Filmmaker returns with new episodes of AMC's comic book reality show
It was the bat symbol that got him. That bright yellow oval and black silhouette placed – bam! – smackdab in the middle of Adam West’s chest.
Kevin Smith was just a kid and Batman, the comic, was truth pressed in ink. Batman, the TV show then airing in reruns, was catharsis via cathode ray tube.
“Adam West’s Batman TV show – what an impact it had. That dopey symbol on his chest would come to define my entire life,” says Smith, the filmmaker, actor, writer and podcaster behind AMC’s comic book store reality series Comic Book Men.
“When I was a kid, sports were treated very seriously. I was into comic books, which is kind of like sports because people wear uniforms and protective headgear, and generally speaking it’s good versus evil. But for some reason, my passion was always diminished, like, ‘Oh, that’s for kids.’”
Of course, these days comic book-inspired movies and TV shows are everywhere – Supergirl, Gotham and Deadpool, oh my! – and Smith is enjoying somewhat of a comeuppance.
Since his comic book awakening, he’s written the limited series Batman: Cacophony and the Batman mini-series The Widening Gyre, and he’s penned stories for Daredevil, Green Arrow and Green Hornet, as well as his own creations.
Comic Book Men, back for the second half of Season 5 on Sunday, plays like an ode to such unabashed geekery.
The show is set at Smith’s comic book store, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, in Red Bank, N.J. He and his friends talk shop while guests like William Shatner, Dean Cain and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca from Star Wars) stop by. The companion podcast The Secret Stash runs on the SModcast network.
“There are many comic book shows out there, but this is like a big comic-con show. It’s the show for people who attend comic-cons and love comic book movies,” says Smith, the writer-director of films like Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma.
Not that he’s a snob. Both newbies and longtime fans are welcome to revel in the shenanigans in those stylized panels – and any films or television series that spring forth from them.
“I mean, the more the merrier. I’ve never been one of those garage band fans where you’re like, ‘I liked them when they were cool.’ I’m happy when everybody likes this s—. It legitimizes it,” Smith says.
“I saw that (George) Lucas and (Steven) Spielberg were like, ‘People will get tired of this.’ I hope not. I love comic book movies. Look, there’ve been a gazillion movies about war. There’ve been a gazillion westerns. Why can’t there be a gazillion comic book movies?
“They’re simple morality tales, at the end of the day. Good has to fight evil and God willing, good wins. And hey, everybody’s dressed real fun.”
Online and digital culture has also proven key in spreading the love, Smith says.
“Before we had the Internet, you’d read about (comic book fans) in the letters column of a comic book – you never met them unless you went to a comic book show. Now you can just type in ‘Deadpool’ and suddenly you have 10,000 friends. You can sit there and discuss your passion all day long.
“I love that we live in that now. I love that something that was in reruns when I was a kid, Batman, shaped my life to the point where years later I’m still talking about it.”
Incidentally, Smith did have a full-circle moment with that yellow-and-black Batman emblem of his youth.
It was stowed in a building stocked with TV props and wardrobe pieces from the last 60 or 70 years of American television, and Smith’s guide presented to him the original batsuits, the ones Adam West and Burt Ward wore on the 1960s show.
“It was made of the cheapest f—ing cardboard you could imagine. Painted yellow with a bat stenciled on it. It wasn’t made from gold or the plates that came from God or something like that. Some costume person took maybe an hour to put it together and didn’t even sew it on – they hot-glued it,” he says.
“It was just as real as anything else, but it shaped something very real in me. It gave me a morality. I didn’t learn much about myself in school, and I didn’t learn much about myself sitting in a church congregation, but I damn skippy learned a lot about myself sitting in movie theatres looking at art, watching TV, listening to music, reading books.
“That bat symbol, man, it was weird to see it in real life. Weird to see how fragile it was, and kind of poetic. Because that’s all life is at the end of the day – fragile as Batman’s fake bat symbol on the very first costume he wore in the pilot.”