Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
At the southern tip of Illinois and across the Ohio River from Paducah, KY, the small town of Metropolis devotes the second weekend of every June to their world-famous Superman Celebration. More than just a carnival acknowledging their local heritage and history, the Celebration invites tourists from all walks to come join in their festivities. Their Main Street’s center of attention is the also-world-famous Superman Museum, dedicated to their most important fictional resident, the great and powerful Superman. Also major draws: the special guests from various Superman movies, TV shows, and other related Super-works who drop by for autographs and Q&As.
At least, that’s how it normally works. That means this year’s Celebration would be this coming weekend. Regrettably here in 2020 Anno Diaboli, the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce announced the show’s cancellation back in mid-March, when pre-planning should have commenced if not for the writing on the wall. We hadn’t yet committed to the 2020 edition, but it sucked to hear they pulled the plug. We understood and lamented…
We’ve attended the Superman Celebration six times. Previous MCC entries covered our other five experiences and meet-ups with the following special guests from the multimedia world of the Man of Steel:
- 2001 (three chapters): Valerie Perrine and Jeff East from Superman: The Movie, and Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran, two of the Phantom Zone Villains from Superman II
- 2006 (a single, 4500-word long-read): Michael Rosenbaum and the teen Clark Kent from Superman Returns
- 2012 (one chapter of modest size): John Glover and Cassidy Freeman from Smallville, and Gerard Christopher from The New Adventures of Superboy
- 2016 (five chapters): a special Crisis on Infinite Jimmy Olsens starring Mehcad Brooks and Peter Facinelli from The CW’s Supergirl; Marc McClure from all four Christopher Reeve Superman films as well as Helen Slater’s Supergirl; and Michael Landes from Lois and Clark
- 2017 (four chapters): the Margot Kidder from the Reeve Superman films, who then passed away in May 2018; an encore with Sarah Douglas; Dean Cain from Lois and Clark; and James Marsters, relevantly a.k.a. Brainiac from Smallville
And now we complete the set at long last for MCC readers, despite a couple of hiccups.
The recount I originally shared with our nearest and dearest online community clocked in at 4500 words, a bit beyond 2020 reader patience levels. I’m keeping several of those sentences, tossing out a few irrelevant portions, and inserting updated commentary where it fits, including but not limited to this prologue. Somehow this version came out longer anyway, but it also has three times as many photos as our 2006 do-over.
A more annoying issue is that some of our photos from the 2008 Celebration were vaporized. The online files were stored in an old FTP space that was deleted several years ago by a longtime ISP that’s no longer in the ISP business. Our scans were destroyed in the Great Hard Drive Crash of July 2015. I upgraded from 35mm film to a digital camera as of Christmas 2006, so all my 2008 event photos were backed up, but Anne’s half of our collection is mostly lost. She scrapbooked a few, but after tearing apart much of our house this week in a vain search for them (and not for the first time), we have no idea what happened to the rest. If and when we recover those lost photos, possibly if someone ever agrees to take a deep-dive into that crashed hard drive and magically retrieve everything, I’ll cheerfully share them as an appendix to this entry.
Until then, we have more than enough material to do 2008 justice in this very special flashback event. Enjoy! Share! Forgive me for the sins and typos along the way!
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We learned a lesson from our first two Celebrations and planned for a longer weekend. Rather than cram everything into a single Saturday, including the nine hours’ round-trip drive, we left Indianapolis Friday morning and drove the 300 miles down I-70 to I-57 to I-24 to Metropolis. Two-thirds of that was a white-knuckled tribulation through intermittent thunderstorms that turned our road trip into one long, angry car wash.
We arrived in town around 2 p.m., only to find it hadn’t rained there all day, and only had a 30% chance of precipitation. That sounded like a low enough threat level.
We walked through the downtown main street where the bulk of the festival is held. Its storefronts, most of which were deserted the last time we came in 2006, were now occupied either with new businesses (mostly in the financial industry — insurance agents and such), or being temporarily squatted in as makeshift flea market booths. In front of all of these were the usual assortment of concession stands and merchandise tables. Whether you need a Superman bubble gum dispenser or a Taco-in-a-Bag (what we now know in 2020 as a “Walking Taco”), the Superman Celebration is ready to serve your needs.
