Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

reprinted from

A note to all supervillains out there: you'd have to be really low to plan an attack today, while our superheroes are busy eating turkey with their families.

Unless you're the Joker. Batman is always ready.

See you all on Monday!

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?

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Supply of Water in Metropolis 2: Supply Harder

Superman #692 by James Robinson and Fernando Dagnino (2009)

Recently, we posted about the current state of disarray in Metropolis following a disastrous attack that left the city's sewer system virtually irreparable. Specifically, we had argued that the massive wave of dehydration, thirst, and overall panic was likely exaggerated. Since then, a loyal reader has written a wonderful response, arguing that the effects might have been more accurate than I had imagined and using post-Katrina New Orleans as a comparison.

Also when looking at New Orleans we can see how politics and social issues impacted humanitarian response, but the ShadowBanker's analysis of what happened in Metropolis is presented in an apolitical or asocietal manner. In the DC Universe, cities, states, and governments may act apolitically or altruistically, but water governance in the north and south cannot be seen as separated from its political, historical, cultural context.

Indeed this is true and I did leave out the political elements in my analysis. The catastrophe in New Orleans was criticized not only for lack of adequate preparation, but also for government mismanagement after the fact. This raises the question of how effective governments really are in dealing with crises like these. Regarding disaster relief, the National Response Plan dictated that local governments have to first exhaust all of their resources before the feds step in with the big guns. Obviously for something like Katrina, this should have happened much sooner. Many also alleged that racism/socioeconomic status was a significant cause of the delayed government response, given that pre-Katrina New Orleans was composed of about 60% African-Americans.

Whether this is true or not: beats me. However, Metropolis' situation is different from New Orleans for several reasons:

1) Metropolis is likely a much wealthier city than New Orleans. Not to mention it is used to dealing with crises way worse than this on a near-weekly basis. Preparation-wise, I think Metropolis ought to know what its doing by now.

It's also not just that the government has more resources, but its people sort of do too. A quick run on the 2005 Current Population Survey (which reports data for 2004--before Katrina), shows that median household income in New York State in 2004 was about $40,000 and the mean was about $60,000. In Louisiana, the median was about $33,000 and the mean was about $46,000. In New York, about 19% of the population lived below the federal poverty level in 2004 and about 18% lived between 100% and 200% of poverty. In Louisiana, it was 21.3% living below poverty and 23.5% living between 100 and 200% of poverty.

Obviously this is not the best comparison since these are numbers for the entire state and not the cities. If I could run on the cities, I bet there would be much larger distinctions. Second, we have no idea how Metropolis compares to New York City--I'm just guessing. Also, I'm not sure these numbers really had anything to do with anything. Your guess is as good as mine. Here are the graphs:

2) If it was a racism issue that slowed the federal response, then aid would have certainly come quicker to Metropolis. Similarly, using the 2005 CPS, it looks like in New York State, 17% of the population were reported as being African-American In Louisiana, it was about 33%. Again, these are state numbers. But according to this New York City fact sheet from the Census Bureau, it's about 25% in the city. That's much smaller than the 60% or so in New Orleans!

3) Lets' not forget that Metrpolis' problem is exclusively its lack of water. There was no hurricane that devastated the entire city, wiping out homes and displacing families. There's no shortage of food, clothing or shelter. It's water and water alone. I am in no way vindicating the US government, but it had a lot more to do in New Orleans than it would have here in Metropolis.

The post also has this argument:

ShadowBanker talks about 'thugs' supplying water to the city's people for high prices, but small vendors are a very important part of water supply systems. The Asian Development Bank found that in some parts of Manila up to 50% of people rely on informal vendors for water, which means these vendors are filling a massive gap in service provision. Water is often sold at higher prices, and this is a big problem when trying to service the poor, but in some places there may not be another option.

It's funny that he mentioned this because I had just read a post by Tyler Cowen about water in Yemen.

...the market price of water has quadrupled in the past four years, pushing more and more people to drill illegally into rapidly receding aquifers.

