Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: June 10th and 11th, my wife Anne and I attended the 38th annual Superman Celebration in the city of Metropolis, Illinois. Other chapters in this special miniseries:
* Part One: Supergirl‘s Mehcad Brooks and Peter Facinelli!
* Part Two: Dueling Jimmy Olsens, Marc McClure and Michael Landes! And more guests!
* Part Three: Cosplay! Cosplay! Cosplay!
* Part Four: Views from the Super Museum!
Here in the big finale: a walkthrough of other sights and scenes from our Friday and Saturday at our favorite out-of-state small-town festival — the little moments in between the stars and the costumes. The art! The food! The machines! The more!
Indianapolis to Metropolis is a 300-mile, five-hour drive now made slightly shorter by the new stretch of I-69 that was carved out and opened up last year from Bloomington to Evansville. For our first time driving it, we found it speedy but boring. Those 110 new miles of interstate are such a recent development that the exits have no gas stations, restaurants, or reasons to pull over. We regret the many homes and businesses affected by the project, but it shaved at least 15-20 minutes off our drive, so…advantage: us, I suppose.
We arrived Metropolis on Friday shortly after 1 p.m. their time, with plenty of time till our first mandatory event — the first Marc McClure signing. We miraculously found a parking space only a block away from the festivities and immediately joined the line to commence sweating to death with the other Jimmy Olsen fans in the killer heat that toyed with us and slowly kept creeping as close to the 100-degree mark as it could without going over. Downtown Metropolis regrettably has quite a few abandoned storefronts along the main straightaway that doubles as the Celebration’s convention center, but one of them was put to good use as the designated “Autograph Zone” where most of the guests could sit inside and enjoy the magic of central air conditioning while meeting and greeting. Not every building in town enjoys that special feature.
One guest, former child star Butch Patrick from The Munsters, held court in a separate, outdoor tent at the north end of the Celebration. He was billed as a guest of the town’s other themed museum, Americana Hollywood. Their official page looks more like a knickknack shopping site than a tourist attraction welcoming visitors. Both Yelp and Roadside America list them as permanently closed after each received a few disappointed testimonials from would-be reviewers, but we saw photos from folks who were permitted inside this weekend for the standard tour of their large collections of action figures, movie memorabilia, and more action figures.
Patrick wasn’t alone. With him were a pair of Munsters-themed cars. The largest was a replica of the Munsters Koach — the old family car, complete with stuffed Eddie for demonstration purposes.
Also on hand: Grandpa Munster’s Dragula, the inspiration behind the Rob Zombie song.
Next to Dragula was a li’l fella that we think is supposed to be Spot, the dragon under the stairs, when he was a baby. We can’t find any evidence that baby Spot is canon, but it stands to reason that Spot would’ve had to be a baby at some point.
The Munsters car show was next to Metropolis’ other major statue, starring the beloved Noel Neill as Lois Lane. We remember back in the day when the town was valiantly fundraising to make this dream happen, in honor of one of the Celebration’s favorite guests ever. The seeds were sown as early as 2005, with the big unveiling in 2010. We were happy to see it on our next visit in 2012, and this year as well.
Right across the street was our next stop: Artists Alley! Because every comic-based fan gathering ought to have one. Theirs is a bit out of sight, but that’s why they invented signage. Thanks to some creative advertising I was pointed in just the right direction to meet great artists Jon Bogdanove and Rick Burchett, and to catch up with writer Brian K. Morris, whose products you should go buy now because they’re made of good writing.
Pausing here for a moment of awkward candor. If comics or hobby pontificating aren’t your things, maybe skip the next two paragraphs.
One of my biggest regrets from the weekend: I’d been looking forward to meeting Jon Bogdanove, actually saying hi and gushing about his work on Power Pack, which teen-me loved to pieces, and how I always liked his version of li’l Franklin Richards. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a word in because he was stuck autographing stacks of comics for other fans in front of me. When I walked up, he was in a hurry and needed to go handle another priority, but he offered to dash off a quick signature for me because I’d only brought one comic (Power Pack #36, a fun Franklin tale and his first solo writing credit), which I’m sure looked like an easy item to cross off the to-do list. And then he resumed working his way through the other fans’ stacks to get them over with. I slunk away a bit dispirited. Not really his fault, in my mind — things just didn’t line up like I’d hoped.
