Monday, December 13, 2010

Superheroes and Law

Via BoingBoing, here is a blog that looks at comic books and the law. One of my favorite posts is about real estate:

Every supervillain or supervillain organization worth its salt needs a secret lair, and a location outside the jurisdiction of any government would be ideal. The legal benefits are numerous: no pesky employment laws or civil rights for henchmen, no local police, no taxes. But in the age of air travel and GPS is there anywhere left for a supervillain to set up shop? Here we consider three possibilities: unclaimed land, the high seas, and outer space.

Go check it out!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Externalities: Week of 11/8/10

Superheroes fight crime and save lives. But by doing so they impose certain costs on people not directly involved. These are superhero externalities.

Eventually, these will be more current, but since I'm still catching up with a stack of comics from months ago, some of these will be a bit old.

As always, feel free to send in some of your favorites of the week and we'll post them with credit to your name. ecocomics dot blog at gmail dot com.

Spider-Man attempts to evade capture by some of his biggest foes.  Cities get in the way.
Amazing Spider-Man #643 by Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta
Marvel Comics, 2010

Zatanna battles the Royal Flush gang in Las Vegas.  Cop cars and buildings get shattered.
Zatanna #4 by Paul Dini and Chad Hardin
DC Comics, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Do Superheroes Act in Socially Optimal Ways?

Microeconomic theory tells us that individual agents, be they consumers, firms, or even superheroes, act rationally. Basically, this means that any individual has a set of stable preferences--which generate a certain level of utility--and that this individual will always behave in a way such that his or her (or its) utility level is maximized.

In other words, economists believe that people try to make themselves as happy as possible. Simple.

Where things become a bit more complicated is when individual demands are aggregated. That is, how do we take the preferences of the individuals in society and design policies that are welfare-maximizing and "socially optimal?"

Consider, for example, the health care market. Obviously, it would be great if every individual could have free, comprehensive coverage. Not only would it ensure lengthier lives, but more people receiving better health care would mean less external costs for society (such as taxpayer dollars going towards treatment of indigent care, lost productivity due to people with illnesses taking sick days, etc.).

Why doesn't everyone have comprehensive health coverage then? Well, resources--including health care--are scarce! Comprehensive coverage for everyone would cost a considerable amount, not just in terms of monetary expenditures, but in time, provider supply, hospital beds, etc. This means that when health care policy is crafted, legislators and other stakeholders need to make hard choices to determine which course of action would benefit society the most.

There are, of course, arguments about welfare enhancing policy. Is health insurance going to be primarily market-based or is there going to be a role for government? If we're going to offer subsidies for individuals to obtain certain services, which services do we offer the subsidies for? If there is a government insurance package, what are the minimum benefits covered by the package? Do we attempt to judge which individuals are more deserving of health care? If so, how do we judge? Severity of the condition? Do we make it first-come-first-serve? How do we perform the cost-benefit analyses to get these answers?

Superheroes face this problem every day. Take Superman, for example. Barring the fact that Superman's duties extend beyond the scope of one major city, let's just limit this analysis to his role as the protector of Metropolis. Each and every day, there are people who need saving. Superman provides a very crucial public service (actually he pretty much has a monopoly on it): fighting crime and saving lives. He has a breadth of unique abilities that allow him to perform this service unlike any other agency, including the police or government.

Yet despite his unique abilities, he is still a limited resource. Superman cannot be everywhere at once and he cannot stop each and every crime in Metropolis. This means that even Superman has to make choices. Each civilian he saves from being thrown off of a building means that a different civilian on the other side of town being threatened with dismemberment by Metallo is not receiving his help. In this sense, Superman can be thought of as a sort of social planner for a good that he just so happens to provide. He implicitly assigns weights to individuals in Metropolis, in effect judging who is deserving enough of his rescue.

How does Superman do this? How does he assign these weights? And is this method socially optimal?

Intuitively, we would think that the most imminent dangers are the ones most worthy of Superman's attention. And indeed, Superman does tackle the gravest of threats to an extent. Should there be a catastrophe that is bound to kill or injure hundreds of citizens, you can bet to see the Man of Steel there. Should Lex Luthor unleash some sort of robot warriors on the city, Superman will try and stop them. Should Darkseid attempt to enslave humanity again, Superman will take him on.

But this system is obviously imperfect. What if Metallo is overturning cars on one side of town and Brainiac is creating robot-zombies on the other? Deciding on which threats are the most dangerous is a difficult task, even for Superman. It is a fact that many of his villains have taken advantage of in the past in order to thrust the Man of Steel into difficult moral situations.

Also, let's not forget that this is only Superman's system to an extent. There isn't always a world-ending event in Metropolis. Most of the time, all you have are muggers, bank robbers, and lets face it, people who just accidentally fall off buildings. How does Superman weigh these people? Well, most of the time, we see him just dash after the criminals that are closest to him. We've seen Clark Kent sitting at his desk at the Daily Planet numerous times, only to hear a scream in a nearby alley. He then finds a phone both, changes, and it's up-up-and-away!

It would seem that most of the time, Superman weighs simply on proximity. That means people within a five mile radius of the Daily Planet should be the safest in Metropolis. Of course, it is also a prime spot for villain activity.

Answering the question of whether this "proximity, unless it's really really dangerous" policy is social welfare maximizing is tricky. We obviously want Superman to assist with the gravest threats, but we also don't want to trivialize run-of-the-mill muggings.

