Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Costs of Secret Identities

Amazing Spider-Man #610 by Marc Guggenheim, Marco Checchetto, Luke Ross and Rick Magyar (2009)

I think Spidey might be underestimating here. I'm no expert in the cost of drywall, but my feeling is that Aunt May's house isn't really that small and this explosion looks like it took out more than just the living room. Not to mention the damage to other household items, glass (Screwball crashed in through the window), ceiling, etc. I would guess that drywall itself would cost anywhere from $6,000 - $8,000. But this is admittedly an unscientific prediction.

It looks like Spider-Man would make a good spokesperson for a Mastercard commercial (that is, in addition to being a good spokesperson for health care reform). Though, I highly doubt that his secret identity is priceless. However, we do learn something valuable from this panel. Since Spidey is giving up the $3,000 for the drywall and the $8,000 for the costs of labor in order to maintain his secret identity, we know that his secret identity is worth at least $11,000 to him. But is there an upper bound to this cost or would Spider-Man really be willing to give up any amount in order to keep his secret?

Opportunity cost, Spider-Man. Opportunity cost.

The really interesting question to ask here is that if there is a cost, then what would it be? That is, what would Spider-Man be willing to pay to retain his secret identity (or what would he be willing to be paid to divulge it)? This does not necessarily have to be a monetary exchange. Suppose the Green Goblin threatened to kill Mary Jane and Aunt May unless Spider-Man revealed his secret identity. Would he do it to ensure the safety of his two most beloved people in the world? If so, then his secret identity would be worth no more than the combined value of their lives.

It's also fun to note the distinction between Batman and Spider-Man. Now, obviously interpretations of the characters vary by creative team so there is no definitive course of action that either would take given a particular situation. Nevertheless, there are two recent examples where Batman and Spider-Man have been presented the option of revealing their secret identities in order to save a bunch of lives.

For Spidey, it was in Invincible Iron Man #7 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. This issue took place just before "World's Most Wanted," which saw Tony Stark on the run from Norman Osborn's "Dark Reign." In the issue, Stark incessantly tries to convince Spider-Man to register with the government under the 2006 Superhuman Registration Act. He claims by doing so, Spider-Man would ultimately be able to save hundreds of more lives as he would have the full support of the government behind him. Spider-Man persistently refuses, however, noting that he would put his closest friends and family in danger--a risk he would not take even for the sake of the lives of many (he didn't say this explicitly, but heavily implied it).

Batman experienced a similar dilemma in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight.
In the movie, the Joker threatens to continue terrorizing citizens of Gotham City unless Batman reveal his secret identity to the public. What's interesting here is that, unlike Spider-Man, Batman makes the choice of saving the lives until Harvey Dent interrupts his decision.

In Spider-Man's example, his secret identity is worth more than the cost of the many lives Iron Man claims he would have been able to save. In Batman's example, it was not worth the cost.

There is also the question of utilitarianism vs. deontologism (saving more lives vs. the rightness of the act). But this will be a post for another day. For more on this in the context of Batman, read Mark White's Batman and Philosophy book.

Any guesses on what would be the most that Spider-Man would be willing to pay to remain hidden from the public?

22 comments:

Will said...

I don't think a Batman v. Spider-Man comparison is completely fair. Spider-Man, pre-Brand New Day, had a wife, an aunt, and lots of close friends. Batman is a millionaire playboy, who basically has his Batman friends and no friends as Bruce Wayne (or very few). This is apparent from the current Batman story where an imposter is able to trick everyone but the Bat-family of heroes about being Bruce Wayne. On the other hand, Spider-Man's reveal of his identity led to an attack that resulted in his aunt on her deathbed (and a deal with Mephisto to retcon everything - who knew it was that easy?). As such, I would say the "value" of Spider-Man's secret identity outweighs Batman's (although the diminishment in the Batman brand when he became a known person rather than a legend has more value than Spider-Man's brand IMO).

As for Spider-Man revealing his identity, in the past, he has been willing to reveal his identity to protect the people he loved, but never for his own life. The scene prior to Jackpot's arrival showed his willingness to do just that to protect Norman and his cousins. Ironic that the best way to get Spider-Man to reveal his secret identity is to know his secret identity and threaten the people he cares about.

