Monday, August 31, 2009

Question for Readers: What are the United States' Top National Priorities?

(The person who comments with the best answer to this question will win a prize, which will be a comic book of his or her choice for under $20, assuming it is available at my local shop. Please note, we will not ship internationally. Also, one comment per user please!).

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Last week, we had a post that touched upon the subject of national priorities in the DC Universe. Specifically, we said:

It must be strange living in a world where security is such a major issue. According to a CBS/NYTimes poll from June 2009, 57& of respondents cited the economy and jobs as the most important issue facing the country. Health care got 7%. War and peace was only 2%. In the DC Universe, where global security is constantly threatened, do priorities change? Do health care and the economy take a back seat to global security and intergalactic freedom? And so much so that the world comes to agreement in attacking another planet so quickly and easily?

This is just one theory, but it is not necessarily the case. In fact, one of our loyal readers pointed out that priorities could be quite the opposite. Since there is a catastrophic, time-unraveling, mind-wiping event that shatters the very foundation of the DCU nearly every year, and since the Justice League tends to fly down from its moon base and save the day in all those instances, it is conceivable that the general public has grown accustomed to letting the League worry about security. National polling data could very well reveal that the U.S. population is more heavily concerned with spending their taxpayer dollars on social programs rather than crime and security.

We know (as this blog tries to show daily) that superheroes have a considerable effect on the jobs, inflation, taxes, health care, health insurance, crime, and others. Furthermore, I should point out that there is a huge distinction between the DC and Marvel Universes. My sense is that Marvel's priorities might be closer to real-Earth's while DC's might differ more significantly.

Of course, I could be wrong, which is why I'm opening the floor to the readers. In these worlds, what do people likely consider the most important national issues? What do you think are the top 5 national priorities in the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe?

One note: this question is likely to garner many similar rankings. I think the emphasis should be on the explanation of them. That is, Mark and I will award the prize to who we consider has the most creative (and of course, sensible) explanation of their rankings.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Drug Dealers Launder Money With Comic Books

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Wow. Economics in comic books...

Investigators in Colorado say they have broken up a massive methamphetamine ring in the Denver area that distributed pounds of the dangerous drug every week and laundered the profits using collectible comic books.

"To launder the money you have to use something that is quick and convenient," Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said at a news conference Monday. "And in this case, they used classic comic books."

If only they had actually read the Batman and Superman books they were using, they might have learned a lesson or two. At the very least, they could have used comics like Countdown.

(Hat Tip: Newsarama Blog)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Has Green Lantern Met His Match?

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The Green Lantern has accomplished nearly impossible feats and has overcome the worthiest of adversaries, including Vandal Savage, Parallax, and Sinestro. However, his latest enemy might prove to be his match. Via The Beat, here is an article from Inside Film:

Green Lantern’s proposed Australian shoot is understood to be under threat after the rising Australian dollar has blown out production costs.

Warner Bros is understood to be negotiating with the NSW State Government to receive a higher level of concessions in an effort to claw back between $US15 and $US25 million in value eroded by the currency gains.

The value of the Australian dollar has climbed by more than 16 per cent since the State Labor government announced the deal to film at Fox Studios in mid-April. The big-budget Hollywood blockbuster was expected to create around 500 local jobs, including 100 performers and 200 crew.

Who would have guessed that after all he'd been through, the Green Lantern would suffer defeat at the hands of foreign exchange rates? Indeed, economics can be a painful and merciless sorceress.

Perhaps he could use his power ring to manipulate foreign currency markets. His greatest and more imaginative challenge awaits.

Department of Woops

Apparently, it is not the President that has to learn critical reading, but the Shadowbanker! Regarding my last post, I have received word from the author of Supergirl #44, Sterling Gates, that the President was, in fact, signing a free-trade agreement with Markovia. General Lane was fibbing about the war treaty. Nevertheless, the question of national priorities in a world populated by superheroes is a question worthy of consideration. So much so that I still wonder whether Project 7734 would have been able to go public and garner a considerable amount of public support for outright attacking New Krypton.

The United States' First War Treaty?

Supergirl #44 by Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle (2009)

The President of the United States in the DC Universe travels to the nation of Markovia to sign what he thinks if the first ever free-trade agreement with them. What is he actually signing?

That's right -- he's signing a war treaty. That is, the President of the United States is signing an agreement with Markovia in order to engage in intergalactic conflict with New Krypton.

I've heard of peace treaties before (agreements that end war or conflict) and I've heard of treaties that establish an alliance between two nations during war, but I have never actually heard of a war treaty that actually sets out to create a multilateral conflict. It's also bizarre that General Lane implies that all the other nations of the world have already agreed to attack New Krypton and that Markovia would complete the set. Does this mean that the President thought he was signing free-trade agreements with every other nation on Earth? Does the U.S. now have a collection of signed war treaties from every country? "The War Treaty of Switzerland?" Why isn't there just one treaty?

It must be strange living in a world where security is such a major issue. According to a CBS/NYTimes poll from June 2009, 57& of respondents cited the economy and jobs as the most important issue facing the country. Health care got 7%. War and peace was only 2%. In the DC Universe, where global security is constantly threatened, do priorities change? Do health care and the economy take a back seat to global security and intergalactic freedom? And so much so that the world comes to agreement in attacking another planet so quickly and easily?

Apparently so. And yet, the governments of the world still felt the need to keep this agreement from the public. In fact, Project 7734, the government-funded organization in charge of curbing the new threat posed by the Kryptonians, is a furtive operation that not even the President knows he is funding. If security is, in fact, such a major issue, you would think that the taxpayers would be more willing to spend their dollars on it. And I'm sure Project 7734 could accomplish more if it weren't lurking in the shadows. This could only mean that they're planning something so vital to the Earth's future survival that the nations of the world agree to engage in intergalactic conflict, but so nefarious that despite the public's xenophobia, it would likely not support it.