Perhaps it is time for Superman to retire his one-man planner status. Should there be a government task-force delegated with the duty of allocating superhero resources to the citizens of the United States?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lex Luthor Loves Land- The Great Gotham Swindle and How it Affects Our Lives

Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor from Superman II, obtained from

We all know that Lex Luthor has a great interest in real estate. This was established way back in Richard Donner's first Superman film. In that movie, Luthor's plan was to sink California so the land he had purchased in Nevada and Arizona would be worth a fortune as beach-front property. Superman stopped that plan, but Luthor kept his fixation on land. In Superman Returns, Luthor went the other way in his schemes. He tried to grow an entire continent out of Kryptonian crystal. Planning to rearrange the surface of the Earth and get rich by renting his new continent, Luthor excitedly went along with his plan until Superman tossed his new continent into space.

But the Lex Luthor of the comics also has a fondness for acquiring land. In the year-long Batman crossover "No Man's Land" that ran through the Bat-family books in 1999, Lex Luthor hatched a plan involving seizing control of all of Gotham. Gotham City had just been wracked by a massive earthquake which reduced most of the city to rubble. In the wake of this disaster, the US
government isolated the Gotham disaster zone and prevented anyone from exiting or entering. Inside the city, Batman and Commissioner Gordon tried to maintain control against the gangs and madmen who roamed the streets.

In the midst of this chaos, Luthor identified a way to fill his own personal habit to get that real estate fix he had been needing. Using agents to destroy the original land deed records for Gotham, Luthor tried to gain ownership of the city without paying a cent. He offered to help Gotham's citizens rebuild without telling them that his assistance came with the price of ownership of their land. Eventually Batman foiled his plans, but I'm sure Luthor's desire for real estate has not yet been satiated.

Batman:No Man's Land Volume 1, obtained from

Now, you may be asking why I bring this up. I do so because we are in the midst of a world financial crisis. A crisis so enveloping that it affects all of our lives. It almost seems like some criminal mastermind has orchestrated this recession. Someone who values ownership of property above else. Perhaps someone who would be interested in giving mortgages to high risk lendees who would not be able to meet their financial obligations once rates had been raised. Someone who would watch gleefully as he regained control of their repossessed properties while the world markets crumbled.

That's right, LEX LUTHOR engineered the sub-prime lending crisis!!!!!!!!!!!

Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor from Superman Returns, obtained from

I bet, if we look carefully at those mortgage agreements, somewhere on those forms we will see a monogramed "LL."

Damn you Lex Luthor. Damn you!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Competition Is Murder- Supervillains and Industrial Sabotage

Cover to Iron Man: Legacy #1, art by Salvador Larrocca

While reading Iron Man:Legacy #1, I stumbled upon an interesting topic. The story opens with Stark Industries being attacked by environmental terrorists protesting Stark's arc reactor technology. Though it initially seems that a group of idealists armed with melting ray beams are trying to topple Stark's industrial power, a quick investigation by Tony Stark shows that the environment group is actually funded by an oil conglomerate. What had appeared to be an act of idealistic terrorism was actually good old fashioned industrial sabotage. And this is not a frequent occurance in the comic book world. It seems that the cost of doing business in a comic book is dealing with supervillain industrial sabotage.

Iron Man (and his alter-ego Tony Stark) has been a frequent victim of this. Competitors like Justin Hammer, Roxxon Industries, and Obadiah Stane have often sent hired villains to damage Stark's property. In fact, Iron Man has had to deal with the likes of the Ghost, the Chessmen, the Beetle, Spymaster, and quite a few others who have tried to mess up his stuff.
The Ghost, art by Bob Layton

Bruce Wayne has also suffered industrial sabotage from the likes of Lex Luthor and Black Mask. He overcame these machinations with some quick work as the Batman.

Lex Luthor, art by Ed McGuinness

I'm sure that there are tons of other examples throughout comic history of the cost of doing business.

It just goes to show that you can't build something nice without a competitor hiring a maniac in spandex to blow it up. Or something along those lines...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Everything Has a Cost

Shield #3 by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver, Marvel Comics (2010)

Galileo knew it. Newton knew it. But poor Nostradamus apparently doesn't get the idea.

Or he just figures the cost is worth it.

Marvel's Strongest War Economy- The Kree

The Kree, obtained from

In the world of cosmic Marvel, the Kree are a warlike race of aliens who have been very prominent in comic books lately.

In Annihilation, the Kree were the primary adversary of Annihilus and his alien invaders. The massive armies of the Kree held Annihilus' forces at bay until Nova, the Silver Surfer, and Galactus were able to defeat them. This conflict left much of the worlds controlled by the Kree devastated.
Annihilus, obtained from

Then in Annihilation: Conquest, the Kree tried to resist the Phalanx with military force but were eventually overwhelmed. Even though the battle with the Phalanx ended, the Kree people were ravaged and much of the Kree empire was devastated.

The Kree then joined forces with the Inhumans in order to restore some of their strength. But only days after this union, the Kree went to war with the Shiar. Now, the Kree are part of a multi-race coalition of forces battling invaders from another dimension.

It's hard to imagine the war force that could sustain this level of conflict for so long. But the Kree are that force. In fact, though it seems like they have recently been thrown through a wringer of conflict, the Kree have always been at war. For hundreds of years, the Kree have battled the Skrulls.

