‘Comic Book Men’ Is ‘Pawn Stars’ for Nerds

Kevin Smith and his comic book-loving posse spend each episode swapping tales about daily trades, sales, and purchases in Smith’s comic book store, Secrete Stash.

The chronically nerdy adults in Comic Book Men spend a lot of time discussing how they make a living in the world of comic books, collectables, and other genre fare. Kevin Smith’s show is entering its fourth season on 12 October, the format repeating that of the previous seasons. Smith and his comic book-loving posse spend each episode swapping tales about daily trades, sales, and purchases in Smith’s comic book store, Secrete Stash. Think: Pawn Stars for nerds, with a radio show swapping out for the Old Man’s office as the location for banter.

Fans of Smith’s movies may appreciate this format, as Smith not only reminds us of how very much he loves pop culture, but also indulges in all manner of self-referential reflection, even submitting his daughter to clerk training behind Stash’s cash register where zombie dolls seem to lure her into a nascent addiction to deal-making.

In addition to this nepotistic choice of employee, Smith and co-owner Jason Mewes fill the store a range of foils, even if their functions are predictable. Ming Chen shares that The Green Hornet was known in China as The Kato Show. Walter Flanagan offers reluctant leadership and awkward guidance for newbie nerds, while Bryan Johnson again plays the curmudgeonly geek.

Like other reality show subjects, they’ve been hired to do their jobs on television. These are jobs they clearly love, an idea reinforced, as if it needed to be, in the opening credits that set them up as comic book heroes, immortalized in digital ink and embodying superhuman achievement. What more, short of one’s own superpowers, might a comic book man want?

Following these credits, the crew follows no plot for the 30 minutes the show runs. The action, as in, oh, Clerks, mostly takes place around the front counter, save for assorted physical stunts and office antics that connect invite the audience to remember their own day-to-day office experiences. This lack of structure that is structure is, of course, one of Smith’s trademark gestures, to make fun of mundane experiences in which people feel stuck. Here though, Smith tweaks that cliché by demonstrating how much fun you can have if all of these mundane experiences take place in a workplace that you’ve co-created.

One of Comic Book Men‘s most charming aspects is its introduction of various civilians, entering the store to express their passion for comics, often to the disdain of their own friends, but always to the delight of Stash’s worker bees. In the second episode of the new season, Smith is thrilled to meet a girl in search of a little “Miller time,” meaning Frank Miller, more specifically, her own set of Dark Knight books.

If Smith here marvels at her acumen, he’s also, as always, appreciative of his own storytelling gifts. Those gifts can seem elusive to some viewers, which explains the love-it-or-hate-it response to Dogma (and I love it, even bought the Collectors’ Edition DVDs). This show doesn’t impose a plot on its ideas or do much in the way of developing characters. Besides some showy displays of anger (much like we see in, say, Storage Wars), this show trades on camaraderie with occasional spats of friendly annoyance.

Their friendships are grounded in shared appreciation of Smith. He remains without equal when it comes to throw-away pop culture references, which he demonstrates repeatedly. His mind seems a swirl of connected dots that link all things science fiction and fantasy into his own mix of pleasure and awesomeness.

That mix provides a self-referential framework for Comic Book Men, which could not have been a television series 20 years ago. Before fanboy programming, if you wanted to watch grown men swap stories about swapping comics (or zombie fans talking about The Walking Dead or werewolf fans about Teen Wolf), you would have had to go to a comic book store. But this is a different era, and a comic store can be a television set. As reflected by the growth of Comic-Con, people not only enjoy collecting objects, but they like being part of a community, an expanding, lucrative. televised community, the nerdum pop culture juggernaut.

Comic Book Men isn’t a show for everybody, but if you’re up late at night or bored at your desk during the day, watching it might provide you with the comforting notion that you aren’t alone in the world with your Cat Woman Sculpture Number 2 of 1,000, or your classic Planet of the Apes toy. You might even pick up a few hints on negotiating or perhaps, as you relax and let your mind wallow in the endless cosmic rainbow at the end of the video feed, you will find our wish fulfilled, as electrons pour from the feed and zap your ass with a super-power.

RATING 4 / 10