Here is the longer (and fascinating) story. Basically the country is running out of water. The article focuses on the fact that half of the Yemeni water supply goes to grow an addictive drug called qat.

Again, though, this is in Manila and in Yemen. I'm not sure if thugs would have their day in Metropolis after some supervillains cleverly destroyed the sewers using nanotechnology.

It's a sad story, but if politics/social issues really were the major cause of delay, then it's very probable that Metropolis would have received considerably better treatment. Anyway, this was a really interesting response. Thank you very much, K. Hamada!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Libertarian Batman

Via Brad Delong, here is an image from Paul Pope's Elseworlds tale, "The Berlin Batman." Set in 1938, it tells the story of Baruch Wayne, wealthy socialite by day and a masked vigilante by night, who is tasked with recovering an early manuscript of Ludgwig von Mises' Human Action (that had been stolen by the Nazis). Mises was famous for championing laissezs-faire capitalism and influencing the modern libertarian movement.

The Berlin Batman stands as a symbol of hope to free-market thinkers everywhere and an enemy of aggressive government regulators. Incidentally, The Berlin Batman is Ron Paul's favorite superhero.

reprinted from
Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot. They want nothing short of a profligate system of government-run health care. Father, how do I make them afraid?

Yes, father, I shall become a libertarian.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Financial Retcons?

The world of comics is awash with shady details that are constantly in flux. When did Wonder Woman leave Paradise Island? 1940? 1986? 1991? 2000? Nobody really knows. Is Jason Todd dead or alive? Is Bucky a frozen corpse or a brainwashed super-spy working for the Russians? How does Batman stay in his early 30s while Dick Grayson ages 10 years before our eyes?

Comic book history is full of details that have been changed, rewritten or ignored. This is the essence of the RETCON! When writers need to make comics history new or fresh, they simply change it. For example, Superman is the last Kryptonian. No he's not. He has Supergirl, Krypto, General Zod, Ursa, Non, Streaky the Super-Cat... Oh wait no... yeah he's the last Kryptonian again. Thanks Crisis on Infinite Earths. But wait... you brought all those people back again? And now there's an entire city of Kryptonians alive because they were captured by Braniac (the REAL Braniac this time, because all other versions of him were fake). Alright then.

The world of comicdom is constantly in flux. But right now, so is the world of finance. The world economy is in its own Zero Hour, Crisis in Finance (though time is probably applicable to a certain degree).

In light of the recent bankruptcy of CIT, it occurred to me that financial bailouts are essentially the retcon of the financial world. We know that the mismanagements of the past occurred and somewhere in the back of our minds, we know those events still count. AIG did need monetary assistance because of bad investments. However, we're also presented with a reset version of the world where AIG is no longer a company unable to meet its financial obligations. These changes happen suddenly, with little or no justification or respect for history.

One second Ford and GM are in severe financial trouble because of their policies. The next minute it's bonuses for everyone in financial solvency land.

We have witnessed a Deus Ex Machina restructuring the financial landscape. We can call these changes... Greenspan Punches.

Update: Technically, it's supposed to be a "Bernake Punch," but how cool is that Greenspan photo?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What if the X-Men Were Rich?

reprinted from

I read an article recently, via Mark Thoma, that asked the question of whether the super-rich will eventually evolve into a separate species of superhumans. Here is a clip:

As medicine becomes super advanced, and super expensive, the super rich may evolve into a completely different species from everyone else, according to American futurologist Paul Saffo. He thinks medical technology such as replacement organs, specially tailored drugs, and genetic research tools to alert the moneybags of any possible hereditary health dangers, could all lead to a new class of rich, elite, and longer-living humans.

Here are Saffo’s thoughts on the advantages this would give the rich, as reported in the Guardian:

“I sometimes wonder if the very rich can live, on average, 20 years longer than the poor. That’s 20 more years of earning and saving. Think about wealth and power and the advantages that you pass on to your children.”

At the very least, they’ll be able to afford health care—and keep opposing it for the rest of is.

