The plain, four-door Pontiac pulls into Gordon Park in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood and a man emerges wearing a domino mask, red hooded sweatshirt, army boots and a black trench coat. He is The Watchman.
He’s part of a worldwide movement of “Real Life Superheroes” (often referred to as “RLSHs”) – ordinary people who adopt costumed personas and patrol the streets for trouble. The Watchman hopes others see the RLSHs as doing good and get inspired. “If everybody watched out for their neighbors,” he says, “we would not have as many problems.”
He helped form the 13-member Great Lakes Heroes Guild. The group’s leader is Minneapolis’ Razorhawk, who runs a Web site (hero-gear.net) that sells modestly-priced costumes for aspiring RLSHs. Razorhawk has filled orders from across the nation, and beyond.
Another Milwaukeean hoping to join the Guild is MoonDragon, who first donned his lightning bolt-covered ski mask this past February. Both he and The Watchman have toned-down versions of their costumes for street patrol, and flashier spandex costumes with capes and more elaborate masks for charity events.
Both heroes carry a practical arsenal: a can of pepper spray, note pad, flashlight, digital camera and first-aid kit. MoonDragon also carries a pair of rattan Filipino fighting sticks that are used in a martial art form called eskrima. But “most patrols are pretty uneventful,” The Watchman admits.
One time he scared off a group of teens tagging a building. On another occasion, acting on a tip, he staked out an underage party. He saw four or five guys leave the party with a girl, who was probably about 15. “It was pretty apparent the girl had too much to drink and the guys were trying to take advantage of the situation, so I intervened.”
But the girl’s brother had left the party to check on her, and on seeing The Watchman, mistook him for the villain and pulled out a knife. The Watchman jumped in his car and took off. Later, from a distance, he saw the girl leave the party with her brother. “I was mad at how it all went down,” the Watchman says. “But I remind myself that the girl probably ended up with a bad hangover instead of being date raped.” On balance, a Real victory.