Based on some cryptic fine print in the Celebration program, we stopped by the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce for clarification regarding the autograph sessions. In previous years, autographs were first-come first-serve, but the method was simple: you stood in line forever, and eventually you had your moment with the stars, unless summertime heat exhaustion felled you first. However, the nice helpful lady at the desk informed us this year they’d devised an all-new autograph system. You now had to have tickets to attend one of four designated autograph sessions at either 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 3 p.m., or 4 p.m. Tickets were free: half were to be given away at the Chamber of Commerce on Friday morning at 8 a.m., the other half on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. She didn’t have to tell us that Friday’s tickets were long gone, but she did anyway.
Longtime MCC readers know Anne and I are no strangers to ridiculously long lines. When we overheard a pair of teenage fangirls planning to show up early at the crack of 7, patting each other on the back for their awesome foresight…we knew we’d have to do better than 7.
Shortly after we exited, that’s when the storms that had bullied us all through Illinois caught up with us and blasted the living daylights out of the whole area. We sought shelter at a few of the indoor makeshift flea market stands, which also provided me a handy excuse to spend money on comics. I had cash. They had roofs. Win/win. Happy finds included Evan Dorkin’s Dork #11 (which I didn’t even know existed), two issues from a three-part Hammer of God miniseries, (a First Comics spin-off from Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s Nexus), and over a year’s worth of Marvel’s New Defenders featuring stories written by J. M. DeMatteis and Peter B. Gillis, though the best was obviously the issue with a special appearance by the Fabulous Frog-Man. If you don’t know that name, I don’t know how to explain him to you.
After giving up on the flea markets, we stopped by the main tent — again for temporary storm shelter — only to find a press conference in progress covered by two working camera crews. The elders of Metropolis shared the center of attention with several younger men in suits, everyone taking turns introducing each other at the mike. For ten minutes, that’s just about all it was — people introducing other people and congratulating each other for work well done on a project eighteen months in the making. All of this was done without actually delineating what the project was, though they were careful to toss in some extra special gratitude to Harrah’s Casino, the town’s largest industry. One elder in particular made sure to add that they (directly quoting here) “wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize our relationship with Harrah’s.” I had to raise an eyebrow at the underlying anxiety in that statement, but no way was I, as an obvious outsider in a Hawaiian shirt, gonna step up with probing questions about that. Besides, the subsequent Q&A wasn’t open to the general public.
After giving up hope of the intermittent heavy storms subsiding for any merciful time span, we scampered to our car and headed across the Ohio River to Paducah, KY. We checked into our hotel, then did dinner at Rafferty’s, a seven-state smokehouse franchise we’ve never run across before. Its unfamiliar name and its proximity to our hotel gave it the edge over the dense competition in Paducah’s commercial area along I-24. I expected an hour-plus wait on a Friday night. We found half the tables were empty, probably due to the storms.
Their slow night was a boon to us, as the waitstaff practically climbed over each other to serve our needs. One five-minute stretch saw at least five of them clamoring for our attention — one of them offered to bring me a refill, another took my empty glass, yet another brought me a new drink, another offered to bring my wife a box for her leftovers, and still another brought our check. One of those five eventually returned with the box we were promised. My wife had giant catfish, while I had cornbread topped with BBQ baked beans topped with a half-pound or so of BBQ pulled pork topped by extra BBQ sauce. I was satisfied, but we weren’t in a position to leave five separate tips.
The storms effectively ruined the remainder of the Celebration’s Friday schedule — including, alas, a costume parade and a fan-film competition — so we called it an early night. All the better for the next day’s autograph stratagem. We tried to enjoy the 32″ flatscreen in our room that HBO was wasting with an airing of Martin Lawrence’s Blue Streak. We turned on the Weather Channel instead.
Saturday morning we arose, checked out of our hotel, and arrived at the Chamber of Commerce promptly at 5:30 a.m. We were seventh and eighth in line. A much better ranking than expected.
First in line was a family of four who’d managed an ungodly arrival time of 2 a.m. After them was a pair of guys who’d arrived at 4. The guys behind us arrived a bit before 6. Behind them was originally a guy who had planned to ask the young-actress guest to sign an 8×10 glossy of her head Photoshopped onto the body of an S&M model. We tried as gently as possible to discourage him without staging a full intervention. We would’ve tried harder, but some of us wanted to see how high and how quickly the security staff would escalate their restraining methods. He later left the line to run errands, then rejoined somewhere beyond our camera range. My apologies to the FBI for my failure to take his photo as evidence.
