Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Department of Huh? Black Mask and Insurance Fraud

Batman #690 by Judd Winick and Mark Bagley (2009)

I am so puzzled here. Not only does the Black Mask's plan seems like an excessively convoluted one, but I'm wondering whether it is Judd Winick's intent to confuse the reader much like the Black Mask is intentionally trying to confuse Batman.

In the most recent Batman arc, the caped crusader engaged in a long battle with Clayface and Lyle Blanco on the streets of Gotham City, causing mass destruction along the way. Buildings leveled, cars exploded, and people ran.

According to the Black Mask, the city took out private contracts to cover insurance on a certain string of tenement buildings. However, the insurance company was actually a dummy corporation--wait for the twist--for no one! All of this, including the battle itself, was a cunning attempt to throw Batman off course.


First, why and how is the city purchasing this insurance? Does the Black Mask have a marketing team under his employ so shrewd as to be able to persuade the city to trust this strange, unknown company? The other alternative is that the city is somehow involved with this villainous scheme.

Second, I'm confused as to what this dummy corporation actually is. To my knowledge, dummies are created as a front for other businesses in order to hide true ownership, avoid taxes, or fudge the numbers in the books. If this corporation is not a front, then is it an actual, functioning business? I think Black Mask probably meant that the city purchased insurance from a firm that does not really exist--possibly one that he fabricated himself.

I know that Gotham City is corrupt and indifferent, but this seems to stretch the extent of its irresponsibility.

Maybe Batman will figure this out, but Black Mask seems to have done a great job of bewildering me. That is why I'd like to ask the readers. Anyone have any ideas here or are you as confused as I am?


jamused said...

I'd say the obvious explanation is Judd Winnick and his editors are proudly ignorant of business and finance. If Gotham City is so mismanaged and corrupt that it'll award tax dollars to insurance companies that don't even exist, let alone have a license to operate from the various state insurance regulators, there's no point in being a supervillain; committing fraud against the city is a license to print money.

What I'm wondering is who that guy with the cigarette holder and pointy nose is supposed to be. It can't be Penguin, or he'd be asking "For whom?" ;)

Bryan Sharp said...

Ah, confusion -- Batman's kryptonite.
I think we all remember how Batman "lost it" when he was confused by that question on his SATs. Unfortunately, the final score reflected his behavior.

I am confused by the confusion strategy here. I guess Black Mask is hoping Batman will throw his hands up and yell something like "I don't understand these crazy kids!" or "I'm too old for this shit!"

Will said...

How I read it was that the city recognized that insuring the property was needed, but didn't want to do it themselves, so they contracted private businesses to, I assume, both manage and insure the property. (That is how I took the comment about private contracts - not the insurer, but the insured is the shell corporation).

My assumption was that the scheme was that Batman would assume the fires were deliberate and see who would gain. He would find the insured were shell corporations, but, when following the corporate trail, he would discover the companies are not actually owned by anyone (of importance, I guess, since all companies are owned in some sense by someone). I still think it wouldn't be that hard to find out who formed the corporations and placed the bids with the cities and then do the old Batman intimidation to find out who really paid. In the end, I think this scheme might confuse Batman for about 15 minutes and then get some corporate lawyer a visit from the Dark Knight.

jamused said...

How would the fictitious private management company even win the bid? Putting together something reasonable enough looking to land that kind of deal, or even answer a Request For Proposal is an enormous con job--large enough that you'll probably leave as big a paper trail in setting up your fake company as you would setting up a real one. There's a reason real-life con artists don't try to run "Big Store" cons to land government contracts.

Will said...

Jamused - I agree with you entirely. Just explaining how I interpreted the cryptic discussion. I would also be pretty surprised if a shell corporation could get a multi-million insurance policy covering property owned by a third-party. You would think that would set off all sorts of alarms at the insurance company's office.

Anonymous said...

WOW. this is a new level of nerdom even for me. There's many ways that Black Mask's scenario makes sense, most importantly driving Batman in a different direction than Penguin. But, MORE importantly, the entire scene was more about Mask forcing Penguin to join up.
I'm sorry that the economics of it pulled you out of the story, but most of us just weren't.

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