July 20, 2000--Masked, muscled, wrapped in purple cape, the superhero emerges from the stage fog, wielding sword and Scripture with equal skill. It's .Bibleman!

No, don't take it seriously. It's Willie Aames, who has just traded in his curly white-kid Afro from ``Eight Is Enough'' for the garish uniform of a religious-style Caped Crusader. Campy acting and corny wisecracks abound.

Then again, do take it seriously. Drawing on three decades of dramatic and comedic experience, the former teen heartthrob has helped create a comic-style hero for Christian preteens, wowing and teaching with a wave of his light saberlike "Sword of the Spirit" and his knowledge of Bible verses. "In-Your-Face Jesus and Spandex" is Aames' tongue-in-cheek shorthand for his traveling show.

"We want primarily to get out the message of Jesus Christ," he says, just before the first of three recent South Florida performances. "And for people who don't know Jesus, we want them to be blown away by the production."

The area shows are among 107 Bibleman performances in more than 100 cities this year. The 90-minute show regales kids with sword fights and laser effects. Aames and his producers, Pamplin Entertainment of Portland, Ore., have drawn rather freely from pop culture heroes Batman, Superman, even Luke Skywalker in putting together Bibleman for their road shows and videos.

Clad in purple and banana- yellow tights, Bibleman speeds around on a motorcycle. His enemies sound like WWF Wrestling heavies: El Furioso, Master of Misery, Doctor Fear. Aames' wife, Maylo, plays Bibleman's computer sidekick, UNICE when she's not playing an evil computer, Luci, or the villainness The Gossip Queen.

Aames sometimes gets criticism from fellow believers on the show's lighter moments, such as a battle scene where Bibleman threatens El Furioso, "In two seconds I'm replacing you with Scott Baio" the star of ``Charles in Charge,'' the sitcom where Aames co-starred.

He shrugs off the sniping. "Christians ought to sponsor a National Lighten Up Day. There's no time to worry about the petty stuff."

Still, the levity couches some serious issues. In the current touring show, titled "Conquering the Wrath of Rage," Bibleman befriends a violent student and finds out the boy is acting out his anguish about having lost his parents to a drunk driver.

"Why did God let this happen?" the student asks, repeating an age-old question.

Aames, who turned 40 on July 15, once might have asked the same about his own tribulations. It was while he was in ``Eight Is Enough'' and singing in a rock band that he began the drug and alcohol abuse that would erode his life and wreck his previous marriage.

He recalls round-the-clock drinking, three grams of cocaine a day, a couple of ounces of pot a week, some of it during appearances in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. But he says he'd likely have gotten into it without the rock and success. His real failure, he felt, was inside.

It wasn't until he was doing a film in 1983 that Aames finally looked at himself at the time, a 94-pound skeleton and realized it was life or death. He joined a 12-step program and gradually shed all the chemicals.

Still feeling an internal void, Aames checked out a Southern California church whose pastor he heard on radio. There, he heard testimonials by people like him, with a difference: "They had hope. That's what I needed most. Not hope for a new car or house. but to become a better creature. That's when I became a Christian."

He left Hollywood after ``Charles in Charge'' and did minor production work in Kansas City for awhile, until Gary Randall and Mike Schatz of Pamplin approached him about creating Bibleman. Aames was skeptical at first, but then warmed to the idea.

(c) 2000, Sun-Sentinel, South Florida. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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