Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman’s superfan!

If Sean Banning had to choose a favorite collectible among his Superman shirts, figurines, DVDs, books, comic books, magazines, posters, calendars, pens, pins, cereal boxes, necklaces, mugs – deep breath – Christmas stocking, keychain, ceramic statue, tie, watch, video game, board game and holographic statue, it would be a small red patch of the Man of Steel’s cape stuck inside a trading card’s package.

Banning, an Albuquerque resident, isn’t sure if the stamp-sized patch came from the cape that hung from the shoulders of Brandon Routh – the relatively unknown actor playing the superhero in the movie opening today – but that doesn’t bother him. Knowing it’s the same type of fabric is enough.

“Superman has been and probably will always be my favorite comic-book character,” says Banning, standing inside a comic-book and collectibles shop where he works part time. “Some would call it an unhealthy obsession. I call it focused.”

That focus has Banning, 28, well prepared for “Superman Returns,” which has the Man of Steel returning after a five-year hiatus to help the crime-afflicted human race.

Banning carries a paperback book based upon the film to the comic-book shop and limits himself to four or five pages a day to avoid knowing the whole story before opening day. His laptop has three Superman stickers on it. A Superman pen claims a spot in the pocket of his blue, button-up shirt. A salary-boosting promotion in process at his other job has him considering getting a tattoo of Superman’s signature “S” on both of his upper arms.

And despite complaints about the upcoming film that Banning dismisses – critics say the costume is all wrong and Routh makes a lousy Man of Steel – his focus stays steady.

“I’m going to try as hard as I can to go opening night,” he says. “I’m going to try to go to a late show. If I don’t see it opening day, my friends will never let me live it down.”

Roughly two decades ago, Banning first crossed paths with Superman in a comic book – the first one Banning ever read. In it, the Man of Steel duked it out with the Silver Banshee, a woman with screeches that could kill.

Even years later, Banning recalls reading the story. It’s Superman’s powers that make him so memorable, he says. It’s his ability to change with the times.

It’s the Man of Steel’s values: “Honesty and protecting people who can’t protect themselves,” Banning says. “Being able to help people who normally wouldn’t be able to help themselves. If more people did that, the world would be a little better place.”

Of course, being able to fly simplifies saving of the world.

Sure, heat vision is great, Banning says. So is the invulnerability, the superspeed.

But if it came down to picking a favorite Superman power, flying – flying! – would earn Banning’s vote.

“There’s no delays, there’s no grounding due to fog,” he jokes. “And to be able to fly into outer space and see the world from a different perspective . . . ”

The thought reminds him of a scene from the movie “Superman IV” that never made it to the final cut, but showed up in the book version that Banning read.

It involves a boy asking Superman to stop nuclear war.

“He takes the kid up flying, and takes him up high enough that he can see a huge vista,” he says. “He asks the kid what he sees and he says, `There’s no lines, no borders.’ He’s like, `It’s one world.’ ”

Banning wishes the scene made it into the movie.

“It makes a neat statement that we all are on the same planet and we need to help each other take care of it,” he says. “There’s very few people that get to see the Earth from that point of view, but I think if more people could, it would go a long way toward not necessarily stopping war, but reducing conflict.”

But being grounded by a lack of superpowers hasn’t stopped Banning from helping where he can. His mother, Barbara Sullivan-Dwyer, says her son quickly goes to the aid of any friend in need.

“One of the nicest things he did . . . he took a couple of personal days and helped a friend of his move to Denver and rode the bus home,” she says. “You won’t catch me on a bus that long. I couldn’t handle it.”

He baby-sits nephews and nieces to give his brothers and their wives a night out, she says, noting it’s a service that comes with ample Superman discussions. He house-sat for her. He helped clean a friend’s house going up for sale.

“He really does try to do what he can when someone asks him for help,” she says. “He’s really a good kid.”

Does she think his passion for Superman – a passion that led to him asking her recently to buy him Superman cups from 7-Eleven, to him collecting more than 1,000 Superman comic books, two dozen Superman figurines, almost 200 Superman trading cards and more – is unusual?

“No,” she says. “There are a lot of men who have a particular thing that they’re into.”

She points out her husband’s passion: sports. One of her brothers does woodwork with the same level of intensity. For another brother, it’s a ’65 Ford Mustang.

“Mine is sewing,” she says. “I guess Superman is his thing.”

And she expects it will be his thing for a long time yet, an expectation Banning shares.

“I’ll have Superman hub caps on my wheelchair,” he says. “I’m sure I’ll take the love of the character with me to my grave.”

SIDEBAR: SUPER IN ALBUQUERQUE

Lester Berman, production manager on the original “Superman” movie in 1978, moved to Albuquerque about 2 years ago.

“It wasn’t my first feature, but it was certainly the biggest one,” says Berman, now production manager for the “Wildfire” TV series being shot in New Mexico. “I enjoyed working on it.”

He is “certainly going to go see” the new Superman movie.

“Everybody loves a hero,” he says. “The story is universal.”

At Astro-Zombies, an Albuquerque comic-book and collectibles shop at 3108 Central Ave. S.E., the new movie has significantly boosted business.

“Obviously, comic-book-related movies can be a huge push for our industry,” says owner Mike D’Elia. “It doesn’t get any bigger than Superman or Batman, and with the death of Christopher Reeve, it’s kind of a rebirth of Superman. The fans are superpsyched about it.”

It took one week to sell four, $195 Superman statues.

“To move those kind of things that quickly is pretty big for us,” he says. “The movies are definitely something that help the little guy.”

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