The 2½ hours in the initial ticket line dragged only a little. I killed a few minutes fetching us breakfast from the nearby Hardee’s. Fortunately, as with your better comic-cons, Metropolis folk aren’t savage about barring people from rejoining the line when you have to take a break for survival purposes. One of our many geek conversations with the fans around us hit a dead end when one guy couldn’t be disabused of the absolutely incorrect notion that Jason Scott Lee was Bruce Lee’s biological son and therefore must’ve felt really weird playing him in Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story. These little distractions, no matter how irritating and wrong wrong WRONG, do help pass the time.
In between conversational lags, we watched the vendors setting up their wares all along Market Street, downtown Metropolis’ main straightaway where all the action is. One unfortunate woman had an entire tent blown away in the previous night’s 55-mph winds. One couple who sells action figures and graphic novels every year took well over an hour to set all their wares up carefully and prop their wire pegboards back up. Slowly but surely Market Street returned to life, just like Superman did back in ’93 did but without all the bizarre afterlife fight scenes.
The ticket giveaway began promptly at 8 a.m. at a foldout table hastily set up outside the Chamber of Commerce. We had no trouble obtaining our tickets for the 9 a.m. session, then promptly walked over to the now-forming autograph line and secured our position among the fans from our line as well as fans who’d picked up their tickets Friday morning. For a good while, the tickets-for-the-autograph-line pickup line ran parallel with the actual autograph line. We watched hundreds of people march past us, all hoping to score a shot at free autographs that’d been much simpler to fetch in years past. When tickets ran out in less than an hour, the subsequent crushing of many fans’ dreams was not pretty to watch.
However, tickets were still available for a separate autograph line planned for Metropolis’ favorite adopted mom — Noel Neill. a.k.a. TV’s original Lois Lane from The Adventures of Superman. Ms. Neill was a very sweet, very dear lady who in 2008 was age 87 yet loved to come visit with the fans. If you attended your first Superman Celebration before she passed away, getting her autograph was obligatory. The first time you met her, she was a major celebrity, same as the rest. After so many meetings, she becomes more like an honorary grandma — some would say hi every chance they got, while some didn’t feel as compelled to visit her every single time they were in town. She is nonetheless deeply missed to this day.
We wound up in the new line next to a pair of congenial guys who worked behind the scenes for a St. Louis radio station that carried the syndicated feed for our hometown’s very own “Bob and Tom Show” (for St. Louis I believe that would’ve been KSHE, still around in 2020 and billed as “REAL ROCK RADIO”). Both were funny gents, and one of them knew comics, casually bringing up subjects such as Greg Rucka and Infinite Crisis. They regaled us with a few anecdotes of rock stars they’d met through the station, many of whom were nice guys — in some cases, nicer than the rock stars’ management would’ve had them believe. This topic naturally came up as we wondered what this year’s Celebration guests would be like. This proved not to be a concern in 2008. That’s pretty much never been an issue with any guest in our six-Celebration history.
The first guest arrived early at 8:40. Due to a missed flight, the second didn’t arrive till almost 9:30. Thus the front of the line was ushered into the Chamber of Commerce and the signing began.
Before the first autographs could be completed, the electricity inexplicably went out for the entire city block. Photo opportunities for the first several fans in line were ruined as the two stars greeted and signed in relative darkness. Some prepared staffers set up candles to let them see where they were writing. Providentially, electricity was restored mere moments before our turn.
That brings us to the two biggest guests. You may remember Ned Beatty from such films as Superman: The Movie, All the Presidents’ Men, Deliverance, Toy Story 3, and his brief yet amazing turn in Network. I’d rather not remember Deliverance, so instead I’ll toss in my fandom for his role as Detective Stanley Bolander in the first three seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street and its TV-movie finale.
Beatty signed my Homicide Season 1/2 DVD set. He loved those first three seasons — the ones he was in — but frowned as he dismissed much of the show as being “all about divorce, divorce, divorce.” As a happily married couple, we were in no position to dispute his lament. Now that I’ve actually seen all seven seasons (and the movie), I see what he meant.
Then there was the other guest, a rising actress that drew in a large number of young fans who loved her performances as intrepid teen journalist Chloe Sullivan from TV’s Smallville. Ladies and gentlemen…Allison Mack.
Once upon a time, Chloe Sullivan was my favorite Smallville character. After the series ended in 2011, it was my hope that Ms. Mack would go on to bigger and better things. Never in my wildest nightmares did I envision her being arrested for her leadership position in a torture-laden sex cult, for which she pleaded guilty and is still awaiting final sentencing as of this writing. Among the initial punishments, besides jail: she was portrayed by another actress in the official Lifetime movie about the horrifying true story of her sex cult and its downfall…starring onetime Supergirl foe Peter Facinelli as the cult leader.
