Almost any kid can tell you that putting on a Superman costume won't give you the ability to fly, lift automobiles or see through walls. In fact, it's a message Superman himself has delivered on many occasions, no doubt worried about that small percentage of nutcases who don't catch on, the ones who end up jumping off a roof shouting, "Up, up and away," only to go down, down and away to an emergency room.

Still, even those of us who know better can be forgiven for feeling a touch more invulnerable, a fraction taller or if nothing else just a smidge more upbeat when we wear that legendary "S" shield on our chests. It seems to stand for something pretty neat, even if we may not all agree on exactly what (Patriotism? Altruism? Bravery? The power of the individual?).

I imagine almost all of us have memories of tying a towel around our necks and zooming around the house as kids, or maybe lying stomach-down on a schoolyard swing and soaring back and forth with our arms and legs stretched out in "flight." Or maybe we just pushed up the nerdy glasses that slid down our noses and thought to ourselves, "Boy, wouldn't the other kids treat me differently if they only knew that under this mild-mannered exterior..."

In my case, it went a bit further. Back when I was ...I don't know, maybe seven years old, they used to run an ad in the comics for a kid-sized Super-suit. "Just slip into this authentic 'Superman' costume," it read, "put on the concealing mask, and in seconds you are Superman, that fearless fighter of evil." Never mind that any kid in the world can tell you Superman doesn't even wear a mask, but what the heck, if Clark Kent could fool his closest friends with nothing more than a pair of non-prescription glasses, maybe a black mask would convince some strangers that I was actually a 29-year-old muscleman.

The ad went on to describe the suit as "made of long-lasting, fire retarded materials (nothing about the bullet-proof, acid-proof and super-stretchable qualities of the Kryptonian original) to give you weeks and months of fun. Be the first on your block -- the envy of your friends." The last part was crucial, of course; it simply wouldn't do to be the second Superman on your block. Where's the fun in that?

Anyway, my folks were always terrific about indulging my hare-brained schemes, so that Halloween I got my Superman suit, and I wore it with pride. Of course, even as a squirt I was anal enough to note the design errors; it had short sleeves, for one thing. The cape stayed on (or more often, didn't) via a shoe-string-like knot, and the "boots" consisted of red fabric down the last eight or ten inches of the pant legs, leaving your feet sticking out like any pants. This meant your sneakers would also have to be red if you clung to the hope of fooling at least a few near-sighted spectators. But as crime-fighting togs went, it was a darn sight better than a terry-cloth towel and a hand-scrawled paper "S" pinned to a t-shirt. I was happy with it.

After Halloween, my crime-fighting career was just beginning. For weeks, maybe months afterward, I'd slip into my second identity on a regular basis. Each day I'd get off the schoolbus and run to my house, where I stopped to open a chest, pull out a cheap vinyl briefcase and run upstairs. Then I'd turn on the TV and watch a re-run of "The Adventures of Superman" holding the case in my lap. When the show was over, I'd turn off the set, open the case and pull out its top-secret contents: the magical Superman suit. Then I'd go out in the backyard and recreate whatever super-feats George Reeves had performed on that day's episode (which considering the budget of that show, was not too difficult!).

For whatever reason, one day I decided to take a more pro-active approach to crime-fighting: why not re-educate the criminal element before they made mischief? At this point I should mention I lived in a small town in Virginia that always seemed a lot like Andy Griffith's "Mayberry." It was the kind of town where everyone knew everyone else, and you always stopped to say hello. At the county courthouse, which was just two doors down from my home, the sherrif kept watch over a couple of jail cells that occasionally played host to a drunk or rowdy local.

Anyway, back to the mission: speeding over to the courthouse, I climbed atop the short (maybe four foot high) wall around the rear courtyard and stood there in my best superhero pose (which, in case you spent the twentieth century on Venus, means with arms akimbo and chest puffed out). Then I called out to the current occupants of the jail, whose cell windows faced onto the courtyard. When a couple of them came to their windows, I delivered a stirring oratory to the effect of, "See where your deeds have gotten you? Crime does not pay! Repent and sin no more!"

I have to admit it went even better than I'd expected, since the prisoners chimed in with enthusiastic cheers of, "Hey, Superman!" and "You tell 'em!" Unfortunately, the local sheriff, like so many policemen in superhero stories, was apparently jealous to find a costumed crime-fighter hogging all the glory, because he saw to it that I didn't repeat the performance. In the years since, the story has been told that I actually performed the famous costume change in a (glass) phone booth on a prominent street corner in our town. Since I don't remember this incident personally, it's possibly just one of those legends that crops up around any great hero.

Retired hero relaxes in the Fortress of Solitude

Flash forward to about a year ago: My dad mentioned there's a boy in his church who's into Superman, as I was. At his suggestion, I drew an illustration of a smiling Superman for this young fan and sent it to him. Not too long after, I got a sweet thank-you note scrawled in a first-grader's handwriting, and with it came a photo of the little guy holding my drawing, now lovingly framed and matted in Superman red and blue. Even better, the youngster was dressed in a Superman costume himself, this one benefitting from modern advances and including not only long sleeves, but even a full set of bulging muscles in keeping with modern he-man standards (poor old George wouldn't last long on TV today!).

I have it on good authority that my fellow do-gooder wears this outfit whenever he can get away with it, including trips to the local burger joint and mall, where, as expected, he gets lots of smiles and cheers of "Hey, Superman!" All of which proves two things to me: first, as long as there are kids and people who remember being kids, Superman will live on as a force for good in this world, and second, anyone who tells you Superman's suit doesn't have special powers is a chump.

That's my story and I'm stickin' with it.

- David Morefield
"Nightwing of Kandor"