It's Soberman!

No, he's not a visitor from another planet. He has no mystical superpowers, nor can he leap tall buildings with a single bound.

He's a cartoon character that the State of Virginia has appointed to carry its message of the dangers of drink to about 70,000 driver education students around the state.

A Soberman comic book, being tested in preparation for a "big splash in September," is part of a $13,000 campaign against alcohol abuse among young people.

Bob Keeton, an information officer with the Virginia Highway Safety Department, said Soberman will also promote the cause of sobriety on the highways through print advertisements, radio and television spots and iron-on decals.

Keeton said Soberman is the creation of David March, a Norfolk animator, who worked to make the character speak the language of youth.

"Pay attention, nerd," a laid-back Soberman counsels. "It's not cool to be dumb about drinking."

Episodes in the 15-page comic book include "Sir Soberman, a Night at the Round Table," and "Scenic Graybar Motel," an irony-laden version of a teen-ager's night in jail, following an alcohol arrest.

While the Soberman approach is light, the subject of teen-age traffic fatalities attributable to alcohol is serious. Of the 1,080 traffic deaths in Virginia last year, 32.6 percent involved drunken drivers and, according to Keeton, persons under 25 were disproportionately represented in these.

"Many kids, by the time they graduate high school, are drinking once a week," Keeton said. " It's predominantly alcohol that kids are abusing. Marijuana's a poor second.

"Soberman's not a condemnation of drinking. We are a drinking society and we admit that. But if Soberman does anything at all, it raises awareness that it's important to use alcohol responsibly."

For all its lightheartedness, Keeton and other area alcohol counselors are hoping and betting that Soberman's humorous approach is the right one.

"I'm optimistic about it," said Ralph Kleinschmidt, Fairfax area coordinator for the Alcohol Safety Action Program. "I think it's an eyecatcher that will get some attention."

"We are trying to get information into the hands of students in such a way that they are likely to read it," Keeton said. "We are hoping that kids will say, 'Hey, that's kind of cute," get hooked on it and take it seriously."