The Dark Ghost is out there. Meet him here.
I LOVE COMIC BOOKS. GROWING UP, I WANTED TO be Spider-Man. For me, “With great power comes great responsibility” isn’t just a tagline in a movie; it’s honestly how I try to live my life.
So in 1977, when Marvel Comics proclaimed that there was a REAL LIFE SUPER HERO out there, I was thrilled. Maybe even I could be a super hero!
Unfortunately, that “hero,” who called himself “The Human Fly,” turned out to be a stuntman (Rick Rojatt) that liked to ride jumbo jets (on the outside) and free-climb on things. Marvel was just capitalizing on his fame to sell comics.
Fast forward a few years, and there begin to be unsubstantiated reports of “Real Life Super Heroes” (RLSH). But these aren’t stuntmen or actors out to make a buck; they’re normal folks who put on costumes (usually modeled on their favorite comic book hero) and go out to actually fight crime and help the helpless in their neighborhoods. As the years went by, their numbers slowly climbed. There are now dozens around the country.
Initially, they were a curiosity. The media ate it up and the police repeatedly warned them not to intervene in “real” crime. With the arrival of the internet and social media, their numbers exploded. We’ve even got a couple right of RLSHs right here.
“Dark Ghost” has been operating in Chattanooga since 2010. When I meet him at Coolidge Park, one of the many places he patrols, late one night for this interview, he’s accompanied by Chattanooga’s other RLSH, the “Mystery Man.” As Dark Ghost approaches, the first thing I notice is that he’s a big guy. Not fat—big. And even though he’s dressed head-to-toe in black, complete with trench coat, fedora and a full-face mask, he moves in a way that it’s easy to tell he’s in the kind of shape that most of us aging comic nerds can only dream about.
The only weapon he carries seems to be a very stylish walking cane. Still, his overall look is very familiar to me…
The Pulse: Rorschach of the “Watchmen” seems to be your inspiration.
Dark Ghost: Well, it’s a bit of him and a bit of “Vic Sage,” aka “The Question.”
TP: What event in your life led you to this?
DG: Like most comic nerds, I’m sure you were probably bullied because you were a comic nerd growing up, I got tired of being bullied, so I started standing up for myself. I saw other kids getting bullied and it just got to where I couldn’t stand by and let it happen. The teachers, the staff of the school weren’t doing anything to stop it. So I decided to stand up to the bullies for those that couldn’t stand up for themselves. And it evolved into what you see tonight.
TP: But was there any one thing though, later in life, that made you put on the outfit?
DG: My niece, when she was three, she was a victim of child molestation, by her grandpa on her daddy’s side. He got away scot-free. And I had a bit of a moment [with him], that I’m not going to describe, but he left the state because of that.
TP: Since you mentioned family, does anyone in your family, or friends, know about this?
DG: (points to Mystery Man) I’ve known this gentleman since kindergarten. And my grandmother knows.
TP: Vigilantes are romanticized in comics, but not so much here on “Earth-Prime.” What sort of reactions have you gotten from the people you’ve actually helped?
DG: I’ve actually been able to help them without them knowing about this part of my life. Believe it or not, when you go on patrols, very little is going to happen. And that’s a good patrol.
One incident happened two years ago. This woman came into where I was working at the time. I’m an avid fan of Sherlock Holmes. Because of him I’ve learned to catch the smaller details of things. I could see she had marks on her arm where she was physically grabbed. I noticed she was recovering from a black eye on this side here (points to his right eye). And every time someone would come through the door, and she would hear the door chime, she would jump. And she had luggage with her, so that told me she was running from somebody. Someone that must have done that to her.
So, I said, “Ma’am, what’s going on? Are you all right?”
I bought her a cup of coffee, we talked, and she told me she was on the run from an abusive ex-husband. Well, I got her a place to stay, and helped her find a job nearby. She was staying with a friend of mine at the time, but then [the ex-husband] found her and started bugging her at work. So I went to where she worked one day, and sat there and waited on him.
I said to him, “Sir, I’ve seen what you’ve done to this woman. Personally, if I had my way, if I was judge and jury, you wouldn’t walk outta of here, you’d limp outta here. You have no right to bug her. So I suggest you take yourself back to North Tennessee.”
He left and he’s never bothered her again. She’s now a very happy woman.
TP: The relationship between a city and its police can be complicated, as we’ve seen with the recent outcry over the reinstatement of Officers Emmer and Cooley.
DG: Yeah, that’s why I didn’t become a cop, like I originally wanted to.
TP: Why not just join the police force?