The lesson here: elect a President who reads what he signs.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Spider-Man Makes Another Bad Advertising Choice

We know that Peter Parker is struggling with money. We also know that he's tried advertising before, unsuccessfully. Now, in an effort to alleviate some dire circumstances without tarnishing his reputation in the United States, it appears as though Spidey has joined the ranks of celebrities such as Tommy Lee Jones by lending his name for ads in Asia. Too bad he couldn't escape the blogosphere. Via Comic Mix, the Beat, and failblog here is Spider-Man requesting your presence at a water park...

There has been some mystery as to the meaning behind this ad. Here's my guess: Spider-Man is actually the villain. Using more powerful webbing that emanates from his behind, he's trying to steal the water slides directly from the park and take it back to the United States. The angry patron, however, won't have it.

If you thought the Spidey-mobile was bad, this is infinitely worse. If Peter's so desperate for money and is willing to debase himself, why not go back into the wrestling gig? At the very least, someone should get him a good publicist.

Readers, your thoughts are needed!!

Hush's Charitable Villainy Continues

Remember Thomas Elliot's (Hush) diabolical scheme to donate money to charity? When last we left him, we didn't really have a firm idea of where the Wayne funds would be going, specifically. All we knew was that he had planned to gradually bankrupt Wayne Industries by spending $1 billion a month to repair the Gotham City infrastructure.

Well now we have a bit of a clearer idea of what he's spending the money on. In a particularly cunning move, he seems to be exclusively donating towards the start-up costs of private businesses doomed to fail...

Streets of Gotham #3 by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen (2009)

Ah, of course, the good old Monarch Card and Novelty Company will soon be re-opened for business. Hush's plan becomes a bit more devious now, doesn't it? Not only is he planning on exhausting all of the Wayne family resources, thereby significantly diminishing the ease and effectiveness through which Batman is able to fight crime, but he is also planning on tarnishing his reputation by investing in luxury businesses.

I see some problems with Hush's plan:

1) I know that Hush would be reducing unemployment (however only in the short-term) by investing the money to keep this factory open and that the public is sympathetic to anything that would employ the people of Gotham who have lost their jobs. Yet, it's not as if they're fooled to believing they'll be able to sustain the company. Hush seems only to be offering up the initial start-up money to keep the company open for, say, three months. After that, I can't imagine that the Monarch Card company would expect Elliot to pay for all its continued operation expenses. The media itself even admitted that the business is likely to fail and that there might not be a viable market for novelties and card games in these harsh economic times.

And it doesn't "remain to be seen." The random reporter is right. A recent TIME magazine article reports the results of a Nielson Co. study about businesses in the recession. Sports and novelty cards were down 26.5% demonstrating that people are cutting down on discretionary items.

If Hush were offering up free money for a longer period of time, sure it would be a fine idea. But so long as the company is going to have to continue devoting its resources towards a business that is extremely unlikely to succeed, why not just request that Wayne invest in a more viable company and employ the same people in those factories? Since individuals are going out less, they are buying more frozen foods and supplies to store at home. I bet Gotham could sure use some more canned food manufacturing.

I think Elliot's intent here is to have the company crash and burn, which would demoralize Gotham City even more. There would be an added bonus on having the public blame the Wayne family for investing resources poorly.

Besides, who would buy anything from a company called "Monarch" anyway? Oh wait, looks like lots of people from Maine already do.

2) I still don't understand how Hush has access to Wayne's money. It can't just be that looking like someone allows you to spend their billions of dollars. In fact, another panel in this issue (unpictured) actually shows Hush handing out a check that has no account number on it! Huh?

We'll have to wait for future issues to see the effects of Hush's plan on the Monarch Company as well as the Gotham City economy. Let's hope Dick and Damien can keep his charitable reign in check until then.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Keepin' It Real 2: Realing Harder

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Last week, we talked about realism in comics. Today, via the Newsarama Blog and Heidi MacDonald over at The Beat, here are some articles discussing newer comic releases that focus on deeper political, historical and philosophical issues. For example, one of Vertigo's latest releases, Unknown Soldier, paints a portrait of civil war in Uganda:

Not many monthly comic books come with a glossary, but not many comics are like Unknown Soldier. [...] The series, written by Joshua Dysart and illustrated by Alberto Ponticelli, is set in Uganda and includes a reference guide with more than 20 entries, including background on the brutal rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army; the peace activist Abdulkadir Yahya Ali, who was killed; and the Acholi, an ethnic group from the northern part of the country. [...]

This hardly seems like the stuff of traditional comic books, but Unknown Soldier is a regular series.

Unknown Soldier has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, particularly for writer Joshua Dysart's meticulous research and relevance. However, the title is number 237 of the top 300 comics sales for month of July. Topping the charts were books like Captain America: Reborn (which involves mind control and time travel), Blackest Night and Green Lantern (which involve reviving the dead, space battles, and power rings).

Perhaps this does suggest that, on a whole, readers prefer their books with a healthy dose of the fantastic. Of course, it could be issues of marketing and awareness. No one really expected Unknown Soldier to sell better than Blackest Night, but I am a bit surprised it is as low on the list as it is.

Maybe we just don't have a long enough sample period yet. Perhaps once the trade is released and in the wake of this new press, Unknown Soldier will climb the ranks.

What do the readers think?

Spideyconomics 101: Basic Principles


The Amazing Spider-Man #600 by Various (2009)

Moral hazard...

Decisions under Uncertainty...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ecocomics On Facebook!

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Hey everyone -- now you can be our superfriends on Facebook! We're really friendly, so hit us up. Also, we will occasionally be sending messages directly to our Facebook friends with contests and prize opportunities!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Keeping It Real?

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iFanboy says that reality and comics don't mix well:

Unlike chocolate and peanut butter, reality and comic books don't seem to work very well together. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like as soon as a comic book character gets hitched, he becomes incredibly dull. We're expected to go from reading about a character who risks life and limb, to reading about about wedding plans, dinner parties, laundry, and even diaper choices. My life is quite filled with tedium already, do I really need to read about someone who has superpowers and does boring crap?

We've actually touched upon this subject before here. I don't think I quite agree with the assertions made in the above passage. First of all, if reality were to be completely dislodged from comics, then this blog would be blasphemy. But aside from that, the infusion of "reality" into a storyline serves to incentivize readers and broaden the scope of the problems faced by these characters.