This phenomenon isn’t something I’ve run into in Metropolis before, though I’ve run afoul of it at conventions. This wasn’t the first time I’ve been sandwiched between hoarders like that and written off as one of them. Awkward situations like this are among the reasons I’ve stopped pursuing autographs from a lot of creators, and almost never approach artists at conventions who bring no books or comics to sell, who only come to do sketches or autographs. If I ask to buy a book and show a form of payment, I’m guaranteed at least five seconds of attention that I can multitask with a greeting and compliment. If I’m asking for just an autograph, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll look like an eBay seller and get dispatched with barely a glance. Nearly every single large-scale convention write-up I’ve ever posted on MCC is missing one or more big-name creators who were at the event but bypassed because they weren’t selling books and because I didn’t feel like mingling with auctioneers.
I resolved to drown my sorrows in carnival food. Lucky for me, culinary sinfulness is the secret weapon of every small-town festival, and Metropolis is no exception. Behold a bacon-wrapped quarter-pound beef hot dog drowned in cheese sauce. That’s one way to chase the whiny fanboy blues away.
And here’s another way: deep-fried Nutter Butter cookies. Dip ’em in batter, dunk ’em in a fryer, turn ’em into medium-sized donut holes with molten peanut butter centers.
Most of the Superman Celebration’s carnival rides are clustered offsite several blocks away, but a few rides dot the turnoffs up and down Market Street. This way kids have a few activities they can beg Mom and Dad to indulge as they’re walking them past the concession stands, comics vendors, charity booths, year-round Metropolis businesses, and the one guy hawking “DELETE HILLARY” stickers.
After four hours of actors, art, walking, and dehydrating, we decided we’d done enough for Friday and saved other activities for the next day. We drove across the Ohio River and crashed for a while in our hotel in Paducah, KY. A spot of napping was followed by dinner at a random joint down the street. Kountry Kastle is the kind of restaurant/bar with multiple lottery ticket machines in its various rooms, a lot of regulars over age 60 living it up, and an unaffiliated but convenient strip club on the other side of the parking lot if you’re up for some after-dinner dancing. We’ll never be, but their menu is all heart.
Her turkey sub and my BBQ mutton sandwich were what they needed to be — decent comfort food to occupy and refresh us while I nursed my sunburn in progress. We couldn’t dawdle, though. We exited satisfied, awkwardly veered around an argument in our way on the sidewalk, and headed back to the hotel for a ridiculously early 4:30 a.m. wake-up.
Metropolis, 5:20 a.m: the scene outside their new Chamber of Commerce, relocated inside a former brick-‘n’-mortar Dippin Dots location. If you wanted autographs and photo ops with the stars of TV’s Supergirl, ticket handouts commenced promptly at 7 a.m. Several fans had set up their lawn chairs by the front doors the afternoon before as placeholders. Throughout the night they took their seats and were slowly joined by other diehards who brought blankets and small tents.
We had to sacrifice the free hotel breakfast, which didn’t start till 6 a.m. and was therefore too late to accommodate our needs. Instead Anne held our place while I walked over to Hardee’s and grabbed some quick morning grub. They’re one of the few businesses that have succeeded along this block for longer than we’ve been coming to Metropolis. Their 24-hour access and public restrooms have been lifesavers on numerous occasions. Other mom-‘n’-pop businesses have come and gone (and our hearts go out to the old Hallmark store holding its official going-out-of-business sale this very weekend), but their Hardee’s is kind of an important institution.
We passed the time chatting with other fans, comparing convention successes and war stories. It’s just this thing we usually end up doing. I stepped away for one more errand that popped into my head…
Eventually 7 a.m. arrived, the line woke up and trudged along sleepily, and we got our desired pass for the first star session at 9 a.m. Other sessions were scheduled for 10, 1, 4, and 5 p.m., but the longer you wait, the better chance of delays throughout the day pushing the schedules back farther and farther, as we’ve seen happen at too many cons. Unfortunately the Supergirl sessions were in a hotel theater several blocks away. Rather than risk the prime parking space we’d secured before dawn, we agreed to make the long, hot walk out there. Fortunately we brought plenty of water, and vendors were selling more water for cheap.
