Stan Lee, born Stanley Martin Lieber just after Christmas in 1922, died last week at the age of 95. Lee was the co-creator, along with comics legends Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, of such iconic superheros as Spider-Man, The X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and Ant-Man. He helped turn superhero comic books away from the stale mush encouraged by the 50’s era Comics Code Authority and expanded who and how characters could be heroes. Marvel gave us a prince from a mysterious African nation, a teenager from Queens, a blind lawyer, a bickering family, a collection of outcasts, and they had us cheering for all of them. He continued to create and entertain right up to passing through deaths door, having already filmed cameos for the next two Marvel Studios releases. News of his passing inspired tributes across the world as fans grieved and remembered someone who had dedicated his life to making folks happy, maybe even inspiring them to be better humans.
There’s nothing Bill Maher hates more than seeing people enjoy themselves… because he’s a jerk.
In a blog post Saturday, the Real Time host mocked the sincerity of fans mourning Lee’s passing…
The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess. Someone on Reddit posted, “I’m so incredibly grateful I lived in a world that included Stan Lee.” Personally, I’m grateful I lived in a world that included oxygen and trees, but to each his own. Now, I have nothing against comic books – I read them now and then when I was a kid and I was all out of Hardy Boys. But the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures.
Now it’s understandable if you haven’t been paying attention to Bill Maher because he stopped being funny since at least the time he realized HBO would keep cutting him checks no matter what transphobic , sexist, racist shit he says. He’s become nothing more than the top shelf version of a clickbait troll, saying intentionally provocative things to pwn the snowflakes. Our tears are his champagne I guess. But because he has held his position as some sort of cultural thought leader because he gets paid a lot to spout crap on TV, Bill thinks that he has some DEEEEEP INSIGHT to share…
But then twenty years or so ago, something happened – adults decided they didn’t have to give up kid stuff. And so they pretended comic books were actually sophisticated literature. And because America has over 4,500 colleges – which means we need more professors than we have smart people – some dumb people got to be professors by writing theses with titles like Otherness and Heterodoxy in the Silver Surfer. And now when adults are forced to do grown-up things like buy auto insurance, they call it “adulting,” and act like it’s some giant struggle.
Bill Maher has a Theory of American Decline that posits that everything wrong with America is the fault of young people unwilling to work hard and pointy headed liberal professors who encourage them to never grow up. It’s a theme he has been hammering at for decades now, and it’s a pretty smug thing for a professed weed smoker who hasn’t had a job that required him to sweat since the fucking 80’s. But it gets worse…
I’m not saying we’ve necessarily gotten stupider. The average Joe is smarter in a lot of ways than he was in, say, the 1940s, when a big night out was a Three Stooges short and a Carmen Miranda musical. The problem is, we’re using our smarts on stupid stuff. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.
Holy Buttfuck Batman… what a complete load of horseshit.
Smarter folks than I have already pushed back at Maher, read here, and here, and here. Suffice to say that Bill gets roundly reamed by both industry insiders and cultural critics who point out that comic books have had a profound impact on our culture that Maher appears to be completely ignorant of. And he’s wide open about it! He admits that he read comics as a kid (supposedly.) Well Bill Maher is 62, just twelve years older than yours truly. so when he was good little Hardy Boys reading tyke, let’s say ages 5-10, it would have been 1961 to 1966. That almost exactly coincides with the introduction of Spider-man in Amazing Fantasy #15. It is the heart of the Silver Age of Comics. In fact it is pretty much the exact time that superhero comics started to “grow up” and present more interesting and deep characters. And Bill Maher decided to follow what he perceived was the culturally appropriate script and set them aside as kids stuff in favor of, what I’ve gleaned from his comedy, grown up stuff like porn. And he thought everyone else should have as well.
BILL MAHER HASN’T READ A COMIC BOOK IN 50 YEARS…
HE HAS NO FUCKING CLUE WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT!
“But then twenty years or so ago, something happened…”
Reactionaries like Maher (yes that’s what he is now,) like to use broad swaths of time like that. It sound like soooooo long ago. Ok, I’ll even be generous with is “or so”. Twenty Five years ago was 1993. Was that when we decided that comic books were something we didn’t want to grow out of? Well it was the height of the collecting bubble. It was also the year the Death of Superman was published. Was that the time that we started taking comics too seriously?
Or was it In 1986, when Alan Moore’s Watchmen explored the danger of unchecked power and cold war politics. Or even earlier Alan Moore, V for Vendetta was first published in 1982. Or was it the Dark Phoenix saga in 1980, when Chris Claremont showed that even beloved characters aren’t beyond the repercussions of their actions.
And most of all, what makes me the most ANGRY at Bill Maher, someone I actually used to respect, is how dismissive he is about “kids stuff.” Never married and childless, I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Bill Maher hasn’t willingly gone anywhere near a child in decades. He has absolutely no clue what kids these days are reading. He’s never heard of Kamala Khan (Ms Marvel,) Riri Williams (Ironheart,) or America Chavez (Ms America,) a Muslim-American girl, a black woman, and a Latina lesbian, all of whom have made their Marvel debuts in the last decade, and that’s just Marvel, comic books are becoming one of the most diverse and inclusive art forms out there. So even if comics are just silly kids stuff, it’s silly kids stuff telling important stories to our kids!
Comic books started growing up and becoming more than just kids stuff just around the time Bill Maher was discarding them because they were kids stuff. He never saw how Lee, Ditko and Kirby used the X-Men to explore issues of racism and exclusion during the height of the civil rights era. He never read about Bruce Banner’s loneliness and his struggle with the monster inside of him and saw his own isolation reflected back with understanding. He never read about Peter Parker still struggling with bullies in high school and the strength of character it took to not drop some serious Spider whupass on Flash Thompson. He never read about Tony Stark’s struggle with alcoholism or Jim Rhodes encounters with racism during his time in the armor. He never read Stan Lee’s correspondence with his fans. This is the best one making the rounds on social media this week.