What has two actors who played Clark Kent’s high-school girlfriend, a free festival of fan-made short films, and a bunch of guys in tights and capes?
That’s correct: it’s the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois, a town of fewer than 6,500 people that is, officially – both by state fiat and by agreement with DC Comics – Superman’s hometown. They’ve got a 15ft bronze statue of Superman in the middle of town to prove it, too.
Superman purists might dispute the claim, given that the little town itself shows up in a couple of Superman comics as a locale distinct from the big-city, fictional Metropolis. But they would probably have to go to Metropolis, Illinois, to argue their case in depth.
The town has a DC-approved Superman, Josh Boultinghouse, who does occasionally have to perform heroics. One year at the annual costume contest, said Karla Ogle, who co-chairs the celebration with her sister Lisa Gower, “one of our contestants was up on stilts in his pants so he looked like a giant lizard”.
The lizard guy said he’d be OK navigating some steps, but alas: “He actually did get up there fine, but when he started to come down he tripped, and luckily Josh, our Superman, was standing right next to him and got up real quick and managed to catch him! Then he saluted to the crowd.”
This year’s festival is the town’s 37th: in 1978, the year Richard Donner’s Superman debuted in cinemas, the town held its first celebration. It hasn’t looked back, although it was a few years earlier, in 1972, that the town officially “adopted” Superman, according to Metropolis local government reporter Terra Temple.
Among the guests are Superman writer Kurt Busiek, The Flash actor Candice Patton, former WWF wrestler Jerry Lawler and 80s cover band Rubik’s Groove.
Temple’s newspaper is called the Metropolis Planet and its logo – drawn by late Superman artist Carmine Infantino – is a picture of a familiar-looking muscleman in tights and a cape standing on a ring bearing the paper’s name, which encircles a small planet. It’s not quite a dead ringer for the logo of Superman’s hometown newspaper, the Daily Planet, but it’s close. The newspaper, which began life 150 years ago as the Metropolis Promulgator, changed its name in the 1970s.
“A lot of people think, as far as the paper goes, that we’re kind of a tourist attraction,” said Temple, a lifelong Metropolitan. “Some of them are surprised that we’re an actual working paper. But other people think it’s pretty cool and want the subscription with the ‘Metropolis’ logo.”
The town’s population, she said, quadruples – sometimes more – every June when the Celebration takes place, attracting anywhere between 20,000 and 60,000 visitors. Superfans from Britain, Australia, Brazil and elsewhere have come to pay homage to the Man of Steel. DC Comics said it doesn’t comment on events it doesn’t officially hold, but the company did donate DVDs and comics to the festivities.
The annual film festival has taken on an international flavor this year, as well. One entry, from the United Arab Emirates, follows a young girl.
“In a community where young girls hardly ever have the upper hand,” reads the logline, “she leaves no young girl without a voice and a firm stance to fight for what they believe in.”