Bill Maher’s Stan Lee’s World


I wish I could rock a ‘stache like this

When Stan Lee died a few days ago, there was a lot of mourning on the internet.  A lot (not enough to condemn the people who screwed Lee over or to contribute to his favorite charity or anything, but still).  Like an uncomfortable amount.

There was a some of the appropriate, “I could only be so lucky to have a life like Stan” or “Face front, true believers!  Excelsior!” There was a lot of hyperbolic, “I’m so incredibly grateful I lived in a world that included Stan Lee” or “RIP to a genius who changed the world.”  This is what Maher was reacting to: this uncomfortable overstatement to the death of a 95-year-old who wrote children’s stories in the 60s and sold them for twelve cents a piece.

Maher said (and I’m going to condense all this to get to the heart of what everyone overreacted to):

“[C]omics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures.  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 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… 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.”


Is it THAT big a leap to say that a generation of people who love nearly-naked people face-punching each other in order to stop a time-traveling future-self from destroying the current multi-verse elect a failed businessman and game show host?

Notice he’s not talking about Stan Lee here.  He’s talking about comic books (and the generational response to them) in general.  He’s talking about how, in a world where dumb people seem to reign supreme, comics have been sanctified.  He makes an easy connection between these consecrated made-for-children texts and arrested development.  He then makes an (almost as) easy connection between arrested development and the dumb people who seem to reign supreme.

He’s right.  You know he’s right; that’s why everyone reacted to Maher so vehemently.  Again, he doesn’t mention Stan Lee (and so neither will I).  He’s talking about the infantilization of an entire generation. This was more than a “Don’t speak ill of the dead” -type of situation that we saw with John McCain.  This is a “I’m not a child, you’re the child” -type of situation.  It’s projecting.


I hope it’s just like the comic (where they battle it out with aliens on the moon while a baby-in-a-toga watches)

My generation (I think we’re called “xennials”) is starting to run things.  And for some reason, the things we want to see are the things we grew up with; it’s stuff we already know.  We want to see X-Men as a movie — but not an original movie — we want to see the things we already know; we want to see Days of Futures Past and The Dark Phoenix Saga and Age of Apocalypse.  We want to see a Justice League movie — but not an original movie — we want to see the things we already know; we want to see Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman and Apokolips Invasion.  We want to see The Winter Soldier and Demon in a Bottle and Civil War and The Infinity Gauntlet come to life just as we imagined it (and you will feel our wrath if it’s not exactly as we imagined it).

It’s not enough to make movie versions of non-movie things we loved when we were kids (hence the comic book movies, but also Trolls, Transformers, and The Lego Movie), we also have to make our own versions of already-in-existence movies we liked as kids. It’s why we have a Jurassic Park that’s just like the original and a Star Wars that’s just like the original and a Ghostbusters that’s just like the original.

My generation has sanctified our childhood and pushed it on everyone else.  The Things from our childhood (again, I don’t know why) have become such a defining part of our adulthood that when you say “Comic books are for kids” we hear “You’re being childish.”

Later that week he went on Larry King (another 95-year-old (actually, I think he’s quite a bit younger, but he sure acts 95)) and defended his comment, as he should: “What I was saying is, a culture that thinks that comic books and comic book movies are profound meditations on the human condition is a dumb fucking culture. And for people to get mad at that just proves my point.”   Again, he’s right.  You know he’s right.

I’m not saying comic books can’t be sophisticated literature.  But I don’t see a bidding war for Cerebus or Concrete or Blankets or Asterios Polyp or Maus or This One Summer.  I see people getting excited because, in the comics, the X-Men and the Avengers get together sometimes, and it’s going to be sooooooo cooooool when they finally get together in a movie.

Just like I imagined.

(As a post script, I have to concede that maybe this entire article is just a thin defense of adulthood getting in the way of my own comic book dreams.  No, you’re projecting!)

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