It took a full 30 seconds for the cast of Kevin Smith's Comic Book Men to make their first penis joke. Immediately, we realized the show would do little to dispel any of the stereotypes associated with comic store owners and staff.
AMC's new reality show chronicles the life and times of five people working at the New Jersey comic book store "Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash." Cutting between shenanigans at the store, a roundtable podcast, and the pursuit of rare collectibles, Comic Book Men promised on the surface to provide a unique look into the often-misunderstood world of pop culture collectibles.
Unfortunately, despite some promise and a few clever elements, the show was too slowly paced to capture the viewer's interest. While the pilot episode contains some wit, and at least a few laugh out loud moments, for the most part it leaves you wondering if there was some over-arching point that you simply missed.
As the owners of Chimera's Comics in the southwest Chicago suburbs, we have experienced colorful characters, memorable customers, kind strangers, and bizarrely unnerving visitors. Our hope for Comic Book Men was that it might present a novel look into the people that make up a comic book store community.
But the show lacks any relatable cast members. In fact, the most entertaining character on the show was a man named Bryan Johnson, a customer who spends all of his free time at the Secret Stash, despite not actually being employed there. His antics, including smashing collectible plates at a flea market in order to win a contest, were the most entertaining part of the show.
But herein lies the problem. Most of these characters are largely unlikable, with the limited entertainment value coming from their immature conduct. The sort of playful sarcasm and witty banter one would hope for out of such a show instead rests entirely on a mean-spirited attitude, often directed at Ming Chen, the meek and tech-savvy employee no one seems to like.
Many of the jokes, especially those from our friend Mr. Johnson, seem to berate and belittle the people the cast interacts with, especially attendees at the flea market. It boggles the mind to listen to insults from a man who looks like Santa Claus' evil twin. This is exactly the sort of conduct that pigeonholes the ilk of comic book stores as generally un-datable and unsociable.
The show had some redeeming qualities that will hopefully be fleshed out in future installments. Specifically, scenes in which customers bring rare collectibles to the staff provide some great educational opportunities about the nature and value of collectibles. One customer, for example, had original artwork by Bob Kane, the creator of Batman. Hearing the analysis of the work and learning about its appraisal was a highlight of the episode. In fact, the show does do a good job of impressing on viewers the uniqueness of such an item by filling in some of the missing pieces with pop-up trivia.
Still, the show gives the impression that this is all that happens in comic book stores -- one character even remarked, "Does anyone ever come here to buy anything?" In this way, the show misses the mark at capturing the personality of this medium.
Even more off-putting are the negotiations that take place between the show's cast and the people trying to sell their collectibles. For someone not versed in the market of comic book and specialty collectibles, these scenes are intimidating, focusing more on getting a deal than on education.
The collectibles spur some interesting discussions during the podcast segments, particularly when discussing comic book history and its impact on pop culture. One collector presents the staff with a rare Batman comic from the 1940s featuring a hypodermic needle on the cover, an image that would never have seen print after the mass censure of comics in the fifties and sixties. This leads to a discussion of drugs in the medium, and of the ground-breaking series "Green Lantern/Green Arrow" which tried to address such social concerns in a meaningful way. But the staff tables all these discussion after only a few minutes.
If Comic Book Men is going to be worth following, future installments would benefit from exploring these discussions further. The show would also benefit from grounding such discussions in the people and personalities that make up the store, its clientele, and the comic book industry. Our owning a store may have biased our opinion, but with all the stories we have experienced first-hand, it seemed like there was plenty of material for Smith's show to draw on. Instead, the show just left us flat despite its potential.