Let's take the example of Superman. People have been reading Superman comics for years, watching his idle flirtations with Lois Lane. We also see his persona of Clark Kent composing articles for the Daily Planet. These were elements introduced to the story to highlight Superman's need to be accepted into the society he tries to protect. The fact that he desires to be loved by a human and that he holds a steady job represents him trying to reconcile his alien origins with his human upbringing. So, watching him mumble while trying to ask Lois on a date and seeing him take phone calls in his office might sound boring. And yet, they are unequivocally critical parts of his character. Otherwise, if it was all about the fantasy and adventure, why not just have each comic open with a scene of him being punched and end with a scene of him doing some punching?

Then there are characters that lend themselves to realistic and even tedious elements more than others, such as Iron Man and Batman. Iron Man has a really cool suit that allows him to shoot the bad guys mid-air, but his character was also designed around a set of very real flaws, including subtle self-deprecation masked by a drinking problem. Similarly, Batman is haunted over the death of his parents and is kept in a perpetual state of psychological torture. Should comics only keep the scenes where the heroes figure out where the bad guys are and then beat them up? Should we neglect Tony Stark's fear of becoming intimate with women? Should writers just scrap all the scenes where Batman is brooding in a dark room and being consoled by Alfred? BO-RING!

What about politics and economics? Social issues have always played a major role in comic books. In fact, comic books were once a very effective medium for national propaganda, whether it was Captain America fighting Hitler, Superman fighting the Soviet Union, or whether it was having superheroes urge us to buy war bonds. Consider The Amazing Spider-Man, a title that is rooted in the economy's effect on the major characters, whether it be J. Jonah Jameson's policies as Mayor or Peter Parker's struggle to fund his crusade against crime. Consider Civil War, a title heavily influenced by issues such as government authority and civil liberties. I'm sure there are readers out there who couldn't care less about what Jonah does with the city's money or what the heroes' political beliefs are.

I agree entirely with iFanboy that at a certain point when the more minute elements are substituted for the more fantastic elements, certain titles take a dip in quality. No one needs entire story arcs surrounding the planning of a wedding. However, I think that most comics out there, such as the ones I mentioned above, tread the line very well. Remove these elements entirely and you're left with a story of guy who wears tights and beats up robots. Is that how you would describe the essence of Superman? There would be no depth--nothing to distinguish one superhero from another, aside from the fact that one shoots webs and another throws batarangs.

iFanboy says, "Superman got married and now we're meant to care about his relationship. No, sorry, I don't care. I care about him leaping tall buildings in a single bound." Why? The kicker is that we've always cared about his relationship with Lois. We wouldn't keep reading about it if we didn't and we wouldn't keep reading if the story never changed. Readers need to be rewarded. And what's wrong with having him do laundry? I think laundry is a significant part of his human life and mirros his small-town upbringing in Kansas, again a critical component of his character. He's a myth and he's an alien, but he's very, very human.

So I'd say "You do that laundry, Supes! But after laundry time, go out and beat up Brainiac!"

J. Jonah Jameson and the New York City Economy

Amazing Spider-Man #602 by Fred Van Lente and Barry Kitson (2009)

It's been a little while since we checked in with J. Jonah Jameson. When last we discussed his transition into politics, we knew that Jameson had dedicated most of his government funds towards establishing an anti-Spidey squad. Then he had concocted a desperate scheme to encourage investment in the New York State economy by sponsoring bikini shows.

How have these efforts fared, economically? Surprise: not too well. As Ms. Glory Grant so passionately points out in the panels above, despite JJJ's attempts, the New York State economy remains in a bleak state, with unemployment creeping towards the double digits, education quality dipping, and an increase in homelessness. In real-New York, conditions are, unfortunately, similar. In May, the city's unemployment rate hit 9%, representing about 361,000 without jobs, the highest since 1993. As far as statewide numbers go, the most recent report from the Division of the Budget reported that since August 2008, 236,000 have lost their jobs. In addition, more employment declines are projected for 2010 and the state unemployment rate is expected to hit 9.1% in the first quarter of next year.

Homelessness is a harder statistic to report accurately. However, the NYC Department of Homless Services does take a daily shelter census--the most recent reporting about 36,000 individuals in the system. So, while Grant's assertion that they can almost take over the state of Rhode Island is probably inaccurate (Rhode Island's population is over 1 million according to the Census Bureau), it is still a large number. In fact, historical graphs from the DHS show that it has increased since 2006. I mean, maybe if the population of Rhode Island is particularly wussy...

Perhaps one reason that education, homelessness, and other facets of the economy are doing particularly poorly in Jameson's New York is that he has drastically cut back on critical government programs and services, likely including funding for Medicaid and education. According to Peter Parker, he has also cut transportation services--including many of New York's major bus routes--which has put many people out of work and exacerbated the unemployment statistics. Instead, Jameson has decided to take a strict anti-terrorist stance and invest most government funds into public safety (though this is just a guise to root out the Spider-Man influence).

Of course, we should also scrutinize Glory's diatribe to Peter about supporting the mayor and her duty to "make Jameson look good." However, it looks like her efforts to accomplish this have likewise been unsuccessful:

Polls show that the New York population is impressed with Jameson's ability to "balance the budget," yet disappointed by his obdurate, anti-terrorist stance.

I don't buy it. The Division of the Budget estimates a deficit of $2.1 billion for 2009 - 2010, only to grow to $4.6 billion in 2010-2011. If Jameson managed to "save enough to balance the budget," this means that he would have had to drastically cut down on services. This is especially true considering the amount he spends on anti-terror units, crime prevention, and bikini shows.

And people like their services in New York. A Quinnipiac poll in March 2009 revealed that to balance the budget, 52% of respondents would have favored raising taxes, while only 37% would have preferred to cut services. This implies that, despite the economy being the number one important issue for 52% of New Yorkers, cutting services would likely drag down Jameson's approval ratings--moreso than continuing to fund social programs and increasing taxes. In fact, the 2nd most important issue next to the economy was education, which we know Jameson isn't the biggest supporter of. That and I think it's likely that when people note the economy as a significant issue, they're not necesssarily referring to balancing the budget.