It’s heartbreaking when stars’ lives go off the rails. To say nothing of the damage done to your memories and fandom.
As of 2008, she still had her act together. Anne chatted with her about the brutal Midwest weather of the last week. I don’t remember managing much more than minimal pleasantries because I’m often lousy at thinking up comments or questions in advance. I’ve gotten slightly better as I’ve aged and attended far more shows, but back then I was happy merely to bask in the actors’ presence and move on. Even if I’d had a quick sentence in mind, the line was rather hurried and barely afforded moments to each individual fan. Everyone in the room was a bit disoriented from the freaky power outage, too.
We had kept our expectations for the day to a minimum, but we were ecstatic to be finished with the autograph line before 10:00. Compared to our previous Celebrations, this was record time. Mission accomplished, even if it had meant sacrificing hours of sleep.
Next stop was their version of Artists’ Alley, where we met a pair of gents whose names I’d seen pop up in comics credits over the years. First up was Silver Age artist Murphy Anderson, a mainstay at DC Comics who kept working well into the mid-1980s until he was apparently one of many artists whose careers were effectively sunsetted not long after the entire DC Universe was rebooted after Crisis on Infinite Earths. A genial soul, he signed my copy of 1987’s Secret Origins #19, in which he penciled and inked the origin of Uncle Sam of the Freedom Fighters. In checking my collection, I found he’d also done origins in later issues for two other Freedom Fighters, the Black Condor and Doll-Man. I mentioned this to him; he remarked that he’d also wanted to do the Ray, but (slight paraphrasing) “Gil Kane sweet-talked them into giving it to him!”
He also loved the cover to this issue, a combination of a Jack Kirby pencil drawing of the Guardian (second-billed in this issue) overlaid atop a pencil tracing/recreation of the original Uncle Sam poster by James Montgomery Flagg. All of it was inked by Anderson himself, technically working on two icons at once.
I also met Michael Eury, who got into the comics biz as a writer/reporter for the long-running Fantagraphics fanzine Amazing Heroes before nabbing a series of writing stints on humorous characters like G’Nort (in Green Lantern Corp Quarterly), Spider-Ham (several backups in Marvel Tales), and The Sensational She-Hulk (where he had to play follow-up act to John Byrne’s memorable run). In 2008 and in 202020 he was and to this day remains editor of a magazine-about-comics called Back Issue that features articles and interviews involving titles and runs and personalities and events from anytime in comics history except now. I’d read about it online, but I never saw my local shops carry it.
We chatted for far longer than I’d ever chatted with any comics-related personality, including random digressions about Saturday morning cartoons and Captain Action. I bought two issues of Back Issue and probably should’ve bought more. Their most recent issue, #28, had just arrived in stores the same week Iron Man hit theaters and sported a cover featuring a tee-totalling Armored Avenger by Darwyn Cooke.
I will always remember this particular Superman Celebration not only for its guests, but for one of the biggest regrets of my entire life.
Near the end of my chat with Eury, a working editor for an actual magazine for comics fans like me, he asked if I was interested in writing.
The question took me by surprise. I could feel my brain blip into another pocket dimension as the space between my ears dissolved into eight pounds of Kirby Krackle and I could hear my mouth saying “No” but I was powerless to stop it, or to back up and change my answer.
To this day I’m not sure why that happened. Someday I ought to seek psychoanalysis about that moment.
We took the rest of the day at a more relaxed pace, one that my brain handled with no further misfires. Food, shopping, cosplayers, and so on.
Later we saw more hints regarding the fuss at the Friday press conference. As we took our turns posing in front of their famous Superman statue, I noticed a signpost with artists’ renderings of developmental designs for expansion along the Ohio River, including their very own Metropolis Riverwalk, not unlike the Riverwalks in San Antonio, Pueblo, Milwaukee, and other major towns. (Back home in Indianapolis we only have a Canal Walk. We’re modest that way.)
As far as I could tell, few if any of these plans involved any area around Market Street, their quasi-ghost town of a main street where the Celebration is held annually in front of the world-famous Superman statue, alongside the world-famous Superman Museum, straddling the sidewalks along abandoned storefronts, struggling mom-‘n’-pop businesses, and a Salvation Army store. All of those new and energizing plans appeared to focus on the area around Harrah’s Casino. We didn’t see evidence that Superman figured heavily into those plans. On our next three visits, we didn’t happen to notice any movement on that project, beyond some additional security around the casino parking lot.
