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Our hero 

Behind the scenes at Charlotte's favorite comic book shop

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Wednesday -- shipment day for America's comic book industry -- is easily the busiest day at Heroes, with 150 to 200 titles arriving every week. "I like it," says Reynolds of the hectic Wednesday rush. "It keeps me busy. Such a range of people come in -- men, women, young and old."

Frequent shopper Nikki Davis came into Heroes twice last Wednesday. An elementary school art teacher from Union County, Davis is used to her life revolving around comics; she and her husband Derek, an aspiring comic book artist, cut their honeymoon short to attend the Heroes Aren't Hard to Find Convention (tell you about that later). They came back for a second visit on Wednesday just in case they missed something the first time around. "It's the artwork that draws me in," Nikki says, "but the story has to be good to keep me reading it."

Nikki and I sit on one of the two benches that rest under the massive windows facing 7th Street. A customer occupies the other bench, head bent over a comic, shopping bag at his side, oblivious to the world. Derek peruses the long wall of new comics. Nikki says she became interested in comics through her husband. "I always knew about comics, but I never read them. But now, I have the ones I read, and he has the ones he reads. At first, I was picking up stories about women, but I realized I wanted action. I'm [currently reading the] Incredible Hulk Planet Hulk series. It's Hulk in his primordial role -- he's the king of his planet." Nikki enthuses as she talks about her favorite titles, her calm tone becoming more vibrant as she lists off her current favorites. "Frank Cho's Liberty Meadows -- that's the first title I picked up. [The Holocaust drama] Maus (see sidebar) because I went to Poland, and was able to visit [the real-life sites]. Ms. Marvel -- that one's been really good lately, really exciting."

As we talk, we watch a small child squeeze behind a shelf and pull out a stepping stool to reach the top shelves of the children's comics. The store has a cozy corner dedicated to G-rated material and has a continuous good-grade sale for back issue comics -- every A is a discount of 10 percent. Sales and discounts help, since comics are becoming pricier every year. (These days, the average comic costs around $3.) I ask Nikki how she can afford her comic book lifestyle. She smiles, shrugs, and says, "We feed our addictions, and starve a little bit."

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Another "comic addict" and longtime Heroes customer, Heather Hill "started [reading comics] in 1977 -- the year Star Wars came out," she laughs. Hill is a freelance writer for the online role playing game Dragon Realm and mother to 8-year-old Emily. For her, it's all about the story. "My background is in writing," she says. "I tend to go for a good story rather than good art." Heather has shopped in the dungeon-like stores most associated with the comic book industry -- the around-the-back, downstairs, basement shops -- and she never let the surroundings deter her from reading. Heroes, with its circular design, sunny kids corner, and long shelves lining the walls, is a place she can bring her daughter "all the time." Though she admits, a touch of sadness in her voice, that her daughter has yet to show the same interest in comics as her mom does. Heather plays a hand at breaking stereotypes, chuckling as she states that she never sees herself not reading comics. "I'll be walking through Heroes' door when I'm 80, hobbling in on my walker. If I'm lucky, my daughter will drive me." She has held on to her comics through the years -- some, like her early Star Wars, she will never part with. "They have a sentimental value. I remember the person I was when I bought them. They say different things about different parts of our lives." That's what a good story does, whatever the medium. It becomes a part of you, woven into your past to remind who you were. "I've hung on to an issue of Wonder Woman that dealt with teen suicide for years now," Heather says lightly. "Even though space is a premium at my house, I still enjoy the stories they tell." The ones she will part with, however, are going somewhere needed. "[I plan to] send them off to Books for Soldiers -- it's a Web site where soldiers request reading material. I want to pass them on to someone who can really appreciate them."

Shelton Drum's top 10 comic books

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