They clearly know how to run a war. The level of production and construction shown in the Kree is truly something impressive. Looking at the Kree in a Keynesian perspective would lend us to believe that the state of a permanent wartime economy would increase spending, up product demand, dramatically advance technology, and raise productivity. And the Kree certainly seem strong.

Of course, this has also led the Kree to become a completely militaristic society. They would be unable to function under any other system since their economy is centered entirely around war.

And it's hard to tell whether this is a bad thing. On one hand, the Kree kill a lot and die a lot. On the other hand, the Kree were responsible for holding off forces which could have destroyed the universe. The Kree are unique in their ability to destroy, but their economic and military strength is truly something wonderful to behold.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Respect Your Assets: Two-Face Doesn't...

Art by Dustin Nguyen from the cover of Streets of Gotham #15, obtained from

In a recent issue of Batman: Streets of Gotham (issue #15 actually), we see what happens to a crime boss who isn't aware of the resources available to him.

Two-Face has had some trouble maintaining his criminal empire recently. Since Battle for the Cowl, Two-Face has had to face gang wars with both Penguin and Black Mask, as well as the forceful intervention of Batman himself. In Streets of Gotham, Two-Face has also had to deal with the fact that he has an undercover cop in his ranks.

Streets of Gotham #15 shows Two-Face dealing with the ramifications of these events. Most of Two-Faces gang has been murdered or arrested, leaving Two-Face with only two hired thugs supporting him and very little money. This is a dire state of affairs for the crazed crime boss, yet Two-Face refuses to acknowledge the limitations that are placed on him.

When Two-Face continues to expect unreasonable things from his rapidly deteriorating "organization," his last two henchman turn on him. Realizing Two-Face is out of touch with reality, the thugs fill Two-Face with lead rather than continue to risk their own lives for a madman. Naturally, they dump Two-Face into the river and leave him for dead.

Let this be a lesson to all of us. When resources are limited, we need to recognize what we (and the organizations with which we involve ourselves) are capable of. It is important to pay attention to your available assets whether they be property, stock, or murderous henchmen. Don't over-extend yourself (like some recent financial institutions) or you may find yourself floating in a harbor (or bankrupt at the very least).

Food for thought.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Steve Rogers Reinvents The World- National Deficit Soars

Now we've all heard about the "Heroic Age." Norman Osborn was smacked down, the Sentry was killed, Steve Rogers is back, the Avengers are reinstated and everything is fantasti-awesome in the Marvel Universe.

Steve Rogers art by Mike Deodato and others, Image obtained from

Yup, H.A.M.M.E.R. (Norman Osborn's perversion of S.H.I.E.L.D.) has been disbanded and the good guys are back in charge. Everything has been fixed. Only one thing hasn't been accounted for... the goddamn cost of it all.

Lets examine whats been happening in the last few years of the Marvel Universe, shall we? First there was a superhero Civil War, during which S.H.I.E.L.D. was restructured with super powered battle suits (called "cape-killers") to hunt down heroes.

In addition, Tony Stark became the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and started building new devices and heli-carriers left and right (including a red and gold heli-carrier ala his Iron Man armor). I'm sure these changes (both substantive and cosmetic) came with a fairly hefty price. But that was just the beginning.

Then when Norman Osborn took over national security, he dismantled everything Stark had created and replaced it with his own version of hardware and manpower. This includes new soldiers and new weapons (granted they were created using stolen technology). He also reinvented the Avengers and revamped the super hero initiative by training and paying villains as personal hit squad. The massive amount of government funds appropriated for Osborn's "Dark Reign" should have shown up to even the most oblivious of congressional oversight commitees. But somehow, Osborn was allowed to continue employing supervillains and redirecting funds.

Norman Osborn, art by Mike Deodato and others, obtained from

But that's all over right? Osborn got his butt kicked. He was removed from his position as head of the nation's defense and has been replaced with Steve Rogers (the man who was formerly Captain America). And with the new heroic morality that Steve Rogers brings to the position, surely fiscal responsibility will follow. Right?


The first thing Steve Rogers does upon taking control of America's superheroic defenses is to dismantle H.A.M.M.E.R. He immediately, arrests the vicious H.A.M.M.E.R. soldiers and disable the institution itself. Rogers then reorganized S.H.I.E.L.D. and reformed 4 teams of Avengers. That's right 4 Avengers. The regular Avengers, the New Avengers, the Secret Avengers, and created an Academy for young Avengers who desperately need training. Rogers also re-did the Thunderbolts program under the guidance of Luke Cage.

Now, a revamp of national security obviously needed to be performed. Norman Osborn had spent a year perverting the nation's defenses into something awful. Steve Rogers had to make some changes. But it's the sheer volume of his changes I can't help but object to. One group of Avengers was enough for most of the history of the Marvel Universe. Then two were around, and they dealt with problems just fine. But here Steve Rogers has created multiple government-funded Avengers teams to protect the world. This on top of disbanding the superhero initiative (and thereby dismantling the very expensive infrastructure underlying the initiative) while trying to replace the gap in protection that initiative teams provided surely could tax the national budget.

Now, being a resident of New York State (where the schools are in desperate need of funding and services are constantly being cut), I've taken issue with Steve Rogers' willy nilly spending party. I think he needs to scale back his changes and take things slowly in light of the massive spending that the two previous men in his position indulged in.

No wonder the economy is tanking. We're all subsidizing a Secret Avengers trip to Mars.

