Comic Book Men season 1 episode 3 review: Commercial

Our third visit to Kevin Smith's Secret Stash comic book business sees the store turn into a movie set. CJ fumbles with the popcorn for the commercial shoot...


We begin this episode’s review with a necessary sojourn to Our Valued Customers. OVC is a brilliant site that parodies comic book consumers in their own words, as overheard by store employee. Hopefully Comic Book Men is helping to take a shot at the attitude that comics are dorky, whatever that means.

The half-way point of the season starts with the guys discussing which superhero they’d go drinking with. Kevin avoids feminist ire by namechecking the Invisible Woman, Sue Richards. Mike raises some laughs by suggesting renowned alcoholic Tony Stark, also known as the Inebriated Iron Man.

A lady from Staten Island prompts the first valuation. Her husband, a sanitation worker, found a bunch of comics of varying lineages on the kerb. Bryan wastes no time rankling the customer, calling Staten a dump.

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Walt isn’t too happy but deals with the situation professionally, flicking through the stack to recover a poptastic Jim Steranko Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD #1, Invincible Iron Man #1 and Justice League #6 – definitely not the Justice League #6 out last week. All the comics are decent condition but not their respective characters’ first appearances.

The lady – not a fan of comics – is surprised to learn that the longbox-worth of ’90s books she has left is worth very little. As Walt puts it, “they might as well have been released yesterday”. Encouraging to see we’ve learnt the lesson of speculation!

The increasingly frustrated woman wants a grand – she consulted the Comics Price Guide and expected $700 for one issue of Fantastic Four that’s clearly not in fantastic condition. Oh dear. Walt offers $250 for what he wants out of the books she has.

There’s some hard bargaining, and finally Bryan suggests commission: selling the comics on her behalf and keeping back 20%. He quips, “You don’t understand the attachment she has to something she found in the garbage.” Thank Galactus for Comic Book Men, the most forthright antiques show on air. Relenting, Aggrieved of Staten Island strikes a deal.

This week was really all about two things: customers overvaluing what they have, and the Stash shooting its first commercial. Wait, you cry – isn’t the show one long commercial?! Apparently, not so much.

Walt consults the brain trust of Mike and Ming, with the brief that they have to punch the audience in its face. The two Emms kissing is mooted as something the kids might like to see. Bit of yaoi for the ‘geek girls’?

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Who’s going to direct this commercial? Not Big Kevin Smith but one-time director Bryan Johnson. Bryan’s only film to date was Vulgar, an R-rated movie about a clown who is gang-raped and embarks on a vengeance spree. The Stash are aiming for a friendlier tone. Bryan echoes every comic book store loiterer’s dream when he admits, “I knew the days, weeks and months of hanging out here would pay off.”

As you’d expect for the Secret Stash, the commercial budget is high. Bryan climbs a stepladder with a camcorder and shoots Walt while he flails around like a goofball, and Mike looks like a frightened rabbit holding up a cue card. Their aim is wacky and it’s not off.

Breaking up the insanity is another overestimated valuation. A budding stand-up comedian brings in what could be considered the first trade paperbacks, or as many would call them, graphic novels. These are Marvel and DC fireside books from the mid to late ’70s. Kevin says of the superheroes collections, “Putting them all under one cover is brilliant marketing.”

There are some worn but still sweet copies among the books brought in, including Bring On The Bad Guys, The Superhero Women and an uncommon America At War from DC. The plucky, nervous young joker waits for the Stash guys to decide how much they could sell his books for – $415. He’s fine with that, but Walt reminds him that’s the price they will sell them on at. They’ll only offer $200.

Just to give talent a fighting chance though, Walt decides to let the dude demonstrate his comedy stylings. If he’s good they’ll give him 300. This is madness! Madness? This is the Stash. They even hand him a pair of scissors to use as an impromptu mike.

This comedian is about as funny as the Watchmen character. To add insult to injury there’s even a comedy cymbal clash. Bryan and Walt joke with the others out of earshot in the podcast booth that they wouldn’t be surprised if someone steals the idea of a comic book comedian and does it better. Would there ever be a market for that?

