask? Well, by vandalizing illegal (and annoying) signs in county right-of-ways, of course. Known for spray-painting the letters “R.O.W” and some accompanying male genitalia (for good measure, of course) on the offending signs, they actually do seem to be responsible for a marked decrease in these illegal markers. Yes, it is illegal to do this. However, frankly, no one seems to mind all that much. There are no pending charges against this anonymous hero and the police of the county have yet to receive any reports regarding the issue.

And as a nice treat for all of us, it seems there are far fewer of these signs around, which I happen to like quite a bit.

So yes, theoretically it’s possible to be a real-life “superhero” and avoid too much trouble with the law. But still, without really understanding all the laws you could be breaking, never mind the added danger of trying to apprehend criminals, it may be something you should leave to the comics.

If your vigilante justice got a bit carried away and now you’re in trouble, it’s best to get comfy with some on-the-books legal help. At Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, our Annapolis criminal defense attorneys have experience protecting people with their hearts in the right place. You don’t need to be a lone wolf, and you shouldn’t try to be. We have offices for you here in Annapolis or in Ellicott City, and we’re happily here for you when you need us. Call us today at 410-271-1892  or fill out our online contact form… even if you wear spandex.

And remember — Keep Calm and Call Drew!