Cover to Secret Avengers#1, art by Marko Djurdjevic, obtained from

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ecocomics Week in Review 8/27/2010

Part of our job at Ecocomics is to inform readers of the latest ecocomics news stories. With that in mind, we present to you, straight from the editor's desk of THE DAILY BOGGLE, the WEEK IN REVIEW, a summary of the week's most important events.

(note: Sorry for the resolution problems on the earlier posting of this. -Mark)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The American Way

The American wayThe Amazing Spider-Man #638 by Joe Quesada, Paolo Rivera
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, and Paul Ryan
Marvel Comics, (2010)

Spectacle for profit. The American way.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Iron Man is Impressed With Barter Economies

Mr. Macken starts a barter economyInvincible Iron Man #28 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, Marvel Comics (2010)

Stark Resilient is officially underway as Tony Stark tries to piece together his life, build a new Iron Man suit, and kickstart his new company, with the goal of creating the first ever electric car powered in full by repulsor technology. First step? The interview process.

Here, Stark interviews a Mr. Macken. He ran an electronics repair shop in Detroit, fixing televisions and such primarily for senior citizens. However, the community he worked in was poverty-stricken and faced as astonishing 88% unemployment rate. This meant that most of his customer base were out of work and could not actually afford to pay for their repairs. So, Mr. Macken decides to fix the televisions anyway in exchange for direct goods and services, such as a nice home-cooked meal and some plumbing in his home. This apparently "created a kind of running barter system in lieu of cash. An underground economy." And it impressed Tony Stark.

First, which community is this that is running an 88% unemployment rate? And how small is this community? I did a quick search and couldn't find anything. Maybe the community is a few blocks populated mostly by senior citizens, who likely would have been retired anyway. Though, that wouldn't even count in the unemployment statistics since unemployment refers to those actively looking for work. The people who Mr. Macken tends to serve seem to be just good, old-fashioned poor.

Second, how big could this barter economy have possibly been? Tony makes it seem like Mr. Macken launched an entire system where everyone in this community just swapped chickens for checkups. That might be, but my guess is that it was really more along the lines of a barter system relegated to television repair. I doubt this would have made a major impact worthy enough to gain Tony Stark's attention.

Plus, I doubt this economy's sustainability. As we all know, there are several problems with barter economies, the least of which is not having a standard by which you measure value. For instance, someone with a particular skill or trait could exhaust it after one use. Take, for instance, the case of the repair man offering to fix Mr. Macken's plumbing in exchange for TV repair. Suppose the gentlemen later needs his radio fixed. He's already fixed the plumbing, so what else does he have to offer?

I don't know about you, but I don't trust this "Mr. Macken" and his crazy get-rich-quick schemes. Not the kind of employee I envision for Stark Resilient.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Beast Gets Statistical Significance Wrong

Statistical or Practical Significance, Hank?Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age by Matt Fraction, Whilce Portacio,
Steve Sanders, and Jamie McKelvie, Marvel Comics (2010)

In the wake of the major "Second Coming" event, the return of Hope, thought to be the mutant messiah, has resulted in the appearance of at least five new individuals with the X-gene across the globe. Or at least that's the theory. After all, correlation is not causation.

Why is this important? Well, there hasn't been a single mutant birth since the "M-Day" event, and for the past several years mutantkind has been living in fear at the prospect of its own extinction. As Molly mentions above, the return of Hope (the first mutant technically born after M-Day) and the appearance of these five new mutants could signal a potential resurgence of the species.

In response to this, Beast tells Molly that, as a scientist, he is skeptical. After all, there were only five mutants. Compared to the mutant birth rate before M-Day, a mere five mutants is inconsequential. He refers to this as being "statistically insignificant."

I'm surprised to see such a renowned scientist fumble the concept of statistical significance. When economists, statisticians, scientists, etc. say that something is "statistically significant," they mean that the results they observe are extremely unlikely to have occurred by mere chance. Even if the results are small, they can still be statistically significant.

In this case, what we're testing is whether the appearance of these five new mutants was just pure coincidence, or whether it was actually caused by some event (i.e. the return of Hope). There is really no way to get a firm answer on this. As readers, we pretty much know that Hope was responsible. But it's a bit harder to prove empirically that it wasn't coincidence.

Nevertheless, this is not what Beast was referring to. He was referring to the number of mutants, which is not what statistical significance actually is.

In actuality, Beast made a common mistake, which is to mix up statistical significance with practical importance. Beast was implying that whether or not Hope actually caused the birth of these five new mutants, it didn't have any real implication yet, since five mutants is a relatively small number compared to the current mutant population and the previous birth rate.

The funny thing is that it's even too soon to tell whether it has any practical significance as well. It's been a matter of days since "Second Coming" ended. It is highly likely that given some more time, the X-Men would find some more mutants on the radar. I know scientists are supposed to be skeptics, but I'm truly shocked to see Beast be so dismissive about this. And I'm stunned to see him blame his empirically-trained mind for the phenomenon.

Maybe Hand McCoy should enroll as a continuing ed. student in the local college and re-take statistics.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ecocomics Recession Watch: Hellboy Edition

Hellboy: The Storm #1 by Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo, Dark Horse Comics (2010)

The economic downturn is, by far, the most dangerous evil in all of comics. It can hit in the most surprising of ways. It can hit people and places you never thought possible.