According to a recent poll, real-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's approval ratings have dropped to 63% (i.e. 63% of respondents said that they approve of the way Bloomberg is handling his responsibilities), which is down from 66% is June and from a high of 75% in October 2008. And he did not nearly cut as much as Jameson did. How do you think Jameson's approval ratings would fare in comparison?

Glory is right, however, when she declares that people are upset over Jameson's use of anti-Spider squads. The same March poll revelaed that only 5% fo New Yorkers cited crime as their most important issue.

So, once again, Jameson's tenure as mayor of New York is not going so well. Or at least it shouldn't be. The economy is still in the tank and public approval ratings should be down. Maybe in some sort of fantasy world where superheroes fly around battling aliens that mimick human form, Jameson would be doing better. But not here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where Can We Find the Most Evil People On Earth?

...In his search for the Antichrist, Ghost Rider comes up with the answer.

Ghost Rider: Heaven's On Fire by Jason Aaron and Roland Boschi (2009)

Just how evil are these types? Well...

No wonder people used to flock to these jobs. The opportunity to grow in these companies is stunning. That is, of course, if you're not scared of being killed.

I think that this is what economists should deem "moral hazard."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is Sonic the Hedgehog a Socialist?

I should preface this post by mentioning that this theory has probably been postulated before and that I doubt I am the first person who has considered the following issue. Nevertheless, it is so pertinent and profound such that I would be remiss if I did not attempt to discuss it with the loyal readers of this blog.

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Have you ever played any of the Sonic the Hedgehog games on Sega Genesis? After playing, have you ever had urges to take over your country's economy and redistribute the wealth among the proletariat class? In fact, you might have fallen victim to another cog in the propaganda machine.

It's hard not to have at least some familiarity with the character of Sonic. After all, he was one of the most iconic protagonists in video game history. He was for Sega what Mario was for Nintendo. The basic idea was that this little hedgehog, equipped with magic sneakers that caused him to run super fast, ran from landscape to landscape chasing after an evil, mad scientist. And following the video game came multiple television series and comic books.

Seems pretty simple and wholesome, doesn't it? I mean, what possible harm could this wise-cracking, cute little mammal have on society? And yet, there are nuances to Sonic the Hedgehog that one does not quite comprehend until he or she has reached a certain point in maturity. It takes years of education, experience, and hopefully, an education in the social sciences to discern the true multi-layered meaning behind the Sonic franchise.

To the unsuspecting masses, Sonic the Hedgehog delivered one critical, yet extremely subtle messages: capitalism is evil, while socialism is the means to prosperity.

To see this, simply consider the basic plot of the video game. Dr. Robotnik, an unequivocally evil villain, set out to control the means of production in Sonic Land and expand his profit-making, wold-dominating enterprises. He began stealing animals from the wilderness (i.e. "Green Hill Zone" or "Emerald Hill Zone"), shoving them into a contraption that turned them into robots, and then exploiting them as cheap labor in his various factories and oil refineries. They served as mindless automatons with long hours, no breaks, and likely no health benefits, while Dr. Robotnik flew around in his egg ship, amassing gold rings (the standard currency in Sonic Land). He would then use his vast amount of wealth to build more factories and extract more oil from foreign lands, which he seemingly only used to design booby traps, killer robots, and laser beams to keep away any potential do-gooders.

Most importantly, however, like any industrialist fat-cat, Dr. Robotnik also had a master plan to collect 8 chaos emeralds in order to fuel a giant and unimaginably powerful space station, known as the "Death Egg," to take over the world.

Enter Sonic the Hedgehog: a calm, witty punk-rocker with blue, spiked-up hair and red converse shoes. Sonic single-handedly took up the mission to pursue Dr. Robotnik through his multiple establishments and shut them down one by one by means of jump flips, super speed, and occasional invincibility.

At first, he merely freed his friends from their robotic captivity, stole Dr. Robotnik's gold rings, and redistributed them to the masses in a Robin Hood-like fashion. Yet, Sonic's ultimate goal was to establish and sustain an egalitarian society free from the clutches of bourgeois oppression. As such, his methods grew more extreme and unorthodox as time went on. In Sonic Spinball, for instance, Sonic's no longer cared for freeing animals; rather, he endeavored to actually physically destroy Robotnik's factories (and space station).

Not convinced that Dr. Robotnik actually represented the wealthy industrialist? Consider the names of the zones in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Shortly after leaving Emerald Hill Zone, Sonic travels through Chemical Plant Zone, Aquatic Ruin Zone (an allusion to Robotnik's harmful effect on the ocean wildlife), Casino Zone (Robotnik was also in the gambling racket) and Metropolis Zone (one of Robotnik's major factories). The tragedy is by the time Sonic reaches Oil Ocean Zone, Robotnik's influence had become so disastrous that his oil refinery suffered a major spill, massively polluting the local environment and destroying the animals. Talk about your negative externalities!

However, Sonic finally defeated a robotic version of himself, symbolizing no less than the working man's ultimate victory over the ruling class and its robot warriors.

So, there you have it. Sonic the Hedgehog is a socialist hero. Indeed, this might come as a tremendous shock to you. It might be difficult to reconcile what you thought Sonic represented with what he actually stands for. Yet, regardless of your political beliefs, your economic preferences, or your views on class warfare, there is another lesson, perhaps even more important, that we can glean from our years of following Sonic's adventures. He taught us to stand up for what we believe in, regardless of societal pressures.

And to avoid spikes.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Plutonian and Economic Growth

Irredeemable #5 by Mark Waid and Peter Krause (2009)

In Mark Waid's series, Irredeemable, former God-like superhero, The Plutonian, goes on a killing spree throughout the world, exacting revenge for a yet unknown series of events that had led him to turn into the world's greatest supervillain. In a recent issue, he ponders the number of people that he had killed so far in his rampage, and concludes that the number is well over 8 million, which includes the destruction of virtually all of Singapore.

