Comic Book Men: Take Two

When I first heard about AMC’s Comic Book Men way back in 2011, I’m not ashamed to admit that I was actually intrigued by the idea. Finally, a reality show that was going to delve into the inner workings of a comic book store and at the same time explore the lives, the loves, the faults and the foibles of its noble employees. I’ve frequented many a comic store in my day and have encountered numerous colorful clerks, any number of which could be a worthy subject for documentary-style TV program. What must it be like to literally be surrounded by comic books and talk about comic books every day of your life? Spending day after day in a comic store has to do something interesting to a person and my curiosity was piqued. I wanted a gander behind that counter. I wanted to know what made these guys tick. And though the dudes at the center of the show were vaguely familiar as characters of a sort because of their well-known Kevin Smith connections, I was hopeful that this particular reality venture would be an intelligent and worthwhile character study of geeks in their natural habit.

Unfortunately, minutes into the first season, I realized that my hope was of the blind variety and that the show wasn’t going to be an exploration at all. Instead, it was going to be something closer to a Pawn Stars or Antiques Roadshow, where people bring in their goodies from their attics and have them assessed by the store’s staff of loveable geeky misfits. Sprinkled in with that would be staged, somewhat surface discussions about comics; discussions that sort of mimic what non-comic book fans probably assume real comic geeks talk about all day long i.e. “Who would win in a fight between Superman and Spider-Man?” or “Who’s the hottest female superhero?” There’d also be staged “events” at the store to give the staff of the Secret Stash something to argue about. Needless to say, I was disappointed. I don’t know what I was thinking. Call me an optimist. I should have known better. This is TV, after all.

Having recovered from my disappointment at Season One of CBM, I recently tuned in to the premiere of the second season of Comic Book Men. Not surprisingly, the second installment is essentially more of what we’ve come to expect. As usual, store manager Walt Flanagan and the gang (Bryan, Ming, and Mike) start things off with a bit of predictable comic book chatter. More specifically, there’s a discussion about which superhero they remember dressing up as when they were kids; Mike is ridiculed for dressing up as Aquaman as a kid. Imagine that. Soon Ming makes a suggestion that it might be fun to have kids birthday parties in the store as a way to make some cold hard cash. Children running amok with cake and soda in a comic store?! Not on Walt Flanagan’s watch. But despite Walt’s misgivings, the table is set for what eventually comes off as a badly staged kid’s birthday party in-store that has the gang pulling their hair out and running for cover. Ain’t that wacky?

Alongside that “plot,” we get a couple of “appraisals,” including a dude who comes in to sell a few of his beloved “mint in box” Mego superhero action figures, including Superman’s arch enemy Mr. Mxyzptlk. Walt is suitably impressed and, after the requisite mocking of Mxyzptlk’s costume, he proceeds to lowball the guy out of his toys. That’s sort of how the show works. People come in with delusions of big money and Walt and company pretend to haggle until the customer inevitably gives in. Also, I’m pretty sure there was a Mego figure appraisal last season, so one has to wonder if they’re really trying all that hard when it comes to “casting” these folks and their geek goodies. The next guy brings in an over-sized Darth Vader helmet to sell. Everyone tries it on, which is funny…I guess.

I’m being a little hard on the show. I’m not the first person to complain that “reality TV” isn’t real enough. Truth is, it’s probably my own fault for looking for high art at an amusement park. This is junk-food, pure and simple, and when I put my mind to it I can enjoy it for what it is. I just want to know more about these guys and the show refuses to give it to me. For example, Walt and Bryan are married comic book men. I’d just love to see their home lives and their better halves, if only to get a real glimpse of what life is like for them. Are their spouses long suffering Wednesday widows?  Or, are they supportive professionals who just happen to be married to pleasantly stunted man-children? I want to know. I don’t know why. I just do.