For example, here we see how bad credit has forced Hellboy to travel around with his newly acquired magic sword in nothing more upscale than a crummy rental car. Pretty modest for the King of Britain.

(Hellboy also says he quit drinking to avoid making bad decisions. But we know he just can't afford another bottle).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Externalities: Week of 07/16/10

Superheroes fight crime and save lives. But by doing so they impose certain costs on people not directly involved. These are superhero externalities.


#1) Amazing Spider-Man #636-- Breaking the Web of Life.

Amazing Spider-Man #636 by Joe Kelly (w/Zeb Wells), Marco Checchetto,
Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano, Marvel Comics (2010)

The "Grim Hunt" continues as the Kravinoffs intensify their extermination of spiders. Unfortunately, according to Madame Web, these spiders play an important role in a delicate ecosystem (or something). By hunting them, the Kravinoffs have accidentally disturbed the balance of nature, forcing a bunch of angry rats, gorillas, birds, lions, and others to respond by killing more humans.

Irredeemable #15 -- Accidental Earthquakes

Irredeemable #15 by Mark Waid and Diego Barreto, Boom! Stuidos (2010)

It's bad enough that the Plutonian destroyed Singapore, along with several other major cities in the world. Now in his fight against him, Cary has impetuously driven the Plutonian into a fault line, causing a 9.8 quake that's spread as far as 221 miles away to Phoenix. Incidentally, in the last issue the Paradigm (former eminent superhero team in this universe) specifically picked the Grand Canyon as the location of the fight to avoid causing damage and externalities such as this. Whoops.

#3) X-Force #28 -- Golden Gate Bridge

X-Force #28 by Craig Kyle, Christ Yost, and Mike Choi, Marvel Comics (2010)

When last we checked in on "Second Coming," the Golden Gate Bridge had been surrounded by a mysterious dome, engulfing the new mutant haven, Utopia, along with a good chunk of San Francisco. We later discovered that the dome was actually a portal, sending "mutant-slaying Nimrod sentinels" back from the future to, well, slaughter mutants. Now it seems the battle is over and the Nimrods are all but destroyed. Except...yeah.


Feel free to send us your favorite externalities of the week. We'll throw them up on next week's post and credit your name.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Trade and Barter

Chicken for Checkups?"More than Enough" in Jonah Hex #56 by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Phil Windslade,
DC Comics (2010)

In the old west, people used to barter goods and services all the time. Witness here how Porivo offers Jonah a horse in exchange for one night of his services as a hired gun.

Had Jonah been a doctor instead of a bounty hunter and had Porivo been offering chickens instead of a horse, this would come pretty close to what certain officials want for our current health-care system.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Repulsor Technology for All

Tony Stark explains his plans for world domination.  I mean, world peaceInvincible Iron Man #27 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, Marvel Comics (2010)

After a year of running from Norman Osborn while having his memory banks slowly exterminated, Tony Stark has been "rebooted." Now with Osborn gone and his mind restored, it's to rebuild Stark Industries. Only Tony no longer wants to focus on weapons manufacturing and distribution.

Instead, he is starting a new enterprise, Stark Resilient, which promises a business model focused on fostering international cooperation and ushering in an era of world peace. How does he arrive at this goal? Simple. By providing the world with an alternative energy source, his patented repulsor technology, Tony hopes to one eliminate Earth's dependence on fossil fuels.

A pretty decent plan. After all, as we discussed in an earlier post on alien technology and economic growth, the best way towards economic growth is the free and unfettered dissemination of information and technology. In this sense, Stark was doing a great disservice to the world by keeping this technology for himself. He could have powered more cars, produced more electricity, heated more homes, etc.

And yet we know exactly why he kept it secret, don't we? He was afraid that this technology would fall into the wrong hands, which would ultimately cause more harm than good. Hell, this is the entire premise of Iron Man 2. It's also what caused the Plutonian to go berserk in Mark Waid's Irredeemable.

Now he's come around. Whether this will have the intended consequences remains to be seen. Let's just hope more Russians don't start attacking speed racers.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Markets in Everything: Death Rays

Ever wonder what the quickest and most inexpensive way to become a supervillain is? Chris Sims over at Comics Alliance has a suggestion: buy a high-powered laser/death ray:

I'm not sure what purpose the Spyder III is meant to serve (other than the obvious fact that lasering is its own reward), but I do know that it's not your average laser pointer. Take a look at the safety warning that accompanies the product description:

Warning: Extremely dangerous is an understatement to the power of 1W of laser power. It will blind permanently and instantly and set fire quickly to skin and other body parts.

Instant blindness. Sets fire to skin. Looks like a lightsaber.

Guys. That is a portable Death Ray. And it costs less than $200. I don't think I'm overstating things when I say that this is going to revolutionize super-villainy.

Chris is absolutely right. The "Wicked Lasers" website cites a laser-powered home theater projector as one possible use for the Spyder III portable blue laser. But who are they kidding?

My only concern (aside from an increase in supervillain activity) is that an open market for villainous weapons like these might start providing too much competition for the real heinous and clandestine weapons manufacturers. This might, in turn, lead to even more violence.

Should this, then, be an externalities post?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ecocomics Week in Review 06/11/10

Part of our job at Ecocomics is to inform readers of the latest ecocomics news stories. With that in mind, we present to you, straight from the editor's desk of THE DAILY BOGGLE, the WEEK IN REVIEW, a summary of the week's most important events.