What would be the effect of such a large-scale and sudden population decrease on the world economy? Well, we can imagine that the destruction of an entire nation would lead to a decrease in overall labor, which would lead to a decrease in world production. In addition, despite its small size, Singapore is the fifteenth largest trading partner of the United States, and in fact generates much of its revenues from the exports of electronics and chemicals, including petroleum products, food/beverages, telecommunications, transport equipment and others. Further, Singapore has a large biotechnology industry, which includes aggressive manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. With Singapore destroyed at the hands of the Plutonian, this will interrupt the world's trade balance.

Speaking of production, there have been many theories that have attempted to detail the relationship between population growth and economic growth. Malthus, for instance, feared that population growth would lead to the exhaustion of the world's resources, and thus theorized that significant population growth would one day lead to massive famine and death. The Simon-Steinmann Economic Growth Model poses that an increase in total population would lead to increase in total number of researchers, which would produce more innovation yield a greater per-capita income.

Some of the most interesting research, in my opinion, has focused on this relationship. For example, this paper by Charles I Jones of Stanford University points out that this intuition of population growth leading to long-term per-capita growth goes against 20th century empirical evidence of the postwar OECD boom, in which increased R&D was associated with stagnant growth.

Alwyn Young of the University of Chicago proposes a different model to attempt to explain this:

This paper modifies models of endogenous innovation to allow for the possibility that a rise in the profitability of innovative activity could lead to an increased variety of differentiated solutions to similar problems. An increased variety of technologies (e.g., an increase in the number and types of contraceptives) will increase the level of utility of the average consumer. If, however, continued improvement of this increased variety of technologies requires increased research input, a rise in the scale of the market could raise the equilibrium quantity of R & D without increasing the economy's growth rate.

So, one potential impact of the Plutonian's reign of terror is less overall technological innovation. Although research suggests the effects of this on economic growth are dubious, such a large and sudden disintegration of the world's population is almost sure to send a deep shock to the economy. After all, some historians have argued that the Black Death had intensified a recession that had already been underway in the European economy since the beginning of the 14th century. Perhaps the Plutonian's ultimate goal, then, is to conduct a massive empirical study of economics. He could be granted an honorary doctorate.

One thing is for sure, as the Plutonian himself points out...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why is Fraud so Easily Committed in Comics?

Spoilers Ahead

Batman R.I.P. by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel (2008)

Comic books are known for the often convoluted and extreme nature of their villainous machinations. Since the early days when Batman would primarily bring ordinary street thugs to justice, criminals have become increasingly more imaginative in their schemes to either steal money or foil their respective superheroes. Often times, these plots involve years of careful scheming, a collusion with like-minded villains, and a significant amount of expenditures in terms of time, money and physical effort.

The Black Glove recently attempted a psychological attack on Batman which involved luring Bruce Wayne into a nefarious sensory deprivation experiment years in advance, introducing a covert love interest into his life, and fabricating the return of Thomas Wayne. Norman Osborn, through years of work, is now a prominent political figure in the United States. The Red Skull recently attempted infiltrating Captain America's mind through a combination of fake assassination attempts and time travel (which Mark discusses here).

Despite all this meticulous planning and ingenuity, what continually surprises me in comic books is the ease with which villains seem to commit fraud. In fact, I don't know whether the banking system or personal identification infrastructure is just regulated much less than on real-Earth, but villains always seem to get away with crimes such as identity theft and insurance fraud.

Consider the following examples from recent literature.

Exhibit A: The Hunter

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke (2009)

In Darwyn Cooke's latest adaptation of Richard Stark's novel, the protagonist, Parker, secures a fake driver's license and uses it to score a checkbook associated with a real bank account. He does this by going to the Department of Motor Vehicles and filling out a State of New York driver's license form with the arbitrary name, "Edward Johnson." He then steals a ballpoint pen, coincidentally being of the same color as the DMV's in-house approval stamps, and literally sketches the words "Paid, Nov. 6, 1962" in the space reserved for the state stamp. Finally, he treads from bank to bank, claiming to the teller that he had misplaced his checkbook and forgot his account number, displaying his fake driver's license as certification of his identity.

Granted I'm not an expert in the 1960s regulatory structure, but this seems entirely too easy. He did not actually steal a legitimate personal identification document from someone else, but rather created a false one on his own. This means that he also fabricated a driver's license number. Shouldn't the bank have had this information and have crossed-checked it with the account before handing out a checkbook?

Furthermore, I never knew that in the 1960s, the form that one fills out in the DMV actually also served as the license. Though, again, I am not an expert in the history of personal identification.

Parker's plan seems to have required a bit too much luck. He had to have used a pen, the color of which had to be nearly identical with the state stamp. He had to have been such a meticulous artist that his quick sketch of the stamp had to fool a bank teller, who likely sees driver's licenses many times a day. He had to find a bank that had an existing account for the name "Edward Johnson" and hope that the teller did not recognize the individual. And finally, he had to rely on the gross negligence of the bank to merely accept a name, overlook the stamp and phony driver's license number, and quickly dispense a new checkbook and disseminate the account number.

Exhibit B: Streets of Gotham

Streets of Gotham #2 by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen (2009)

We've detailed Hush's latest plans of attacking the Wayne family here and here. To reiterate, his nefarious plan is to be charitable: he intends to invest $1 billion of Wayne funds a month towards rebuilding the Gotham City infrastructure and to shocking a lethargic economy brought down by the recession. Although devious enough, his plan suffers from a critical flaw: how, exactly, does he have access to Bruce's money?

Thomas Elliot (Hush) presupposes that just by holding a press conference under the guise of Bruce Wayne and announcing his intentions that he would be able to commit these funds. Yet, don't regulations exist against these very abuses? There are conspicuously no documents that Hush needs to sign in order to secure this transfer. There are no PIN numbers, credit card numbers or bank account numbers he needs to divulge in order to gain access to these accounts. There is no proof of identity involved. No nothing! Just by being a skilled plastic surgeon, Hush is able to skirt all individual protection laws and commit identity theft on a massive scale.

