Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A visit to Metropolis

"You don't get to St. Louis from Memphis by going through Metropolis."

Well, duh. I knew that. After suffering the past four hours on Tennessee highways with posted speed limits of 45 miles per hour, I was painfully aware of that fact. The trouble is, when you have a Texas map out, distances are measured in hours. When you have a map out of any other state (with the exceptions of California and Alaska) it's like the universe compresses, and what would be a four-hour trip in the Lone Star State (say, from San Antonio to Dallas) is a mere 30 miles or so on these maps with the weirdly distorted sense of scale. So crossing the narrow width of Tennessee and a little bit of Kentucky should've only taken a couple of hours. But that was before we learned of that unnaturally low speed limit fetish they have in those parts. Not to mention all the stoplights and strip mall communities that aren't listed on the map. So thankyouverymuch Mr. Postal Carrier, but we've already spent three hours on the road this unpleasant morning, and we're going to jolly well visit Metropolis, Ill.


Why Metropolis? Well, they've got a really big Superman statue there. One that overweight SF writers can strike corny poses beside for photographs. It used to be fiberglass, but someone stole it years ago. The current one is steel, which is fitting I believe. And I've always been more of a DC guy than a Marvel zombie (although Captain America has long been one of my faves). Some may point out my long-harbored obsession with Green Arrow, but Superman's pretty darn nifty in his own right. I always liked Superman a bit more than Batman, which is odd seeing as how Green Arrow started off as a bad Batman knockoff, but that's how it is. So the fact that I was going to be in the same state as Metropolis pretty much ensured that I had to visit the town. When would I ever be up in Illinois again?


Fortunately, they've got more than a statue there. They have a Superman Museum as well. It's in one of those old stores that you find downtown in pretty much every community in America, stores that would otherwise be boarded up because the Wal Mart out on the loop ran them out of business a decade prior. The Superman Museum is half devoted to capitalism, with a heck of a lot of Superman and DC merchandise you can buy at marked-up prices, and half devoted to the history of Superman, with a heck of a lot of artifacts from the various comics, television and movie incarnations of the character over the decades. The lone worker there was on the phone most of the time, filling orders coming in over the internet, so one can only assume they're financially solvent for years to come. I was pleasantly pleased to see that the first exhibit in the museum was a lifelike mockup of George Reeves as Clark Kent, from the old Adventures of Superman TV series. In addition to the disturbingly lifelike Reeves mannequin, they had a decrepit pair of glasses he wore on the show, several typewriters, a desk, and various other props from back in the day. It was very cool, and wonderfully cluttered. This set the tone for the rest of the museum.


You have to respect a museum that goes through the trouble of tracking down not only the backpack that young Clark Kent wore in the original movie, but also the bright blue and red baby blankets as well as a Mexican movie poster for the film.


SF geek that I am, the astronaut suit from Superman II stopped me in my tracks. Seriously, who wouldn't want one of these? It's science fiction, and it's Superman. I was disappointed they didn't have the moon lander from the film, however, nor did they have the other two space suits. That shortfall is made up for by the black leather (actually vinyl) boots of General Zod, Non and Ursa hanging in the background. Terence Stamp put his feet in those things. What fanboy worth his salt wouldn't get all sweaty at the thought? The boots worn by Nuclear Man (from Superman IV: The Quest for a Coherent Script) were hanging right across the aisle, and I can assure you they paled in comparison to those of the Phantom Zone criminals.


All was not fun and games at the museum, however. They had on display there the single most evil Superman mannequin ever assembled. The Bizarro they had on display in the Adventures of Superboy exhibit was pretty disturbing, but he had nothing on this guy. It's evil, I tells ya. Eeeevil!


And no Superman Museum would be complete without a collection of wigs. Not Lex Luthor's, mind you, but rather the wigs worn by Christopher Reeve. Apparently the hair of a mere mortal wasn't capable of recreating that Kryptonian cowlick up front. Shocking. Equally surprising is the fact that Superman agreed to pose for the cover of Penthouse Forum. I'd always assumed that Lois Lane's story "I Spent the Night With Superman" ran in the Daily Planet, but one suspects that a longer, uncensored version of it eventually found the light of day in this other publication. Either that, or Larry Niven's "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" was reprinted again.


So, yeah. It was worth the detour. If we hadn't made that detour, I'd have never see all of Terri Hatcher's gowns from Lois and Clark, or the Supergirl panties, sneakers and headbands in the Supergirl room, or whatever it was they had on display representing the Smallville TV series that I've completely forgotten. And in all honesty, I'd never dreamed that 7-11 had produced so many varieties of Superman-related Slurpee cups. That knowledge alone was worth the price of admission.

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