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Real Life Super Heroes, or RLSH for short, is a term coined by the news media for a phenomenon where individuals take on personas partially inspired by the fictional superheroes portrayed in various media (such as in comic books, television shows, and movies) in the real world in an effort to make the world a better place.
"Super Hero" is sometimes merged into one word, such as "superhero." Alternate forms of the term are "SuperHero" or "Super-Hero." Real Life Super Heroine could be used for female heroes, but the term RLSH or "Real Life SuperHero" is gender-neutral and so is normally used regardless of gender.
Like their fictional counterparts, many real life superheroes dress up in gimmicks complete with alter egos and try their personal best to do good. The main difference is that real life superheroes must work within the various limitations of reality. Consequently, many use their persona in order to make a positive difference in the lives of others and the community in various ways.
Some work as their persona with existing community service and volunteer organizations to raise their visibility while others patrol the streets in a neighborhood watch looking for people to help with the outfit functioning as an informal uniform. Some work on crime prevention and awareness while others work to help the powerless like the homeless. This growing movement of people has many differences, but their one shared trait is their wish to bring the superheroic ideals of fiction to life.
You can read more about the various roles RLSH may take in Roles.
A "Real LifeSuperhero" is a person who uses a superhero persona while working to improve the world or their local community in a productive manner.
Due to the nature of how superheroes have been portrayed in media and the changing perceptions of how the concept of superheroes is internalized, there is a great deal of tension between the various forms a real life superhero can take on. As the current RLSH community draws on several traditions already present in popular culture and modern society, the real life superhero is actually a culmination of a variety of influences.
Many RLSH are obviously influenced by comic books. Since they are unlike their comic book counterparts, such as DC Comics' Superman, a superhero with superpowers, many of them take examples from fictional superheroes like Marvel Comics' Iron Man, who does not have any superpowers, and other such vigilante or non-powered characters.
The RLSH community started to gain much of its online momentum after the release of the movie Kick-Ass, which is an adaptation of a comic book series that focuses on a regular teenager who tries to become a superhero and eventually does. This has been the subject of much criticism of the RLSH community, which have called them "Kick-Ass wannabes", or more often "ninjalantes".
In addition, due to the worldwide popularity of the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman film trilogy, many RLSH's looks have been influenced by the iconic outfits portrayed onscreen. The successes of the real-world adaptation of comic book outfits for superhero movies like X-Men and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are also influences.
The RLSH community arose due to the advent of the internet, making it easy for those with previously obscure hobbies or lifestyles to connect and exchange knowledge. Thus, the activity and lifestyle that only a few embarked upon in solitude became something that was a shared experience. However, with the rise of social media sites and a corresponding interest by the news media, there has been criticism of some RLSH for giving the appearance of "spending more time advertising themselves instead of trying to make a difference." Conversely, there are RLSH out there who do not have a web presence and the only information on them are through third-party channels, such as through news reports or secondhand knowledge in the RLSH community.
Precursors to the RLSH
With the many various forms an RLSH can take on, the RLSH movement is likely most directly influenced by the activist, costumed entertainer, vigilante traditions, which can be characterized by precursors to the RLSH such as The Fox, Captain Sticky, and the Guardian Angels.
The Guardian Angels
The Guardian Angels were started as a squad of volunteer citizen watch in 1979 by Curtis Sliwa as a response to widespread crime on New York City subways, which were lawless at the time. The Guardian Angels could be considered a vigilante-type of neighborhood watch that quickly gained mainstream acceptance. In recent years, they have now evolved into a volunteer organization and can be identified by their uniform consisting of a red beret and red jacket, a white t-shirt with the Guardian Angel logo, or a combination of the two. 
Modern RLSH Movement
The "Internet Age" of the RLSH movement can be traced back to the 2008 Rolling Stone magazine feature article written by Joshua Bearman that focused on Master Legend, which also mentioned in passing other members of the movement. Due to the prominence of Rolling Stone magazine, which included several full-page photographs of Master Legend, this article became one of the most cited in later writings on the RLSH movement or by RLSH themselves in terms of bringing awareness to the phenomena in general.
Year of the Real Life Superhero
As interest has grown in the RLSH movement, there have been a number of media created about them.
Alternate Labels to RLSH
For various reasons, some members of the established community have felt the label of "RLSH" has been diluted by those using the label inappropriately or simply does not accurately describe what they do. Thus, some RLSH have adopted alternate labels for themselves, such as "Extreme Altruists" (X-Alt), "Costumed Vigilantes", "Costumed Activists", or "Citizen Heroes" to distinguish themselves from other RLSH. However, it appears that due to the popularity of the term "real life superhero" amongst the mainstream media, as well as that of superheroes in popular culture, many simply accept the label for themselves in order to more easily describe what they do to members of the general public.