DG: Well, like you said, the example of those two gentlemen. That power can corrupt people. Being one good cop amongst all that corruption, you can’t do your job. You get overrun with corruption and red tape and you can’t actually help the citizens like you’re supposed to. They’re here to serve and protect, and yet—look what they did.
TP: What’s been the reaction to you from law enforcement?
DG: I have one police sergeant who’s on my Facebook page. He’s actually said openly that he supports people like us.
TP: Have you ever been in a situation that made you think you were about to get seriously injured or killed?
DG: One time that I turned in a cocaine dealer to the police, and he tried to follow me home from work. Well, I pulled over, and I grabbed a tire iron. He saw what I was doing, and he kept driving, because he apparently didn’t have anything to back it up with.
TP: What’s the most serious crime you’ve ever stopped?
DG: I’d probably have to say the drug dealers. Because, if you look at every crime, anywhere… drug dealing, gangs, it all goes together. You can link just about every crime to drugs. Either someone is doing it to get drugs, or because they are pushing drugs.
TP: What’s your #1 favorite, “I really did some good,” moment so far?
DG: When I saved a little boy from getting run over. He had gotten out of the vehicle he was in with his mom, he had jumped out. He made a beeline straight towards this busy road. I had to snatch him. (Marks out relative positions with his hands, showing that the boy was halfway into the road.)
As soon as I get him, FOOM! A car comes flying by.
TP: I was going to ask if there any other RLSH people here in Chattanooga, but Mystery Man here has answered that (laughter). So the next question is, do you guys ever team up, comic-book style?
DG: We always go out together.
Mystery Man: He insists on it.
DG: Because, if you get outnumbered, where’s your backup?
TP: Have you ever had to personally break the law to stop another crime? What were you trying to prevent?
DG: Speeding. I was trying to prevent a car from hitting another little boy. His ball had gone into the road, and cars were just flying by, not paying any attention, so I sped up to put my car between the boy and the traffic. I just parked until he got his ball and got back up on the sidewalk.
TP: Do you carry any weapons when you go out on patrol?
DG: (Gestures with his cane.) This is actually a “Cold Steel City Stick.” This end can shatter cinder blocks. I’m an avid cane fighter. I carry a stun gun. Not a taser. A stun gun you don’t have to have a permit to carry. I carry pepper spray and I carry a small baton. The reason it’s small is so it can actually be legal to carry. You saw on my blog where you have to have training to carry a baton over a certain length?
TP: Yeah, I think it’s commendable that you are doing your homework in order to maintain the legality of your own presence on the streets.
DG: Well, that’s also to help any other RLSH that may arise in Chattanooga.
TP: Are there any, besides the two of you?
DG: There is one. She just moved here. We haven’t had a chance to really have a dialogue yet.
TP: How many RLSH are here in the States?
DG: Maybe in the hundreds. And those are just the ones who’ve made themselves known. There are many, many more hiding, because, as you said, the law usually looks down on this.
TP: Have you personally had any run-ins with any of the gangs here?
DG: Crips. For some reason, they just tend to ignore me. When I see ’em, they’re usually just hanging out, not doing anything illegal, so I just leave them alone. But if I do see ’em doing something, I will put a stop to it.
TP: I’m assuming neither of you guys have any actual super powers. So how do you guys stay fit?
DG: I’ve studied taekwondo and muay thai since I was a little boy, and I’ve also studied the Japanese sword since I was five years old. It’s a heck of a way to stay in shape. And this guy here (motions to Mystery Man}, what is that, a Shake Weight you have?
MM: (laughs) Yeah.
DG: A “Shake Weight” and walking. And he also spars with me…He got in a good punch last time.
TP: I’m noticing your gloves. [The gloves are black Kevlar with pronounced, “knuckle bumps.” The bumps don’t move as he flexes his hands. He hits the bumps with the metal end of his cane and there’s a ringing metallic sound.] Are those brass knuckles under there?
DG: Not brass knuckles—those would do too much harm. These just add a little bit of padding to my knuckles and give me an extra little bit of hit.
TP: You guys seem to be all about “Observe and Report, but Be Prepared.”
DG: I’ll intervene while he’s calling the cops. We operate like that because, if we were just trying to “report,” somebody could get mugged and killed.
Most RLSH have rallied behind the story of Kitty Genovese. She was killed while her neighbors watched and nobody did anything to help her. All it would have taken to save her would have been one guy going with a bat to help her.
TP: Anything else you want to add, or say to the readers?
DG: If anyone would like to talk to me, or is interested in RLSH, they can contact me via Facebook (facebook.com/charles.kovacs.39), on Twitter (@Dark_Ghost_RLSH) or my blog (darkghosthn.blogspot.com).