Comic relief

If recent movies have rekindled your interest in superheroes, here’s a guide to your friendly neighborhood comic book stores.

DJ Comic Kingdom and Collectables
1300 E. Plumb Lane, 827-2928

Ultimate Sports Cards & Comics
2005 Sierra Highlands Drive, No. 123, 746-0207

Joe’s Comics, Gifts and Collectibles
1845 Prater Way, Sparks, 358-1099

In the past few years, comic book superheroes have dominated the big screen. The top five comic book movies have grossed nearly $2 billion at the box office. To put that into context, that’s roughly the combined box office of Titanic, Star Wars, Shrek 2 and E.T. And the March 6 release of the highly anticipated film adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen should increase that massive total.

This boom in superhero popularity on the big screen hasn’t translated to comic book stores. In Nevada, there are 21 comic book stores. Most of these are in the Las Vegas area, including one in Pahrump called Nike’L Bag Comics. Where, then, are the stores for the comic book fan in Reno who doesn’t have the time or gas money to travel to North Shore Comics & Cards in Incline Village? (No offense to that fine store.)

Now, I’m not talking about national chain bookstores like Borders or Barnes & Noble who offer a few racks of comic books next to the regular magazines or next to the checkout counter. I’m talking about a store, much like Recycled Records is for music, that sells comic books and graphic novels and is staffed by people who know this art form like an economist knows tax law.

After weeks of searching and hunting any place I could for information on them, I found a grand total of three comic book stores in the Reno-Sparks area: DJ Comic Kingdom and Collectibles on Plumb Lane near the airport, Joe’s Comics Gifts and Collectibles on Prater Way in Sparks, and Ultimate Sports Cards and Comics on Sierra Highlands Drive in Northwest Reno.

DJ Comic Kingdom and Collectables

Beanie Baby fans who thought the cute little stuffed dolls fell into the waste bin of history at the dawn of the 21st century will be pleasantly surprised to find a pillar of them waiting at DJ Comic Kingdom. The walls of the shop display a nice collection of old Superman and Flash comics, as well as signed lithographs from TV shows like Lost and CSI and movies like Tombstone and Pirates of the Caribbean.

There is a small but nice selection of action figures. There are a couple of nicely maintained Justice League action figures of Wonder Woman and the Flash. There are also a couple of World of Warcraft action figures ready to buy for those who find RPG games more their style. And for the sci-fi movie buff, there’s even an action figure of the albino, dreadlocked twins from The Matrix Reloaded.

For movie lovers, along with those signed lithographs signatures of every 007, there is also a nice collection of movie posters of little-known films starring people like John Belushi and Jodie Foster. If there are any fans of the underrated 1991 Chevy Chase/John Candy comedy Nothing But Trouble, they have the poster of that great movie, as well. Now if I could only find the DVD of it …

When it comes to comics, DJ Comic Kingdom definitely impresses. Alphabetically arranged and preserved in nice see-through covers, fans and collectors of X-Men and The Avengers will find a wide array of them to choose from. You can also find the latest comics near the back of the store, organized in different rows to represent different comic book makers (one row Marvel, one row DC, and so on). Fans of Stephen King can also find some selections from his Dark Tower series and his classic novel The Stand in comic book form.

Ultimate Sports Cards & Comics

It may not be easy to spot Ultimate Sports Cards & Comics in Northwest Reno. It’s sandwiched between a computer repair shop and the bicycle shop Bicycle Bananas. The somewhat limited hours (3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays) also make it hard to scrounge the time to journey up there. But as the owner John said to me, “There wasn’t any [other] comic book shop on this side of town.”

As you walk in, posters of superheroes greet you, along with a poster of the Tomb of Dracula. A few steps inside reveal an impressively organized collection of back comics based both on superhero and comic book maker. You need a back catalog Justice League comic book from Pres. Clinton’s first term? It’s there. There’s even a box of Archie comics.

If you’re a sports fan, there are autographs lining the walls just above the cashier’s office of both NFL and MLB icons like Barry Sanders and Nolan Ryan along with action figures of Bob Gibson and Ryne Sandberg and current NFL stars Joseph Addai and Randy Moss. If you prefer your action figures in the superhero variety, Ultimate has nearly an entire wall devoted to nice looking action figures from Justice League to Iron Man to a hero you don’t see much of: Plastic Man.

Joe’s Comics, Gifts and Collectibles

At Joe’s Comics, Gifts & Collectibles in Sparks, the atmosphere is markedly different from the other two. There aren’t as many posters of superheroes lining the windows of the shop, just some Fathead-like posters of Spider-Man and Wolverine. There are no shelves lined with new DC or Marvel comics, although they do have a nice collection of back issues of titles like Captain America and Daredevil that collectors will want to check out. The walls are lined with ceramics instead of action figures.

If you don’t notice the sign outside this modest shop saying Joe’s Comics (open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.), you could mistake it for a small, general interest mom-and-pop gift shop.

But to be honest, that was part of what I appreciated about all the shops I went to. With the dark state of our economy, as we see more reports of layoffs from big companies like Caterpillar and Microsoft, it’s nice to see these kinds of small shops still standing amid this chaos. We need these kinds of stores in the same way that we need to see Superman defeat Lex Luthor and save the world: To remind ourselves to smile and escape the bleak reality once in awhile. So, here’s to the future success of these three noble comic book stores as well as the other 18 stores sprinkled across this state. To use a favorite phrase of comic book legend Stan Lee, “Excelsior!”