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CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A mentally-disabled Illinois man who had his Superman memorabilia collection stolen got a superhero's welcome in Cleveland this week, where he met some of the comic fans who had worked to restore what was lost.
Mike Meyer, 48, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything Superman, started his collection in the early 1970s and had amassed more than 1,800 comic books, 100 action figures and a wall's worth of statues valued at around $5,000. They were stolen in September by an acquaintance posing as Meyer's friend.
What began as a St. Louis-area news story about Meyer turned into an international movement to do what fans say Superman would do. One of those fans was John Dudas, co-owner of Carol & John's Comic Book Shop in Cleveland, the birthplace of Superman's creators.
"John first saw the story on the Internet and as a comic lover it struck him how wrong that this guy befriended him so he could do this," says Carol Cazzarin, co-owner of the shop.
Dudas, as a fellow collector, worked with Meyer's friend Keith Howard of Belleville, Illinois and other super fans to do their best to replace what Meyer lost.
"A collector knows how important a collection is," explained Howard. The donations came in from China, Australia, India and Paraguay but primarily from Cleveland, the home of Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Howard, who looks a bit like Superman television actor George Reeves, was dressed head-to-boot in a Superman costume as he accompanied Meyer on visits to Cleveland comic book shops Wednesday.
Meyer's story garnered so much attention from the Superman community, "he even got a call from Brendan Routh, the actor from Superman Returns," Howard told Reuters. "He talked to him for about a half-hour."
It all culminated mid-September when Howard made a surprise visit to the Illinois McDonald's where Meyer works decked out in his Superman costume with his daughter as Supergirl in tow. It was then Howard delivered nearly 200 pounds of donated Superman memorabilia to a flabbergasted Meyer.
"It is chance to be a superhero and isn't that what every superfan wants?" Howard adds.
Along with the donated items, Dudas was able to raise enough money to give Meyer and Howard a two-day Superman tour in Cleveland. They visited the house and office of Jerry Siegel and the building thought to inspire "The Daily Planet." Meyer also was given gift certificates to every comic book shop in the city.
Howard and Meyer, wearing an ear-to-ear smile and a bright blue Superman hoodie, kept getting stopped in the parking lots of shops to pose for pictures with families passing by.
It was at one of the shops where Meyer heard the news that the man who stole his collection had been sentenced.
"Today I received the news that the villain that had done this crime has been convicted," Meyer told a group gathered at a Cleveland comic shop.
"Is he going to jail or the Phantom Zone?" joked one of the comic fans in attendance.
Gerry Ambruster, 37, pleaded guilty to one count of residential burglary for the Meyer theft and one count of aggravated battery for an unrelated crime and got six years for both, to run concurrently, according to the Madison County State's Attorney's office in Illinois. According to Howard, Granite City police caught Ambruster after he assaulted an elderly man. Meyer's collection, minus a few items, was returned to him.
After his original collection was returned, Meyer donated six boxes of comics and action figures to a St. Louis children's hospital.
Meyer spent the evening after hearing of Ambruster's sentence at a party in his honor, thanking people and signing copies of Superman comic book covers he sketches from memory. Meyer then recited a quote from his extensive collection. "Do good to others and every man can be Superman."
Dudas said Superman is more than a trademark or a collectible. Dudas said, "What Superman really is -- is an idea."
Writing and reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune