The world's greatest detective. A man of steel. A god of thunder. A man green with... anger issues. A team of mutants. An African prince blessed by the jungle. A woman from the planet Krypton. A patriotic U.S. Army Captain launched through time.
These are just a few of the more popular characters to traverse the storied landscape of one of American literature's most enigmatic art forms: the comic book.
What was once an underground venture, then a small-business staple on many street corners and now a multi-billion-dollar film industry, comic books still exude an aura of populist fanaticism that simply doesn't exist elsewhere.
And Ridgefield is far from immune to the wily charms of the comic book, from library events to individual enthusiasts.
This Saturday, the is participating in "Free Comic Book Day" with donations from in Newtown, one of very few local comic shops still open. Ridgefield has had several in the past, including Twin Suns just off Main St., which closed a couple years ago -- none remain.
Free Comic Book Day "is a single day when participating comic book specialty shops across North America and around the world give away comic books absolutely free to anyone who comes into their shops," according to the organization's web site.
Geri Diorio, the head of the children's department at the library, and a comic book fan herself, is not afraid to say it: Her favorite superhero is Batman because, "He's the best -- he's the world's greatest detective with no super powers except his brain!"
Maybe Batman was a librarian.
So on Saturday, because of Diorio's connection with Cave Comics, kids (and their parents!) can come to pick up a book of their choice for free at the library from a diverse selection.
"We've got everything here, from kid-friendly stuff to books adults might be interested in, as well," Diorio said, holding up comic books featuring The Avengers, Star Wars, Transformers and Spongebob SquarePants, among others.
And lest you begin to think comic books belong entirely in the children's section, please meet Ridgefielder Stan Madaloni.
Not only has Madaloni been reading comic books since he was 4 years old and since that time amassed a collection of about 36,000 paper copies (not to mention digital copies on his iPad) of comic books, but the art form has been his life's work.
"It's who I am," Madaloni said. "It's what I do."
Yes, Madaloni has worked with such giant comic book names as Marvel and Stan Lee as a designer -- the covers and general layout of several high-profile comic books have been the work of Madaloni's design firm.
But to him, there's more to his books than collector's items -- they represent stories and art that he's lived with his entire life.
"I never sat down one day to start collecting comic books," Madaloni said. "But you turn around and you're 52 and you have a room full of comic books -- it's just a way of life."
The lifestyle includes more than the comic books themselves, Madaloni said, holding a heavy replica of Thor's hammer and a full-sized Captain America shield -- his large home is adorned with figurines and original artwork that come from his favorite stories and heroes.
And now, with "The Avengers" opening this weekend, superheroes get another boost in popularity. Madaloni has already seen the film and had one word for it: "Awesome."
Madaloni's 16-year-old son Nick has inherited his father's appreciation for the art of comic books, speaking the language of enthusiasts as they sort through some of their most prized books.
"To me, it's important," Madaloni said. "It's always been a part of my life, and it always will be."