Disguised as a fat, bald dunce, Kevin Pilley fools everyone in Superman's hometown.

Fat Edd's Roadhouse was doing a great trade in peel 'n' eat shrimps, dual dogs and premium burgers. With ranch sauce. The bar, in Metropolis, Illinois, was heaving with Monguls, Bizarros, old and young Kryptonians, tragic laboratory accidents, Atomic Skulls, Olsens and people who looked like they spent a lot of time in underground lairs plotting to ransom the world.

The place was teeming with bad guys.

In front of me was General Zod. In front of him was a Toyman, a Glowman and some Incredible Hulks. And plenty of baddies from the "D.C." universe, as well as a lot of Kents. Directly behind me was a bald, green-skinned man who said he had come as "Brainiac".

He introduced his girlfriend as "The Insect Queen". She was wearing makeshift wings.


"How about you?"

The look on their faces told me they didn't see me as a "Superboy". Or anyone's arch-nemesis. I almost went for super-hack Perry White. But, thinking quickly, decided on "Otis" instead.

They nodded and went, "Cool".

As every Superman fan knows, Otis is Lex Luthor's fat, balding, bumbling henchman who has no obvious intelligence and can no more control his own indigestion than control time and space, let alone all the world's computer systems.

Illinois' favourite sons are Ernest Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. But, for more than 80 years, the state's biggest and most enduring super-hero has saved millions of lives every week and the planet several times a month. Always wearing his trademark red wellies and matching Y-fronts, worn fetchingly over a pair of anti-thrombotic support tights.

In 1972, the town of Metropolis on the Ohio River, down at the state's southernmost tip bordering Kentucky , became "the Home of Superman" and, every June, hosts a four-day "Superman Celebration". This year's (June 9-12) will be the 38th. There is a giant statue in the middle of town. Its good luck to be photographed between his legs.

I had heard that the town pays US$500 ($743) to the official boy from Smallsville, Kansas. The organisers receive hundreds of photos from people who aspire to be a very muscular, bullet-proof fictional character.

The rest of the year Metropolis is a quiet town with a population of 7000, a riverboat casino and a mill churning out material for nuclear reactors. No one bench-presses any cars. No one freezes anything with their breath. And some of the keg beer is similar to Kryptonite, immobilising you with pain and robbing you of your powers of taste.

But before I could hand in my CV for the Superman role , someone screeched. "Are you coming to the Superboy and Supergirl Beauty pageant? Or taking in the Heroes and Villains lookalike contest?" It was the Insect Queen.

I wanted to lapse into Perry White-speak and say, "Great Caesar's ghost, no!"

But I showed superhuman strength and shook my head in a way that suggested that the fate of the world was at stake. And that I had a meteor to stop.



American Airlines flies from Auckland to Los Angeles from June 23. Return Economy fares start from $1178.97. Its domestic network flies on to many destinations, including Illinois.