TV Review: Comic Book Men

michael dworkis reviews the new Kevin Smith series …

AMC debuted its newest show, Comic Book Men, created by uber-nerd-icon Kevin Smith. I am a Smith fan. I am not one of those people who bow and worship Mr. Smith, but I will be one of those who hold Clerks on a pedestal for being a great movie.

The debut episode featured a format where the staff of the Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash comic shop (located in Red Bank, N.J.) sat around their podcast room and discussed various topics: ranging from the hottest female heroine to the works of the great Jack Kirby. This is interspersed with segments having been taped at the Secret Stash comic shop, to a competition between three cast members selling excess stock at a hick-town flea market.

There were also segments which took place in the shop and featured collectors seeking to sell their haul and frown in discouragement at the counter-offers they received. These segments seemed too similar to the scenarios on the series Pawn Stars. I was hoping for something different. I can understand the similarity, since the concept is pretty much the same — but for comics, figures, and collectibles.

Since this is the debut episode, I will tell you a bit about the characters.

Kevin Smith: The ringleader leads the roundtable discussion, but did not have any appearances during the comic shop segments at all.

Walter: Manages the shop and is the main man on the sales floor. He makes the calls on whether to buy from any one of the hopefuls. To-the-point, and knows what he is talking about. A straight-up businessman with a sense of humor, usually directed towards Ming and Bryan.

Mike: Helps run the store. We do not see much of him, only in the competition segment of the show. Unfortunately, because of how little he was on-screen, I really cannot say if his presence benefits the show or not.

Ming: The butt of the jokes, the little Asian man finds himself at the relentless mercy of the rest of the crew. Often made fun of, he turns the tide and emerges victor, but he still seems like a goof to me who deserves to be made fun of.

Bryan: A bum. Maybe, maybe not. He walks and talks like a bum, acts like a bum, and sits around the store providing predictable commentary meant to be funny, but its too stereotypical to hit the mark.

Photo: Ben Leuner/AMC

The roundtable segments were unfortunately disappointing. It turns to five guys huddled over a table talking about which heroine is their favorite and some sexual jokes tossed in about why Batman needs a Robin. That is how you start a debut episode? Talking about hot females in comics? They could not come up with something better? It came off too stereotypical and frankly the conversations were boring. I am a comic guy and I would have thought to find something different on Comic Book Men, but only found the conversation to be bland and uninteresting. The only one I enjoyed was the very short description by Kevin Smith regarding the legacy of Jack “The King” Kirby.

The challenge of the show, and I do not know if this is a recurring theme, but three members of the cast found themselves in competition to earn two weekends off in a row. Mike, Ming, and Bryan took excess stock to a flea market where the teeth count of the walkers trolling the lot may not have hit double-digits. The thing is…Bryan does not work there. He just sits there. Why is he there? He destroys the merchandise on Ming’s table, gets lectured by one of the hicks, and provides useless attempts at humor.

Walt and Mike
Photo: Dane Potter

The in-store segments were the best part. As on Pawn Stars, people come in a try to sell their merchandise, thinking they will walk out with a stuffed wallet. They had some very interesting offers, such as Detective Comics #35, featuring Batman stopping an evil madman from using a hypodermic needle. You certainly will not see that on comic covers anymore. The same man had an original sketch from Batman creator Bob Kane, scribbled on the back of a paper. A tense moment in the show came when it looked like a script was printed on the back, but to the disappointment of everyone, it was just an invitation to an art exhibition. Nonetheless, a very awesome showing. A creepy woman from a reject Rocky Horror show wanted to sell a Chucky Doll for $500, and as she was turned away, began talking to the doll like a child. The final segment saw a man walk in with a case handcuffed to his arm. In it was some collectible posters and promo cards from Dawn of the Dead. Movie buff and collectible expert Robert Bruce was called in to evaluate the items. Bruce laid on the facts real heavy, which ultimately saw the seller walk out with his merchandise.

The segments, while entertaining, were frankly too short and the interjections of the podcast room discussion made the show feel very scattered and disorganized. I do not mind commentary during segments, but the format felt very jumpy. To be honest, I watched the show twice because I thought I had missed something.

I was not sure what I was looking to find in this show, and after the first episode I still cannot figure it out. Am I expecting it to be like Clerks? Not at all. I can just watch my original VHS edition if I wanted that. If felt like the humor was too scripted, or forced, and just did not come off right. There just was not enough for me to get to know the cast.

I am not writing the show off yet, as the preview for the next episode left me intrigued.