Forget Comic-Con, superhero central is in Indiana

Fans of Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, and the rest of the superhero universe should run, not walk, to the Hall of Heroes Superhero Museum in Elkhart, Ind. CNET's Road Trip 2013 did.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
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This might be the world's first-ever Superman toy, created in 1940, just two years after the Man of Steel made his first appearance. The toy, and thousands of other collectibles are on display at the Hall of Heroes Superhero Museum in Elkart, Ind. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

ELKHART, Ind. -- Comic-Con in San Diego? Who needs it? I've got the Hall of Heroes Superhero Museum.

Even as tens of thousands of people were descending on San Diego for Comic-Con this week, I took another path to superhero nirvana, stopping in on Road Trip 2013 at what is probably the best comic book and superhero museum in the world.

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Home to 55,000 superhero comic books -- including every Marvel book ever printed and every DC book since 1956 -- as well as 10,000 toys and more than a hundred pieces of original superhero art, this museum, tucked away on a leafy back road in this northern Indiana town is a serious treat for anyone who loves Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, and so forth.

The museum opened six years ago, the brainchild of Elkhart native Allen Stewart. A former Army fitness instructor and current real estate agent, the 43-year-old Stewart began collecting superhero comics, toys, and other artifacts in the mid-1970s. Now, he's the man in charge at this museum, which is set up inside a building made to look -- from the outside, at least -- like the Hall of Justice from the Superfriends.

Daniel Terdiman

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Among the highlights, things no one at Comic-Con will see? Adam West's personal Batman suit, from the 1960s TV show. The first Superman toy ever made. An original "Greatest American Hero" suit; A recalled 2001 Spider-Man poster featuring the Spidey climbing the World Trade Center; A copy of "Amazing Fantasy" No. 15 -- which was the first appearance of Spider-Man -- signed by Stan Lee. And much, much, much more.

When you have 55,000 comic books, you have to devote a great deal of space to the collection. So the museum's upstairs is dominated by four sections full of countless boxes of books. Visitors can (carefully) flip through them, but shouldn't expect to get to read the books. It is a museum, after all.

Often, Stewart sets up a special exhibit near the front door, and right now, he's pulled much of his Wolverine collectibles together to celebrate the forthcoming release of "Wolverine," a spin-off from the "X-Men" films. The museum also features special sections devoted to many of the most famous superheroes, including Superman, Spider-Man, the Green Lantern, and others.

And then, of course, there's the Batcave. Built into a corner of the museum's lower level, Stewart created a section made to look like the Batcave from the 60s TV show, complete with a fireman's pole that comes down from the second level. That's also where Adam West's suit lives.

Altogether, the collection is worth more than $3 million. But though it's museum, and has a board of directors, Stewart definitely seems at home there. Indeed, he said he often dresses up in many of the costumes on display, including in a different outfit every year during the museum's annual haunted house.

Comic-Con is no doubt a great event, but who needs it when you can see the greatest collection of superhero memorabilia in the world. All you have to do is get to Elkhart. Just don't be surprised if Captain America greets you at the door. After all, as Stewart put it, "As far as museums go, we're not the boring stuff. we're the hip and fun museum."