SAN FRANCISCO — To be an aspiring superhero these days, most 5-year-olds must enlist clueless younger siblings, restless parents, backyard shrubs, fire hydrants and all manner of pets to serve as their foils and damsels in distress.
Not Miles Scott, for whom much of San Francisco morphed into Gotham City on Friday.
He pulled a woman from the cable car tracks as crowds cheered, then busted the Riddler during a bank heist. The Gotham City Chronicle ran a banner headline: BATKID SAVES CITY.
Miles has had acute lymphoblastic leukemia since he was 20 months old. His cancer went into remission and, with his last round of chemotherapy in June, he said he wanted to be Batman.
Coordinated by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and with at least 12,000 volunteers to cheer Miles on, his wish came true in a spectacular display of communal whimsy.
"Batkid," as he was known, captured the attention of an entire city and even the country. San Francisco seemed to come to a halt, with all eyes on Miles.
Local television covered it live, beaming aerial images of his adventures. Members of Congress issued video pleas for help, and President Obama offered kudos in a brief video: "Way to go, Miles, way to save Gotham."
Maybe it came at the perfect time in this politically riven nation. For brief moments, the national focus turned from the political battles in Washington to a child from rural Siskiyou County saving Gotham City.
"It was such an authentic wish that anyone could relate to, I'm trying not to cry," said Toni Baca, 30. "We all want to be superheroes."
The bat signal went out Thursday night, a beam shining on the side of Miles' hotel. At 10 a.m. Friday, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr issued a televised plea for help on a local newscast.
"Please, Caped Crusader, we need you," Suhr begged.
Miles, dressed in the trademark batsuit, rode in a donated Batmobile -- a black Lamborghini tricked out with Batman logos-- along streets thronged with people holding signs and rooting him on, occasionally dabbing their eyes.
Shalyn Pugh Davis summed up the thoughts of many on Twitter: "Follow #SFBatkid adventure and have your faith in humanity restored."
Social media had spread the word throughout the week, and people drove in from across the Bay Area and beyond to support Miles.
"I stayed up late making signs and we carpooled down here," said Shaneh Santos, 22, of Sacramento. "It's moving to be part of something, people driving hours to be part of a special moment for this little boy."
San Francisco resident Sara Sanchez came decked out with a huge sign that read "SF<3 Batkid.” She said the energy in “Gotham” rivaled the two parades celebrating the San Francisco Giants' recent World Series championships.
“Seeing the city come out in support, it makes you really proud to live in a city like this,” she said.
The San Francisco Chronicle published a special edition of the Gotham City Chronicle, to be handed out in Union Square. After demand for copies soared, Managing Editor Audrey Cooper said the paper would reprint a special edition.
“This is what I love about San Francisco,” Cooper said by email. “We're a quirky city that loves freethinkers. We totally understand a 5-year-old cancer survivor who wants to dress up like Batman.”
The staged escapades lasted several hours, during which Miles' face was mostly hidden by his mask. But one glimpse of his expression showed he was serious, fully engaged in what he alone had to do.
Then he stopped for a burger with Batman, who served as his adult sidekick for the day.
That was interrupted when a Union Square flash-mob alerted him to a kidnapping in progress. The San Francisco Giants' mascot, Lou Seal, had been taken by the Penguin.
Batkid chased the flightless villain around AT&T park and rescued Lou Seal.
Before leaving the stadium, Batkid slipped off his mask and whispered something into his father's ear. Smiling, his father led him over to the infield and then home plate. Batkid ran the bases as a small crowd cheered.
By then, the Batkid campaign embodied more than just a sick boy's wish. It had become a national feel-good moment. "U're an inspiration to us all," Michelle Obama tweeted Miles.
Politicians and other public officials scrambled all day to get out tweets and news releases tying them to Batkid.
Even the U.S. attorney for Northern California, Melinda Haag, announced the arrests of the Riddler and the Penguin.
"Edward 'E.' Nigma, a.k.a. 'the Riddler,' and Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, a.k.a. 'the Penguin,' were formally arrested today and charged with multiple counts of conspiracy and kidnapping for their all too familiar villainous ways in Gotham City," according to a news release.
When it was all over, many in San Francisco hoped the spirit of Batkid would remain.
"It's a phenomenal day," said Jeff Myers, chief of emergency medicine for the San Francisco Fire Department. "It's something this boy is going to remember for a long time. And it's just phenomenal for the city."
Times staff writers Samantha Schaefer, Amy Hubbard and Jason Wells contributed to this report.