Monday, May 18, 2009

Millionaires= Crazy

In the world of comic books any individual who has more than 5 million dollars in saving or assets immediately becomes bat-shit insane. It's a strange rule, but it seems that every independently wealthy individual in superhero comics decides that fighting/committing crime is the best way to spend their free time. They ignore possible hobbies like golfing, yachting, and collecting antique cars and go straight into wearing a mask and creating a global organization designed to save/destroy/conquer the world. The examples in comic book fiction are nearly limitless.

In terms of billionaire superheroes there are: Batman, Iron Man, Moon Knight, The Golden Age Sandman, Professor Xavier, etc. The list of wealthy villains is even more dramatic: Lex Luthor, Ra's Al Ghul, Norman Osborn (The Green Goblin), Hush, Count Nefaria, Spymaster, Justin Hammer, Obadiah Stane, The Mandarin, Sebastian Shaw, etc. It seems that anyone who encounters a financial windfall in the comic book universe immediately invests all of money into either saving the world or destroying it.

In some cases, the actions of these comic book millionaires seem somewhat logical. Professor Xavier used his money to create a sanctuary for mutants who were being persecuted. He also used his money to train said mutants using a holographic "Danger Room" created with technology gleaned from alien bird-people. But with that superfluous spending aside, we can look at the Xavier Institute as version of the WMCA for people who can shoot lasers out of their eyes and with slightly less gay sex on the grounds (see: The Village People). Wealthy industrialist Tony Stark built the Iron Man suit to save his life and then continues flying around in it because he's a joy-riding arrogant ego-maniac. I understand that.

But then there's this man...


Norman Osborn started as a weapons and chemical designer. But like all wealthy industrialists do in the comic book world, he decided profit margins weren't enough. And as such he began riding around on a bat-shaped glider in a green and purple outfit and started throwing pumpkin bombs. It truly boggles my mind when i consider the amount of research and development that must have gone into the creation of pumpkin-shaped explosives. Some poor R&D guy had to sit in front of his computer screen, working on plastic explosive casings while dealing with Norman standing over his shoulder and shouting, "No, it needs to be MORE ORANGE!"

It simply boggles the mind that an industrialist who had made millions designing lucrative compounds, weapons, and technology would then perform an engineering about-face and decide that the best means of long distance transportation would be a halloween-themed glider that uses foot-grips to secure the rider. That's right, Norman Osborn expects a commando to be secured to a glider flying 800 miles an hour by the same technology that keeps boots connected to skis. Not to mention the fact that Norman Osborn decides that he is the best person to use this new technology. A company of hundreds spends millions of dollars to create a new series of weapons only to have the company CEO steal it all and fly around new york wearing a Halloween costume. In this economic downturn, it seems truly tragic for a company to nearly go bankrupt because their fourth-quarter profits were spent "trying to kill Spider-Man."

This persistent pattern of a wealthy individual building a financial empire through shrewd economic skill and then destroying it almost instantly through costumed antics shows only one thing. In comic books, all money is coated with a powerful hallucinogen. When you aquire enough of it you go crazy and then act accordingly. I will no doubt come back to this in later posts.

62 comments:

Jacob Wintersmith said...

Ok, Norman Osborn is kinda batty, but let's keep this in perspective. Really, what kind of nut case goes to all the work needed to become a multi-millionaire, only to buy antique cars?

Adam said...

The rich are all crazy because of the high taxes to repair all the superhero induced damage.

D.Cous. said...

Really, this phenomenon isn't too different from real life, only in real life it's entertainers who go nuts as soon as they're rich and famous, and not industrialists.

(Sources: People, Entertainment Weekly magazines)

The Epicurean Dealmaker said...

D.Cous. -- I would add bankers and financiers to your list of real-life rich whack jobs. It probably would have saved us all a lot of money and trouble if we had given these wackos spandex tights and pumpkin bombs rather than the reins to global financial institutions.

Mark -- You've got something here! Quick, patent the idea, or at least apply for a research grant. Billions in TARP funding await a solution to crazy rich people.

joXn said...

I think there's selection bias going on here. Comic books are about super-heroes and super-villains, and thus there aren't that many of them written about the mundane [mb]illionaires unless they appear as kidnap victims or something.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Now I'm envisioning Oscorp as the company in Better Off Ted-- where after all, the engineering team was tasked with weaponizing pumpkins.

ajay said...

Well, there no doubt is some selection bias; but to be honest, there's a fair number of utterly insane and/or criminal and/or world-saving multi-millionaires in our world as well.

