Batman has the Batcave and the Fantastic Four have the Baxter Building, but when it comes to gathering places for superheroes, there's no better place than Portland's Mercury Studio ( The brightly lit space on Southwest 5th Avenue looks more like Clark Kent's office at The Daily Planet than Superman's Fortress of Solitude, but from within these walls top industry talents like Matthew Clark, Paul Guinan, Drew Johnson, Ron Randall, David Hahn, Steve Lieber, Terry Dodson, Jeff Parker, and Pete and Rebecca Woods bring to life the pulse-pounding adventures of vampires, intergalactic adventurers and costumed crime fighters.

When the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Exhibition sets up camp at the Oregon Historical Society in November (1200 SW Park Ave., 306-5214), Portland will get an eyeful of the baggage the pioneering pair and their team lugged over meadows and mountains. OHS's Ken DuBois says some items are not what you might call "bare essentials," and some are just friggin' scary. According to DuBois, Lewis' hypodermic needle "looks like a modern-day caulking gun made of wood and metal. It's a gigantic thing you wouldn't want anyone getting near you with." Especially Meriwether Lewis-the guy had no medical training! And there were no dentists along, but that didn't stop them from packing dentistry tools. "They're pretty scary to look at," says DuBois. "They could double as woodworking tools." The men also brought a "portable" writing desk. (Judging from its size, we're guessing that in those days "portable" must have meant gigantic and very heavy.) DuBois says, "You would think that if you were going on a two-year camping trip a writing desk would be the last thing in the world you'd want to drag over the Rockies." Thank goodness for laptops.

Amid the happy jumble of plastic kids' toys in Joan and Cleveland Williams' front yard sit 22 black and white men, women and children hunkered down on little tree trunks. They look like a congregation struck stone-still by the power of the Lord. That's because they're made of plaster, paint and beads. In fact, they could be mistaken for brightly attired garden gnomes-if it weren't for all those tiny hands clasped in (what looks to be) prayer. And all those bright painted eyes that seem to follow anybody who happens to stroll past the Sabin-area home's chain-link fence. "The people out there are all people I know," Joan says.

But this congregation comes with a big twist: When Joan bought her first pair of statues from a local antique shop five years ago, the traditional Southern figurines of an African-American man and his son weren't praying-they were fishing. Less than a month after they were settled on the Williams' front lawn, the statues were vandalized, the larger one broken and the little one stolen. A sympathetic local artist, Harold Fletcher, devised a way to bring a smile to the couples' faces. He snapped photos of the Williams' family, friends and neighbors and spent the next month molding an entire block party of statues. The little boy sporting the blue and yellow Adidas cap? That's Joan's grandson Tryshawn Green. Her niece Zabriel, a black woman with her hair done up in meticulous cornrows, has come to the party in a How Stella Got Her Groove Back movie tee. Even a mini Joan and Cleveland are present.

Why do they look they're all praising the Lord? "Oh, we just never put the fishing poles back in their hands," Joan says with a chuckle. That's OK. Despite the lack of religiosity behind the statues, we still say there's a li'l god in these details.

If you've never gone hunting for historical and hysterical artifacts in the Lone Fir Cemetery (2115 SE Morrison St.), the oldest and largest pioneer graveyard in Oregon, then you probably don't know why Hawthorne Boulevard was once called "Asylum Avenue," or why one of the cemetery's crumbling monuments has a reputation for throwing bricks at groundskeepers. Dying to know more? Then follow the Friends of the Lone Fir Cemetery (775-6278) on one of their free Saturday-morning tours. As the Friends (a group of volunteers that formed five years ago in response to cemetery vandalism) will tell you, death isn't always a grave affair: "This wasn't in my schedule book," quips one side of a stone bench in the cemetery. The other side cracks, "Keep your chins up."

Want to leave your mark in wet cement, but don't feel like getting pestered by Portland's finest? Why, all you have to do is create that pop-culture phenom-television's longest-running sitcom, The Simpsons. According to local legend, P-town's own Matt Groening, a 1972 graduate of Lincoln High, drew Bart into a wet slab of cement on the east side of Southwest 18th Avenue, just south of Salmon Street, as part of the Westside Light Rail Public Art program. The seemingly innocuous square (other etchings include a limerick about former Mayor Bud Clark) rests in front of a perfect clearing in the bushes for spying on nearby Lincoln High athletes haphazardly encircled by a few packs of Camel Lights. It could be the perfect homage to Bart himself, if he ever manages to grow into a high-school delinquent. Cowabunga, man!

Sure, they can answer stupid questions and make or break your term paper, but who knew they have lives outside of the Dewey Decimal System? That's right, librarians have been caught eating, shopping and-brace yourself-doing outdoor activities. Brandon Barnett, Emily-Jane Dawson and Jennifer May are three like-minded county librarians who manage a slew of pages on the library website that go beyond the books. Branches & Byways ( clues in the clueless about Portland's quirkiest attractions. Read up on the skateparks and techno-playgrounds they recommend and you might change your mind about who doesn't get out much.

Although most arty First Thursday press releases don't dare veer away from the tried-and-true method of a postcard thrown on a table at Torrefazione, most aren't created by artists named Jimmy Exodus and the Coming Apocalypse. The June "propaganda" campaign by p:ear (809 SW Alder St., 228-6677) reads like a ransom note. Sure, there will be those who think that writing "You owe it to your community to cover this month's art show at p:ear...this will be your only warning" on a hollow-eyed humanoid is a bit drastic, but they're clearly not hip to p:ear. After considering the mission of Program: Education, Art and Recreation-to offer homeless and transitional youth the chance to enhance self-worth and embrace their talents-you'd expect nothing less.

Portland celebrated many victories this year, but in the losses column we mark the Oct. 14, 2004, passing of homeless advocate, homeless person, and perennial candidate for sheriff, mayor and city council, Jada Mae Langloss. In a bequest both cool and creepy, the penniless Langloss left what resources she had to her friends, colleagues and well-wishers: "My skull, I would like to be made into a wonderful peace-pipe or a hookah, for my family and friends to pass around." That she was cremated instead would have been fine by her: "If it can't be done, let it be read to everyone, and they can pretend."mercury studio