Comic Book Men series premiere
Stars: Walter Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, Ming Chen, Mike Zapcic & Kevin Smith
I love comics. I like comic-book shops. And I like a number of Kevin Smith films. With that in mind, I was looking forward to Comic Book Men. I informed my wife that whatever other plans she had in mind for the weekend, I was reserving a two-hour block Sunday night for The Walking Dead “mid-season premiere” and the debut of Comic Book Men. I enjoyed the former, but the latter was a fiasco. Apparently designed to be Pawn Stars for frat boys, Comic Book Men perpetuates stereotypes about comics fans and speciality-shop staffers, and it fails to capitalize on the lead-in that was bound to boost its premiere viewership. I suppose one could argue it’s not incumbent on Smith and his cronies to act as ambassadors for the comic-book industry, but it is their job to be entertaining. In that regard, they failed.
Before becoming Movie Director Kevin Smith, he was Comic-Book Fan Kevin Smith, and his success has allowed a childhood dream to come true: he owns his own comic-book shop, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank, New Jersey. Managed by his pal Walter Flanagan and staffed by other friends, it sees its fair share of people coming in with pieces of pop-culture history they’re looking to unload at a profit. In the meantime, Walter, Bryan, Ming and Mike razz each other in and outside the store.
A comic-book store can be a supremely cool environment, or it can be an uninviting mass of chaos. Which is the Stash? It’s hard to say. The viewer doesn’t get a sense of the store at all in the pilot episode of Comic Book Men. All I know for sure is there’s plenty of View Askew (Smith’s production company) merchandise on display, with several Walking Dead hardcovers and a Captain America: Red Glare foil-logo hardcover visible near the front door (where most of the “action” in the show takes place). There are moments when we glimpse other areas of the shop, and it seems to be in disarray. I find it odd neither the staff nor the producers took steps to ensure the shop looked cool for the show.
If I were to judge what Comic Book Men is meant to be about based on what’s said alone, I’d swear it was intended mainly as a venue for gay jokes. Maybe these friends actually do suggest the others are gay all the time, but there’s no need to include it in the show. For example, Flanagan, at the end of the hour, urges Ming to thrust a wiener down his throat, inch by inch. It represents the level of the show. It’s asinine, crude and completely unnecessary. It’s also quite disquieting to see the larger personalities in the shop constantly picking on the much meeker Ming at every opportunity. They come off as bullies, and it’s even more disconcerting when one realizes the one non-white member of the cast is included mainly as a punching bag for the others.
At the end of the show, I was surprised the producers decided to title it Comic Book Men. Sure, they work in a comic shop, but they don’t really talk about comics. The one instance in which Walt and the others handle comics, they offer only the most cursory of information about them. We see slabbed, Golden Age comics, but they don’t explain the slabbing, the condition issues or why Golden Age comics are as rare as they are. Based on what’s offered to them for sale, one could easily think the Stash is a toy store. I realize the format and the staged encounters are designed to hold the interest of fans of such shows Pawn Stars, American Pickers and the like, but I think the producers are underestimating the interest in comics in particular and the potential in fostering further interest in works that don’t feature recognizable super-heroes. Given it follows The Walking Dead, it’s a shame Comic Book Men didn’t opt to explore the origins of the most popular TV series on cable TV by selling or buying a copy of the rare first issue of the comic series.
Comic Book Men is a reality-TV incarnation of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, reinforcing every negative image of the insular collecting community. The Stash staff view customers, in the store and at the flea market, with disdain. The only live woman to walk into the store is viewed as a nutjob, and the only other women mentioned in any detail are fictional characters Smith and his pals want to bang. Though the name of the show labels these guys as comic book men, they don’t seem to all that interested in comics. 2/10
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