I read an article over at ScreenRant describing an editorial by Bill Maher basically taking comic book fans to task. More specifically, taking adult comic book fans to task.
This seems to be a complicated story. It appears to have started when Bill Maher wrote a blog post called “Adulting.” In it, he basically reacts to the huge outpouring of sadness related to Stan Lee’s death and claims that comic book fans need to grow up and leave childish things behind.
He then used his HBO show, Real Time, to try to clarify his remarks. ScreenRant, via ComicBook.com, posted a transcription of what he said.
“Tonight’s editorial is about Stan Lee who, if you missed it, died in November. And a few days later, I posted a blog that in no way was an attack on Mr. Lee, but took the occasion of his death to express my dismay at people who think comic books are literature and superhero movies are great cinema and who, in general, are stuck in an everlasting childhood. Bragging that you’re all about the Marvel Universe is like boasting your mother still pins your mittens to your sleeves.
“You can, if you want, like the exact same things you liked when you were ten but if you do, you need to grow up. That was the point of my blog. I’m not glad Stan Lee is dead, I’m sad you’re alive. […]
“Director Kevin Smith accused me of ‘taking a shot when no shots are f**kin’ necessary,’ except again my shot wasn’t at Stan Lee. It was at, you know, grown men who still dress like kids.
“Can we stop pretending that the writing in comic books is so good? Oh, please. Every superhero movie is the same thing–a person who doesn’t have powers, gets them, has to figure out how they work, and then has to find a glowy thing.
“I’m sorry, but if you’re an adult playing with superhero dolls, I’m sorry – I mean collectible action figures – why not go all the way and drive to work on a Big Wheel?”
So, here’s the thing. Bill Maher is mostly wrong–yes. Without a doubt. But … he’s also a little right.
He’s wrong in that we all know there are some very strong writers in the comic book industry. Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, and Gail Simone are a few that spring to mind. These are writers who have transcended their genre and written some comic books that should absolutely be considered “literary”–whatever that means.
He’s also missing out on some great cinema existing within the super hero genre. After all, Black Panther just got nominated for a “Best Picture” Oscar. Most consider The Dark Knight an instant-classic. Not a classic “comic book” movie, but just a classic film–period.
But, let’s be honest, he’s also hit on some valid points. Most comic books, and most comic book movies, are pretty easy to predict. Most of them do follow a prescribed formula. And many adults do take both comic books and comic book movies far too seriously.
The nature of the corporate-owned recurring comic book character absolutely necessitates the repetition of stories. Think about this–Superman has been published monthly since 1938. Batman has appeared every month since 1939. It is impossible not to revisit similar plot lines every decade or so, especially when considering that these are not finite stories. No matter what happens, these characters will be back in just thirty days. It’s hard to get too original when working within these editorial confines. They can’t really do anything too drastic to Superman for too long. Same goes for Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Spider-Man, etc. If you’re a DC fan, how many “crises” have there been now? If you’re a Marvel fan, how often has there been “an age of …” or “no more mutants?”
Consequently, Bill Maher hit on something that’s been particularly troubling me of late. Because so many adults do still read comic books, the comic book industry really isn’t aimed at children anymore. It’s aimed at, well, grown-ups. As a result, the plots get lazier and lazier.
Let me explain.
Because most people my age have read virtually every kind of comic book story out there, the industry feels the need to “shock” us time and again by killing off major characters. First of all, no one believes Wolverine or Superman or even Jason Todd is ever really “dead.” I just read a headline the other day that they killed off Dr. Leslie Thompkins. This is a kind woman who helped take care of young Bruce Wayne after his parents’ murder. She appears only sporadically in the DC Universe, but, because she’d never been killed before, they decided to “shock” the audience by calling her number. There’s an entire comic book series going on right now called Heroes In Crisis whose entire premise is that heroes were murdered while seeking emotional support at a sanctuary. Yes, you read that right. I’m sorry, but comic books deserve every criticism they get when killing off characters seems to be the best the writers can come up with.
However, Bill Maher is missing something vital about super heroes. These comic book characters are undeniably derivatives of gods and demigods from centuries’ old myths and religions. We are intrinsically drawn to these characters. At this point in human history, their archetypes are sewn into our collective subconscious. They represent our hopes and our dreams, our aspirations to conquer fear and the unknown.
With that being said, I do think it’s important that adults keep these characters in perspective, though. Let the children have these characters. Let them inspire the young as they did most of the adults who still love them. If there’s any bone I have to pick with my generation, it’s that we are unwilling to relinquish the things we loved as children. We want Star Wars our way. We want Ghostbusters our way. We want She-Ra our way. We want comic books our way. We need to be wiling to stand back and let these things evolve in such a manner as to appeal to today’s youth. We can enjoy these characters as they change for our children, and we can appreciate that they are not suffering arrested development. Of course, that would require that the adults are unwilling to suffer arrested development as well.
So, as you can see, Bill Maher had it mostly wrong, but he was also a little bit right. While I agree with him that adults need to lighten up when it comes to these characters and leave them primarily to the children, I think it’s vital that we don’t dismiss the incredible impact they have had on society and continue to have. Like any book or movie, the extraordinary should not be suppressed merely because of its genre.
(Did you enjoy this article? Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)