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With that question it’s time for another commercial break. Mike channel’s his “inner Betty Page” by reclining precariously on a shelf with two handfuls of Kevin Smith paraphernalia. Walt demands bedroom eyes. After Mike delivers his line Ming pops out from a rack of t-shirts below. It’s actually pretty funny.

A limited-run 2005 San Diego Comic Con exclusive Palisade Toys Megatron miniature statue – I would have waited an eternity to say that ten times fast – passes through the Stash’s doors in the hands of a very distinctive customer. We’re talking giant pink and green butterfly pattern tri-hawk hairdo resting on this lady’s head. She wants a $150 but doesn’t have the mettle for haggling, particularly against self-confessed Transformers fan Walt.

Punk lady bursts into tears. It’s not very convincing. You probably know TF fans who cried more genuinely when Prime died in the ’86 movie. Anyone who hates X-Factor – the show, not the excellent Peter David comic – and reality TV crocodile tears will love it. Walt caves a little when she tells him she’s a struggling artist working on her portfolio, as he knows the feeling. The Stash’s manager provided pencils for two of Smith’s Batman series: Cacophony and Widening Gyre. Punk lady walks away with $65 and one less diminutive Decepticon.

For the commercial filming, Walt and Bryan dress Ming up as their “price-Mxyzptlk”: the villainous Price Mite. The outfit, replete with stuck-on bright green dollar signs and snake fangs, makes him look like an infirm Mexican wrestler. Price Mite threatens the Stash by jacking up their low, low prices and endangers their customer-friendly value.

After some joking in the podcast booth about Kevin Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn objecting to his Batman shorts, it’s the penultimate valuation. A bearded dude with a complete, CGC-graded run of Marvel’s mid-’80s Secret Wars crossover tries to pull a fast one and calls Walt a liar. He picked up the books – including the first appearance of Spider-Man’s symbiotic black costume – at a garage sale and wants $800 dollars for the whole caboodle.

Kevin and Walt nerd out over the “bad-ass” costume in the podcast booth, but the Stash won’t pay out more than $300. Not madness this time. Bearded guy storms out of the store but sheepishly walks back in a few minutes later and agrees to take $310. Cheeky sod!

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Ming, Walt and Mike drive Bryan crazy outside the Stash shooting the finishing scene of the commercial. Right up next, the humdinger ending to the show makes up for all the earlier customers. Walt and Mike don rubber gloves to handle a box full of Golden Age classics that’s brought in by a much chirpier character.

First out of the box is DC’s World’s Best Comics #1 from 1941, which later became World’s Finest. Superman, Batman and Robin together on the issue’s cover foreshadow crises and crossovers of decades to come. You might have heard that World’s Finest is relaunching as part of New 52 this May featuring Power Girl and Huntress, the former Earth-2 Supergirl and Robin.

Better still are the Justice Society of America’s 1940s title All-Star Comics #8, the debut of Wonder Woman, and Detective Comics #38 – the introduction of Robin. It’s not easy to describe to non-comics readers how dumbstruck you would be to hold these books. The stoic Mike even blurts out a “Holy God”. Mike’s a big Robin fan as we know from the first episode.

The guys recommend taking the comics to a major collectibles auction house such as Heritage for what’s likely to be tens of thousands of dollars. Mike estimates three-quarters of a million. At least viewers get the Stash’s priceless commercial and the nefarious Price Mite to finish off the episode. It’s worth watching just to see one customer’s upside-down copy of Fraction and Dodson’s recent Defenders #1.

What a great episode. We’re getting to see more classic comics, and the Stash guys always have a disarming comment or two to throw out when they’re dealing with customers eager to offload comics. If AMC haven’t begun planning a second season yet let’s hope they start soon.

Check back soon for the next part of our Comic Book Men review double-bill: Zombies.

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Check out our review of Comic Book Men’s previous episode here.

If you like the show then download the Comic Book Men podcasts here.

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