Friday, May 11, 2012

The Theft of Superman, The Man of Steel

Mike Meyer in his home.
Photo courtesy of Emily Rasinski.
A call to action! SUPERMAN in action!

It all started on September 5, 2011, when Jennifer Mann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the horrible news that spawned an internet sensation. "If Mike Meyer were a character in one of his favorite comic books, right about now he'd be looking up to see his red-caped hero swooping down," Mann reported. "It's Meyer's starry-eyed worship of Superman, protector of the world as it should be, that makes the theft from his home two weeks ago seem particularly cruel." It seems someone took advantage of the young man by stealing thousands of dollars of Superman merchandise... and comic book fans answered the call.

Mike Meyer, age 48, of Granite City, has been on Social Security for a mental disability since the age of 23. To supplement that, he has worked part time at a McDonald's in Collinsville since 1996. He still works there to this day. He lives alone in a humble, two-bedroom home with his dogs: Krypto and Dyno. Just about every room is a shrine to his hero.

Meyer was tricked out of about 1,800 of his favorite Superman comic books, some dating to the 1950s. He also lost many of his favorite collector's items: lunch boxes, an old-time radio, a Monopoly game and television set — all Superman-themed. The loot had an estimated value of $4,000 to $5,000. The back bedroom of Meyer's house used to have nearly 100 Superman figurines tacked to the walls. Now, those walls are bare. Also stolen was Meyer's Captain Action Superman figurine with costume, a sore point for Meyer because it reminded him of one he had as a child. "A lot of that was sentimental, and he stole that from me," Meyer said. "He invaded my privacy, and he took away my peace of mind."

Granite City police began investigating.

Superman: The Movie
The History
Meyer bought his first Superman comic book for about 20 cents in 1974. Soon, the then-10-year-old discovered he could also buy back issues. That allowed him to delve into the character's earliest appearances in Action Comics, then follow Superman's evolution through the years, along with a changing lineup of costumed villains. Growing up, Meyer spent all his spare money on comic books.

"I had pretty much every issue of Superman from number 99 to the present," said Meyer, who kept a hand-sewn Superman costume hanging on his back door underneath a brown trench coat.

Meyer gets giddy recalling the premiere of the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie, which his father took him to see on Dec. 15, 1978, at the B.A.C. Cinema in Belleville. His dad died when Meyer was 20; his mom, three years later.

Chapter One
Meyer said mostly only his friends and family knew of his collection, but he also made the mistake once of telling someone less trustworthy: a guy named Gary whom he worked with at the Hardee's on Madison Avenue in 1991.

Meyer said he ran into Gary recently while at Kyle's Baseball Cards and Comics in Granite City. Gary asked Meyer whether he still collected Superman items and asked to see the collection. Meyer first gave an excuse, but then Gary called him later saying he was in the neighborhood and hoped to stop by.

"He just kept talking like a salesman," Meyer said. "He wouldn't take no for an answer."

Meyer said he let Gary into the house that day and gave him a quick tour. Gary asked to see "my most precious comics," Meyer said.

The next night, Gary was back again, asking whether Meyer would let Gary's girlfriend watch some of his Superman movies. Meyer said while he and the girlfriend watched. Gary disappeared for a while. Meyer noticed the theft two days later, on the morning of Aug. 24, and called police. All he knew was that Gary had dark hair, a goatee, was about 35 and drove a silver or gray car. Meyer had taken heart in the fact that he wasn't cleaned out of his entire collection. Still, he said, "I have moments where I want to cry."

Meyer's Superman lunchbox collection.
Down in the basement, where much of the collection resided, shelves were lined with Superman action figures and other trinkets, along with Man of Steel books, insulated coffee mugs, lunch boxes and puzzles -- even a lava lamp and wastebasket. Meyer's legs prevented him from going down to admire his collection more than once a week, hence why it too two days for him to notice the theft.

He saw Gary as a real-life Lex Luthor, calling him "a no-good excuse for a human being."

He noted, "That's pretty low if someone steals your stuff." Meyer said a lot of what Gary stole from him was sentimental, “He invaded my privacy, and he took away my peace of mind. “He uses his powers not to benefit himself, but to help others,” Meyer told the newspaper when speaking about his favorite character, “He’s the champion of the oppressed.” 

Paul Nomad of Idle Hands (an entertaining blog) commented: "If this guy isn't found and Mike doesn't recover his treasures, I'll send him every Superman I own. Count on it. I'm posting this on my blog so that if you should hear a follow up on the story that isn't favorable, please let me know and Mike will get an awesome box for Christmas."

