Superman lives in the Philippines, if you ask Herbert Chavez, a fashion designer who has had plastic surgeons turn him into a near-replica of his comic book hero.
During work hours, the bespectacled Chavez wakes up late and designs dresses, but in his free time the 35-year-old dons his self-made cape and shorts-over-tights outfit to live out his life-long obsession.
“I adore superheroes… I am happy as Superman, and happier still to have Filipinos realise that Superman lives in the Philippines and they can see and talk to him in the flesh,” Chavez told AFP at his home.
Chavez began a love affair with the Man from Krypton as a child, amassing a now enormous collection of Superman dolls, mannequins, posters, comic books, mugs, curtains, rugs, bed sheets, throw pillows and trash bins.
In 1998 the then pimply and darker skinned young man began to tap Filipino cosmetic surgeons to achieve the likeness of the late Christopher Reeve, the most famous of the Superman stars.
“Abroad, you’d need medical insurance and have to take a mental examination before you can have cosmetic surgery,” he said.
“It’s not as strict here. It’s an individual decision, and luckily Filipino doctors are skilled at this.”
Chavez had his nose thinned out and got a cleft chin, had silicone injected for fuller lips, liposuction to flatten out his abdomen, and implants to bulk up his buttocks and hips.
Each procedure costs several thousand dollars even in the Philippines, where medical costs are much cheaper than in the West, but Chavez declined to say how much he had spent.
Out of costume, Chavez’s geeky glasses — reminiscent of Clark Kent, Superman’s alter-ego — are natural, as he is short-sighted himself.
Like Kent, Chavez’s hair is parted on the right, but unlike the Man of Steel he does not switch over when he changes, instead allowing his jet-black curl — achieved with the assistance of hair spray — to dangle to the left.
In full costume Chavez cuts a striking Superman figure, although he is planning yet more surgery to make the resemblance stronger.
Next on the agenda is to implant “six-pack” abdominal muscles, while he regularly injects himself with a drug that temporarily whitens his brown skin.
But he has given up the thought of becoming as tall as the American Superman.
At 1.7 metres (5 feet 7 inches), Chavez said having metal inserted into his leg bones to increase his height would be going too far, even for him.
“Instead of becoming Superman, you could end up in a wheelchair,” he said.
Chavez dons his Superman outfit at least once a week, most often when he gathers with other friends who enjoy cosplay, a social phenomenon in Asia where people dress up as fantasy characters.
Chavez — who is single — acknowledged some may laugh at his obsession, but said people should respect his decisions.
“What you do to your own body is your own business. What is important is you don’t step on anyone else’s toes and you believe in God,” he said.
“I do not have a bad motive and I am positive, so the only thing that would probably stop me from this is my own death.”
He also has a successful career without the cape.
“Some people may think I’m crazy, but I do have a day job,” he said.
Chavez said he made a small fortune early on as a precocious designer, going to work in Saudi Arabia for three years when he was 22, where he crafted dresses for royalty.
He later used his foreign earnings to set up a dress and costume shop near his home in Calamba, an hour’s drive south of Manila, which caters to local film stars and celebrities.
He also coaches aspiring child actors and beauty pageant contestants.
His parents, Rogelio and Erlinda, who run a separate Calamba fashion house, said they were proud of their son’s talent and were happy to indulge him in his obsession.
“It’s fine with us for as long as he does not cause trouble to his fellow men,” his father said.
Local taxi driver Manuel Savilo said he was impressed with Chavez’s Superman persona.
“It’s a 100 percent copy, except he’s short,” Savilo said. “But some people are narrow-minded and these types would think he’s crazy.”