If the show has a main character it’s Walt Flanagan and he’s nothing if not a genuine character. But the dude is also a comic book artist with what I’m sure is a very unique back-story. Why not explore that? As for bearded honorary store employee Bryan Johnson, he apparently made movies in the past and has written comics, too. Why not address some of that? Here he’s mostly relegated to groan inducing one-liners. They even dress him up as a clown in this episode. In the end, we just get caricatures, contrived events and artifice.

Truth be told, I’d much rather see what a typical day in the life of Walt Flanagan is like, warts and all. Maybe it’s dull as dirt. Maybe he eats cereal in his bathrobe and yells at his wife all day. But whatever it is, it has to be more compelling than watching him feign anger at the very thought of having birthday parties at the Secret Stash. I understand that these guys may not want to be put under some sort of public microscope where their humanity becomes the real subject of the show. But it’s that very humanity that might make this show more than just an exercise in artificial TV. There’s always a chance that the real lives of these guys aren’t all that interesting, but I have a feeling that the real men behind these comic book men might surprise us. This season promises sixteen episodes (where the first season was a mere six), so maybe we’ll get into Ken Burns territory somewhere down the line. I’m blindly hopeful.


Gabe Roth lives in L.A. and watches too much TV.  He’s @gaberoth on Twitter.


  1. Kevin Smith needs to stop writing TV Shows and Movies and finish the Batman: Widening Gyre mini-series he started in 2009 and we’re still waiting for the resolution 3 years on!

  2. Have you guys ever watched the pilot for Comic Store Heros on natgeo? And what people dont relize that what you guys call low balling is profit margin if theyre buying something like a action fig or old comic they got to at least double theyre money to pay for overhead and they dont know when or if theyre ever sell it.

    • as my mom used to always tell me. “its only worth what someone is willing to pay you for it” as i used to run around the house with my price guides talking about how rich i was as a 90s comics and sports card collector. haha

  3. the show isn’t *great* but its entertaining and its on at a convenient time. I like it for what it is. Really, AMC is chasing a popular genre of collectibles shows right now and you can’t fault them for that. Is it accurate to the comics industry? of course not, but a bunch of guys in a typical shop fighting about continuity of the X-men or bitching about slight creases on the corners of variant covers would be kinda boring.

    i really wouldn’t want to see these characters at home or in their personal lives. I feel like it wouldn’t be too different from how they are in the store.

    I think it would be cool if they had creators make appearances or something like that, but that isn’t what this show is about.

  4. Comic Store Heroes On National Geographic Channel was a better show. More realistic slice-of-life and less obnoxious.

    • i partially agree. They did that whole tangent on the rich kid making that movie for his derivative self published comic. That was cute, but wasted like half the show’s screen time. I’d rather have people bringing in collectibles…at least i’d get to see cool old stuff and learn a bit.

  5. My wife likes it for some reason. To me it’s mostly all the things and people about comic culture that annoy me rolled into one place. It represents a slice of comic fans I tend to avoid.

  6. Walt Flanagan comes off like a huge jackass to me on this show, this that part of the allure of him being that slightly abnoxious comic book store guy that people fear of having to deal with because if so for entertainment purposes maybe it works but I don’t enjoy the fact that they are somewhat glorifying one of the worst parts of the comic culture

  7. Listen to the “Tell Em Steve Dave” podcast. It’s Bry Walt and Q talking about Serial Killers and Ming being a Child Molester.
    They probably hate “Comic Book Men” more that you.

  8. I love the podcast and I think you have to listen to it in order to enjoy “Comic Book Men.

  9. Midtown Comics has a reality show coming which I am hoping is much better and classier than this one. The problem with this is it just re-enforces the negative stereotypes attributed to Comic Book fans and seems to belittle the hobby as something for stunted man-child losers.

    • In the words of Walt Flanagan “When I was young I wanted to meet other kids who read comics, Then I grew up and relised they were all Dickheads.”

    • sad but true. Many of the times I’ve gone to Miidtown Comics it’s been a positive experience.unfortunately the bad ones leave a lasting impression.