Our next two hours of waiting were likewise outdoors, but at least they were in the shade, hours before temps would rise and try to murder us again.
But our patience paid off and the Supergirl experiences were ours.
(Fun trivia #1: all actors’ autographs have always been free if you ask them to sign the Superman Celebration program or that week’s edition of their local newspaper, the Metropolis Planet. There’s a fee for them to sign any other objects you brought with you, or you can buy an 8×10 glossy at the table for the same price. Compared to what actors charge at Wizard World Chicago and other shows, the Celebration autograph fees are, quite frankly, an unbelievable steal. Fun trivia #2: we’re told actor negotiations are getting tougher in the current convention boom, and that the free-autograph perk may be phased out in future years, just like Streaky the Super-Cat. I imagine some tough conversations loom in the distance.)
From there we made the long march back to the Celebration, calling time-out for a few minutes when we walked up to a drive-thru ATM for some backup cash. Next was Brian Morris’ DC Comics history presentation at the Metro Tent, albeit a few minutes late (as covered in Part Three). Next event after that was the Facinelli/Brooks Q&A we told you about in Part One.
After their Q&A I insisted on lunch or else. Next stop: Lola’s, named like a place we have back home in Indy but presumably under another proprietor.
My lunch, then: ham-fried rice with a pair of lumpia and some tangy dipping sauce. Not exactly carnival-esque, but for me creativity won out in the moment.
With 90% of our Superman Celebration want list completed, we took some time just to wander the place. When happy people aren’t everywhere blocking your vision, you can spot some of the murals adorning the sides of several businesses in the name of art and history.
(…with apologies to the original artists.)
In another storefront we found a pop-up flea market calling itself the Metropolis SuperCon, basically a gathering of dealers and collectors selling thousands of toys, back issues, and other pop culture merchandise.
I don’t have much of a back-issue list to track anymore thanks to flawed computer technology, but I reneged on a previous vow and decided to pick up Green Arrow: Rebirth from one seller out of curiosity and convenience. (Short take: a healthy fresh start despite the clumsy, rushed ending.)
We walked and walked and walked. We said hi again to fans we recognized from previous lines. We bought two-dollar ice cream snacks that were obviously straight out of the nearest grocer’s freezer, but we didn’t care because we were dying again and summertime is a sellers’ market. I bought a couple of graphic novels from a California comics dealer who’d just had a booth at Wizard World Philly the previous weekend. We avoided the guy with the clipboard trying to drum up support for the Green Party. We caught as many cosplayers as we could (though I’ve been made aware we missed a few, linked here for value-added fan fun), and we had fun watching folks having their photo ops with the world-famous Superman statue.
The folks at Metropolis Tourism helpfully brought an American map for attendees to pinpoint their places of origin so we could all have a better idea of how far away some fans travel to meet the stars or just immerse themselves in the amazing world of super-heroes. There’s no good way to tell if anyone flew in from other countries, but I was pretty impressed that someone traveled all the way from Hilo, HI. That’s dedication.
The last item on our agenda was meeting Michael Landes. Once all primary objectives were completed, we bade farewell to our fifth Superman Celebration and retreated to Paducah once more till Sunday morning, when we sadly had to drive back home to normal life before our kennel closed.
Saturday’s dinner was at a restaurant called The Parlor, which was, again, fine for what it was (the pizza buffet is worth noting), though we had the most fun listening to the family at the table next to ours chatting away about the implications of the scene after the X-Men: Apocalypse end credits. Fandom is everywhere today even when you’re not looking for it or gathering in its name.
But regular MCC readers know that’s our thing. Seeking out new forms of creativity and entertainment. Driving hither and yon to cities and towns far beyond our walls and hundreds of miles away from our TVs. Exploring attractions and gatherings that tend to frighten and confuse our relatives. Comparing notes with other like-minded souls about the worlds and heroes who inspire and delight us. Appreciating the best of times, taking notes during the worst of times, striking a balance between fellowship and fun, between fandom and faith, between home and the horizon.
We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
The End. Thanks for reading. See you next year/time/reboot! Please also enjoy the bonus Instagram video (linked inside tweet) that may just be the first time Anne and I have ever been captured on video together. If you’ve read the entire five-part series, you should recognize the cameraman.