While comic book fans mourn the death of Marvel legend Stan Lee, who passed away on Monday at 95, HBO host Bill Maher has penned an essay suggesting that America would be a smarter place had it not been for the success of Lee’s comic-book creations such as Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man.
Taking to his blog, the “Real Time with Bill Maher” host dismissively writes about fans who are in “deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess.”
He continues: “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.”
Insisting he has nothing against comic books, Maher recalls the days when comics were consumed primarily by children, and weren’t pop-culture touchstones that inspired multimillion-dollar Hollywood blockbusters.
About 20 years ago, Maher recalls, “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.”
Maher concludes by admitting that he doesn’t think people have “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.”
As you might expect, Lee’s legions of fans had a bone to pick with Maher’s opinion, and picked it they did on social media:
On Monday, Lee’s team responded with an open letter of their own, posted to Lee’s official website.
“One lesson Stan taught so many of us was tolerance and respect, and thanks to that message, we are grateful that we can say you have a right to your opinion that comics are childish and unsophisticated. Many said the same about Dickens, Steinbeck, Melville and even Shakespeare,” the letter reads.
“But to say that Stan merely inspired people to ‘watch a movie’ is in our opinion frankly disgusting,” the letter continues. “Countless people can attest to how Stan inspired them to read, taught them that the world is not made up of absolutes, that heroes can have flaws and even villains can show humanity within their souls. He gave us the X-Men, Black Panther, Spider-Man and many other heroes and stories that offered hope to those who felt different and bullied while inspiring countless to be creative and dream of great things to come.”
The letter concludes by referencing one of Lee’s best-known phrases: “Our shock at your comments makes us want to say ‘Nuff said, Bill,’ but instead we will rely on another of Stan’s lessons to remind you that you have a powerful platform, so please remember: ‘With great power there must also come — great responsibility!’”
A few days later, Maher sat down with veteran interviewer Larry King, where he addressed the controversy. Admitting he wasn’t aware of the level of outrage because he “doesn’t follow every stupid thing people lose their s**t about” on social media, Maher clarified his comments.
“But talk about making my point for me. Yeah, I don’t know very much about Stan Lee and it certainly wasn’t a swipe at Stan Lee,” Maher said, with King telling him, “You would have liked him. He was a really nice guy.”
“Yeah, fine,” Maher added. “I am agnostic on Stan Lee. I don’t read comic books. I didn’t even read them when I was a child. 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 f**king culture. And for people to get mad at that just proves my point.” Watch: