Near midnight I stand alone in the parking lot of Gordon Park in Milwaukee. Some time passes and then a car pulls up next to me. From a darkened window a voice asks, “ Are you waiting for a certain group of people?” Eyes cast downward, I answer that yes, I am. There is anonymity at work here, and I mean to respect it. I point to a spot in the distance and tell them to meet me there when they are ready. I’m photographing them as part of the Portfolio section of the Wisconsin Trails September/October issue. In a few minutes five men approach in the darkness. Their names are the Watchman, Blackbird, Charade, the Crimson Crusader, and Electron. They are all in costume. They are all Real Life Super Heroes. Collectively the group is known as the Challengers. They stand against what might be man’s most virulent kryptonite: apathy. While most of us are falling asleep to the blue flicker of a television, the Challengers patrol the neighborhoods of Milwaukee and Madison, serving as an extra set of eyes and ears for the police while their presence acts as a deterrent to crime. They also bring food and other supplies to homeless people throughout the city and help out some local charities. Before you scoff at the idea of men dressed up as super heroes, ask yourself this question: What have I done to better my street, my community, or for people less fortunate than me? “ I know that when I asked that question of myself, my answer fell far short of where I would have liked it to be.
Here are some answers to questions I asked of the Challengers.
What inspired you to do this? “There are two things I have always loved, superheroes and helping people, I think doing this was natural evolution of self for me. At some point I just decided the world really needs superheroes, and although I may never actually be a superhero, I figured I could at least try. “ -The Watchman
“I have friends on every side of politics and work in a kind of place where people bitch about politics and race issues and all the things that people think they can’t control and make them upset. I see this as an active approach to making your world better or doing your part. It’s one thing to get mad about someone breaking into a car on your block, it’s another to go out and look out for this. Who does that? ” -Blackbird
” A while back, one of my best friends got robbed through his car and shot in the face. He lived, but suffered extensive damage including the loss of one eye. I’ve always pondered the idea of making non-lethal weaponry and defensive technology, but it wasn’t until then that I realized I had to do something more than just draw and wish I could make a difference. It was then that I discovered Electron, the hero I’ve always wanted to be. However, since then there have been a number of reasons to continue my work and I’m sure a number of reasons yet to be discovered. “ -Electron
” I had ideas of donning a mask and patroling the streets for around seven years now, but it didn’t seem like a realistic idea until I heard about the Real Life Superheroes. Even before the mask, I was often told that I have a “hero complex.” I’ve always admired guys like Robin Hood, Zorro, and Batman; the guys without any superpowers that still try to make the world around them a better place. And that’s exactly what I’m hoping to do.” – The Crimson Crusader
What do you typically do on patrol? ” Patrols have changed, we used to ‘nest’ a lot and watch for things going on by just staying still and paying attention to high traffic areas. We do a lot on mobile patrols now and mix it up. Checking the homeless areas that we’re aware of is a high priority too, the cops don’t know about them and they’re working hard to survive so we help them with food and supplies that we imagine they need when we observe their site. “ -Blackbird
” I typically just walk around and keep an eye out for trouble. I talk to people when approached. I focus on teens since I am only recently turned 18, I can understand them better than most of the other heroes. “ -Charade
” We first look and listen to get a feel for the general atmosphere of the location we’re patrolling that night. We are looking to see how much traffic there is, both foot and vehicle, and listen to determine the general mood
people seem to be in. That gives us a good idea of what we can expect the night to be like. As we patrol, we look for signs of any problems, such as evidence of break-ins or vandalism, and we listen for sounds that could be arguing, screeching tires, banging, breaking glass, or calls for help. As we walk, we also talk to people and explain to them what we are doing in hopes it it may inspire others to do more to help others. “ -The Watchman
Best memory of being a Real Life Superhero?
”I have a gigantic portrait hanging in a French airport right now, Watchman has a huge one hanging in France at a movie theater. That’s pretty cool, we’re just a couple of guys in Wiscons
in, but our alter-egos are nationally known. ” -Blackbird
“ Every time I suit up. It’s a great feeling to get together with like-minded people and trying to make things better in the world.” – The Crimson Crusader
Advice for others who might want to go down the same road?
” I think people need to do it for the right reason, there’s a fine line between an rlsh ( Real Life Super Hero ) wanting to do right and a sociopath that want’s to make up for their personal shortcomings with aggressive behavior towards people. “ -Blackbird