Printed at

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Markets in Everything: Superpowers Edition

Max Damage learns of the superhero markets.Incorruptible #2 by Mark Waid and Jean Diaz, BOOM! Studios (2010)

The world of Mark Waid's Irredeemable and Incorruptible is a scary place. The Plutonian, Earth's former greatest superhero, continues to wreak havoc on major cities, killing millions of innocents in the process. The global economy has all but collapsed. Unemployment has hit something close to 30%. Riots flood the streets of the cities. Anyone still alive lives in constant panic that he or she will be hit next. The worst part: there is no escape. The Plutonian is basically Superman-- he can travel quickly through any of the four dimensions. He has super-hearing and x-ray vision. In short: no one is safe.

Well, maybe.

In Incorruptible #2, we learn that David Orjean, a corrupt biochemical engineer, claims to have developed a method to transform ordinary humans being into superhumans, with powers that could apparently rival that of the Plutonian's. What's more is that he's been making these claims for years, even before the Plutonian went rogue.

We know that there's a market for superheroes. Given the opportunity, many people would elect to have a procedure done that would allow them to fly or teleport or whatever. Even in the black market, Orjean would still attract some pretty good business.

One problem: Orjean has no success record. Apparently instead of successfully delivering on his promise of superpowers, he severely cripples his subjects. Oops.

This raises some interesting questions.

First, why do people continue to buy his product when there is a documented failure rate.? Even in dire circumstances like, say, a godlike villain destroying the world, I'd still be skeptical. I understand that desperation causes people to do some silly things. But come on! The probability of successfully procuring superpowers from Orjean is somewhere close to 0. Moreover, the utility of having such powers is uncertain! There are plenty of superpowered people in the world. An entire superhero team, in fact. All of them are in hiding from the Plutonian: the most powerful being on earth. Even with powers, does anyone really think they're going to be safe? Not to mention, Orjean doesn't even tell you what the powers are going to be. Talk about asymmetric information.

The more interesting question is whether we could live in a world with (successful) superpower markets. Clearly, black markets would have many unintended negative consequences. If people could go purchase superpowers from a crazy engineer, then there is a strong potential for abuse. We'd see much more supervillainy!

However, suppose we legalize the buying and selling of superpowers. If heavily regulated (extensive background checks on potential customers, heavy taxation, etc.), what would be the outcome?

Turns out there are books that tangentially deal with this issue. Warren Ellis' No Hero, for instance, tells the tale of a government-sponsored agency with access to technology that gives humans superpowers. These human candidates are screened, prepared, and then trained for a career in superheroics. And they've been policing the world for years.

Of course, this is just a government agency. What if the market for superpowers were privatized? What if there was competition, innovation, and the incentive to produce really terrific superheroes?

Unfortunately, the world of No Hero isn't a bright one and Ellis isn't shy about declaring the dangers of this sort of technology. Superheroes, apparently, shouldn't be created and traded like commodities.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Arguing Against the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics

I'm extremely late to this, but a friend linked me to this post by Matt Yglesias from all the way back in 2006 on what he called the "Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics." Here is an excerpt:

As you may know, the Green Lantern Corps is a sort of interstellar peacekeeping force set up by the Guardians of Oa to maintain the peace and defend justice. It recruits members from all sorts of different species and equips them with the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power ring.

The ring is a bit goofy. Basically, it lets its bearer generate streams of green energy that can take on all kinds of shapes. The important point is that, when fully charged what the ring can do is limited only by the stipulation that it create green stuff and by the user's combination of will and imagination. Consequently, the main criterion for becoming a Green Lantern is that you need to be a person capable of "overcoming fear" which allows you to unleash the ring's full capacities. It used to be the case that the rings wouldn't function against yellow objects, but this is now understood to be a consequence of the "Parallax fear anomaly" which, along with all the ring's other limits, can be overcome with sufficient willpower.

Suffice it to say that I think all this makes an okay premise for a comic book. But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.

I don't take issue the assertion that neoconservatives of the Bush era naively believed that the United States could solve the world's problems by exercising military power. Nor do I disagree that this isn't the best way of approaching international relations.

No, I'm merely surprised that Yglesias is using the Green Lantern as a point of comparison. According to him, the power ring is the American military. It can only be wielded properly by someone with sufficient abilities to overcome fear. Completing the analogy, this would mean that Hal Jordan (or whoever you favorite Green Lantern is) is really George W. Bush, commander of the American military. The Guardians of Oa, then, are basically the people who elected Bush & Co., believing he possessed the requisite skills to command an army.

Sure, the Guardians of Oa award power rings to only those members they consider having surpassed a certain threshold of bravery, fearlessness, and willpower. But having the "guts" to engage in international military conflict isn't exactly what the Guardians had in mind. In my view, the power rings are not awarded to individuals with enough fearlessness to use them, but with enough fearlessness not to.

No one would be afraid of using a power ring haphazardly. It's a power ring. It's awesome. Who wouldn't want the opportunity to shoot things with it and fly around in space? Any fool can put on a ring and blast away to his or her heart's desire. The idea is, however, that when faced with a crisis, the fearful people would be more willing to use the power ring in vastly excessive and inappropriate ways. This would more likely distrub the peace, rather than preserve it.

This is why the Guardians gave the ring to Hal, someone who they thought possessed the ability to use the ring only when absolutely necessary. In this context, "willpower" does not mean overcoming your fear of using power offensively. It means overcoming your fear of abusing the power. It means having restraint.