Does this imply that anybody could gain access to another individual's life savings just by looking like them? Could identical twins steal each other's money? Could Superboy Prime access Superboy's bank account? Could Zooey Deschanel book a trip to Paris on Katy Perry's tab?

Exhibit C: Incognito
See our post on Zack Overkill's attempt to commit credit card fraud here.

It seems as though the individual protections that exist on real-Earth to guard against the aforementioned infractions are negligible or absent in comic books. Perhaps it would save cities some money, individuals some lives, and superheroes some work if the United States government were to consider implementing such regulations. This is particularly true in a world where shapeshifting supervillainy is rampant. It is irresponsible for the government not to have done so already.

On the other hand, I don't recall Clayface or Mystique committing identity theft before.

Which is more Economically Feasible: Time Manipulation or Cloning?

*Spoilers Herein*

We've all heard of the death of Captain America. In Captain America #25 it seemed like the original Cap, Steve Rogers, was shot by a sniper and then finished off by his brainwashed girlfriend Sharon Carter. This was all portrayed as part of the Skull's devious plan to manipulate the American political landscape and get a candidate loyal to the Skull to win a presidential election.

In the current Captain America: Reborn mini-series it seems that the Red Skull's plot to kill Captain America was actually much more sinister. After the Skull was murdered by Aleksander Lukin, the ruthless head of the Krona corporation, the Skull's mind was trapped in Lukin's body via the use of a Cosmic Cube (only in comics folks). Once in this position, the Red Skull began scheming to get his mind out of an unacceptable vessel (old Russian man) and into an acceptable one (hunky Steve Rogers). That's all derailed by the intervention of Bucky, Falcon, Black Widow, and Sharon Carter.

Now the Skull is trapped in a cybernetic body and is enlisting the help of Norman Osborn to capture Steve Rogers' time-traveling body and fill it up with his Naziness. But doesn't this seem overly convoluted? Even for a man who was trapped in suspended animation for forty years and wears a red skull mask on his head? Who was once aged to an elderly man and died of a heart attack but got better. And who was also reduced to becoming a shadow creature who ate the bones of people who went to the beach. Hmmmm, maybe this is right up the Red Skull's alley.

But still, the infrastructure and planning required to carry out this particular devious scheme seems needlessly difficult. To enact his plan the Skull needed to first brainwash Sharon Carter to shoot Steve Rogers with a wacky time gun. Then the Skull needed to develop machinery to rip Steve out of time and place the Skull's mind in his body. All elements of this plan need to be enacted in a perfectly organized manner and new technology must be developed to complete the goals set forth by the Skull's scheme. This plot requires its own infrastructure of lackeys and scientists to work out all the elements that the Red Skull can't himself. So this plot requires large amounts of money to be expended for materials and labor.

I'm sure it would be simpler just to clone Captain America. Or put your mind into his body without shooting him through time. Granted the story of Captain America: Reborn is still unfolding and we don't know exactly what will happen or what the full depths of Skull's plan may be. But Captain America has been cloned before and the Skull has previously used Cap's DNA to give him the same super strength and endurance as his foe. Granted, by putting his mind into Steve Roger's body, the Skull is able to effectively kill his arch enemy and then use his foe's form to create all kinds of nasty havoc. Still his choice of plan, while undoubtedly villainous, seems somewhat unnecessary.

Had Skull simply followed established procedure rather than going a new route (which undoubtedly requires a huge R&D investment to work out the new technology required for Skull's body swap in time) he would have been able to get a new body quickly and economically. And he wouldn't be trapped in an Arnim Zola robot and be forced to talk out of his chest.


Ecocomic Recession Watch: Spider-Man Edition (Again)

In this week's Amazing Spider-Man, Mark Waid peppers the issue with discussions of the economic downturn and its effects on the people in Peter Parker's life. First, Peter tries to visit Harry Osborn, only to be told...

The Amazing Spider-Man #601 by Mark Waid and Mario Alberti (2009)

Next, we have Peter visiting The DB. Except things are not really going so well in the newspaper industry either (which we covered here)...

And finally...

Now, the reader is aware that the first panel is not exactly true. Actually, Harry's move involved a recent confrontation with his father, Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin. Even still, something I was always curious about was whether the recession had an impact on moving or trucking companies. Harry is just one example of the many individuals who had been forced to abandon their houses or apartments for more modest accommodations. If there is a surge in moving, would this also be accompanies by an accretion in profits for moving companies? On the other hand, businesses have been cutting on the costs for transportation of materials, which would abate trucking profits. Anybody know of any data on the utilization of movers?

The fact that Glory Grant and Betty Brant now have to room together is also reflective of the state of the economy. Here are two articles on people being forced to find roommates to contribute towards living expenses during the recession. In fact, a spokeswoman for Craigslist had mentioned in March that roommate listings on the website had increased by 65% over the last year. Listings increased 75% in Las Vegas alone.

By the way, does anybody know how I might be able to use Google Maps to discover an individual's new address? That seems like a pretty powerful feature that bellhop is referring to.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Businesses of Disrepute: Meta-Brawl

(Guest Post from Metropolis)

"The Cat and the Canary" from Justice League Unlimited Season 1, Episode 14 (2005)

In this episode of Justice League Unlimited, Black Canary enlists Green Arrow’s help in busting open an illegal sports betting ring. What sport? Octagon-style metafighting. Run by Roulette, Meta-Brawl was a highly profitable operation where well-to-do types with a penchant for violence could watch superhuman gladiator matches and bet on the outcome. Much like being the sole movie theater in town, Meta-Brawl probably had near-monopoly power in setting admission fees. But being a smart businesswoman it is likely that Roulette charged a lower admission (something closer to the competitive price) and then ratcheted up her effective commission for those interested in gambling, thereby employing a two-part tariff to price discriminate.

