Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Crime Brokers

Cover to Batman #444 (art by Michael Bair)

Recently, while reading an old issue of Batman I had picked up in a 50 cent bin, I was struck by the story of the Crimesmith. She is a villain who provides other crooks with supposedly "fool-proof" plans to take down scores in exchange for a percentage of the profits from these heists. Unfortunately, fool-proof does not include "Batman-proof" and the Crimesmith's nefarious schemes are thwarted.

Not long ago, I posted a discussion of how many criminals should change careers and use them for more lucrative and less physically injurious means. The Crimesmith is something of an example of that. Rather than place herself in dangerous situations, she merely devises plans and sends them out in exchange for 60% of the loot. This is profitable and reduces the threat to the Crimesmith. Unfortunately, Crimesmith was not discerning in her clientele and sold her plans to some true morons. The morons bumbled the Crimesmith's plans and alerted Batman to her presence. But in general, the Crimesmith's strategies were safe ones. She removed herself directly from criminal activities, dealt only with intermediaries to hide her identity, and in the end got away free (despite the fact her operation was destroyed). In general, the Crimesmith showed that supporting outlandish villainy was more effective than engaging in the villainy itself.

My colleague, the Shadowbanker, wrote about an analogous Batman character, The Broker, who acts as an exotic real-estate agent to all of Gotham's villains. Much like the Crimesmith, rather than being a real villain, the Broker merely supports Gotham's villainous community. This is safer (arguably) and more profitable than being a true Batman rogue.


Art from Batman: Streets of Gotham #4, art by Dustin Nguyen

DC has yet another character, The Calculator, who is the counterpart to the heroic Oracle. Calculator also specializes in information and sells this information to the villain community for large sums. The Calculator's abilities were so valued that they garnered him a place in Lex Luthor's Society of Villains during Infinite Crisis.

Cover to Birds of Prey #126 (art by Stephane Roux)

Clearly these examples show that when it comes to being evil, look to the business world for success. The formula is maximize profit, minimize risk, develop assests, and protect yourself.

Kudos to DC for giving us some villains that we can relate to.

17 comments:

Marcelo said...

Wasn't that Moriarty's M.O. as well? I always thought that the Holmes-Moriarty war is among the greatest of untold crime stories.

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SevenDollarPen said...

I'm reminded of how Omar Little (who robs drug dealers) responds to drug lawyer Maurice Levy's allegation that Omar is a parasite feeding off drug culture in The Wire: "I carry the shotgun, you carry the briefcase; it's all in the game."

Criminal enterprise is an industry like any other, and it has a wide array of direct and indirect participants. One doesn't have to be out on the street terrorizing people in order to profit from the operation. The profiteer needs only the willingness to exploit a culture of blight and depravity.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. Crime is not only about the expected value of the return but also the variability of the return. Being a principal in a crime carries a lot of personal risk; being a provider of information services to a criminal provides a high payoff with reduced risk. This is risk management, and the provider is hedging their exposure by only providing information (and not the execution) for a fee.

Matt said...

On the Marvel side there's The Taskmaster who trains a villain's lackeys. Also there's a character who designs suits for both heroes and villains.

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