The goodies sent to Meyer from Midtown Comics.
The Happy News
When the news story went viral, an outpouring of support in the comics community for the Superman fan was larger than anyone could have anticipated. It seemed like everyone who had a blog about Superman got into the act by spreading the word. At Midtown Comics in New York City, the employees were inspired by the “replace-the-collection” effort suggested by Superman fans on the world wide web and immediately donated $150.00 worth of Superman comics and merchandise, including a copy of Justice League #1 signed by Jim Lee and Geoff Johns.

An account was opened on Facebook to alert people in St. Louis to be on the lookout for the stolen Superman merchandise and Keith Howard of Belleville, Illinois, who represented the Superfriends of Metropolis group organized a nationwide effort to replace the stolen items and began collecting donated items from Facebook readers to ensure all donations would be forwarded to victim Mike. Fox News even got into the act by spreading the word.

Meyer received an all-expenses-paid trip to Cleveland, where Meyer -- decked out in an early Superman costume -- got a rare tour with fellow Superman aficionado Keith Howard of the boyhood home of Jerry Siegel, one of the comic superhero's co-creators.

John Dudas, owner of Carol and John's Comics in the Kamm's Corner neighborhood, flew Meyer and a friend into Cleveland to see where it all began. They also flew in Keith Howard of Belleville, Ill. Dudas collected 200 pounds of Superman items that he sent to Meyer and was ecstatic when Tracey Kirksey of the Siegel and Shuster Society and the Glenville Development Corp. offered the one present every Superman fans wants: a private tour of the Siegel house.

Hattie and Jefferson Gray, who own the home where Siegel once lived, were happy for the visit. "We get people driving by here all the time, some even stopping in and asking if they can see 'the room,' said Jefferson Gray. "But this is special.

Hattie Gray, who owns the house where Superman was created
in the 1930s, shares a moment with Mike Meyer, the Superman
fan whose collection was stolen. Meyer was flown to
  Cleveland for the ultimate treat for a Superman fan... 
a rare visit to the house where the legend began.

Meyer even received a phone call from Brandon Routh, who played the Man of Steel in the 2006 movie Superman Returns. Other celebrities, including Tracy Lewis of the Superboy series and Mark Tyler Nobleman, author of Boys of Steel, sent autographed items.

In Meadville, Pennsylvania, midway between Pittsburgh and Erie, stay-at-home dad Andrew Copp happened upon Meyer's misfortune on Facebook. Copp said he found the theft appalling, "but I was more touched by everyone giving back to a total stranger." Determined to help, the Navy veteran and former electronics worker studying to be a veterinary technician scoured his attic for Superman comics. Then he decided to part with a far more personal keepsake: a Superman logo hand-painted by his 8-year-old daughter, and captioned in child's handwriting: "Woosh Superman!!"

As WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, Keith Howard of downstate Belleville says he has received contributions from as far away as India and Paraguay. Artists drew sketches and autographed them for Meyer. Original Superman artwork from Paraguay was shipped. Fans were buying Superman items and shipping them directly to Belleville. Meyer received handmade sketches -- some from Mexico -- to hand-stitched decorative pillows from California bearing Superman's likeness. A Pennsylvania man even shipped him a mini Superman pinball machine!

A comic-shop owner in Cincinnati – hometown of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – arranged for a memorial brick from one of the creators’ houses with a plaque for Meyer. They even offered to fly Meyer and a close friend out for a day’s tour of the Superman museums and tourist sites there.Local comic shops across the country were approached about donating merchandise. Other fan groups joined with the Superfriends – the cross-denominational Justice League Avengers of Indiana coordinated their own drive to gather Superman memorabilia.

Superman Returns movie poster
In Conclusion
Being a whole new breed of awesome, the comics community rallied in support of Meyer after the theft was reported and went out of their way to help him replace the stolen items, eventually doubling the size of his original collection. To say there was an outpouring of support in the comics community is an understatement. Supporters can now begin to breathe a sigh of relief as the process for truth, justice and the American way moved forward with an arrest and conviction and the recovery of most of Meyer's stolen items. The crook attempted to sell the items for $600 or $800 (depending on which story you read), much less than the real value of the Superman collectibles. Comics Alliance reported the details of the arrest and you can read about it here.

Now that an arrest has been made and the items recovered, Meyer is paying the kindness forward by donating the excess items to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, saying: “I’ve been blessed with a lot of things, so I wanted to share them.” The large donation reportedly provided six boxes of Superman items which were made available to the hospital’s sick and injured kids in the form of bingo prizes.

“When you make somebody happy, it does something for you, too,” Meyer said.

Now, isn't that a happy ending worth reading?