The phones at the Hyatt Regency are hung waist-high in rows along the hotel's hallways. No booths with folding glass doors from which to burst when setting off to preserve truth, justice and the American way.
So, it was in the men's room across the hall from the futuristic pushbutton phones that electrical engineer Jeff Wolf tore off his shirt and pants and emerged -- Superman.
Bounding over two steps onto the portable stage in the hotel's Yorktown Room, Wolf, arms akimbo, struck a suitable pose.
"This is my first Superman," said Wolf after his performance Sunday, "I usually go as Spiderman. When you're dressed up in a Spiderman costume you've got that mask on your face and you can say and do all the things you ever wanted to do. I have a high-tension job. This is how I get my jollies.
Wolf was just one of the 1,000 science fiction, fantasy and comic book fans who this weekend escaped into the glossy reds, blues, and muscular of 100,000 comic books spreadout across tables in the hotel's ballroom where the Creation convention -- a gathering of comic book buyers and sellers -- had set up stakes.
One of four such conventions that come to town annually, the weekend conclave drew closet, and out-ot-the-closet comic book devotees together to share in the common addiction
Behind a Radio Shack Trs-80 computer programmed to create the image of a dancer hoofing to a computerized sound of "Ain't She Sweet" sat Harry Hopkins and his wife of seven weeks, Mariane. Naturally, they met at a comic book convention.
"She had her collection, and I had mine. Now we share," said Hopkins, who is stationed at Langley Air Force Base where he buys computer equipment for the Air Force.
Together, the couple publishes Fandom Directory, a national directory of comic book fanciers that lists some 7,000 fans along with numerical codes indicating each fan's specialty such as Archie Comics. Lovecraft, Pulps a Silver Age Comics.
Hopkins acquired his first comic book in 1962 when he was 12.
"It was a U.S. Air Force War Comic," he said . "I just thought I would keep it forever. But it went the way of all good things when Mother cleaned out the closet."
He since has bought another copy of the same book and reported that his .CREATION, From B1> mother gave up cleaning his closet when "she realized I was serious about this."
But Mary Donnally is bringing up her three chrildren, ages 2, 3 and 4, with an appreciation for comic books.
Dressed in matching Superman T-shirts, she and her husband Reaumur brought the kids to the convention yesterday, where Reaumur lamented the sale of his comic book collection to an Alexandria dealer so he could buy a set of golf clubs.
"I knew what I was getting into when I married him," said Donnally. "When we were dating he would always be late on Tuesdays and Thursdays when the new comics came in. Now, I'm the one who waits in the car when he goes into the Seven Eleven to get Pampers and stays for a half an hour."
Steve Geppi, owner of Geppi's Comic World, a string of local comic book stores, sat behind a table piled with $100 Donald Duck and Captain America comics, and reflected on the high finances of the comic renaissance.
Last year he sold a copy of the first Marvel Comic books, which introduced the Human Torch and Submariner in November 1939, for $13,000 to a Washington government worker -- the highest price ever paid for a comic book.
Although most of the comics sold at the convention were priced between $1 and $3, Geppi pulled out a briefcase containing a copy of the same issue went for $13,000. But because it is not in mint condition it is valued at $7,500. Also, in the briefcase, mounted on a de-acidified board and wrapped in clear plastic, was an $8,500 Action Comic of June 1938, the first appearance of Superman, who on the cover is seen hoisting up a car.
"Anybody could have a windfall in his attic," said Geppi. "The thing to do is stir up a little dust under these people to look."
But beyond the monetary rewards of comic collection, fans at the convention said they truly appreciate the art of forceful knuckle sandwich, a solid jawline and a well-placed balloon.
Walter Simonson, a graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design whose senior thesis in 1972 was a portfolio of comic strips, sat at a table autographing copies of the Incredible Hulk comic book he had illustrated.
"When I was at RISD teaching silk screen, one of my students asked another teacher, "When is Walter going to do some serious work?" said Simonson, now a top illustrator in New York and one of only 600 comic book artists in the world. "She meant oil painting, fine art. But I don't do this because I'm not good enough to do anything else. I love it."
"I'm an artist myself," confided Adam Idelson, an 18-year-old Oberlin College Sophomore, torn between a studio art or English literature major. He brought his sketchbook, crammed with doodles of superheroes.
Idelson has 3,000 comics in his collection but said speculators are driving the prices beyond his means. Yesterday he sat chatting with Charles and Kenny Hohman, ages 18 and 14.
They discussed the literary superiority of Spiderman over Superman.
"Superman is too good. He can do too many things," said Kenny. "He never makes mistakes."
"But Spiderman," chimes in Idelson, "he gets punched in he jaw sometimes. He started when he was 17 and he got bullied at school, then he turned into Spiderman and now he's got beautiful women."
"People can identify with him. A lot of comic books readers have glasses and bad skin and they got bullied at school," said Charles Hohman who denied this applied to him and listed his credentials as a high school athletic star.
Idelson, in a quiet voice responded, "I wear glasses. I wasn't a real schlep" in high school "but I was a semi-schlep."
Yesterday, however, Idelson was an expert, critiquing famed comic book artists and quoting prices.
The three boys had ridden to the convention on the same bus. Like most bus riders, they didn't speak.
Yet at the convention, they formed a tight trio among the crowd wearing outlandish Darth Vader and Star Trek costumes.
Said Hohman: "That's what's so good about this. You can come here and nobody thinks you're crazy."