The commission comes from Roulette’s function as a bookmaker. To illustrate how she made money on fights, imagine a bout between Atomic Skull and Wildcat. Assume that the two outcomes are Wildcat wins or Wildcat loses, with equal probability. If you were betting against a friend, the odds of each outcome would be 1-1 and a $100 stake would pay off $200. However, when placing bets at Roulette’s she would likely give each of you odds of 4-5, meaning for every $5 invested you stand to make a profit of $4 if your pick wins. This translates into a potential payout of $180 on a $100 investment. This is worse than even money, even though the odds of either fighter winning have remained at 50%.

In the above example the bookmaker’s “fair” book is 100% (50%+50%) but the actual book is 111.12% because 4-5 odds correspond to a probability of 55.56%. This extra 11.12% is called the overround. To ensure profits, Roulette would try to take bets in proportion to the underlying probabilities. In our simple case, with each fighter being equally likely to win, she would want all the money evenly split between the two.

To see her profits imagine she has 100 gamblers betting $100 on Atomic Skull, and the same action on Wildcat. She takes in $20,000 but only pays out $18,000 regardless of who wins. The remaining $2,000 is her profit, and represents 10% of total turnover. This 10% is called the Vig, or Roulette’s commission, for acting as an intermediary.

What if Wildcat, being the hometown hero, received a majority of the bets? Suppose 150 people put money on him and only 50 bet on Atomic Skull. If Roulette didn’t change the underlying odds she would now be at risk of losing money. Suppose Atomic Skull blasts Wildcat with a healthy dose of radioactivity, frying our hero’s organs. Roulette would only be paying out $9000 (return of $5000 investment + $4000 profit) and keeping $11,000. Great deal, right? But if Wildcat manages to dodge the energy blast and knock out Atomic Skull with an uppercut to the jawbone, you can bet Roulette will be feeling the pain vicariously. Now 150 people are each expecting to receive $180, or $27,000 total. She would be stuck $7000.

Being a genius at calculating odds we can assume Roulette has planned for this contingency. She would change her book by having 3-1 odds on Atomic Skull and 1-3 on Wildcat. She would again reduce these odds when taking bets to ensure that the actual book is over 100%. Now, as before, she will make money regardless of the outcome.

Being an illegal establishment there are a number of other strategies Roulette can employ to make additional profits. Let’s suspend our disbelief for a moment and suppose that she manages to capture Batman. The crowd would love nothing more than to see the Caped Crusader get pummeled, and might be more inclined to bet against him. Roulette can then offer worse odds to Batman’s opponent and likely make a killing. On the other hand there’s no better risk-mitigating strategy than cheating. Roulette could arrange for one of the fighters to take a fall and split the profits with him.

Either way, Meta-Brawl was a terrific business enterprise while it lasted.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Superhero Franchising

Name recognition is a powerful thing. That's the whole reason why franchising is such a successful process. Having the powerful security provided by a popular brand brings with it a built-in customer base and an inherent level of trust in the product you provide.

Even superheroes can be seen involved with franchising. Batman has an entire family of heroes associated with him (Batgirl, Batwoman, Nightwing, Robin, Huntress, the International Club of Heroes, Spoiler, Red Robin, Ace the Bat-Hound, etc.). The same is true for Captain America (U.S. Agent, Bucky, Nomad, Super Patriot, The Spirit of '76), Spider-Man (Spider-Woman, the Steel Spider, The Scarlet Spider), Iron Man (War Machine, Rescue) and Superman (Supergirl, Superboy, Steel, and Krypto the Superdog).

But the difference is that instead of providing tasty burgers as a franchise service (ala Red Robin or Five Guys and to a lesser extent Burger King), hero franchises provide justice and evil thwarting. But the security provided by brand recognition still exists. If you needed to choose a hero for a good thwart, wouldn't you choose Batwoman over The Question if you had no other information besides their names? The boost Batwoman receives through her nominal association with Batman makes her seem like a better choice. And though heroes like Nightwing and Robin don't have the name recognition aspect of superhero franchising, their established connection with an effective and prominent hero makes them more desirable thwarters as well.

For a burgeoning superhero, it seems that aligning yourself with a currently existing hero can only help to build your recognition and your acclaim. But what incentive does the hero whose name is being lent out have? Does Batman gain anything from lending parts of his persona to Batgirl? Does Iron Man benefit by his association with War Machine? In many cases (namely with War Machine) the hero's image can be tarnished by the individuals in his/her franchise. If a violent pretender tries to usurp your role (like the 3 evil Batmen from Grant Morrison's Batman run & Nite-Wing messing with Nightwing), doesn't that damage a hero's perception with the public?

Perhaps that's why superheroes should turn unofficial heroic franchises into official ones. The current system allows pretenders to tack "Bat" or "Spider" onto their names without any official approval from the initial steadfast and popular hero. But if the most popular heroes organize themselves and only allow heroes they approve to use their names, the system could be streamlined and monitored. This means that a young hero seeking to use the name of, oh I don't know, Most Excellent Superbat would need to contact the hero he was franchising the name from and seek approval. Then pending approval, the new crimefighter could buy all his equipment and receive training from the originator of the title. This would ensure a baseline level of quality and uniformity for the new hero's heroic activities.

It just makes good sense.

In some cases...

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.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Fruitful Partnership?

The Amazing Spider-Man #583 by Zeb Wells and Todd Nauck (2008)
The Amazing Spider-Man #600 by Various (2009)

Perhaps Obama should be a little more cautious in choosing his allies. After all, if he's planning on implementing comprehensive health reform, he might lose a considerable amount of public support if Spider-Man is running around, accusing people of being hippies and destroying the nation's values. And if Spidey's opinions on policy are this easily manipulated, he would not make a great representative for Obama anyway.

Actually looking at the cover for The Amazing Spider-Man #583 makes me think that Spider-Man is not so much a partner of Obama as he is a spy. Hiding in the background and taking photos is not conducive to trust. Plus it seems that all he cares about is fame and having his face on the dollar bill.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems?

In yesterday's Dinosaur Comics, T-Rex ponders a fairly important debate, namely the relationship between money and happiness. The first thing to consider here is what is meant by "happiness." It is a general tenet of economics, for instance, that more money or disposable income (or any sort of resource that augments a consumer's purchasing power) leads to an increase in satisfaction. Economists refer to this measure of satisfaction or desirability as utility. That is to say, utility functions of money are generally regarded by economists as being increasing functions (though not necessarily strictly increasing).

