It was late in the afternoon on Anzac Day when Stu Colson finished his speech before a gathering of 450 people crowded into an east Auckland picture theatre. The applause died out, and silence hung heavy in the air.

Then, a voice cried out: "Avengers, assemble!"

The audience erupted in an explosion of laughter and high-fives, and the adventure was underway.

Colson, boss of comic book retailer Heroes for Sale, invited some of the store's ardent supporters for a special, opening-day screening of The Avengers on what is reputedly the world's largest cinema screen - as if seeing the film more than a week before American audiences wasn't super enough.


As the Marvel-mad faithful arrived, bedlam came with them. The queue into the Hoyts Xtremescreen theatre at Mount Wellington's Sylvia Park stretched far back into the lobby, and the food counters struggled to keep pace with snack hunters.

"My customers are the kind of people who would have booked this on the day tickets first became available, and we've said 'don't, come with us.' It's fun."

This screening was Colson's second effort to show his customers a good time at the movies, after last year hosting them for Captain America: The First Avenger.

"Everyone enjoyed being in a theatre with a bunch of people that they knew were just into it," he said.

"You know in that first rescue, when he saves all the soldiers and they come marching back up the road? There were about 200 people chanting 'USA, USA'. It was quite hardcase."

There may be more hardcase sights on Saturday at Colson's Karangahape Road store, where fans have been promised extra goodies as Heroes for Sale joins other comic retailers worldwide in marking Free Comic Book Day.
"Smile and enjoy it"

Before the screening, fans were given the opportunity to meet and purchase personalised sketches from freelance comic artist Carlo Pagulayan, a qualified industrial engineer whose artistic resume includes drawing Elektra and the Incredible Hulk for Marvel.

The 33-year-old Filipino's first commission - "non-paying" - was to draw for a September 11th benefit comic by Hellboy publisher Dark Horse.

"The story was about a flashback, the towers being made, so it wasn't really depressing. It was more inspiring, for those who would be remembered in the towers.

"They tried to get me into the KISS band comic book, but I couldn't do likenesses. Instead, just to show something to my agent, I showed them an Elektra fan art piece because I was reading Elektra by Brian Bendis."

Pagulayan was in the right place at the right time. As it turned out, Marvel was looking for a new artist for the popular comic. He got the job. Since then, he has drawn a host of characters in the Marvel universe, and particularly likes breathing life into the Red Hulk - "when he punches somebody, he has a tendency to smile and enjoy it."

Pagulyan believes it all marries up neatly with his engineer's pedigree.

"Industrial engineering is working for me in principle: quality improvement, continuous improvement, and of course a few drafting skills. I am trying to continuously outdo myself."

In the cinematic world, there is a fragmentation of the Marvel universe with the cost of potential interplay in a film like The Avengers where familiar faces like Spider-Man and Wolverine have played supporting roles in the comics.

"It would seem that Marvel is doing better than other studios that are using their characters," Pagulyan said of the publisher's movies division.

"We wish that either Sony or Fox would release the characters so that Marvel could do what's proper and what would be good for fans, and not just be thinking about the money."