The Simpsons has played a huge role in bringing comic book culture into the mainstream, largely because the show is so transparently the work of geeks with giant brains, far too much pop-culture knowledge, and little in the way of conventional social skills or attractiveness. The writers of The Simpsons are geeks themselves, so the show’s withering satire of the form and especially the dateless wonders who flock to it is undercut by a very palpable sense of love, even reverence for the nerdy world of superheroes and funny animals and freak accidents involving radiation and various fallout boys. The Simpsons kids comic book geeks because they love.
To an entire generation, The Comic Book Guy has defined the smug self-importance and pathetic myopia of the quintessential comic book geek. Like so many Simpsons characters, Comic Book Guy has become a pop culture archetype. “Three Men and a Comic Book,” today’s Simpsons Classic episode, finds the show delving deep into a comic book world it would explore extensively though out the course of its initially glorious, then less glorious run.
The show opens with one of its signature set pieces, in this case, a comic book convention where an amusingly clueless Diamond Joe Quimby tries to curry the favor of the assembled Poindexters by saying he’s full of a warm glow, not unlike their hero Radiation Man, only to be roundly sassed for his unforgivable error. Today, of course, comic-book and geek culture has become mainstream culture; nowadays the cool kids show up at Comic-Con and bend over backwards to win over the geeks who now wield power disproportionate to their numbers. But back in 1992, geeks were still ghettoized as either dorky boys or adults who never matured emotionally or sexually beyond the age of dorky boys.
At the convention, Bart becomes obsessed with buying the first issue of Radioactive Man for $100 from Comic Book Guy. First, he tries to nag Homer into coughing up the dough, but when that proves futile, Bart is reduced to a sad, rinky-dink quest for cash that first involves the thankless task of recycling cans. Then, he turns to doing odd jobs for a hilarious parody of an old biddy voiced by Cloris Leachman. The offending old-timer runs Bart ragged when not watching soaps that are, by her estimation, both “filthy” and “genuinely arousing.”
Bart learns what we all learn when we first start obsessing about buying some impossible object of desire: Chasing after money fucking sucks and there’s no good, clean way to make a good chunk of it when you’re 8 or 10 years old and have no power of your own.
A defeated Bart is forced to do the unthinkable: pool his money together with Martin and Milhouse (who really just wants a Carl Yazstremski card of the Boston Red Sox great rocking some righteous seventies facial hair) to buy the comic as a group purchase.
At this point, “Three Men and a Comic Book” stops being a show about a comic book and becomes a very meta-comic book style narrative (with a nod to The Treasure of The Sierra Madre), with an increasingly paranoid and insane Bart tying Martin up and wrestling Milhouse when his best friend tries to reason with him. In true comic book form, Bart ends up being destroyed by his own greed and lack of faith in his friends.
“Three Men and a Comic Book” represents one of The Simpsons’ first forays into the comic book world. From a gag where Bart realizes that Casper really is just Richie Rich’s ghost to a panel at the convention where fans are asked to remember the star of the Radioactive Man show as a hero and not as a man gunned down in a hail of bullets at a bordello (shades of George Reeves’ sad final days), the show cares enough to get all the details right. It’s affectionate without being deferential and cutting in a loving sort of way.
Well, friends, we are but an episode away from the end of season two. At the risk of being controversial, I found this season to be pretty fucking fantastic and anticipate season three (which I’ll begin two weeks from now) being even better. We have so much to look forward to!