First of all, Saffo doesn't exactly have to wonder. There are studies on this. For instance, this brief by the Congressional Budget Office in 2008 discussed growing disparities in life expectancy by socioeconomic status:

Reprinted from CBO, "Growing Disparities in Life Expectancy," Economic and Budget Issue Brief, April 2008 (Figure 2)

In 1980, life expectancy at birth was 2.8 years more for the highest socioeconomic group than for the lowest. 6 By 2000, that gap had risen to 4.5 years. The 1.7-year increase in the gap amounts to more than half of the increase in overall average life expectancy at birth between 1980 and 2000

So, it seems the very rich do not, on average, live 20 years longer than the poor. However, it is clear from the CBO report that the disparity is widening with time. Nevertheless, Saffo's proposition is intriguing. Namely, will we ever see a day when the gap in life expectancy between the super rich and super poor becomes so large that the rich could be considered a superhuman species altogether? Consider the comments by Ray Kurzweil, in which he claims that in 20 years human beings will have access to such sophisticated nanotechnology that they will be able to replace vital organs and limbs, and possibly even expand their mental capacities. This implies that eventually we'd be a nation of immortal cyborgs. Well, the rich anyway.

Now, I don't think Saffo is talking about people growing wings or getting laser vision. At least not anytime soon. But analogously, imagine a scenario in the Marvel Universe in which, rather than being evolutionary mutations among an arbitrary subset of the human population, those who mutated into homo-superior were exclusively the minority class of highest income-earners. What would the universe look like if this class of superhumans was composed of the factory owners, the Wall Street executives, the wealthy politicians and the captains of industry rather than runaway teens and a drunk psychopath infused with adamantium?

For one, there would likely not be the sort of institutionalized xenophobia against these superhumans that we see against the X-Men. Despite being a minority, these guys control the means of production. And that means they have it made.

I also am curious about the implications for overall productivity and GDP (in the United States). The fact that a chunk of society would gradually have artificial physical and mental abilities that they may or may not be able to pass on genetically to their children could increase the overall value of human labor. However, does the fact that these metahumans are more likely to be rich imply that disparities will only continue to grow?

Of course, we don't have to imagine. In House of M, Brian Michael Bendis paints a picture of a society in which homo-superior are the aristocracy. Magneto rules the world and mutants control business, government and culture. As a result, there aren't merely disparities between the mutants and homo-sapiens--the latter are victims of full-blown oppression. Hank Pym actually could not find a job, a phenomenon that Hank McCoy explained away by remarking that he's only human.

But I doubt that this would happen in the real world if it were to be run by superhuman cyborgs? We'd all get along harmoniously and society would benefit from the overwhelming surge in productivity. Right?

reprinted from

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tony Stark and Intellectual Property, Part 2

Cover to Iron Man v4, Issue 28

I really enjoyed the reader response to the previous post. Thanks to everyone for the insightful comments.

The question posed is whether Tony Stark, as inventor of the Iron Man armor, has the right to control and destroy his creations when these creations are enormously powerful and can greatly affect the course of human history. Does Tony Stark have the right to distribute this technology as he sees fit?

To use an analogy that I think is somewhat effective, should Robert Oppenheimer be allowed to keep atomic bomb technology in his house and only give it to people he likes?

I think not, especially since Tony Stark has shown himself to be an a rather unstable person and hasn't shown the best judgement regarding his armor.

For years in Iron Man comics (namely in the first Michelinie/Layton run and Denny O'Neil's run), Nick Fury has tried to get the specifications for the Iron Man armor. He even went so far as to try a hostile takeover of Stark Enterprises. The tone of the stories seemed to paint Fury as the villain but who was really right in that struggle? Nick Fury, who wants to use the Iron Man armor to protect the lives of his agents and make S.H.I.E.L.D. a more capable international peacekeeping force? Or Tony Stark who wants to prevent his armor from falling into the wrong hands? Granted, Nick Fury hasn't always shown the best judgement in the past, but he's usually been on the side of the angels. And he has the decision making power of an entire international peace-keeping force behind him. Had Tony given in to Fury's request, how many lives of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents could have been saved by protective Iron Man armor? How many threats could S.H.I.E.L.D. have dealt with directly without having to wait hours for superheroes to show up? How many lives could have been saved in that time? Finally, who would be more effective in Iron Man armor, trained military agents or a former alcoholic billionaire playboy?

