One tug too many on Superman's cape

For decades it was a city that exuded confidence and charisma, but the high-flying days are over for Metropolis. Faced with a slumping local economy and rampaging deficits, the community is now reeling from the news that its most famous resident is quitting.

"It's true," said one municipal official. "Superman has given us notice that his services are no longer available. He basically said, 'I'm outta here!' "

The announcement, sent via fax, mentioned "personal reasons" for the departure but gave no specifics. Longtime associates say the Man of Steel had become increasingly disenchanted during the past few years as he found himself spending more and more time battling the city's aging infrastructure instead of crooks.

"The politicians used him to cover up their own budget blunders," said Jimmy Olsen, the retired Daily Planet reporter. "He was like a fiscal safety net. Having him around meant the city could put off the hard choices when money ran short. The water treatment plant needed upgrading, and finally a few years ago there was a major breakdown and raw effluent poured into the wetlands. Guess who they called for help?

"And then," Mr. Olsen continued, "instead of fixing the plant, they realized it was easier to holler for Superman any time there was trouble. It never got reported. Here's a guy who's changed the course of mighty rivers, and he gets stuck cleaning up sewage spills every other month."

Former co-worker Lois Lane, now living quietly in Halifax, Nova Scotia, remains in regular contact with her superfriend. "It was all very demeaning to him," she said in a phone interview. "He cleared snow off the runways at the airport because the plows were always in the repair shop. The city engineers were constantly asking him to use his X-ray vision to locate underground gas lines and water mains because their maps were outdated. One time last summer, they even had him use his super breath to cool down city hall when the air conditioning failed!

"Meanwhile, his old enemies are living the good life and making big bucks. Lex Luthor has a book deal and Brainiac is getting his own talk show on FOX. It's shameful!"

The mayor was not available for comment, but one aide said, "Superman will definitely be tough to replace. He had some very special qualities."

Such as super strength and flying?

"Actually," he replied, "we liked his work ethic. He didn't mind getting paid zilch, was available nights and weekends, and never needed a health plan. If we could put a thousand guys like that on payroll, Metropolis would rule the earth!"

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