On Saturday, we ventured outside of Midtown Montgomery for a few things that, even for their many charms, our fair neighborhoods do not (yet) boast: A 3-D IMAX movie screen and a comic book shop. The former was required for consuming the new Avengers movie in the most decadent possible way. After all, it is the beginning of lurid summer blockbusters targeting adult children, meaning we had to embrace the spectacle. That noble mission put us in Birmingham on a Saturday afternoon, waiting in line with several hundred others, some costumed, all joining the vast hordes of people worldwide who are well on their way to making this the biggest movie opening ever. After the CGI smashing was done and [spoiler alert!] the world was saved, we decamped to look at comic books.
You see, in addition to being Cinco de Mayo and the running of the Kentucky Derby and the opening of the Avengers movie, Saturday was also Free Comic Book Day. Started in 2002 as a way to get people into comic shops, the day has become quite an event for enthusiasts and dabblers alike, with thousands of stores participating all over the country in distributing a select group of specially printed free comic books to folks who come in.
In the Magic City, we visited two comic shops. And we’ll pause here for those readers who think of comics as something you buy in the drug store from those spinning wire racks: Those days are mostly gone. For better or worse (and there is debate on both sides of the issue) comic books are now mostly procured from specialized shops and almost never from the magazine racks and newsstands that people might remember from their younger days. You want to check in on what Superman is doing these days? You either go to a comics shop, or you pay to download issues to your digital device. It should be noted that we greatly prefer the old-fashioned paper versions.
First up was a fairly new shop called Excelsior! on Lorna Road in Hoover. There is some overlap between people who like to read comics and folks who like to play games; thus some shops double up with comics and gaming equipment (think dice and painted figurines). And although named after one of Stan Lee’s favorite exclamations, Excelsior! is one of these – it’s more gaming emporium than full-service comics store, but the selection was serviceable and the owner super-nice.
While we were there, a whole bunch of people were setting up for what looked like it was about to be a 48-hour gaming throwdown on multiple tables with hundreds of 3-D props and figurines. We left with two free comics and even bought a few things: the first issue of a new comic based on the old radio serial character The Shadow, and an installment of DMZ, a very dark series that takes place in an America fighting a new civil war.
Later, we went to Kingdom Comics, a Birmingham institution where the all-day Free Comic Book Day festivities seemed to have been only slightly dampened by the sudden collapse of the store’s air conditioning. They were heavily promoting the upcoming Alabama Phoenix Festival, sure to feature many people in improbable costumes, all-day gaming binges, and memorabilia and comic sales. By the time we arrived, they were all out of free comics. But we got our fix by raiding the 25 cent boxes and picking up an installment of another great series we’re reading, Y: The Last Man. Here’s hoping they get the AC fixed soon.
Then, we were on the road southwards to our own hometown comic shop, Capitol City Comic Shop. It’s out on Vaughn Road by the movie theater and Mellow Mushroom. Even though it’s not in Midtown, it’s a real asset to Montgomery. Owner Rob Duncan moved the place from its old location by Mr.G’s to this new one about a year ago, and the shop is really great. He takes care of his stock, with all issues easily accessible and visible. He knows his stuff, even if he can sometimes be a little cagey about it. And there’s a really cool giant Silver Surfer in the store, along with eye-popping varieties of brightly colored memorabilia from across the decades. We’re pretty used to being almost the only people in the store when we go, but this Saturday the place was mobbed.
The lucky Capitol City Comic Shop got the Free Comic Book Day crowd plus the people going to see the Avengers. And there were so many of the latter that the police had actually put up cones to direct traffic away from the front of the theater. Waiting to see the movie, or perhaps afterwards with their heads still swimming in special effects, folks would wander over to the shop and flip through long boxes. When we were there, there was a guy dressed like Wolverine having a great time freaking out passing children. The discounts were excellent, so we ended our day with a Jack Kirby hardback, a classic Spider-Man hardback, and a few back issues to fill in gaps in the collection.
And although we liked both of the Birmingham comics shops pretty well, we remain confident that Capitol City Comics is one of the best in the state. It remains our preferred spot, with its wide range of titles from both of the “big two” publishers (Marvel and DC) and plenty of independents. There are collectable figurines and back issues and graphic novels and pretty much anything a person could want, ranging from the innocent “funny book” antics of Archie and Jughead to the bloody vigilante adventures of The Punisher, or, if you prefer, both together.
If you’re into comics, you probably already know about it. But even if you once loved comics and it’s been a while, it’s still a fun way to spend some time, poring over some works from some exceptionally creative minds. And you may re-kindle a real love for sequential art, the writing, or the nuances of the industry. You don’t have to be a costume-wearing obsessive to enjoy comics (although that’s OK too).
Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.