As evidence of this, consider what happens to Hal after the destruction of Coast City. He attempted to use the power ring solely for personal gain (i.e. to rebuild the city), an action the Guardians condemned. In response to this, he attacks Oa in a forceful, but ultimately futile attempt to gain control of the Central Battery, which eventually allowed him to be taken over by Parallax, a demonic and parasitic fear agent.

What we see here is that Hal's hubris, which was in fact brought on by fear (not courage), weakened him enough to be possessed and subsequently resulted in the death of several of his fellow Green Lantern corp. The lesson is that fear is associated with the abuse of power, whereas true courage and willpower is associated with caution, thoughtfulness and restraint.

To further amplify this, take a look at who the Guardians chose as Hal's replacement: Kyle Rayner. Recall that rather than being a fighter pilot like Jordan, Rayner was actually a struggling graphic artist living in Los Angeles. Not exactly the image one conjures when thinking of a traditionally brave, fearless person, right? Yet, the Guardians were shrewd this time. Though this was never apparent, my guess is they wanted to avoid a repeat of the Hal situation. So, they gave a power ring to someone with a gift for creativity; someone who they viewed would think critically about the most effective ways of using this new found power.

I'd be interested to hear what Yglesias (and of course you guys) thinks about all of this.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Externalities: Week of 06/07/10

Superheroes fight crime and save lives. But by doing so they impose certain costs on people not directly involved. These are superhero externalities.

#3) Subways

Wolverine: Weapon X #13 by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney, Marvel Comics (2010)

Logan has a bad habit of driving people's heads into subway cars. Even if they are terminator-like assassins from the future sent to the present day to wipe out all superhero threats.

Perhaps this isn't an exteranlity at all. It might be completely intentional. Maybe Logan just has a thing against subways.


#2) The Golden Gate Bridge

X-Force #27 by Craig Kyle, Christ Yost and Mike Choi, Marvel Comics (2010)

With the "Second Coming" story arc/crossover in full swing, the external damage keeps on coming. See that orb in the first panel? That is a spherical portal located at the center of a large, impenetrable dome encapsulating all of San Francisco, including Utopia (the X-Men's new island home). That dome apparently causes lots of damage to the city. Oh yeah, and the Nimrods--super sentinels from the future sent by Bastion to kill the X-Men--are doing their fair share as well.


#1) The Grand Canyon

Irredeemable #14 by Mark Waid and Diego Barreto, BOOM! Studios (2010)

Aha! Somewhere in the corners of the universe (apparently, over at BOOM Studios), superheroes are cognizant of the effects that their weekly battles have on innocent bystanders, private and public property, and the environment. Here, we have former members of the Paradigm, Earth's premier superhero squad, preparing for a battle with the renegade Plutonian, who spent the last few months systemically destroying city after city. To prepare for the battle, the team sets up camp at the Grand Canyon, an area with currently no bystanders, cars, buildings, sidewalks, subways, or mailboxes that they might accidentally blow up with plasma lasers.

Smart move, guys.


Feel free to send us your favorite externalities of the week. We'll throw them up on next week's post and credit your name.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Unemployment in Irredeemable Land

Irredeemable #13 by Mark Waid and Diego Barreto, Boom! Comics (2010)

Does that unemployment statistic strike anyone else as being a bit small? To those not reading the series, recall that The Plutonian, Earth's former greatest superhero, has gone rogue and has been systematically destroying city after city. Millions are dead, the world economy has all but collapsed, there are riots on the streets and people are living in a state of panic with absolutely no knowledge of where the Plutonian will strike next.

And yet unemployment just hit 27.8%? Frankly, I'm surprised that 70% of the United States is still going to work at all. In fact, I think it's pretty funny that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is still even counting. In the face of complete and utter disaster, the likes of which the world has never before seen--where anyone can die at any minute--those troopers over at the BLS come in to work to compile the economic indicators.

No one can claim that economists and statisticians aren't tough guys.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sadness=Profit: Comics and the Grief Industry

When someone dies, it can cause a lot of grief. Everyone who knows the recently deceased individual will likely feel some pang of sadness. But things get more complicated when the person who dies is famous. Rather than family and friends mourning, it's possible that the entire world will grieve.

In American history, the deaths of famous figures like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Princess Diana, and Michael Jackson have all caused national if not worldwide mourning.

But in modern times, it seems that the way people grieve has changed. Grief seems to have taken a more profitable approach. Take Michael Jackson for example. A film biography/concert, "This Is It", released 4 months after the singer's death grossed $71 million according to IMDB. Jackson's death also inspired books and yet another film soon to be released. A lot of people made a lot of money when Michael Jackson died. By catering to a massive audience of grieving fans who appreciated their idol more than ever, keen businessmen were able to make quite a fortune.

It seems that grief is indeed an industry.

And as reality imitates art, we should be seeing the grief industry in comics.

And we do. After the death of Captain America, the comics world showed how the grief industry can act. With Captain America gone, many people tried to capitalize on his absence. Captain America #600 portrayed an individual selling Captain America memorabilia which had quadrupled in value after the hero's death. He profited handsomely from the sale. Movies were made and so were books. Norman Osborn even played off of Cap's death by painting himself red, white and blue and calling himself the Iron Patriot.

