Master Legend, a former runaway, has reinvented himself as a crime fighter.
His arms are covered with soccer shinguards that have been painted silver to match his mask. “It won’t stop a bullet,” he says, “but it will deflect knives.”
Master Legend lives with his sidekick Ace, in a dilapidated home outside of Orlando, Florida. It took Josh Bearman nearly a year to gather all the reporting necessary for this fantastic article in Rolling Stone. Of course some great sections had to be cut. Here is the article from Rolling Stone.
And here is the story beyond the story- When Superheroes Go Shopping:
Superheroes agree: the hands down hardest part is the costume. Without that, you’re just another schmuck. And since there’s no Superhero Supply Emporium, you have to get out the straight pins and design it yourself. At which point you are suddenly confronted by all those age-old sticky issues: cape or no cape? Colorful/friendly or dark/menacing? Let’s not forget the manifold tactical considerations surrounding the choice of mask and padding. What about seasonal variations for summer? Does Kevlar sweat?
Plus, the thing has to look cool. And sometimes that means laying out a little cash. Master Legend is eagerly awaiting “a whole new upgrade” from Hero Gear, a guy in Minnesota who will build suits and masks to spec. Phoenix’s Citizen Prime hired an armorer to forge a functioning suit of sci-fi plate mail — traditional steel plates with canary yellow accents.
“I like all that shiny metal,” says Dave Montgomery, aka Insignis, “but these things have to be real, workable, safe and practical. It takes a lot of work.” Dave speaks from experience: he’s led more than a hundred decked out patrols as the founder of the Black Monday Society, a regional amalgamated order of real life superheroes that operates out of his tattoo parlor, Frankie’s, just outside Salt Lake City.
Dave owns Frankie’s, and it’s through tattooing that he attracted five core members and a half dozen adjunct affiliates to the Black Monday Society. “People come in, we get to talking,” he says, “and then they want to try on a costume.” He gestures at the walls. They’re covered with fluid pencil sketches of current and future members of the team that would fit right in on any comic artists planning board. “I draw the hero first,” he says, “and eventually someone fits the bill.”
Dave is tall and lean and handsome despite missing half his teeth from fights in his youth. He styles his team after the meaner edge of Marvel — sleek, stark, intimidating — and then turns the sketches over to Mother One, the Black Monday Society’s official tailor. She just stopped by Frankie’s on costume business, picking up material for the newest team member’s pants. “One day,” she says, “Dave asked me ’can you do this?’ and slid a sketch in front of me.” Eight yards of vinyl later, Mother One found herself with a new name and avocation. “Now when I watch X-Men, Spiderman, any of those movies,” she says, “All I’m thinking is: can I do that at home?”
Mother One lives with her husband, Oni, one of the first BMS regulars, in a modest house not far from Frankie’s. Mother one is quite proud of her presentational case featuring commemorative Harry Potter figurines, but she’s even more proud of their extra bedroom, which has become the team’s full time wardrobe department. “Ever try to make an eight inch rigid collar?” she asks, taking me through the room and its inventory of spandex, stabilizer, interfacing, and corset boning. Mother one shows me the “pattern bible,” a thick folder with hundreds of Dave’s drawings. “There’s the first Ferox,” she says, flipping through. “Here’s Adder, in both versions, red and yellow. See these bat wings? What a bitch to make!”
At times, Mother One will lend her expertise as a seamstress to refine Dave’s blueprint. “I might add slits for range of motion,” she says, “or dart it up top to make the shoulders bigger. You know — to look more ominous as a silhouette. Superheroes have to worry about how form meets function.”
Oni is friendly, soft-spoken, and since losing his job as an optical equipment technician he has taken care of the household while Mother One works. Beneath the calm exterior, however, lurks an Okinawan karate practitioner. “I call myself Oni,” he says, “because it’s a Japanese spirit that wards off other ghosts — scary, but for a good purpose.” Oni inducted their seventeen year-old daughter into martial arts too. “Although,” he says, “she’s more of an American-style ground grappler.”
