Monday, October 4, 2010 Who Watches the Watchman?

Ah, facial hair - the weak-chinned hero's bestest friend! From Sunday's Milwaukee, WI Journal Sentinel:
Riverwest has real-life masked avenger

He calls himself the Watchman. Armed with a flashlight, pepper spray and a cell phone, he spends his weekend evenings hunting out suspicious activity in Riverwest.
He's hitting the streets to root out injustice - without superpowers

By Mike De Sisti
Oct. 3, 2010

When the two main loves in your life are helping people and reading comic books, the call is loud and clear: Become a superhero.

He calls himself the Watchman. He won't give his real name.

His identity is obscured by a bright red mask that covers half his goateed face. He wears black boots, black pants, black leather gloves and a black trench coat, but there's a large yellow circle on the chest of his black hooded sweatshirt, with a big W.

"I'm what people refer to as a real-life superhero," he says.

By night, on weekends, he patrols Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood, looking for injustice and evildoers. By day? That's a mystery.

"While most reactions to what I do are positive, there are a few negative responses," he explains, adding that the disguise protects his family - a wife and two young sons - from any of that. "I'm the one who decided to do this, not them," he says. "They should not have to suffer for it."

For him, it's not about fulfilling a childhood fantasy, or getting the attention of late-night bar patrons.

"Somebody needs to do something," explains the Watchman, who contemplated becoming a police officer before donning his mask.

"There's something everybody can do to make the world a little bit better," he says.

So the 6-foot, 200-pound, 30-something crime fighter patrols Riverwest in costume, with a flashlight and pepper spray on hand - and a black Motorola cell phone as his weapon of choice.

"It's about reporting it," he says. "Contacting police, or getting an ambulance out here if it's a medical situation."

As for super powers? None, he says. "I'm just a guy. I may look a little funny, but I'm just a guy. And I'm out here to let everybody know that they can do their part."

He's not the only guy. The Watchman belongs to the Great Lakes Heroes Guild. "We combine resources, work together and share information," he says.

Milwaukee area freelance writer Tea Krulos is chronicling him and others like him around the nation.

"Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real Life Superhero Movement" is a book Krulos hopes to self-publish by December or January.

"I think one of the most interesting things about this story is that most of the guys are pretty normal," Krulos says. "They're just sick of sitting around watching TV. They want to go out and do something, even if it is a small act, to make their community a better place."

But on a typical night in the Riverwest area, the Watchman needs no book to draw attention. The mysterious red mask does the trick as reactions from mortals come throughout the night.

Patrick Georgeson is hanging out with a few friends in his garage as the Watchman makes his rounds. "I've seen him around here before," says Georgeson.

His friend Meghan Bundy chimes in: "It's awesome to know we have a little Batman here."

"I really think he actually cares." Georgeson says. "There's enough stuff that goes on in this neighborhood that I've seen. . . . If there's one more person looking out for it, it's probably a good thing."

Looking out for people is what the Watchman plans on doing for a long time to come.

"In some form or another, I will do this for the rest of my life."

Video at the site. The Watchman really needs to work on his hero voice. His sidekick, who is obviously trying to rock the "mysterious avenger" angle, was smart enough to stay silent for the camera.

The whole "real-life supers" thing is interesting, as there are striking parallels to the "mystery man" craze in The Watchmen. As in the comic, for most participants it's just a chance to dress up, hang out, and get a little attention. But again like in the comic, there is a minority that fully embrace the concept and try to help people. The fad has the potential to go into fascinating directions, but I can't help feeling that it's all going to end up just as badly as it did in the graphic novel.

I'd be curious to learn the average length of time would-be superheroes stick with their patrolling. I've a gut feeling that these men and women can be split into two groups, those who quickly drop their patrols but hang onto their heroic personae, and those who keep up the activity but lose the costumes. As we see in the video that accompanied this news story, hero patrols often attract non-costumed participants. I can't help thinking that the camaraderie of an organized neighborhood watch combined with the satisfaction of helping the community would soon lead to the costumed identity being discarded.

Okay, except for maybe the crazies. If anyone's gonna kick-start this into full-fledged four-color madness, it's them.