    • “Classy” and “Reality Show” in the same context just isn’t possible. I’m sure Midtown is a great shop but reality programming appeals to the lower tier so I’m confident the producers will insert some fake stereotypes to cater to the reality audience. I hope I’m wrong but we will see.

  10. Lowballing? You know that most of the stuff the store buys has to make a certain profit for the overhead. That is how it works. If someone doesn’t want to use eBay, they have to take their risks; in this case they want the risk passed to the store.

    • Viewing the rare collector’s item, or landmark issue is cool. Watching them lowball people, and destroy peoples expectations of what they can get, is really not interesting, or fun.
      Yaay!! Walt talked the gut down $40-$50 bucks so he can flip it on Ebay !!
      It’d be sooo much more fun having a discussion/debate of the greates comics/events of the week, (showing the art, interiors of any issue spoken of) would make this geek a dedicated fan.

  11. I want to like this show but there’s so much wrong with it. Re-enforcing the negative comic book fan stereotypes is chief among them.

    Remember that one newer Simpsons episode where the new comic book guy sets up his shop across the street from the old Comic Book Guy? In my experience, comic store owners nowadays are these hipster, Matt Fraction-looking dudes, not the antiquated 90’s fat balding guys in black t-shirts.

    Like I said, I want to like the show and I feel there’s something to the idea.

  12. It really bugs me that shows like “Big Bang Theory” and “Comic Book Men” give people such a gross misinterpretation of what comic book fans and LCS retailers are really like. I have an uncle who watches the former show, and every time he tells me I should watch it “because, ya know, they’re just like you!” I almost want to puke my kidneys out. If I or any of my friends acted like anyone on that crappy CBS shitcom, I would toss us off the nearest bridge. And “Comic Book Men” is so fake and forced that I am hoping they get sued by someone somewhere and that leads to its long overdue cancellation.

  13. Bry is not married. Mike, Ming and Walt are.

    • Glad someone else caught that, Bry is in his mid 40’s & living in his parents basement.

      They don’t cover Walt’s back story or show him working on the art for Widening Gyre because he does that at home & refuses to allow cameras anywhere near his home, in fact Walt didn’t want to do the show in the first place Kevin had to sell him on it.

    • I’m surprised they never covered that Walt is an artist. I mean, he isn’t the best but I don’t believe the show ever mentions that he did work for Kevin Smith’s Batman comics.

      Of course, we all would like to forget Kevin Smith did any of those Batman comics.

  14. I was excited about this show’s first season because Tell Em Steve Dave is one of my favorite podcasts, though I should have known that after some suit got a hold of it that the show would be a shadow what made the pod great. Go listen to TESD and you’ll see that these guys aren’t exactly the charactertures the show makes them out to be.

  15. I hate the way they say stuff they know is not right just to get a laugh. They were talking about who you would like to drink with or something and they said the invisible woman because you would see the liquor going down here throat etc. They know that isn’t right but it is done in the bit where they are having a round table chat which should be the interesting bit. But they sell out for a cheap gag, not overly funny. You know they know better and can do better. This is not if comic book people it is for the people who already have the wrong image of this world and just ingrains it further. I sort of felt let down. I want to see comics on tv and thought i would be able to watch anything that does shows my interest, I was very wrong. I am not mad with them, just disappointed, very disappointed.

  16. I dig this show, it’s fun stuff. Though nothing tops their podcast Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave, one of the best things ever.

  17. There is so much potential with this show and it frustrates me how it suffers so much.

    I don’t care if this is a rip off of ‘Pawn Stars’ because you could make that your advantage. When they did a segment of a fan selling a John Buscema ‘Silver Surfer’ page they did a great job covering his career and why the page is so beautiful. They should do more of that because fans could learn a lot about the history of this industry by using these items. But what do they do? They decide to focus more on the owners of the store and Kevin Smith and it ends up being just another reality show

    That and it’s really sad to see yet another stereotypical view on comic fans. My LCS owner acts nothing like these guys and at times I just wanna punch these guys on the screen. Hopefully the other show on National Geographic (which is taking forever to put on air outside the pilot) is much better than this.