It's going to be a truly "super" weekend for comic book collectors.
Some of Marvel's most popular heroes -- think Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor -- are assembling on the big screen in "Marvel's The Avengers," which opens Thursday night at midnight. Fans say it's more than just a film release -- it's an epic story that's been building for years.
"This is the biggest comic book movie of all time," says collector Erik Schindler, 35, of Farmingville. "I absolutely cannot wait to see the team together."
Coinciding with the film, Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, a national event in which fans can pick up free special-edition comics at participating stores. This year, Marvel is issuing "The Avengers 12.1," featuring the battle between the Avengers and the Intelligencia, the return of S.W.O.R.D. and the disappearance of Spider-Woman.
"It's usually our busiest day of the year," says Glenn Fischette, owner of Fourth World Comics in Smithtown. "Last year, we had over 500 people in the store. We've ordered 2,500 free comics. Everybody will get something that day."
Comics aren't just for kids anymore. Local comic store owners say the majority of collectors range in age from 25 to 35. "I used to know when school let out because at 3p.m., this place would be filled with 10-year-olds. Now, I know when work lets out because this place is filled with 30-year-olds," says Michael Bradley, owner of Collector's Kingdom in Huntington Station, which also is participating in Saturday's giveaways.
Wednesdays are particularly busy, since that's the day new issues are released. Comic collectors often ask to have their books pulled from the racks and set aside. "It's like a little Christmas every week," Bradley says.
Many fans rearrange their work schedules to get their weekly comic fix. "Some will take the day off, others go into work late or take an early lunch. We are busy all day long," Fischette says. "People hang around the counter and talk about different story lines."
Fans say even the perception of comic book collectors has radically changed over the years. "When I was a kid, I got stuffed inside a lot of lockers for being a geek. If I was in high school now, I would be considered the coolest kid," says Zac Grant, 22, who has shopped at Collector's Kingdom since he was a boy.
"The most enjoyment is the interaction with people while online or purchasing stuff," says Joe Carbone, 33, of Huntington, who appreciates comics so much that he formed his own comic book company.
When it comes to comic conventions or other special events, die-hard fans tend to come dressed in full superhero garb. Collector Dimitrios Haritos, 29, of Holbrook, likes to don a Captain America costume, and he's ready to suit up this weekend for "The Avengers."
"It's fun to take pictures with people. It's about having a good time all around," he says.
With his blond hair, blue eyes and 6-foot-7 stature, Schindler evokes Thor, so dressing up as the God of Thunder comes naturally.
"It's like being famous. We love these characters so much we just want to partake in that world," he says. "If you are going to do it, go all in."