Bryan Singer, 40, could pass for 14 and talks as fast as an Oscar winner in one of the techier categories. “Did you know in the original 1938 Action comic Superman didn’t fly?” he asks with glee. “He just kinda jumped from building to building, but he was still very cool.”

Singer, who directed Superman Returns and cowrote the story on which the screenplay is based, knows from superpowers, having already directed a multiple-Oscar winner (The Usual Suspects) and two X-Men movies. As he races around Hollywood in his Aston Martin, zipping from a comic-book shop to his favorite West Hollywood coffee place (“Caffeine,” he crows. “I live for caffeine!”), Singer looks like an overgrown Romper Room kid in his periwinkle T-shirt and Farrah-era jeans. But hearing him nervously chatter on his cell phone (“No! Definitely not,’” he says, vetoing a special-effects change involving the red-and-blue suit. “If the cape is too small, it makes Superman look like a dweeb”), you realize just how mighty a force Singer is in this town.

He lives in a house in the Hollywood Hills, famous among his friends for having been unfurnished for several years aside from a bed, a TV, and pizza boxes on the floor. His housemate, Vanessa, comes and goes, but Singer, comfortably single, is essentially married to his work. On a typical day he rises at eight, starts his coffee I.V., and rushes to meetings at his four offices around town before arriving home 12 hours later. There he plunges into the latest Ultimate X-Men comic he’s writing before turning to the edits on four new Superman prequel comics. By then it’s 1 A.M., and time to watch the rough cuts of House the TV medical drama that his company is producing for Fox.

You might be tempted to say he’s trying to prove himself, but you’d also have to admit that he’s done that already. “I’m so comfortable as a workaholic,” he says over yet more coffee at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. “I went to Hawaii for a brief vacation, which gave me dangerous freedom to think. Things started coming up, like, What would it be like to savor things more? But then, less than halfway through the week, I’m thinking, Too quiet. What’s next?”

And yet Singer’s restlessness has always had a focus. Growing up in New Jersey, Singer made Super 8 movies and wanted to be George Lucas or Steven Spielberg. Every night he put his friend Rob on speakerphone while they watched the 11 P.M. Star Trek. It wasn’t a waste of time. “Every secret you need comes from two sources: the original Star Trek series and Jaws,” Singer says. “Watch those and you’ll learn everything about visual storytelling, myth, moral dilemma, character. And love. And terror. And death. And life. And justice and diversity.”

Singer still wants to be like the film emperors of his youth, but now they come to him. Lucas visited the Superman set in Australia, and Singer freaked. And he’s proud to call James Cameron a friend, sort of. “Jim says to me, ‘You’re a big director now. Why are you acting like a fan?’” Singer says. “I’m like, ‘Jim, just shut up and let me take the picture.’”