Later was the usual actors’ Q&A, which was over half-filled with variations on one of my least favorite questions: “What was it like working with ______?” It’s natural to be curious about people who will likely never attend one of these shindigs, but to my ears that question translates as, “Can you tell me more about some other star that I like way more than you?”
Other moments varied. Ned Beatty fielded questions about other works such as Stroker Ace, Shooter, and the 1990 direct-to-video version of Captain America. He began to recount fond memories of working with Richard Pryor on The Toy, but was stopped mid-answer by a sudden medical emergency in the audience that was frightening for several minutes but promptly and professionally handled. With the searing temperatures contrasting sharply to the previous day’s relentless deluge, shifting gears had to put quite a strain on many folks. I’ve had my own issues with electrolyte depletion in the past (show of hands, who remembers that one nasty time at a theme park outside Baltimore? or one of my worst vacation moments at Busch Gardens Europe?), so I try to maintain awareness of my own condition under outdoor circumstances. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become much more devoted to constant hydration.
When pressed for a favorite musician of the moment, Allison Mack chose Beck. A trio of girls stood before the mike, each wearing a shirt with a different Chloe hairstyle drawn on it, and asked which had been her favorite. (I forget which season, but her answer was whichever one was shortest and lowest-maintenance. She plugged her in-progress short film Alice and Huck. She said Chloe’s powers would be explored more in-depth in Smallville‘s upcoming eighth season. And she mentioned the show’s popularly quoted “no flight, no tights” rule wasn’t a showrunner rule that departed along with them, but that the edict was in fact from star Tom Welling himself.
Noel Neill got a few polite questions from the crowd, one of whom was bold enough to ask about something non-Superman on her resume — to wit, 1952’s Invasion USA, in which she had a small role as a ticket agent and which had nothing to do with the same-named Chuck Norris film from 1982. Someone also asked about the city’s long-in-development Lois Lane statue, which was supposed to be based on her. As of 2008 plans had stalled, but it became a reality in 2010.
Best Q&A moment of the year: Ned Beatty telling Noel Neill of how he’d “dreamed of sharing a tent with you!”
We ran out of things to do around 1:30. In our previous two Celebrations we’d stuck around till nightfall for the annual Saturday night banquet and auction, which was a certain kind of fun as long as you didn’t mind that much of it included announcements and awards presentations geared specifically toward the citizens of Metropolis. This year, we opted out for cost-cutting purposes. With our primary to-do list completed ahead of schedule, we called it a day and headed home. Sometimes we’ll linger around a convention until we felt like we’ve gotten our money’s worth, but this time we were happy with our total experience.
Dinner along the way was at a truck-stop franchise called the Iron Skillet, the first business I’ve ever seen to have one seating section segregated and labeled “DRIVERS ONLY”. Over in the not-THAT-kind-of-driver section I had me some breakfast for supper in the form of a massive meaty omelet, while Anne had the steak. They also offered a ten-dollar BBQ buffet, but Rafferty’s had already satiated our BBQ needs the night before.
The rest of the drive home saw lovely, storm-free skies and no more danger unless you count the part where an Army vehicle somehow overturned and caught fire on I-57 across from us on the way back.
Those photos were taken at 40 mph and came out oddly okay for a Kodak EasyShare digital camera, which wasn’t state-of-the-art in 2008, but occasionally it would surprise me. Other times it was a source of stress that I no longer miss, as many a shot was ruined that shouldn’t have been challenging at all.
Case in point: the Allison Mack photo way up above. That photo was uploaded to our old PC, underwent a “Red-Eye Correction” function in some old photo-editing software, then was printed and affixed inside Anne’s 2008 event scrapbook. On old computers it looked acceptable; with today’s technology, not so much.
And if you think those flaws are glaring, here’s some real glaring: the original digital photo, differently cropped and resized, but with otherwise zero retouching.
Considering that happened in the years that followed, this total misfire of a pic seems less like an amateurish outtake and more like ominous foreshadowing of tragic misdeeds yet to come.
Many things here could’ve used a Superman to save the day, but we otherwise stand by our happy nostalgia for the rest of our 2008 Superman Celebration weekend.
Well, okay, maybe not the part about the deepfake glossy.