Tony's bad decision making continued in the Armor Wars, when Justin Hammer used industrial espionage to steal Tony's armor designs and sell them on the black market. Tony's response was to go on a rampage and destroy the armors of all individuals (heroes and villains) who could have had elements of his armor designs incorporated into their suits. In the process of this, Iron Man took down the Controller, the Raiders, the Beetle, the Titanium Man, and the Crimson Dynamo. Unfortunately, he also took down the Mandroids of SHIELD and the Guardsmen who protect the superhero prison the Vault. Tony also beat up Stingray thinking his armor used Iron Man technology (it didn't) and beat up Captain America while attacking the Vault. In addition, Iron Man's attack on the Vault actually released several super-villains including Mr. Hyde, Titania, the Griffin, Vibro, and the Armadillo. Iron Man's actions caused him to become a wanted criminal. He actually had to fake his own death to avoid getting arrested. Tony's armor designs were safe but he left a lot of destruction in his wake.

Iron Man v1, Issue #225, art by Bob Layton

Later in The Best Defense storyline, the U.S. government found some of Tony's left over armor and reverse engineered it, integrating some of the components they found into their weapons and tanks. Unfortunately, the technology was poorly adapted and the lives of U.S. servicemen was put into jeopardy by malfunctioning tech. What was Tony's solution? Become the Secretary of Defense in order to personally supervise his tech.

In Execute Program, Tony's specialty armors were hacked by a virus and went on rampage. His armors went on to beat up the Avengers, Namor, and ironically clobber the Fantastic Four. Only Tony was able to dismantle them using his personal knowledge of his own tech.

Iron Man v4, Issue # 12, art by Adi Granov

In all of these cases, Tony Stark has shown increasingly poor judgement regarding his Iron Man armor. He has shown egotistical paranoia regarding his designs, withholding them from the international community. The ostensible reason for this is to keep his technology out of the wrong hands. This doesn't really seem to work though. Villians continually get their hands on and misuse Iron Man designs. In fact, all Tony has done is remove the ability of other heroes and the federal government from utilizing his technology. He's also shown that his Iron Man designs are sufficiently advanced to out-fox Reed Richards in the short term. The end result of this is that stolen Iron Man tech is unbeatable unless Tony Stark is there to stop it.

Clearly from the evidence listed above, Tony Stark is not a man who is mentally stable to hold complete dominion over the Iron Man designs. But that brings us to another, more current question. Does Tony have the right to erase his mind as he has done in "World's Most Wanted" which just finished in the Invincible Iron Man title?

This is a problematic question. Naturally, Tony's memories, thoughts, and emotions are his own. He should be allowed to do with these as he wishes. But his brain doesn't just contain emotion and memories. It contains designs, ideas, and the secret identities of every registered super-hero which he took illegally. That information belongs to the government and Tony's theft of it definitively makes him the the titular "World's Most Wanted." Granted, in the current state of the Marvel Universe, the power of government has fallen into the hands of a decidely evil bastard, Norman Osborn (a truly ridiculous turn of events, but hey... its comics). But Norman Osborn was put in his position by elected officials and therefore has more right to the info than Tony does. Stark may have the moral high ground in this case but legally (as some readers pointed out in the comments for the previous post) he's wrong.

But Tony isn't only destroying his identity and a superhero's secret identities. He's also destroying all his knowledge of current and future technology. Tony's erasure of his mind reflects his lifetime pattern of egomaniacal control of his Iron Man designs. When he can't control the use of the Armor, he destroys it. In Tony's mind, no one else can properly use his technology. Now, as always, Tony seeks to hoarde his technology and prevent the positive development that could result if his designs were opened up to the scientific community. At the very least, Tony's armor designs could be used to make better pacemakers for people with coronary heart disease. But all that is gone because Tony took it upon himself to destroy all of his knowledge. At least until 4 issues from now when everything goes back to normal.

