Maher: Featured Hulk Mad

Last week, Stan Lee died. A few days later, television “personality” Bill Maher took it upon himself to throw some mud on the gravesite, if you can forgive that lousy metaphor.

Bill Maher, with the sophistication of a television version of your parents’ humorless parent, wagged his finger at everyone. He reminded us that even after a man’s death, one should not stop throwing out clichés that went stale at some point in the first Reagan administration. I mean, didn’t he see every headline about comic books in the mainstream press? “Slam! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren’t Just For Kids Anymore!”? I mean, they give Mr. Maher all the clues to save himself.

To take Maher’s weak troll act seriously for a moment though, what is the best way to handle a tone-deaf fool who thinks he is making some profound point about the comic book industry in 2018 that ignores, well, damn near everything?

Maher: Stan
This monster, Stan Lee, began a plan in the mid-60’s to get Donald Trump elected President some fifty years later. DIABOLICAL! (Courtesy of The Verge)

We Could Just Ignore the Idiot Maher

I confess this is/was my instinct. Judging by the fact that you are now reading this, I am guessing it is clear to you that I chose differently. However, I did wrestle with this one for some time.

The appeal of it is obvious. First, I don’t have to go out of my way to do anything. I like a choice that lets me just chill and not do work.

Second, nerds currently have won pop culture. If this was 15 years ago, I would not hesitate to rise up and lash out with tremendous fury. However, these days, our dorky selves rule the landscape. Be it movies, television, or the written word, superhero comics have a farther and more pervasive reach than ever. In other words, we can afford to act like we’ve been here before because comics have way more mainstream cache than Bill Maher’s HBO television show and… his cameo appearance in IRON MAN 3 (subtitle: The Best IRON MAN). Wait a sec…Maher was IN a superhero movie?! Huh…

Anyway, we don’t need to fight for acceptance like we used to so why not just let this one guy’s retrograde opinion slip-slide over our backs like we’re aquatic fowl and his voice is so much H20. Like I said, it is an option with appeal.

Maher: Batman punch
Batman has never really had any warm feelings for comedians. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

However…

I decided that I could not ignore Maher’s criticisms for three reasons. First, he linked it to the death of Stan Lee. Now I know Lee is no angel. There are many within the field of comics who have made good points regarding his lack of saintliness. However, this is a “no one picks on my brother but me” situation. Or, at least, a “no one picks on my brother unless they do so for the same reasons as me.” Want to raise the idea that Lee was too beholden to the corporation and not enough to the creators? Not sure I’d get into that on the day after his death, but that’s a reasonable position and discussion to have.

On the other hand, you want to use his death to take a broadside swipe at the whole of the comics industry? That’s an issue. Ultimately, the obit/editorial had nothing to do with Lee or his passing. It was an excuse to mock and degrade a medium.

That leads to problem two. Not all comics are superhero comics. I do not agree that superhero comics are nothing but arrested development in four-color form. Even if I did, though, comics tell many other kinds of stories. To just hit some obvious well-known ones, we have FUN HOME, BLANKETS, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD, THE WALKING DEAD, PERSEPOLIS, the works of Harvey Pekar …and on and on. Superhero comics are the most visible, for sure, but that is like arguing all of television is garbage because of reality programming.

Maher: Hero or Scum?
Bill Maher, as most tend to, decided the death of a 95-year-old man was the right moment to play the election of an unpopular leader of said dead man’s chosen vocation. HERO! (Courtesy of Miami Herald)

The Big Reason

Maher somehow blamed comic books for Trump.

Now obviously I know some of you out there quite like 45, I’ve gotten your emails. So I’ll try not to bash that horrible example of humanity too much.

What I will point out instead is that Maher has long trafficked in the policies that set the table for Trump far more than the ongoing adventures of the Avengers ever have. Maher invited on and normalized the likes of Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, not Batman. Cyborg never implied that opinions of these liars masquerading as pundits be taken seriously as, say, opinions of David Brooks. Maher did. Maher has repeatedly attacked Muslims and the practice of Islam as uniformly backward and terroristic. I don’t remember Darkhawk ever going out on that particular ledge.

Last but not least, at no point did Cable sit down with a newspaper to praise Trump for “not caring what anyone thinks” as though that was a good thing. In case you couldn’t guess, that was Maher too.

I could not let that bit go uncontested. If Dan Rather claimed it was comics’ fault, I’d still disagree. I would not be as angry though because there would be no hypocrisy. Bad hypothesis, a poor analysis of the evidence, but not a complete denial of his involvement. But Maher taking that stand? It reads like a guy tries to retroactively blame someone else for what his lousy behavior has wrought.

Maher: Easily Trolled No More
Soon, we as comics fans will need to walk away from these kinds of silly arguments and be trolled no more! (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

My Decision

Obviously, given that I wrote this darn thing, you can tell I did not choose to hold my tongue. For me, Maher’s critique simply proved too petty, too uninformed, and too self-serving to be ignored. No matter how tempted I felt to do just that.

However, I do think that the day must come where the likes of people like me do have to ignore. Whether it is Ethan Hawke pretending LOGAN has no artistic merit or James Cameron insisting superhero films are choking the movie industry. Whether it is cultural critics repeatedly objecting to the idea of comics being included in awards for the written word or even someone like Bill Watterson dismissing comics books’ worth. I think comic books are just about at the point where we need to stop running to the battlements at the first moment of criticism.

It’s a normal part of a medium’s development. At some point, television stopped worrying about if anyone considered them art and just became the dominant entertainment resource on the planet. Hell, there was a time books themselves needed to justify their existence. So comics and comic fans doing it makes sense. However, as I noted above, we and the medium have grown. People who cannot conceive of comics as something more than superheroes or as something deeper than dime store trifles are out of touch. They are wrong. And, at a certain point, wrong, out of touch people who cannot hurt you need to be ignored, not rewarded with attention.

Sadly that day is not today and the wrong out of touch person isn’t Bill Maher. But we are getting there.

One Comment

  1. Croaker

    March 13, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    Just read the Bill Maher article. Word to you. Fuck Bill Maher.

    Reply

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