True, George Soros decided to encourage the growth of liberty and justice around the world by funding independent media outlets rather than by putting on a leotard and funding the development of advanced robotic weapons. (Good thing too. He's not really built for leotards.)

True, Bernie Madoff decided to set up a relatively mundane Ponzi scheme rather than an orbital megalaser.

The shadowy multi-millionaire Osama bin Laden has an underground hideout, but, as far as we know, no platoon of twenty-foot android killing machines.

But the principle's the same, surely?

John Bishop said...

Osborn is an outlier even among insane comic book millionaires. By contrast, Lex Luther was a garden-variety corrupt businessman for quite a while. (Post-Crisis and pre-presidency.) He was more sane than most Bond villains and several real-life businessmen. And his pre-Crisis self wasn't a millionaire, was he? Just a mad scientist who self-financed by robbing banks and digging for buried treasure and stuff.

The same for Sebastian Shaw. He's more of an Illuminati figure - a version of the Illuminati led by a hedonistic social club with a Victorian dress code - than a megalomaniac.

And then there are those whose wealth is a consequence of their insanity and villainy rather than the other way around. Ra's Al Ghul, for example, is rich because he is several centuries old and compound interest really adds up, but the process that extends his life also greatly exacerbates his megalomania. There have (probably) been periods when he lived as an ascetic, and he was insane then too.

leoboiko said...

But Osborn IS insane (as in bipolar depression and schizophrenia). Flying around dressed as globin seems perfectly in-character IMHO. And if you think there’s no real-life multimillionaire who need his pills to keep working, I reckon you’re not too familiar with psychiatric statistics.

More detailed diagnostics of Osborn’s problems at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Osborn#Mental_illness_and_other_weaknesses .

Gerald Fnord said...

I heard the claim that many lottery winners get screwed up, and end up screwing up badly enough as a consequence. Some people don't handle having options well.

Phil Spector, Dick Cheney, and Michael Jackson pulled themselves up at least partly via their own efforts; all three seem along the way to have acquired a case of 'Do what _I_ wilt shall be the whole of the Law,' that seems ripe for comic-book super-villainy were the opportunity to do so presented itself.

And, finally, there are plenty of mildly insane people whose insanity is controllable enough that they can awake, commute, work (or be at their job, which is a different thing), come home, and have neither the time nor energy to be full-tilt crazy. These people need structure, and without it they might be substantially nuttier (I'm not like that: the more I sit in an office, the crazier I get).

Scott said...

I think you're missing an important point about Osborn and Oscorp... be warned, though, I'm going to liberally mix the comics and movie franchises here.

The Goblin serum was meant to be the recreation of the super soldier serum, and surely would have made for a lucrative military contract. Unfortunately, research trials were lagging behind and Osborn (whether the primary chemist himself or using Stromm as in the movie) feared Oscorp might lose out to a competitor and never recoup the R&D costs, so he took the stuff himself. This is symptomatic not so much of millionaire insanity syndrome, as of its close comic book cousin, research scientist insanity syndrome, also known as the Frankenstein complex - all comic book scientists inevitably ignore proper protocols for human trials at the drop of a hat, experimenting with abandon on either themselves or a series of hapless, unwilling subjects.

As for the Goblin glider, it was the very craziness of its design that led to Oscorp not getting *that* military contract either, so Osborn decided he might as well get some use of it himself. The funny thing is, not only does the darn thing work far better than it has any right to, it works far better than real-life aircraft that have continued to receive government funding despite repeated failures, like the Osprey. Go figure.

As for the pumpkin bombs and razor-winged throwing bats and such-like, I have no explanation other than that Osborn must have had some heavy-duty fabrication equipment squirreled away at home, because no way was an Oscorp engineer going to be tasked with those jobs without somebody noticing.

Sairus said...

Considering the first designs for Osborn's glider was a broomstick, I think those commandos will be damn happy to have those foot grips.

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inchirieri apartamente cluj said...

T.Harv Eker says in his book "Millionaire Mindset" "Rich People Manage Their Money Well" so I don't think that's the problem ... I think is more like the ideea to create a great evil - that means smart,angry and with power (money) so this caracter will be a chalange for the hero ;)

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If we analyze each character directly through the comic then we will find reasons that made them do what they are doing, but if we go in a normal world status, it really makes no sense, what profit would come (in the case of Green Goblin) to spend almost every dime he owns in trying to kill a kid that dresses in red/blue tights that likes to swing around?

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I think Osborn next starred in the five-issue miniseries Osborn that was a tie-in to the "Big Time" storyline in The Amazing Spider-Man, by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios, looking at the character's life in prison

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