An ominous haze surrounds the downtown Oshawa bandshell, as midnight fast approaches.
Groups of two to six people congregate for various reasons. Some scavenge for Pokemon, while others’ motives remain questionable.
Far in the distance, two bright-coloured figures emerge from the fog.
One man’s lean physique is draped in fluorescent green, with a sharp-lined face mask, flowing cape, and sizeable lightning bolt proudly cemented on his chest armour. Shorter than his companion, the other male makes up for his partner’s slim stature. He has a husky build, and wears a brooding black, red and white camouflage costume.
They are optimism incarnate: real-life superheroes.
Aftershock and his partner Nameless Crusader patrol the city core twice a week for suspicious activity or helpless individuals. If they witness a drug deal in process, they call the police. If there is someone in need of a safe escort, they will join the individual.
Together, Aftershock and his partner Nameless Crusader are the Justice Crew of Oshawa (JCO).
“You don’t have to look like a superhero to be a superhero,” says Aftershock, who is also known as Oshawa’s Turtleman. This is because of his green armoured costume. “One small thing a day, can be the biggest change in the world to someone out there.”
Aftershock doesn’t have x-ray vision, telepathy, or the ability to fly. Neither does Nameless Crusader. Their superpower is empathy. They believe compassion is something everyone can have and they are leading by example.
Like most comic book heroes, Aftershock and Nameless Crusader are regular citizens but their identities are secret. This is to keep themselves safe outside of their costumes. The JCO hopes their anonymity will enforce the message of selfishness over ego. The ability to understand another’s feelings is an attribute the superheroes hope to incite in Oshawa.
Aftershock empathizes with those without shelter, as he too was once homeless. At rock bottom and living in his car, the Newcastle-native made a commitment to himself: to create a better life not only for himself but for others as well. Courage was the first step to his path of honour.
“One night I said, ‘the heck with this’ and threw together a makeshift costume,” says Aftershock. He now patrols for the citizens of Oshawa, his wife, and two young children.
Nameless Crusader, who was born and raised in Oshawa, says his inspiration to suit up came from “Kick-Ass,” a 2010 film about real-life superheroes. A quick Google search reveals there were social media accounts of like-minded individuals. One in particular, Aftershock, was in his very own backyard.
As the Justice Crew of Oshawa arrives at the bandshell, an incoherent man screams expletives at the heroes.
“Hello, Sir,” says Nameless Crusader with a swift wave of his gloved hand.
Because of the superhero’s gentle response, the man’s anger becomes curiosity. He begins to walk toward the colourful characters but the JCO changes direction to avoid an unpredictable, dimly lit confrontation.
The crew patrols long after most citizens are asleep, and in some cases, after the sun has risen. During the day, they contribute to various outreach initiatives. This includes community cleanup programs. On their Facebook page, the JCO posted a certificate presented to them by the city of Oshawa for their contributions to litter control in 2014. They also provide survival materials such as food, blankets, and hygiene products to the homeless. The kits are paid for by the superheroes as well as by donation.
Despite their good intentions, there is still danger. As a safety precaution, the team never patrols alone. If they witness suspicious activity, the JCO will respond by communicating with the potential perpetrator from a safe distance, or by calling police.
According to Nameless Crusader, Durham police are generally supportive of the group’s message and execution. In an email sent to the group and posted online, Inspector George Dmytruk thanked the group for communicating with police about a suspicious individual claiming to be a real-life superhero.
Sometimes, danger can’t be avoided. Once, late at night, a belligerent individual snapped a large branch off a tree, and swung it at the heroes’ heads.
“We were wearing armour, so it didn’t really affect us,” says Aftershock. They removed themselves from the situation to notify police of the attack, and ensure this man did not hurt innocent citizens.
The group avoids using violence or any sort of “Pow! Bang! Boom!” mentality. Instead, their focus is to prevent crime by promoting a harmonious, but vigilant community.
Throughout their many patrols, public reaction remains positive. Citizens seem to encourage and in most cases, engage in the group’s initiative to build a safer, more joyful community.
“[They are] the heroes Canada needs,” Calvin Clarence Frank Schutt wrote on the group’s Facebook page, “I just wanted to say you guys are amazing! I’m inspired!”
Other real life superheroes around the world share the JCO’s mission. Individuals and groups have appeared globally, in places such as Argentina, Colombia, Italy, Liberia, and Finland.
The Trillium Guards of Ontario, a Toronto-based crew, sought out Aftershock and Nameless Crusader for a homeless outreach program scheduled for this December. The two groups will meet in Toronto for a mass distribution of survival packs.
“We might not be doing crazy, exciting things every patrol, but there will be that one time that we’re really needed out here,” says Aftershock.
That’s why the group looks to recruit new members.
They hope with the help of passionate individuals, the JCO will become a non-profit organization recognized by the government. The publicity and credibility would allow them to generate more funds and materials for community initiatives.
Nameless Crusader says that along with every day citizens, the JCO is part of a balance to an equation.
“As long as there are people on the opposite side of the fence doing bad things, there’s going to be us out here trying to do good things.”