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Thursday, October 10, 2002
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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: “Halloween’s (not for a while), dude.” Such comments are mere marshmallows rained on the Metropolis Marvel.

Not that Superman doesn’t feel pain. He’s felt it in a big way. But he’s also a guy who grew up believing in heroes, because, to paraphrase a popular saying, bad stuff happens, and someone’s got to come to the rescue.

Four years ago, Wyzenbeek’s estranged wife, Melanie, died in a car accident. The longtime pop-culture collector decided then that it was time to stop putting off his life’s 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, it’s 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, 22.

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 Superman's autograph!”

See that? That’s why a 46-year-old man dares subject himself to ridicule. “It’s fun for me, but it’s all about them,” Wyzenbeek says. “She was really excited. It meant a lot to her. She’ll have something to tell her friends about for weeks now.”

Heroes are something the country has needed more than ever lately. Don’t look at Wyzenbeek, though. He’s not looking to save the world. But he just might be saving himself.

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. “That’s something you never forget. That’s 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. He’s 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,” he explains.

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.

“Don’t tug on it,” Wyzenbeek says. “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.”

Then to the Supermall, to which Wyzenbeek has no official connection despite the name. At Spencer’s 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 they’ve got any new Superman merchandise in stock. These days, though, it’s all Spider-Man. “That’s the best we can do for you,” the guy says. “Sorry, Superman!”

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 he’s confident that Melanie would have supported him, that her influence continues. Yes, they’d 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 they’re gone. There are some things even Superman can’t stop. “It really opened my eyes,” he says. “You never really know how many more tomorrows you have.”


The 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.

TCU Daily Skiff © 2003

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