The point that T-Rex raises is that money might affect happiness in varying degrees depending on the levels of income. For example, he postulates that awarding enough money to lower-income individuals such that they could purchase food or or clothes for their children, where they could not previously, would increase their happiness levels. However, he also notes that billionaires are not uniformly happy and that affording more money to such billionaires might not increase their happiness levels by as large a magnitude as it would for the lower-income populations.

Within the framework of economics, this phenomenon is known as diminishing marginal utility (the marginal utility decreases as money increases) and implies that the utility function of money is both nonlinear and concave as the following graph shows:

reprinted from

Of course, this curve need not always be the case. In fact, the notion of risk plays quite a significant role in determining the value of money towards satisfaction or utility. The above graph implies that an individual is risk-averse. However, an individual that is risk-seeking would actually derive more marginal happiness from increases in money. In other words, the individual is more willing to gamble for the possibility of large payoffs than receiving a lesser amount of money for certain. Unlike the above graph, a risk-seeking individual would have a convex utility function.

Indeed, this is all theoretical and in reality happiness can take a meaning that is quite distinct from what economists have identified as utility. Moreover, the factors influencing happiness are still relatively uncertain and consequently happiness is pretty difficult to measure. For someone like T-Rex, it's fairly simple: stomping on houses and X-box equals happiness. But for Utahraptor, it might be something else entirely. Like negating T-Rex's arguments.

So, what then are the empirical results of the relationship between money and happiness? According to one study from 2001 in the UK, money can apparently buy happiness:

We find that, as theory predicts, a windfall of money in year t is followed by lower mental stress and higher reported happiness. As a conservative estimate, a windfall of 50,000 pounds (75,000 US dollars) improves mental wellbeing between 0.1 and 0.3 standard deviations.

This study seems interesting in that it uses mental stress and psychological health as measures of happiness. It also follows individuals longitudinally, thereby gauging their happiness levels over a period of time. Although, I believe the study is only limited to two years after the sample, possibly suggesting that people might adjust to some baseline level of happiness after receiving monetary windfalls.

Here is something more recent by Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson at the University of Pennsylvania. Here is a NYTimes summary of the research and here is the Freakonomics Blog. In this paper, it is argued that self-reported measures of happiness rise with income not only within a society, but on a more macro level between poorer and richer countries (rejecting the notable Easterlin Paradox, whichargues that there is no link between a society's economic development and well-being).

I am not too familiar with the major research on money and happiness, so I would love if the readers could point me to some of the bigger studies. It is a fascinating subject. But as of my quick reading, T-Rex's (and Notorious BIG's) assertion that Mo' Money == Mo' Problems seems unlikely overall (assuming problems lead to unhappiness).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Should Spider-Man Advertise More?

Update 08/04/2009: Correcting an error that I had written below: the co-author of this study is C. Robert Clark of the Institute of Applied Economics in Montreal, not Robert C. Clark of Harvard University. Incidentally, one of the co-authors of the paper is from Harvard University. Tricky!

"Fight at the Museum" in Amazing Spider-Man #600 by Zeb Wells and Derec Donovan

I've been writing a lot recently about Spider-Man. The reason is that the group of writers who put out The Amazing Spider-Man have recently released a gigantic sized issue, which contains several stories, almost all of which touch upon Peter Parker's struggle to keep himself afloat in the economy.

In one story, Peter finds himself in a museum staring at, much to his dismay, a model of a "Spider-Mobile" that an advertising agency had helped him design in order to better brand his name. It sound silly, but it is understandable why Spidey would want to better market his image. With J. Jonah Jameson previously running The Daily Bugle, one of the most prominent newspapers in New York City, and now with him as Mayor, Spider-Man's popularity ebbs and flows. He wants to take every opportunity that he can in order to convince the public that he is a champion rather than a vigilante menace. One way of achieving this is through appropriate advertising.

Here's the problem: turns out that the Spider-mobile might have been ill-conceived. It seems as though rather than garnering public support, it may have had the adverse effect of eliciting public ridicule. In the museum, Peter is tormented as he watches a group of kids laughing at the automobile rather than praising it and, by extension, supporting Spider-Man himself.

However, Spider-Man shouldn't fret too much. In actuality, it is not likely that advertising and branding would have really altered public perception of the web-crawler. A recent study (not sure if there is an ungated version) by Robert C. Clark of Harvard University examined a panel data set of advertising expenditures for over 300 brands in order to determine the effect on both brand awareness and perceived quality. The overall results suggest that advertising expenditures have a significant effect on awareness but no significant effect on perceived quality.

There does, however, seem to be a noted distinction once measuring the effects for different categories of products. For example, expenditures for the fast food industry had a marginal effect of 0.0144 on brand awareness and a marginal effect of 0.000727 on perceived quality (which is pretty large compared to the rest of the categories).

The author does admit to some limitations. For instance, the relationship between expenditures, brand awareness and perceived quality is only tested for the short-run. A larger panel might reveal some more significant results, particularly for quality (although a six-year panel is pretty long as far as short-run goes).

Similar theories have been argued with regard to politicians and campaign finances. Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics, for example, have found no significant relationship between campaign spending and electoral outcomes.

In general, I think this means that Spider-Man should not worry too much about what a particular group of children think about his corny Spidey-Mobile. As he is not selling fast food or consumer electronics, it is unlikely to have a significant effect on the public's perception of him as a hero. In fact, maybe Spider-Man should focus more on heroics and less on advertising, as I doubt it would even serve much to increase his awareness. Jameson is pretty much doing that job for him.

Really, advertising and branding probably works best for new heroes trying to break into the business, such as the Super Young Team. As they are up-and-coming, they need significant brand awareness to compete in the market. Hence, the fact that they engage in these marketing ventures (using twitter, associating themselves with particular products, etc.), could actually have a positive effect for their recognition.

For Spider-Man, however, just get out there and keep beating up Doc Ock. As the saying goes, there is no bad publicity.