By the way, anyone who didn't read the comments on the previous post definitely should. You folks have a lot of well-formed arguments and I'm interested to hear what else you have to say.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Question for Readers: Who Would Be the Best Superhero Spokesperson for Health Care Reform?

(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!).

reprinted from

Last week, we had asked Ezra Klein of the Washington Post the who he thought would be the best superhero spokesperson for health care reform. This was his reply:

Spiderman! People forget this, but Spiderman 3 was mainly about the need for universal health care. The Sandman had turned to a life of crime -- which eventually led to Uncle Ben's death, not to mention untold innocent lives and millions in property damage -- because he was unable to afford medical treatment for his daughter. If we'd had a saner system, his daughter would've been eligible for treatment and Uncle Ben would be alive today.

Plus, imagine Sandman and Spiderman appearing at a Health Care For America Now rally together. That's bipartisanship America can believe in.

According to Ezra, it would seem that Spider-Man would actually back the public option!

However, there are many other superheroes (maybe even some supervillains) that would likely be in favor of comprehensive health care reform. Frank Miller's left-wing Green Arrow would certainly support a national single-payer referendum, though I suspect he would also be fine with the recent House bill (except, of course, for the abortion concessions). Daredevil could possibly serve as an advocate for a more effective delivery system, more innovation and research, and better public health initiatives, if not for insurance reform altogether. After all, there was once the scare of Karen Page contracting HIV. Not to mention the fact that Murdock's current wife, Milla, is suffering from an incurable disorder as a result of her recently being kidnapped by Mister Fear. I bet Daredevil would like it if the medical community had the resources to remain technologically ahead of supervillain fear gas.

Then, of course, there's Superman. Here is the Man of Steel himself on the subject, explaining the importance of the US welfare and health equality. (HT: ComicMix):

So, today's question for readers: who would be the best superhero spokesperson for health reform and why? Remember, best answer wins a prize!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tony Stark and Intellectual Property, Part 1

Invincible Iron Man #1 Variant Cover, art by Bob Layton

Tony Stark is brilliant. He is the genius wonderboy of technology in the marvel universe. Reed Richards may have a better grasp on physics and Hank Pym may know biology, but Tony is the master of all things mechanical. And after the Extremis Virus was made a part of his genetic code, Tony evens know biology better than the average Ph.D. in cellular biology. Tony is a genius and resource for the Marvel World akin to the greatest technological minds of all time.

His ability to change the world is limitless. Unfortunately, so is his ego. When we first met Tony Stark, he was developing the Iron Man technology to save his life. Shortly thereafter, Tony decided that this technology was too dangerous for anyone but himself to have. He even refused to patent the armor, for fear that simply having his specifications documented would lead to their misuse (this decision bit Tony in the ass during the Armor Wars and The Best Defense storylines). In Tony Stark’s estimation, he was the only person with significant moral certitude to have and use his armor designs. Of course, this is a man who has flown drunkenly through a billboard in the Iron Man armor, beaten up the aquatic hero Stingray for no good reason, faked his death without telling anyone who cares for him about it, violated numerous national and international laws, and been the angry instigator in a fist fight with the Hulk. What kind of man finds himself in a conflict where the Hulk is the most reasonable person? Still, in light of all of this Tony vehemently believes the world cannot be given access to the Iron Man armor because they will use it the wrong way.

And now, in the “World’s Most Wanted” storyline in Iron Man, Tony is destroying all of his old Iron Man armors and even erasing the contents of his own mind, rather than have it fall into the hands of Norman Osbourn. Granted he’s also erasing information about the secret identities of every superhero who registered with the initiative, so kudos to Tony for protecting all of his contemporaries. Still, does Tony Stark have the right to remove his brain and all the knowledge that comes with it?

Does he have the right to be the sole controller of his weapons designs? And even then, does he have the right to destroy the wealth of knowledge in his brain, as he is doing in “World’s Most Wanted.”

