During the golden age of comics, superheroes emerged as a blend of the many noble qualities Americans hoped to see in themselves. Superman — the most iconic of them all — was an amalgamation of our own founding ideals: Morality, strength, perseverance, and an eagerness to fight for the weak. To remix a Mark Twain line, Superman wasn’t just an American, he was the American.
A more recent comic book hallmark is the hero who lives long enough will see himself branded a villain. No one is better at illustrating the thin line between “good guy” and “bad guy” than modern superheroes and their enemies. As all of us discover sooner or later, the virtuous path is tough to navigate — surrounded by a churning sea of grey. In the Daredevil Netflix series, The Punisher, a man who dispenses justice at the end of a gun barrel, says to the titular character, “You’re one bad day away from being me.” It’s all too true, and yet we inevitably wake up each morning presented with the opportunity to fight the good fight.
Clark Stark, 40, takes this challenge very seriously. By day, he’s a security supervisor. By night, the San Diego native transforms into Mr. Xtreme — patrolling the streets in costume, foiling thugs, and protecting the downtrodden. But like so many comic book superheroes before him, Clark’s method of community involvement creates some serious questions: Is the risk to civilians worth it? Aren’t masked crusaders just getting in the way? Is it possible that these crime fighters cause more problems than they’re worth?
Ever since he was a boy, Clark Stark dreamed of being the sort of superhero he read about in his favorite comics. At age 22, he inched closer to that goal when he joined the Guardian Angels — the famous community protection brigade, launched in New York City back in city’s rough and rowdy 1970s. For eight years, Stark donned the Guardian Angels’ trademark red beret, performing at least 20 citizen’s arrests. But there was something missing, despite the fact that he was helping people. He longed for more independence, more self-expression, more flair. In short, he still wanted to be Superman.
“My childhood was a little rough,” Stark explains. “I had issues growing up. I was kind of like the oddball. I’ve had my experiences with abuse and bullying — if I hadn’t, I’d probably be kind of like everybody else.”
Clark is open about the fact that, like many a masked man before him, he wavered on the razor’s edge between hero and villain. He explains that when he found himself at the intersection of good and evil, he made a choice to follow the road toward righteousness.