Some of the negative reviews circulating about Comic Book Men (which debuted tonight on AMC) have implied that the show does nothing to dispel the myth about comic book store geekdom. However, if you dig beneath the surface, you will find that they are both embodying its best virtues and satirizing its extreme flaws, while showcasing the very fact that “geekdom” has grown to such broad levels that there’s no longer a valid stereotype to exploit.
In its first episode, Comic Book Men provides very cursory background information for the Men in question, all under the employ of Kevin Smith, as it is quick to jump into the meat of the show. Walt runs Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank, NJ, Mike is his lieutenant, Ming is one of Smith’s web employees who crosses over, and Bryan is, well, that’s complicated. Bryan and Walt are longtime friends of Kevin’s and, as has been well documented, inspirations for his Randall and Brodie characters, respectively. The two, along with Brian Quinn, have some renown as the Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave podcast (a must-listen for those with ear buds and spare time). While Bry doesn’t work at the Stash, as you see in this episode, he’s certainly essential to wit of the show.
The dynamic of that successful podcast has been kept largely intact, with the reality show tackling three parallel paths for the Secret Stash’s four main players: the wraparound podcast segments (with Kevin), interactions with customers, and events outside the store. In the episode, Bry, Ming and Mike head to a local flea market to expel some cheap stash as quickly as possible. It’s a brief segment that serves to display Ming’s fortitude under constant needling by Bryan and Bryan’s sardonic approach to life. Back in the store, we watch a stream of customers attempting to make money off of things ranging from a Chucky doll to original Bob Kane artwork. This is where the show really taps into the history of not only comic books but also genre television, movies and books. We get rapid fire trivia about Blade’s origin and the market for movie one-sheets. The podcast segments, with Kevin as circus leader, help to weave the segments together and tackle goofy comic book-related chatter, like the suspicious recruitment of Robin.
Our heroes aren’t cardboard cutout geeks straight out of an ’80s film. Sure they might salivate over a 6 Million Dollar Man doll or reference comic book stories from the ’70s at the drop of a cowl, but they’re also savvy enough to know the world we live in and the market for such goods. They’re sharp enough to know that despite geeky tendencies, the world is full of a lot stranger people, many of whom visited in episode 1! But they’re also in on the joke too because they recognize they are outcasts in their own right and don’t choose to conform to what society deems cool OR what society deems as geeky. And I can honestly say that there is no comic book store employee/customer contingent sitting at home waving their fists because this show is somehow enabling a negative stereotype that represents them. That’s rhetoric spewed by the uninitiated who simply don’t understand that there is no valid geek stereotype anymore.
Comic Book Men certainly aims to please fans of the joyous legacy of comic books and the like, but the show also won’t do so at the cost of the type of fun these real life characters have in each others’ presence. It’s a well-timed breather after the dark and desperate hour of The Walking Dead and certainly has enough promise to entertain and inform through its short season. And ultimately, the best tribute one can provide to comic book fandom is to represent it with a collection of diverse personalities that exemplify no stereotypes.
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