I’d like to hear what our readers think before I write my response. In a week, I’m going to post my response to the question with examples gleaned from my years as an Iron Man reader. Put please let me know your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ecocomic Recession Watch: Spider-Man Edition

Although on real-Earth, GDP might be growing faster than we expected, we are not out of the woods yet. Conversely, the Marvel Universe seems particularly bleak. Superheroes and supervillains alike are struggling to make ends meet. Heroes that aren't endowed with billions of dollars and who might not have solid public support are having trouble funding their weekly adventures. This puts a huge constraint on the amount of crime they could fight. Meanwhile, the ones who deviate from traditional tactics, take advantage of new technologies, and perform cheap stunts in order to propel their popularity are finding unexpected sources of income. Here are some economic indicators from Marvel's New York City (once again, we don't have real indicators like unemployment rates or GDP growth, but we do have anecdotal evidence of how the economy is affecting the daily tasks of heroes, villains, and operations of certain businesses) :

1) Villains are now liveblogging their fights.

Amazing Spider-Man #608 by Marc Guggenheim, Marco Checchetto, Luke Ross and Rick Magyar (2009)

Say what you will about the fickle nature of humanity, but one thing they consistently show interest in is a good performance. Watching real superheroes fight supervillains online, where they are safely insulated from any real harm, is the ultimate reality show. And Screwball here, despite her unfortunate name, seems to be aware of that. 18 million subscribers to her website? Imagine her advertising revenue (although if this is the case, it's curious that she isn't wearing any company logos or patches during her duel with Spider-Man in this issue).

We've discussed many times before how smaller villains need to rely on tactics like these to compete in the marketplace against the well-established elite (and it's not just in the case of villainy). Here's an interesting thought, though--it seems that, particularly in NYC, there has been a resurgence of b-list villains that come equipped with highly original, if not completely ludicrous schemes. Could it be that these villains have started to marginalize the older ones, who more or less rely on the same, traditional techniques? Is this, as Jason Todd had previously described, the iPod taking over the Walkman?

2) Spider-Man is considering using his "brand" to make some extra cash.

Of course, Spidey is just joking about patenting the Spidey-tracers. Or is he? On the one hand, you need to provide proper identification to have a patent. Also, I guess if you want to receive some form of payment for selling Spidey-tracers, you're going to have to need a name on your check. Fortunately, the Marvel Universe has just the mechanism to get around this: Spider-Man could reveal his identity and register with the government through the Superhuman Registration Act of 2006.

My sense is that if Spider-Man really wants to put his name towards making some money, this would be his only option. He obviously can't patent as Peter Parker--he needs the "Spidey" branding. He might have been able to hand off the tracers for mass production to, say, Tony Stark, who would then cut him a share of the profits under-the-table. Of course, Stark Industries is no more, Tony lost his mind (literally), Norman Osborn is running things, and Spider-Man is running low on friends he can trust in high places. But that's even more of an incentive to keep the secret identity. Oh, what to do?

3) The newspaper industry continues to fall more than ever

We have a more detailed post on the economics of the newspaper industry here. The point is the print industry is steadily declining. Part of the recent decline has to due with a reduction in advertising revenue, which has to do with the recession. But a major factor is the overwhelming public reliance on electronic media and technology. As far as I see, the DB is still holding true to its paper roots. But if it doesn't start taking advantage of new media soon, all the Spider-Man photos in the world won't be able to silence its death knell.

Dare I say that the folks at The DB take a lesson from Screwball? Here they are complaining about her liveblog and not one of them mentions perhaps adopting a similar strategy. That combined with Peter Parker's miraculous photography (how does he take all those Spider-Man pictures?) and the company has a chance of bouncing back.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Should Our Superheroes Turn Over Alien Technology?

