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
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
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
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"