Friday, August 7, 2009

Superhero Cosmetics

Dr. McNinja reprinted from

Last week, we asked readers to submit their suggestions of recession proof industries in comic books. Congratulations to our winner, Will, who proposed that cosmetic surgeons, especially for superheroes:

Many heroes don't have healing factors or invulnerability, but are not hideously scarred, missing teeth, suffering from signs of poor setting of bone, etc. Clearly, off panel, they are spending a great deal of time (and money) getting cosmetic surgery or dentistry done to keep things looking good. [...] The booming cosmetic surgery business will also explain why heroes look so different book to book. Adding to all of this, in recessions, crime normally goes up, meaning more fights and more need for cosmetic surgery for both heroes and villains.

The particularly fascinating thing about this answer is the distinction between comic book universes and real Earth. That is, on real Earth dips in the economy tend to diminish utilization of cosmetic services. In fact, according to a New York Times article in December 2008, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that 62% of surgeons responded that they had performed fewer procedures in the first half of the year compared with the same time in 2007. In addition, the Mentor Corporation--an implant manufacturer--reported that the number of implants sold had decreased 5% in the three months leading up to September 26th from the same time the previous year. Finally, the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery's Economic Impact Survey revealed that approximately 80% of cosmetic surgery practices in the United States were impacted by the recession and that surgeons reported a 50% drop in patients in the third quarter of 2008.

Another reason this is interesting is that although people are tightening their belts during times of economic troubles, there is reason to believe that the "vanity" business can usually be fairly successful. Intuitively, an argument can be made that if people are losing jobs and becoming more insecure, they might want to indulge in services that enhance their appearances and thus boost their self-esteem. If this phenomenon is occurring in the United States, the evidence suggests that it does not seem to be offsetting the reduction in spending on plastic surgery accompanied with the downturn.

In comic books, however, this does not have to be the case. Indeed, humans would cut their use of cosmetic and luxurious services just as they do in real life, but evidence through the books seem to suggest otherwise for the metahuman population. Anybody who has consistently read a comic book must have at one point thought, "I wonder how this guy gets beat up so many times only to look unblemished the next issue." Will proposes that the answer is lots and lots of cosmetic surgery.

This is not an unreasonable theory. After all, not all superheroes have billions of dollars in assets and a trained combat medic for a Butler. Not all mutants have a healing factor or quick access to the Beast for support. Even if they did have access to medical personnel, I doubt that Alfred is also trained in combat cosmetics. And despite his astonishing wealth of medical knowledge and his ability to invent a time machine notwithstanding, I have a feeling that the Beast doesn't know the first thing about an abdominoplasty.

It can be argued that the superhero/supervillain utilization of cosmetics is not enough to offset the decrease in use by regular humans. After all, a 50% drop in patients in the third quarter of 2008 is quite a bit. However, the metahuman population is constantly expanding and most of them do not have their own titles. Secondly, as Will pointed out, recessions tend to be associated with an increase in specific types of crimes, including robbery and burglary (which is something we have discussed here). If superheroes are on the rise and if the recession is drawing out more criminals, then it is certainly conceivable that the increase in utilization by these superheroes is enough to deem the industry "recession-proof."

And it better be. No one likes an ugly superhero.

Again, thank you very much for your comments, everyone. Will, please e-mail us at ecocomics dot blog at gmail dot com with your address and top 5 choices of graphic novels/comic books under $20.


stuclach said...

Congrats Will.

Will said...

Thanks to all and for making my comment sound a lot more intelligent than I did.

Mark said...

The ShadowBanker is pretty good with his analysis. He does the same thing to me too.

Greg Sanders said...

And it better be. No one likes an ugly superhero.

Then why is Jonah Hex getting a film? :P

Admittedly he's more of a Western than a Superhero comic, but he has been in JLU so I think he counts. Then there's the Thing and the like.

Admittedly this is a pretty small subset, so the overall analysis holds.

Will said...

The Thing is the exception that proves the rule considering half of his stories are about how much it sucks to be an ugly moster.

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bigBOX said...

Does anyone know if Deadpool got a facelift or skin graft or something, would he still heal back to broken face?(was that to harsh?) Personally I hope it does grow back munted

ShadowBanker said...

Will - congrats again!

Greg - Darn, I was hoping no one would mention Jonah Hex! Although I have a feeling that as ugly as they try to make Josh Brolin, he'll still be ruggedly handsome in the movie.

OneShare - Thanks!

bigBox - I think Mark would be better qualified to answer that question. I defer to him.

Mark said...

bigBOX I believe that Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool) is permanently deformed as a result of the procedure he was subjected to at Weapon X. So even a facelift would result with him going back to his big pruny mug. The only time he wasn't fugly was in the Deadpool: Agent of Weapon X arc in the first volume of his original series. Weapon X gives him his face back. And then he chokes Sabretooth by shoving his melting arm down Sabretooth's throat. A wonderful read, that arc.

Gold-Digging Nanny said...

"Intuitively, an argument can be made that if people are losing jobs and becoming more insecure, they might want to indulge in services that enhance their appearances and thus boost their self-esteem."

Apparently, one recession indicator is a surge in sales of lipstick (I remember hearing about it on Marketplace). Women can't afford to indulge in expensive cosmetic surgery procedures, mani/pedicures, facial treatments, new clothes, etc., but they still want to splurge on something that makes them feel pretty. So they go with the cheap splurge. Lipstick. But no way would the increase in lipstick sales make up for the decrease in revenue to the beauty industry as a whole.

Afterglow Cosmetics said...

It is about time we had someone on our side. We all need to think about what we are applying to our faces. Pounds of chemicals being spread into the pores each year is not going to help us beat the hands of will only make it worse.

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