That’s why Mother One and Oni’s allowed her to become a Black Monday Society member-in-training. One day last year over dinner Oni explained to the family that he was going to become a superhero. “And I thought it was so cool!” Killer Frost explains when she comes out of her room to say hello. “I said I wanted to join! I picked out my name right then.”
Fine, her parents said, but she’d have to wait until her eighteenth birthday. “I was heartbroken,” Killer Frost says. Now it’s a few months off, and they’ve already started planning her costume: icy blue and white, maybe with some sharp edges and decorative cracks. “But Killer Frost will be very well-covered,” says Mother One, stepping in as a parent to note that the suit will be a modest departure from the usual sexpot superheroine. This family of superheroes will also be family friendly.
“My mom and dad are my best friends in the world and I want to be a part of what they do,” Killer Frost says sweetly.
Adding to the feeling that I’ve stumbled across the Incredibles, living in plain sight right here in Salt Lake City, is Mumbles, the family terrier is also a hero. “The house was on fire once,” Oni says, “and Mumbles came in and woke us all up. That dog saved all our lives.” As I head out the door, Mother One reminds me: “If you’re ever in the Salt Lake area and get into trouble, you know who to call.”
Back at Frankie’s the following evening, the Black Monday Society is preparing for a patrol. Frankie’s has a phone booth installed in one corner, but it’s symbolic. “We can’t all fit in there!” Dave says. Instead they suit up in their “back office,” an adjacent former dry cleaner lined with racks. Against one wall is a file cabinet with drawers labeled for each member. On one nearby rack are the uniforms: Oni’s samurai-inspired hakama; Insignis’ two-tone cowl; Ghost’s long black duster and skeletally imprinted chest-plate. They’re very well crafted, and hanging alone, in the dim light of the empty room they look striking.
As I handle the hakama’s intricate folds, Dave sits on a bucket, smokes a cigarette, and considers the costume. “The first time out is always a moment of self-doubt,” he says. “You wonder what will people say. Will they make fun of you?” The fear, he says, is quickly overcome. And that’s the point. Life feels different in the protective warmth of the costume.
“Insignis has a simple life,” Dave says. Walking the streets in superdrag, he says, you don’t worry about your electricity bill or mother-in-law — or worse problems. It’s no accident in Dave’s mind that he quit drinking around the time he started BMS. Another team member’s life was in shambles and joining up helped him right the ship. “There are reasons we all put on these masks,” he says. “I know you can’t jump any farther, but you feel like you can.” And once you put it on you’re committed. “It gives you a nudge,” he says. I ask Dave more about his alter ego, but he pauses and finds himself at a loss. As Dave, he says, it’s sometimes hard to relate to Insignis. “Maybe if I put on the suit, I’ll figure it all out.”
If this sounds like a kind of superhero self-help, it is. But then again wasn’t that idea always hidden somewhere in comics? The superhero costume, after all, has become our culture’s multihued emblem of personal transformation. Which is why the real life superheroes put so much care into the construction of their costumes. That’s where the new identity actually resides. In the comics, the costume reflects the power, like Spidey’s webbed pajamas. But real life superheroes have no powers. For them, the costume itself is the radioactive spider bite.
Unfortunately, reality never lives up to the comic book magic conjured by the mind. On our patrol in Salt Lake City, Ghost talks about the evolution of their looks from “half-assed” to “bad-ass” and hopefully on to “super bad-ass.” The crew does make a remarkable sight, a menagerie of gloomy figures wandering through the empty downtown streets, leaving footprints in soft snow along rows of saplings festooned with Christmas lights. It’s strangely beautiful. But not exactly bad-ass. In practice, I realize, it’s just impossible to conjure the dread from, say, the pages of Batman, where the cape itself seems to form its own ominous character. No matter how good the costume, unless you’re flying off rooftops to tackle the Riddler it’s an inevitable disappointment. No one wants to see a superhero on a Tuesday night fumbling for his keys while waiting for the light to change. Without the cape, you’re just another schmuck. But what about with the cape? That’s the question Dave hopes Insignis can answer.
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