By Brad Meltzer
Jerry Seinfeld loves him. Chuck Norris loves him. How could you not love him? He fights for the little guy. He’s got the best hair. And he never lies. I’m not ashamed. I’m not embarrassed. And I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen. I love Superman.
I don’t remember the exact moment I first met him. In fact, I actually liked Batman first (as evidenced by the fact that I’m wearing a Batman cape in every photo of me from when I was six years old, until I was about, say, twenty-seven). But I’ll never forget that night in 1978, when I was eight, and my parents took me to the movies to see him. Back then, it was Christopher Reeve in the costume. And as the lights went down and Superman: The Movie began to roll, I craned my neck up at the screen and lowered my hand into the huge tub of buttered popcorn that was sitting in my lap.
Two hours later, the lights came up. How mesmerized was I? I didn’t even realize that my hand was still sitting in that tub of buttered popcorn. I hadn’t moved my now-prune-fingered hand in two hoursit just sat there, shriveled from soaking in the butter.
And right there, my addiction was born.
Back then, in Brooklyn, we didn’t have a ton of money. But my father alwaysalwayswould magically find the extra cash to surprise me with the newest comics of the guy with the big red S who wore his underwear on the outside of his pants (having superpowers doesn’t mean you automatically get fashion sense). For me, it peaked at summer camp, when my group went on its first overnight camping trip. We marched in the scorching heat for milesall of us unprepared and too inexperienced to actually save any of the water that had originally filled our canteens. Halfway there, we saw (like a suburban oasis) a 7-11. A real 7-11! My Mom had given me a dollar for the trip. Everyone else had their dollar too. So we all raced inside, diving for the Yoo-hoos and Nehis and candy bars. I, however, spotted the spinning comic book rack. My kryptonite! Must…get…thirst…quenched… But on that rack, I saw Justice League #192, with Superman (the Earth-2 Superman, but still Superman) right in the center. I looked at the Yoo-hoo. Then back to the comic. Then back to the Yoo-hoo. The choice was clear: eat and survive…or read and die happy.
Would I be writing this article if I chose the Yoo-hoo?
And so, the years went…I never grew out of it, or away from it. My love for Superman took me through junior high and high school, through college and law school (where I was now the only one still wearing my Superman T-shirt). I lived through good movies (yes, Superman II is good), lots of bad ones (in a letter written during high school, I told my girlfriend (now wife): “Just saw Superman IV. I hung my head in shame.”). I lived through all the TV shows that never had the special effects budgets to make Dean Cain really seem supery. And I still, to this day, always stop on old I Love Lucy reruns, hoping against hope that it’s the one where George Reeves appears in character.
But for me, my most personal Superman moment came when my wife was pregnant with our first child. We’re superstitious people, so we wouldn’t buy the toys or clothes or anything until the baby was born. But there we were, checking out cribs in the baby store, when my wife spotted it: a Batman cape. Just like the one I used to wear so long ago.
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “Can’t do it. Not until he’s born.”
“C’mon,” my wife pleaded. “Look at it. It’s perfect!”
“I see it!” I told her.
“No,” she said. “I don’t think you do.”
And with a flick of her wrist, she flipped the Batman cape around and revealed the bright red material with the big S on the other side. The cape was two-sided. With Superman on the other side.
As an October baby, my son was barely two weeks old at his first Halloween. In Washington, DC, it was too cold to take him outside. But that didn’t stop me and my wife from dressing in overalls and swaddling him in that Superman cape. The costume was perfect. Baby Kal-Elrocketed to the planet Earth. Today, my daughter is the one who wears the cape (alwaysalwayswith the SuperGIRL side out).
Thirty years later, after five novels, I was lucky enough to finally put words in Superman’s mouth. And it wasn’t until that moment, that I finally realized what made me love the character so much. Without question, the best part of the story has never been the Superman part. It’s the Clark Kent part: the idea that all of us are so plain, so ordinarybut we know what it’s like to want to rip open our shirts and do something better for this world. My wife just had our third child. I gotta go buy another cape.