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A costume-spotting, line-waiting tour of Free Comic Book Day in Las Vegas

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Didn’t score any free comics this year? Mark your calendar for the first Saturday in May 2014.

Maximum Comics, 1:19 p.m.

The store has been open for a little over three hours, and the line still stretches three doors down. In front of the shop, the acrobats known as Duo Ronin are performing feats of agility while wearing pants decorated with DC Comics superheroes, and a few members of local Star Wars costuming group the Neon City Garrison are hanging out and taking pictures with fans. I get in line and end up waiting 40 minutes to pick up my free comics, all while listening to fans behind me dissecting The Walking Dead season finale and Iron Man 3. When I leave the store at 2:13, the line outside is just as long.

Free comic books acquired: 4, plus Free Comic Book Day Iron Man toy (and a cookie)

Comic Oasis, 2:39 p.m.

In order to accommodate crowds and leave the store relatively free for shoppers, Comic Oasis has set up a tent in the parking lot to house the free comics. There are only a few people in line when I show up, and employee Adam Krenn says that the biggest rush was from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. He also tells me to take as many comics as I’d like, since the store is looking to get rid of them by the end of the day (I spot a pile of comics from last year’s event still being given away). Krenn also talks up his own comic, Avenger Red, which is on sale locally, although it’s not part of the promotion.

Free comic books acquired: 8

Wishing Well Comics, 3:10 p.m.

This small store tucked away behind a bar was my go-to shop for years back when it was known as Dreamwell. Owner Robert Lewis took over in 2008, and the place remains unassuming and friendly. The attention today is on the sidewalk sale, featuring 25-cent comics, although Lewis says the store was “swamped” earlier. Customer Daniel LaSalle shows me an impressive Walking Dead sketch he got from artist Alé Garza, who’s appearing all day at Velvet Underground down the street, so I decide to head over there.

Free comic books acquired: 8

Velvet Underground, 3:35 p.m.

“Welcome to what’s left of Free Comic Book Day,” says a friendly employee as I enter the dark, maze-like store. It feels like stepping into someone’s attic, with piles of comics everywhere and fake plants hanging from the ceiling. Garza (whose work includes Teen Titans and Deadpool) and Joe Benitez (Lady Mechanika) are sketching quietly, without the crush of fans that LaSalle described from earlier in the day. I pick up the lone free comic the store has left and chat briefly with a trio of costumers (Iron Man, Captain America, Supergirl) who’ve already been to five stores and are planning to head back over to Cosmic Comics! for the big 6 p.m. raffle.

Free comic books acquired: 1

HellPop!, 3:57 p.m.

The small shop inside the Arts Factory is offering local anthology Omega Comics Presents along with official FCBD selections. There’s a reggae festival going on outside, and store co-owner Jason Wilda says he’s hoping for some eventual spillover. Last year, Wilda, a member of local bands The Mapes and Civic Minded Five, booked local bands as FCBD entertainment, but this year’s reggae festival has blocked that option.

Free comic books acquired: 3

Alternate Reality Comics, 4:50 p.m.

I’m greeted at the door by Kim Hern, who says she’s been friends with Alternate Reality owner Ralph Mathieu for 25 years. She steers me to the shelves that featured 52 different FCBD titles at the beginning of the day. I’ve missed legendary comics creator Gilbert Hernandez, co-creator of Love & Rockets and a Vegas resident, whose new graphic novel Marble Season has a sampler as part of Free Comic Book Day, but there are still some local artists on hand. “This is the slowest it’s been all day,” Mathieu says, and Hern tells me that fans started lining up at 10 a.m. for the 11 a.m. store opening.

Free comic books acquired: 5

Cosmic Comics!, 5:38 p.m.

The store is packed in anticipation of a 6 p.m. raffle giving away copies of The Invincible Iron Man #1 (from 1968) and Tales of Suspense #50 (from 1964, featuring the first appearance of the Mandarin). At 6:09, store co-owner Brian Fudge announces the raffle winners, and it’s a bit anti-climactic (the underwhelmed winner of the Iron Man issue is a kid who looks about 12 years old). Fudge says that this year’s event was a great success, with 50 percent more people than last year and double the amount of free comics given away. With the raffle over, the crowd starts to dissipate, and since the store only has copies of the most popular three FCBD titles left (The Walking Dead, Marvel’s Infinity, Superman: Last Son of Krypton), I leave empty-handed.

Free comic books acquired: 0

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