by Seth Robison
Even though it looks more like its rural comic book counterpart, the small village of Metropolis, Illinois shares one major feature with the fictional city that shares its name, they are both the home of DC Comics’ Man of Steel: Superman. In this realities’ Metropolis they break out the pony rides and tilt-a-whirls not for a local food item or flower like other small towns, but for their annual Superman Celebration, held for the 31st time this past weekend.
This hybrid comic book convention and local fair has its roots in the early 1970s when locals successfully petitioned both the state government and DC Comics for their Metropolis (one of several in the United States) to be declared the “official” home of Superman, and held the first Superman Celebration in the wake of the first Superman movie in 1979. The event features not just the classic small town Main Street full of fried food and local crafts for sale, but costume contests (for kids, adults and even dogs), a weightlifting competition and a designated Superman to pose for photos and sign autographs. Then in 1993 over $100,000 was raised to build a fifteen-foot bronze stature of the hero that stands, in living color, in the center of Superman Square, in front of the Massac County courthouse.
The event attracts more then local comic fans and fairgoers, this year Smallville stars Justin Hartley and Phil Morris spoke to fans and signed autographs, and a local favorite, the 88 year old Noel Neil, who portrayed Lois Lane in the George Reeves version of The Adventures of Superman, was on hand to break ground on a life size statue in her honor. However, aside from television stars, the organizers of the event paid tribute to the medium that brought them Superman by inviting writers and artists to their convention hall, an empty storefront church at the end of four blocks of attractions and vendors.
For one of them, Josh Elder (Mail Order Ninja, StarCraft: Frontline) the Superman Celebration is a homecoming. Growing up in nearby Carmil, IL (near that is by county standards, a scant 100 miles away), Josh was a frequent attendee of the celebration and in 1999 swore an oath to himself in front of the Superman statue that he would some day write for the hero. A feat he accomplished before the prior year’s event with an appearance by the Man of Steel in the pages of The Batman Strikes! He remarked at how the event has grown over the years by serving a comics and genre media fan base that was otherwise not serviced in the region.
This sentiment was reiterated by fellow attending writers Gail Simone (Secret Six) and John Ostrander (Star Wars: Legacy) who praised the intimacy of the small scale event, allowing them to connect with fans in a personal way that the bustle of the larger conventions can’t provide. The trio also hosted Q and As and writing workshops in the same cozy storefront room that held their signing tables, one that didn’t seat more than one hundred, but still produced a full session’s worth of questions.
The event runs from Thursday to Sunday the second weekend in June every year, but to the citizens of Metropolis, whose enthusiasm for the Man of Steel goes far beyond just creating a tourist destination, Superman is a part of their lives everyday.