Monday, October 5, 2009
Earlier, we had written about an interesting character that writer Paul Dini had created. A new, shadowy figure lurking around the streets of Gotham. Someone so sinister and cunning that he easily ranks among the most dangerous of Batman's rogues gallery.
I, of course, am referring to The Broker.
As a refresher, The Broker is an independent real estate agent that caters exclusively to supervillains and criminals. Whenever the Joker needs a new amusement park or abandoned toy store, he calls up The Broker. Whenever Two Face needs a new Double Mint Gum factory, he gives The Broker a ring. Whenever Clayface needs a new...um...where does Clayface take residence anyway? The point is that The Broker is the go-to guy for villain hideouts and lairs.
With the latest issue of Streets of Gotham, Dini and Nguyen develop a rich and elaborate back story for Gotham's new entrepreneur. We learn a good deal about the character's day-to-day operations, his history, and his motivations. And we get a pretty decent sense of the economics of the whole thing as well. Here are a few things that we have learned to expand upon our previous study of The Broker (and crime in Gotham):
First thing is sort of an obvious one: Gotham City has a lot of poor people and the recession isn't exactly helping. More importantly, however, is that in light of all the small businesses suspending operations and families being displaced from their homes, there are lots of abandoned buildings throughout the city. Because of this, it actually seems that The Broker's business is relatively recession-proof. In fact, the economic downturn is actually helping him with his venture. The number of supervillains doesn't exactly drop during a recession--it actually might be increasing. Further, these villains are only going to increase their number of financially-motivated crimes. As such, they're gonna needs hideouts, especially those new villains who need to make names for themselves (i.e. BoneBlaster).
One minor nitpick, however: I don't think "Bruce Wayne" is giving money to keep the "fat cats" happy. We've seen that Hush's deviously charitable plan was to donate funds each month to seeminly poor businesses and organizations that could use the money to stay open, such as the Monarch Card and Novelty Company. Sure, this isn't equivalent to investing money in organizations that help the poor, but I'd hardly call them fat cats.
Second thing we've learned: The Broker is a total badass. This is important since one of my suspicions in the previous entry was that The Broker would have to charge extremely high fees to his clients to compensate for any risks associated with his occupational hazards. That is, the guy is working with major supervillains here and he operates notably outside of the law. He risks being sought out by the police for the illegal trading of abandoned property, he risks being sought out by Batman for information on the villains he sells to (which actually does happen in the issue), and he risks being low-balled and harmed by the very villains with whom he is dealing. As such, he needs to charge a higher price for his time, energy and variable costs. Of course, the problem with that is once you start charging really high prices, it gives the villains even more of an incentive not to pay. The risk factor thus increases.
The good news is that The Broker makes it work in two ways. One is that he seems to have already built a significant reputation, which makes use of the economic concept of signaling. The other, more important quality is being a badass. Look at what happened when The Great White Shark (yep, a real villain) tried to skip out on paying a commission and a finder's fee. The Shark's henchmen get shot in the head by one of The Broker's snipers, forcing the Shark to pay up or...wait for it...sleep with the fishes.
By the way, just to give you an idea of how high these prices are, after the incident above with The Shark, The Broker ended up receiving a finder's fee of $3 million. It is extremely tough to persuade villains to pay you $3 million for simply finding a boat. The Shark actually had to go through the trouble himself to dispose of the yacht's previous owner. All The Broker did, literally, was find him the place. For that, he charges $3 million. The only way this plan could work consistently enough such that he could continue to maintain his business would be if he was an extreme badass. More badass than you or I could imagine, and more badass than is depicted in this comic. By the way, for more on badass, see Mark's post on the effect of bad-assity on the success of comic superheroes.
The third piece of information we learn involves a bit of Gotham City history. Ever wonder just why there are so many abandoned amusement parks throughout the city? I mean, it seems like every day The Joker or The Scarecrow gets a new one to play with. Turns out, there's a reason!
Apparently, right around World War I and then subsequently during the Great Depression, Gotham was a bleak and dark place plagued by rampant crime and depression. Indeed, it doesn't seem all that different now, does it? However, the one form of escapism that proved even more effective than drugs and alcohol was amusement parks. An early string of amusement entrepreneurs started a chain of successful parks, which eventually bred more competition and led to the creation of even more parks for cheaper admissions fees. According to Dini, "By the mid fifties, Gotham boasted no less than three zoos, five amusement parks, and I don't know how many wax museums and reptile farms." People came in droves and used the amusement industry to essentially drown their sorrows. This continued to be the case for the next several decades as the industry continued to expand.
At some point, however, it looks like there was another economic downturn which had led to massive factory closures and unemployment. As a result, people were no longer able to afford coming to amusement parks and began turning more to crime. One by one, these parks closed down.
Dini does not really go into the specifics as to the cause of these factories being closed, so I cannot really elaborate further (unless I missed something). Suffice it to say that this is where the abandoned factories, toy shops, amusement parks, wax museums, and all the other popular villainous hideouts come from. Likewise, this is where the source of The Broker's income also comes from.
So now we know a little more about The Broker and Gotham City history. Although in this context The Broker's operations make more sense, I am still a little bit skeptical on how he manages to sustain them. My intuition is that the villains most likely and most in need of his services would be the low-grade, up-and-coming ones. These are the guys that likely don't know Gotham well enough to find a hideout on their own, need one desperately (especially in times of recession), and don't exactly have time to waste on seeking out abandoned reptile museums. On the other hand, the big-time villains like Joker and Two-Face seem to already have the means to find these lairs easily. They have henchmen who they already pay to do things just like this. They've been around for a while and know both the layout of the city and common police patrol routes. Finally, it is much easier to conduct business with the small guys than the big guys.
At the same time, your smaller villains don't have the means to pay The Broker his extremely high fees. Indeed, if he dealt more with small-time villains, I imagine there would be less risk and his fees would be lower. Still, I doubt he would be making enough money to keep this business going without the big-time villains.
Furthermore, if he is dealing with enough big-timers such that he is able to keep his venture running, I can't imagine that any amount of badass short of being Batman himself would be enough to be able to handle it for so long. As shrewd and keen-witted a businessman as he is, my sense is that The Broker would eventually fall.