Irredeemable #7 by Mark Waid and Peter Krause (2009)

Here's one thing that distinguishes the universe of Mark Waid's Irredeemable from the DC Universe: the Plutonian (the Superman equivalent of this world) and his squad of Justice-League-like superheroes, the Paradigm, don't seem to have a very optimistic view of human nature. They equate giving humans access to alien technology to handing out hand grenades to orangutans. Earlier, the Plutonian referred to Earth as an ant farm. It seems that, unlike Superman, who possesses an almost naively positive view of humans, the Plutonian has established himself as a de facto Hobbesian Leviathan. He is there to stop humans from destroying themselves--to aid in the escape from what he sees is their natural state of war, jealousy and corruption.

That being said, the two do have something in common. Namely, given all of the technology that these superheroes have access to on a daily basis (remember, Superman frequently travels through space and time), Earth remains at relatively a similar level to how it is in the real world. Why is this? What exactly do superheroes fear will happen if the humans were given access to these marvels in science and magic? In a previous post, we had discussed the harms of keeping this information hidden:

Ever wonder why people in comics aren't teleporting to work, watching TV through a personal projection device while walking down the street, or attending seminars hosted by an android via group-telepathy?

Instead, the worlds in our favorite comics still have potholes, poverty, and petroleum-powered cars. In fact, aside from the occasional reality-bending crisis involving metahumans, it’s hard to distinguish our world from theirs in terms of technological progress or standards of living. This begs the question of what happens to all the alien wreckage after the Justice League fends off another alien invasion, or to the abandoned spaceships when interplanetary thugs with a grudge against Superman land on Earth. Do men in black immediately cart them off to secret government facilities and weaponize them? If so, then these governments are doing a great disservice to their people. The fastest way to achieve economic growth is through the free and unfettered dissemination of knowledge. Governments should encourage the private sector to develop commercial uses for all the space junk that winds up on earth, thereby simultaneously increasing both the capital stock and total factor productivity. [...] And it’s not just the responsibility of the governments, but also of the superheroes.

Indeed, if it is the case that the superheroes of the DCU are keeping this technology from the humans intentionally, then they are setting the race at a disadvantage. And by the way this does seem to be what they are doing--one needs to look no further than the gadgets available in the Justice League watchtower to know that there is a gap between space and Earth. There is no telling how much Earthlings could potentially benefit from both the physical and human capital available at their disposal. In the Marvel Universe, for example, mutants could be put to work in ways that don't involve them living somewhere out on the San Francisco Bay and having their resumes consist exclusively of the phrase "Fight Magneto."

So then, what's the deal guys? Well, what the major superheroes fear is that humans will either intentionally put this technology to inappropriate uses or that their lack of sophistication and experience would inevitably lead to the mishandling of such overwhelming power. This is what the Plutonian and the Paradigm explicitly state (and what I imagine Superman and the JLA think too).

But, is this really a legitimate concern? It turns out that in this particular instance, it was justified. Eventually the Plutonian caved to the pressures of the scientific community and handed over a tiny device found on an alien ship. Here was the devastating result:

Woops. Now we can see why the Plutonian turned evil. This would be enough to make anyone doubt humanity's potential. Even the purest of superheroes might decide that we simply aren't worth saving.

But it's really not humanity's fault. At least not entirely.

First of all, I think it takes a pretty pessimistic person--superhero or not--to hide possibly life-saving technology from others. The fact that this sort of act was fully supported by the world's most noble protectors is highly suggestive of their real views on humans. And I'm not just talking about the Paradigm here. Despite all his preaching of believing in the goodness of man, Superman was still in the company of those who fended off the alien invasion, scavenged the alien ships for useful technology, threw that technology in a trophy room aboard the Justice League watchtower, and did not even alert the people of Earth to its existence. Even if Supes would justify this by claiming that humans would be better protected with such materials in the hands of the League, it still demonstrates a fundamental lack of trust. And if deep down the Superheroes don't trust the humans, how could the humans trust the superheroes?

Of course this does not mean that Superman and the Plutonian are wrong, nor does it justify humans using these devices haphazardly. So if withholding these alien goody bags is not the answer and if the Plutonian has such a profound lack of trust in the people of Earth such that he fears turning over the tech. freely, is there anything else that can be done? Well, why not donate, but heavily regulate the research and development projects?

