Life-changing event prompted a mild-mannered
man to become a superhero in his own right.
By Marc Ramirez
The Seattle Times
AUBURN, Wash. Mark Wyzenbeek and his stepson
glide through the shopping-mall doors, a trio of villainous
teenage girls hot on their trail and ogling the man
with the big S on his chest. The tight bright-blue
bodysuit. The red shorts and boots. The flowing cape.
Wyzenbeek turns and confronts the girls, who giggle
and whisper to themselves until one of them crows, Are
you doing a dare?
Naw, he likes it, says stepson Rick Stewart.
Wyzenbeek smiles. People would have to dare me
not to do it.
The girls consider this. I dare you not to do
it, one finally says.
Kapow! A zinger for the Man of Steel! Go on: Take your
best shot. Plenty have already. Yo, Spandex-Man!
they shout. Or: Halloweens (not for a while),
dude. Such comments are mere marshmallows rained
on the Metropolis Marvel.
Not that Superman doesnt feel pain. Hes
felt it in a big way. But hes also a guy who grew
up believing in heroes, because, to paraphrase a popular
saying, bad stuff happens, and someones got to
come to the rescue.
Four years ago, Wyzenbeeks estranged wife, Melanie,
died in a car accident. The longtime pop-culture collector
decided then that it was time to stop putting off his
lifes fantasy: Now, when the urge strikes, he
hits the town as his favorite superhero. So bring on
the bad stuff. He can take it.
As he parades through places near his Auburn home, such
as the appropriately named Supermall, its for
the other reactions that he lives the wide-eyed
encounters with preschool kids, the bouquets of Superman,
you made my day! tossed by adoring sales clerks.
His presence just radiates, observes Stewart,
A group of tourists approaches and leaves with posed
photos. A high-school-age girl flies at him, shrieking,
Superman, can I have your autograph? He
complies; she runs back to amused friends: I got
See that? Thats why a 46-year-old man dares subject
himself to ridicule. Its fun for me, but
its all about them, Wyzenbeek says. She
was really excited. It meant a lot to her. Shell
have something to tell her friends about for weeks now.
Heroes are something the country has needed more than
ever lately. Dont look at Wyzenbeek, though. Hes
not looking to save the world. But he just might be
He remembers meeting Fess Parker as a boy on the set
of the Daniel Boone show he watched every
week. Even got his autograph and saw him film a scene.
He was as tall as the Empire State Building with
his coonskin cap, says Wyzenbeek, a local boy
who grew up the son of a Continental Airlines executive.
Thats something you never forget. Thats
what I want to give these kids.
Wyzenbeek parks his Pontiac, the one he ultimately hopes
to convert into a Batmobile, in the lower lot of the
ice rink at which he works. Hes in full costume,
running an errand before a stint at the mall. He eyes
the 3-foot-high retaining wall of easily ascended rock
and soil and opts instead for the nearby stairs en route
to the main entrance. I've got $500 boots on,
Inside, skating instructor Nanci Sullivan comes off
the ice to see him, fascinated. Wow, you look
good, she tells Wyzenbeek. Let me see the
back. He turns and she rubs the cape between her
fingers, pulls at it, testing it.
Dont tug on it, Wyzenbeek says. You
dont tug on Supermans cape.
Then to the Supermall, to which Wyzenbeek has no official
connection despite the name. At Spencers Gifts,
a burly sales clerk emerges onto the concourse with
a huge, medieval-looking over-the-shoulder costume and
battle-ax. Bring it on, Superman! he roars
like one of those face-painted football fans.
Wyzenbeek is undeterred. He asks if theyve got
any new Superman merchandise in stock. These days, though,
its all Spider-Man. Thats the best
we can do for you, the guy says. Sorry,
Another loop around the mall, greeting kids with handshakes,
absorbing odd looks and strange reactions. A tattooed,
tank-topped guy with a buzz cut eyes Wyzenbeek as he
passes, grabs his girlfriend and says slowly, in near
reverence: He is a soldier. A soldier.
This is what Wyzenbeek lives for and hes
confident that Melanie would have supported him, that
her influence continues. Yes, theyd separated,
but his are the sentiments of a widower, not a divorcee.
She was the only one I thought I was ever gonna
be married to, he says.
One week you see someone, the next you get a phone call
that theyre gone. There are some things even Superman
cant stop. It really opened my eyes,
he says. You never really know how many more tomorrows
Seattle Times/Harley Soltes
Mark Wyzenbeek, outside the Supermall in Auburn,
Wash. He dresses up as Superman and makes appearances
in bars, shopping malls, libraries and other public
places, something he has done since his wife died
in a car accident four years ago.