On a prime street corner just north of Superman Square (and somewhere metaphysically between Earth-2 and Bizarro World) stands the Super Museum. It's the go-to destination -- after the Superman statue -- in Metropolis, Illinois, hometown of Superman.
The Super Museum is actually a tribute to two Supermen: one the Man of Steel, the other Jim Hambrick, the obsessed Superman fan who proudly labels his Super Museum "the most spectacular super-hero museum ever assembled" and "the largest Superman collection on the planet."
Jim has reason to brag. He started his Superman collection in 1959, before most of today's familiar superheroes were even invented. Over the passing decades he's amassed 100,000 items, covering Superman's first appearance in comic books all the way through latter-day adaptations such as Lois & Clark and Smallville. The constant repackaging of Superman into postmodern media and purchasable items ensures that Jim will never stop -- even though he already has, by his own calculation, everything Superman worth having.
Super Museum is stuffed, honeycombed with treasures, inviting comparisons to a cluttered basement or a secret horde in a storage unit. Artifacts range from priceless Superman movie props to a pair of boxer shorts emblazoned, "This is a job for Superman." A display of Superman watches is over here, original comic art hangs over there, Superman footsie pajamas dangle from the rafters. Supporting players -- Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White -- are given their own exhibits. Signs are hand-lettered (just like in old comic books), exhibits home-built. There's no fancy LED lighting, no digital immersion experiences. Jim obviously feels that what he's got can stand on its own.
Although Jim owns three copies of the first Superman comic (the most valuable collectible in all fandom), his favorite relic remains the itchy wool brown-and-gray Superman costume worn by George Reeves when The Adventures of Superman TV series was filmed in black and white.
Reeves' age-cracked Clark Kent eyeglasses are reverently displayed atop a 1950s TV set, across the aisle from the unique Mr. Kryptonite suit. Jim explains that Reeves actually made more money from personal appearances than from the TV show. As part of the act, he hired an early pro wrestler, Gene LaBelle, to wear the Mr. Kryptonite suit. While Reeves was talking to the crowd, Mr. Kryptonite would appear and hit him in the head with a balsa wood baseball bat.
(Always alert to the benchmarks of fame, we found that the Super Museum gift shop sells swatches of George Reeves' Superman cape for $400.00 -- twice what it would cost to buy a swatch of Clyde Barrow's death pants at the Bonnie and Clyde Museum gift shop.)
Visitors to the museum can pose in the phone booth used by Kirk Alyn, the first man to portray Superman on film (We saw an exhibit on Kirk's funeral in Houston). Jim has the wigs worn by both Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando for their Superman movie roles, as well as the Kryptonian crystal used by Reeve to create the Fortress of Solitude. A spacesuit worn by one of the unlucky astronauts in Superman II hangs from the ceiling, occupied by a dummy of Sylvester Stallone.
Superman spinoffs such as Supergirl and Superboy have their own galleries, although the contents of Super Museum could easily fill a building ten times its size, and what's displayed is only a fraction of Jim's collection (He likes to swap in new items to encourage repeat visits). Jim told us that to save space he moved all of his Superman Justice League items into his Americana Hollywood Museum a few blocks south. With so much to look at, we didn't even notice they were missing.
Super Museum is one of the world's greatest fan museums, period. We dubbed Jim "Proto-Geek," which he graciously accepted. "As long as I got people patting me on the back saying, 'That was amazing,' I'm there," he said.
All obsessive collectors really should visit Super Museum, if only to see where geekdom can lead. Whether it's an inspiration or a cautionary lesson is up to you.