Operation Justice Unlimited: Free Comic Book Day

[Scan: Free Comic Book Day Flyer]
What a strange flyer. [Scan: Archie cover] [Scan: Image cover] [Scan: Spider-Man cover] [Scan: Teen Titans cover]

I failed to find meaning in the Free Comic Book Day flier. Thanks to the Free Comic Book Day website, we knew that the four pictures came from the covers of four free comics:

Further web-browsing told us that the pictures showed the characters

But why just show Archie's torso? What message could hide encoded in just four pictures?
Teen Titans,
were we supposed to bring something from the Asti region on game day? That made no sense.

Team Mystic Fish looked at the text: "Go to a comic book store. Get a free comic. It's that simple." Maybe we just needed to get the comics; maybe we didn't need to figure anything out from the flyer. Maybe the comics would contain clues: a small advertisement, some passphrase hidden in a letter to the editor. So we waited for free comic book day.

Comic book publishers had started Free Comic Book Day to attract new readers. People who would not normally visit a comic book shop might get lured in by freebies, might become enthusiasts. I had never heard about Free Comic Book Day outside of comic book circles, so I am not sure that it met its goal.

Stores could not afford to give away an unlimited number of comics. Some stores only allowed one per customer. Some stores allowed six--but no more than one of each. To pick up a few copies of four comics, I needed to visit a few stores.

Thus did I find myself outside the Virgin Megastore on the morning of July 3rd, Free Comic Book Day. I waited for the store to open so that I could pick up limited-edition freebies. I wondered how my life had slid so far into Eltingville.

I did not think of Virgin as a comic book store, but they did sell some, and they opened at 10:00--an hour earlier than real comic book stores. Since I needed to hit a few stores, it was nice to have a head start. I planned to just get freebies here, not to buy anything, but this plan did not survive. Before I found the comic book section, I found a big book of photos by Glen E. Friedman. I got a free comic at the comic book section. Then I bought the Friedman book in the main book section. There was a little confusion--the clerk was just charging eight bucks, and the book cost more than that. I pointed out the mistake, paid the full amount. And then I asked for (and received) another comic.

Out of the store, on the bus, I forced myself not to look at the Friedman book, but instead read comics. I found no letters to the editor, no little suspicious advertisements. I found no obvious reason to pick up these comics. Perhaps they were the key to a Beale cipher?

At 11:00 I waited for Comix Experience on Divisadero, to open. Comix Experience was my back-up comic store; I went there when I was too lazy to go to my usual store (Comic Relief in Berkeley). It had a good collection of strange titles. When the door opened, I went in. I bought some comics--books that had sold out in Comic Relief before I had reached them. Comix Experience allowed three free comic books per customer. I was making progress.

I next stopped at Amazing Adventures way out on Noriega. This was a store for collectors. Boxes full of comics loomed everywhere. These were back issues, the proud history of superhero comics. The boxes bulged, weighty like the stones of a cathedral. I bought a couple of comics and picked up a couple of free comics. The proprietor also gave me a Hulk Heroclix figurine.

Also on Noriega, but closer to civilization, I went to Isotope Comics. I had heard of Isotope Comics. I had heard how cool it was--that they had a couch, an air-hockey table, that the proprietor threw good parties. None of this made me want to visit the shop--I go to a comic book shop for comics, not for air hockey. I'd never visited Isotope.

As it turns out, Isotope was a really good comic shop. I am not sure why reporters just write about the couch and about the air hockey table. I am not sure why they don't write about "...and I kept finding more good comics!" That was the thing that struck me--I kept finding more good comics: back issues of Plastic Man drawn by Kyle Baker; little independent comics I had never seen, not even at Comic Relief; Sweet Mother of Glory--a comic by Ian and Tyson Smith, something newer than Oddjob!

I had a new favorite San Francisco comic book shop.

There was an even better surprise at Isotope--Chuck Jordan was there. It was good to see him, though he had bad news: he was working in Redwood City. It was unfair that Chuck should be stuck commuting to/lunching in such a place.

Then I thought about some rough times when we had worked at Infinite Machine, bitter times which Chuck had turned into wicked wry humor. Maybe Chuck thrived on adversity. Maybe it was good that he was working in Redwood City. I shook my head. Chuck thrived just fine on pro-versity, or whatever the opposite of adversity was. He deserved better.

At Isotope, I bought several comics, and picked up three free comics. I now had a couple of copies of each free comic. I had fulfilled my mission.

I made one last stop at Amazing Fantasy, the comic shop closest to my apartment. This was my first time in the place, and I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe it didn't have as big a selection as Isotope or Comix Experience, but it packed a lot into a small area, and I found some things I wanted.

As I waited in line to check out, a young customer engaged the store's proprietor in conversation: "This is the first time I've ever seen a line in here."

The proprietor grunted something in the affirmative. This kid seemed like a dangerous one to engage in conversation with--he seemed a bit too eager. The proprietor would have been a captive conversationalist, but I would soon leave, so I answered: "A historic occasion, I guess."

"And it's all free," said the kid.

"Well, free for you," said the proprietor.

"What do you mean? It's Free Comic Book Day."

"Free for the customers. But not for me. I paid a little for those comics. And I sure paid for shipping, too."

As I picked up four free comics and started to step away, I told the proprietor: "Thank you." And I meant it.


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