With the exception of Batman and possibly a few others, it is generally known that no Earthling is as smart as Superman. Given a piece of technology, Superman and the League could most likely figure out precisely what it can and should be used for. Why not have a look at it themselves first and then donate? If there is an alien device that has the potential to conserve water more efficiently, why not use it to built a really awesome toilet for the humans?

OK, granted many of the bigger superheroes have things to do--guy jumping off a roof here, fourth-world deity trying to enslave humanity there. But not all of them, right? And certainly not all the time. The Justice League has lots and lots of members. I'm sure it can afford to delegate a task force of some of its scientists to working with human researchers at developing proper uses for this technology.

Also, superheroes regulate everything already. They counsel world leaders in making policy choices, they get called in to speak in front of the UN Security Council, they help set international public health initiatives, the list goes on.

This seems like something that is not only feasible, but even responsible. Moreso anyway that simply continuing to foster insecurity and suspicion among the public. And perhaps it would further cement humanity's trust in the superhero community, to the extent that your Joe Everyman would cease being so easily persuaded by clever villains to start hating on Superman and Batman.

The Plutonian did eventually submit, but it was for all the wrong reasons. It was not for an interest in the advancement of society or in an attempt to usher in an era of harmony and cooperation. It was, instead, to mitigate some bad press towards him. It was primarily selfish. With some regulation and a little bit more effort, this whole thing might have been averted. Sorry planet.

Monetary Value and the Madman- Marvel's Deadpool

Marvel's "Deadpool" has been an interesting study in how someone who is completely insane can work within the framework of a profession that is heavily rooted in monetary value. Deadpool is a mercenary and as such, he exchanges his services for pay. In fact he has shown a remarkable determination to seek payment for everything he does. He refused to help Nick Fury find out Skrull secrets and save the world without getting paid. He refused to fight Wolverine without getting paid. In the first instance, Deadpool could not benefit from being enslaved by Skrulls, yet he still demanded money despite the fact that saving the world was in his best interests. In the second case, Deadpool loves shooting Wolverine but despite the inherent pleasure, cold hard cash was still required for him to do it. Deadpool has shown that he will not engage in a mercenary activity unless he is being paid (or his actions will save his own life).

This consistent desire to seek profitable employment would make it seem like Deadpool's ultimate goal is to accrue money for some definite purpose. This assumption would be wildly wrong. In Marvel's ongoing Deadpool book, Deadpool has used the money that he receives to buy or aquire the following: a chair composed entirely out of C4 explosives, an elaborate death trap involving a monster truck, a warehouse full of tacos, a nuclear submarine (which he then promptly sank in a complete misunderstanding of the concept) and a pirate ship filled with gold.

This brings to light an interesting concept. Deadpool is a mercenary because he needs money to fill a specific need. He doesn't need money for anything traditional (women, large house, fast car, or even an addiction). He doesn't even use his money to make himself a better mercenary or assassins. He uses money to fill his need to be insane. Deadpool needs a steady income to feed lunacy.

It's an economic relationship that is relatively unique. Other characters have been crazy and required money. But the obsessions of these characters usually took a particular form. The Joker needs money to devise insane deathtraps for Batman. The Mad Hatter collects hats.

Deadpool dresses his friend up in a parrot costume and makes himself a peg leg.

It's the free-form nature of Deadpool's insane desires that make him unique. And I hope it continues. I look forward to each month where he decides to buy hot pants and roller skates because he thinks thats how people dress in San Francisco.

Thank you Marvel. Thank you so much.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Daily Posting Will Resume Tomorrow

From: Tales to Astonish #62 by Lee and Ditko. Reprinted from

Hey everyone. Sorry that posting has been slow lately. You can blame the economy. In reality, there have just been many deadlines creeping up.

Daily posting will resume tomorrow with a discussion of the hazards of adopting alien technology. We've already written on this subject before, except looking through the lens of the Solow model, we argued in favor of utilizing this physical capital (and human capital, as with The Leader's unique skills above). Tomorrow we look at the other side of the argument.

Stay tuned! Same bat time, same bat channel!