ShadowBanker said...

I don't know if it's right to say that Spider-Man's secret identity is of higher value since he has more close friends. I'm not even entirely sure this is true. I would rank Aunt May and Alfred to be the same "importance" status. While Pete may have Harry Osborn, Mary Jane, and whoever else pops in and out of continuity, Bruce has Dick, Tim, Damian, Lucius, Selina, etc. All of whom he considers close family. In fact, Tim and Damien ARE family. The reveal of his secret identity would undoubtedly cause villains to go after these people. Take a look at the recent "Hush" storyline with Selina!

Now, one thing you could say is that members of the Bat-family are more capable of defending themselves since most seem to be in the superhero business. But then you could also claim that Batman's villains are much more dangerous than Spider-Man's.

Tom said...

I think the difference is that Spider-man is trying to protect family and Batman is trying to protect innocents (or, "life" even the Joker's).

It's not an apples-to-apples comparison. MJ, Aunt May, etc are Peter Parker's family, but Dick, Damian, Tim, are Batman's team, and, I suspect (depending on the writer) that Batman does not consider his team "innoncent." That is, he would be willing to sacrifice one of his franchise-es to save a citizen, as he would sacrifice himself. It comes with the job.

Of course, he's Batman, and even when faced with choosing between a Robin and a citizen, he is badass enough to save both (cue ridiculous Chris O'Donnell vs Nicole Kidman death trap).

Alex said...

Or rather Batman's "family" are within the business. Dick, Tim, and Damian are themselves, have accepted the risks, and are capable of defending themselves. A reveal of Bruce's identity would result in the rest of his loved ones to reveal their identities as well. They have dealt with the risk before. In other words, Batman's family couldn't be used as effective collateral.

Peter's family, however, would be used as such. They themselves aren't involved with superhero business aside from being related to one.

But value here is relative, isn't it? Spider-man's family is worth more to Peter Parker than to Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark. In Tony's case, Peter's family is worth as much as every other citizen (hence his comment), but for Peter, the value of his family far outweighs all else. Is that really a fair move on Tony's part?

ShadowBanker said...

Tom - While I agree that the comparison is more complicated than it seems, I don't think that Batman would be willing to sacrifice one of his teammates for the sake of one citizen. A lot of citizens? Maybe--as was basically the case with Jason Todd. Again, though, depending on the writer, I think Batman might let a citizen die over one of his teammates.

LOVE the Batman Forever reference.

Alex - Good point about it being unfair of Tony to ask. Also, I like your point about the Bat-family being able to care of themselves (i.e. they know the risks getting into the business). But from here we can have a whole discussion of the morality of Batman ALLOWING these children to assist him.

Will said...

@Shadow Is it really fair to say Batman's villains are much more dangerous than Spider-Man's? Norman Osborn has accomplished a lot more devestation to Spider-Man, both in a grand scale and in the personal (killing of Gwen Stacy) than Batman villains. Closest would be Joker's beating Jason Todd Robin to death, but he was killed in the line of work, while Gwen was just used as a weapon against Spidey. Batman's villains are consistently more psychotic, but Spidey has Venom, Carnage, and others. Plus, Spidey's main villain, Norman Osborn, is basically a combination of Lex Luthor (Machivellian power manipulator) and the Joker (psychotic maniac with no respect for life). Give some credit to those psychos. I think the big difference between Spidey and Batman is that Batman lives in a hellhole that would devour and spit out the toughest gangs on our planet. Spidey's New York is nowhere near as scary with one primary ganglord, Kingpin, and an abundance of heroes. In that sense, Batman's world is far more dangerous, but I don't feel villain v. villain is that one-sided for Batman (I mean, some of his villains include Penguin and Calendar Man, that kind of brings down the rest of the group).

Alex said...

@Shadow: I hope you guys have time to eventually write a post on child labor laws and Batman. :)

ShadowBanker said...

Alex - Ha, we should! For now, have you seen this one? http://eco-comics.blogspot.com/2009/10/superheroes-and-paternity-lawsuits.html

Classtv said...

Nowadays heroes look like Homer. Better in comic than in tv.

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