by John Ostrander
Bill Maher, noted iconoclastic and increasingly misanthropic host of Real Time on HBO, announced about ten days ago that he was taking July off because, after six months of President Trump, he really needed it. I sympathize. Not before he took what I regard as some ill-informed and gratuitous swipes at comics, comic book movies, sci-fi/fantasy books, movies and TV and anything else I assume that he considers intellectually lowbrow.
Among his gripes that the stupid summer movies were increasingly infiltrating into fall, the time for more serious, adult movies. His biggest gripe is that they make us, the unwashed public, stupider because it makes us want a savior, someone who will descend from on high and rescue us instead of getting off our duffs and doing what needs to be done (i.e. deal with Trump) ourselves.
Except they’re not.
What bothers me about Maher’s criticisms is that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I have severe doubts Mr. Maher has seen any of the superhero films, let alone read a comic book. It reminds me of the people who used to criticize Harry Potter films and books (which Maher also dislikes) as Satanic without ever having seen a film or read a word of the books. Somebody told them they were Satanic and that’s all they needed.
I can’t entirely blame Maher for thinking that films such as Man of Steel present the superhero as a godlike being descending to save the masses. The director, Zack Snyder, appeared to make the same mistake, presenting Supes in various Jesus like images. However, Superman is more like Moses than Jesus. Moses comes as a baby in a basket floating down the Nile to the Egyptian princess; baby Kal-El comes to Earth in a small rocket to the Kents in Kansas. Moses grows up as an Egyptian; Kal-El grows up as part of the Midwestern farming community.
However, Superman is neither. One of the key moments in the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie is the first time he takes off his glasses and opens his shirt to reveal the iconic S.
Not only does he become Superman: we become Superman.
That’s one of the big keys to the success of Superman over the decades. It’s part of the myth. Yes, we may seem meek and mild-mannered like Clark Kent but, if we took off our glasses and opened our shirts, people would see we were Superman.
It’s the same thing in the Wonder Woman movie, the first time Princess Diana shows up in the Wonder Woman regalia. [SPOILER ALERT!]It’s a great moment as she climbs out of the trench and starts determinedly to stride across No-Man’s Land. She deflects the murderous gunfire of the Germans. She has been outraged by the suffering of innocents and she’s going to do something about it. The Allied troops, inspired, join her and drive the Germans from the suffering village.
At that moment, Wonder Woman is us. Male and female, we identify with her. We become her. That’s the power, not only of the movies but of the story in general. We identify with that hero. They can inspire us to become our best selves.
That is what Bill Maher doesn’t get.
I don’t dislike Maher. He speaks up on topics and takes positions with which I agree – such as climate change. In doing that, he speaks for many people. It’s why I listen; to hear what I think and feel put into words. That’s why it’s frustrating to hear Maher denigrate the field in which I work and that so many worldwide really enjoy. The global revenues on these films are greater than the U.S. take. This suggests that the films speak to people outside our shores and, I suspect, for much the same reasons. It’s not simply the special effects; it’s how they make us feel.
It does make me question. If Maher is so blind on this, how much else is he blind about and that I ignore because they fall into my own prejudices and beliefs.
I hope Maher comes back from his time off refreshed and ready to do battle again. I don’t expect him to backtrack from his previous statements. I’d just like to see him leave comics alone.
Because, Bill, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.
John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE