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Why Are Marvel Heroes Such a Meme for Bankrobbers?

Iron Man is on the lam in Florida. Captain America got unlucky in Kentucky. The Hulk smashes into a bank — and robs it. Don’t criminals ever wear DC masks?

If you’re going to rob a bank, one thing you’ll need is a mask. For all the obvious reasons. In fact, the type of mask a robber selects often becomes their trademark, a personal brand of sorts.

It used to be that a bank robber typically wore a Halloween mask. Like in Point Break, when the Ex-Presidents ripped-off SoCal banks dressed as Nixon, Carter, LBJ and Reagan in the hopes of paying for their endless summer. The look was iconic. It was also a wry 1990s-era twist on who really robs the American people. 

But then, Christopher Nolan changed the game. He forever stoked criminal imaginations with the opening scene of The Dark Knight

The creepy clown masks worn by the Joker and his crew weren’t only eye-catching, they were also a mostly-missed homage to an earlier crime classic — The Killing by Stanley Kubrick. In his black-and-white noir flick, Kubrick’s crew of robbers knock off a race track. Since there is truly nothing new under the sun, the robbers wear creepy clown masks.

I guess I should mention Ben Affleck’s heist film, The Town, too. Naturally, Affleck’s bank men are from Southie, and they opt for wildly cinematic masks: skull faces and odd-looking nuns. The nun costume was so dope that copycats quickly arose IRL. In one case, they even got away with it (unlike Affleck’s crew). 

Over the last decade, though, bank robbers have stopped imitating crime films and turned to superhero movies for inspiration instead. The explanation, of course, is pretty obvious. A glut of recent superhero movies has resulted in a glut of life-like superhero masks on the market. Perfect for your average bank robber. Spider-Man: Homecoming even cheekily riffed on this trope. In it, the teen web-slinger gets in a fight with a crew of bank robbers who are — wait for it — dressed as the Avengers. 

Back in the real world, just before last Halloween, a Kansas man and his partner burst into a bank dressed as Black Panther and Venom. One of the men fired his gun into the ceiling and shouted “Happy Holidays!” Next, the men stuffed cash into a backpack (there’s no word on how much, but it certainly wasn’t a million dollars) and took off. The FBI, however, caught sight of the robbers’ car and followed them to another location where they were ultimately apprehended. At least they didn’t try to escape on a motorized scooter like another Black Panther–masked man who held up a Phoenix area bank in 2018. 

Needless to say, this getaway vehicle wasn’t powered with Vibranium

Meanwhile, six years earlier in Western New York, 28-year-old Jacob Lester donned a Hulk mask and pulled a gun on a bank teller, asking for all the money in the register and escaping with a small amount of cash. He would have gotten away with it, too, but he was later popped for shoplifting at a local mall, where the arresting officer recognized “a droopy necklace that resembled one the bank robber had worn.” Police subsequently obtained a search warrant for his place, where they found a tool bag, coat and handgun used in the robbery.

Dont make me angry: Put the money in the bag.

It goes without saying that Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark, has no reason to ever make an illegal withdrawal. Iron Manlet, however, is a different story. The 5-foot-4 bank robber from Florida apparently had a stark need for cash, drawing a gun at a local bank, explaining to the teller that “he was hungry” and demanding all of the money on hand (the bank was coy about how much). Somehow, Iron Manlet got away, and disappeared into Florida daytime traffic in his maroon-colored getaway whip. (That shows real commitment to the Iron Man color scheme.)

Lastly, in 2016, three men knocked off a Lexington, Kentucky, bank. While two were in generic hoodies, the leader of the crew wore a Captain America hoodie and matching Captain America mask. Afterward, they disappeared into the Kentucky woods with their stolen loot. The police set hounds loose to track down the robbers like it was 1878, but the trio escaped. One robber was eventually caught, but he refused to name names. Guess Captain America’s no snitch. 

So, what about the obvious question: Does anyone ever wear a DC mask to rob a bank?

Short answer: No. 

The slightly more nuanced answer: There was someone the FBI called “The Justice League Dropout.” That said, he doesn’t really count since he was only wearing a Superman hat to a robbery. If anything, the press preferred to focus on his Ghost Rider–style skull mask. Either way, he was prolific, hitting three banks in Stafford, Texas, and getting away each time. 

There are going to be many more superhero movies (and TV shows) in our near future, which means many new masks will be made in their honor. However, as with all trends, at some point it will become cringe to still be out there robbing banks dressed like the MCU. And so, perhaps the next trend will draw upon that other big mask-based franchise, the same one that just promised a mountain of new content: Star Wars.

I’m Baby Yoda, and this is a stickup!

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