Monday, February 22, 2010

Comics Characters Occasionally Recognize Limited Resources

Cover to Uncanny X-Men #520, art by Terry Dodson

An interesting point comes up in Uncanny X-Men #520. During the "Utopia" crossover, Scott Summers and the X-Men created massive engines to lift Asteroid M out of the ocean. This allowed the X-Men to create a floating haven for all the mutants left in the world. The resulting island refuge was dubbed Utopia. And mutantkind would live happily ever after, isolated from people who would look to hurt them...

Unfortunately, the X-Men were very short sighted in their construction of this new home. No-one thought to mention that when you build giant engines to lift an asteroid, you need to power and repair those same engines. Woops.

This is the point brought up by Dr. Nemesis (a member of the mutant science team put together by Beast) in Uncanny #520. In a briefing with Cyclops, Nemesis reveals that the engines keeping Utopia afloat are failing and that the island is sinking. The only solution he can think of is to tap into the wealth of Warren Worthington (the X-Man, Angel) and continuously build replacement engines. But, as Nemesis points out, the consequence of this would be to bankrupt Worthington.

This is important because, finally, in a comic book, a character acknowledges the fact that even a billionaire still has limited financial resources.

Comics history is filled with characters who have seemingly bottomless pockets. Think about it. For years, the Xavier Institute has been sustained by Professor Xavier and Warren Worthington. Somehow, the nebulous assets held by these two men has paid for housing and feeding hundreds of mutants, building countless supersonic jets and periodically rebuilding a massive mansion when Sentinels blow it up.

Batman is able to create an arsenal of weaponry that could conquer a small European nation. He has literally hundreds of cars, jets, boats, explosives, grappling hooks, and bat-shaped shuriken that he created using his personal wealth. And his assets are so great that Bruce Wayne is able to build all of these things without anyone noticing that he is using his money to build ridiculous contraptions. This means that he can buy a Bat-plane without creating enough of a dent to arouse suspicion. That is a LOT of money.

But in Uncanny X-Men # 520, we see that wealth is, in fact, finite and that someone can't keep buying engines for a mutant asteroid indefinitely. It's nice to see someone in this universe who is in touch with reality. Even if that person is an immortal man in a white suit and surgeon's mask who dual wields hypodermic injection pistols.

Dr. Nemesis from Uncanny X-Men #504, Art by Terry Dodson

27 comments:

Marcelo said...

I wonder if a possible explanation for the unrealistic wealth of comic books' richest people could be found in subtler differences in the economies of their worlds (I mean, aside from comic book writers don't caring about that). Perhaps worlds with vibranium, super-geniuses, multiple artificial intelligences, contacts with advanced extraterrestrial societies, etc, are much richer than our own, in a way that would explain why their ultra-wealthy people seem to be wealthier than our Buffets et al.

Of course, they are still worlds where society is recognizably similar to ours, and where the average standard of living seems to track ours, despite their huge technological advances, so they are also likely to be much more unequal.

Seangreyson said...

To be fair to the X-men, they do have a significant source of off planet financing, since a sizable amount of their "modern" tech comes from the Shi'ar.

That's clearly fallen off quite a bit with all the chaos in space, so it's not surprising that they've suddenly discovered harder limits to their funding.

Lawnmower Boy said...

I bet Psylocke is standing like that so as to minimise contact with the yucky water. Wolverine doesn't care, because he's a manly man.
Want to know how I guessed that Psylocke is a girl? There are subtle clues in the art.

Seth Finkelstein said...

"He has literally hundreds of cars, jets, boats, explosives, grappling hooks, and bat-shaped shuriken that he created using his personal wealth."

Does he have literally HUNDREDS of cars, jets, boats? I was under the impression it's around a few dozens cars, and a couple of relatively small jets and boats. That's not unimaginable or unexplainable for someone with several hundred million. The Bat-plane is explained as playboy Bruce's private "party plane", like the Google founders have. The boats can be attributed as part of the fancy races rich people engage in. And what playboy doesn't have some fast cool cars? (which need to be heavily modified for security reasons)

i.e:
"Sure, the Wayne estate has a professional auto shop.The guy is nuts - he wants his cars to be fast, handle beautifully, and be tough so someone can't kidnap him. That's a lot of money. Same requirements as the Batmobile? It's the same requirements as every wealthy young guy with security needs"

colsmi said...

I worry that the X-Men seem to conceive of their wealth as something they obtain from Warren, and which they keep taking from Warrem until it runs out.

Is the real problem here that the X-Men need to start exploiting their abilities and knowledge in the market. Or, to put it another way, get a job or two? They seem to lack an entrepreneurial spirit in their mutant state. It's almost as if they're like teenage boys who want to concentrate on their band while having mummy'n'daddy pay their rent.

The brains trust should be spending at least some time on research designed to generate big bucks. Then Cyclops needs to think of the job market as well as other fiscal oppurtunities: the mutants have a vast array of skills & abilities. They could start by helping Namor finish looting all the treasure on the bottom of the ocean. And the knowledge they have, of outer-space, advanced tech, alien dimensions, even Hell dimensions ... if folks like Reed Richards won't help with the floating island crisis now, I bet they might if the X-men offered to trade knowledge that Richards and like lack.

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In Uncanny X-Men Doctor Nemesis revealed he has altered his eyes to give him enhanced vision and the ability to see genetic anomalies. He is a genius in several fields, and uses various self-developed weapons and gadgetry, as well as being a good athlete and hand-to-hand combatant.

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