Now we comics readers have witnessed another tragic death in X-Force #26.

Nightcrawler is DEAD!

Nightcrawler from Giant-Size X-Men #1, art by Dave Cockrum

Kurt Wagner the wonderful German acrobat, priest, demon spawn, X-Man has ceased to be.

Nightcrawler heroically gave his life in X-Force #26 to protect the mutant messiah, Hope, from evil machines bent on destroying all mutantkind. Despite being impaled through the chest, Kurt mustered the strength to teleport Hope across the distance of the U.S. (a feat he has seldom accomplished) and into the hands of his comrades.

In light of the fact that Nightcrawler was much beloved, it seems that its only a matter of time before the industry of grief turns its eye on this departed furry blue mutant. Will we see Nightcrawler commemorative plates? Tickle-Me Nightcrawler? Brimstone scented Nightcrawler cologne?

Or will there we a successful music single, akin to Elton John's reimagining of "Candle in the Wind" for Princess Diana? That song was extremely successful and became one of the most popular singles of all time.

But what tribute songs shall we sing for Nightcrawler?


How about "You'll be Through My Heart"?

"Save the Last BAMF for Me"?

Cover art to X-Men: Manifest Destiny- Nightcrawler #1, art by Brandon Peterson

Regardless of how we mourn, we'll miss you Kurt. At least for the next five months until someone brings you back to life. Until then, bring on the merchandise!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ecocomics Recession Watch: Amazing Unemployed Spider-Man Edition

"Brother, Can You Spare a Crime?" in Amazing Spider-Man #628
by Mark Waid, Tom Peyer and Todd Nauck and Lee Weeks, Marvel Comics (2010)

When we last left Peter Parker, he was fired from his job at city hall. Now, we catch a glimpse of the unemployed life, as Peter experiences difficulty keeping the roof over his head. As he mentions, there was a time when he could just secure a freelance job taking photos for The Daily Bugle. But in the midst of this recession, it seems that such gigs are harder to obtain than usual. Not to mention The DB was recently destroyed!

One minor nitpick here: I don't know where he pulled the "one million other New Yorkers" statistic. As of March 2010, there were about 400,000 unemployed living in NYC. Statewide, the number of unemployed residents was about 831,800. Granted, if Peter was talking about the entire state (which I doubt), then his estimate of one million would have been closer. Even still, rounding up by over 150,000 is a big deal.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Riddler's Brilliant Crime Fighting Strategy

Gotham City Sirens #10 by Paul Dini and Andres Guinaldo, DC Comics (2010)

Say what you will about the Riddler's constantly wavering loyalties and his psychological obsession with puzzles. The man still proves himself, time and time again, to be a brilliant strategist.

Whereas once he was one of Batman's greatest foes in the long list of rogues, the Riddler is now one of Gotham's more successful (and legitimate) private investigators. This means that whenever Batman is working a pretty rough case, the Riddler usually wiggles himself into it. It's a wonderful plot source, as this tends to drive a wedge into Batman's own detecting process. Is this a permanent change? Hard to say. However, it has been going on for quite some time and the only signs we have of the Riddler's return to villainy are minor.

It looks like he's in it for the long haul. But we have to ask ourselves the following question: how exactly does the Riddler stay successful?

We need a little bit of background first.

You see, Gotham City law enforcement is organized in a strange way. We actually went over this a little bit in our post on signalling and Batman's crime-fighting strategy, and also here in our post on the effect of superheroes on local law enforcement. Basically, we have a city that is a breeding ground for crime. And not ordinary crime. We're talking about a supervillain haven. Gotham City is polluted not only with ordinary muggers, burglars, robbers, murderers, rapists, mobsters, drug dealers, and thieves, but also with the nutjobs you've come to know and love.

This is why we have law enforcement. Unfortunately, the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) is simply ill-equipped to deal with all of these problems. They could barely handle the widespread criminal activity and systemic corruption before the appearance of any supervillains. Now they are completely overwhelmed and this is all coupled with the fact that the Gotham City budget keeps shorting the department. Less equipment. Less manpower.

This means that the GCPD has to prioritize. Obviously, catching The Joker before he sets off a bomb in Gotham Square is more important than patrolling the narrows to prevent ordinary muggings or drug deals. Yet, even with all police resources focused on supervillain threats, we still don't see results. The crime rate stays up, supervillains are still on the loose, and people are murdered every day.

The police are, simply put, not intelligent enough or equipped enough to handle destruction on such a grand scale.

Batman, of course, has the brains and resources to handle these supergeniuses. After all, he is one himself. And he is almost always the one who rounds up these villains and brings them back to Arkham. The police force--especially Commisioner James Gordon--can help, but it strikes me that this help is usually no more than offering minor clues.

If we were to adhere to the principles of comparative advantage here, then it would be clear that the GCPD should then let Batman handle the supervillains by himself (or with his cohort of Bat-friends), while the force exclusively focus on smaller crimes. However, this does not happen. In fact, the police keep going after the big guys alongside Batman. Inevitably, they get frustrated when he steps in on their game. It makes them look like they are incapable of performing their jobs and so department funding gets pulled all the more.

All of this is explored in Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker's wonderful Gotham Central.

Indeed, this is a strange system. One would think if the police department was being constantly overshadowed by Batman and overlooked by city hall, then this would provide more of an incentive to make low-level, easy arrests and build up stats. At the same time, the police department cannot officially support a vigilante doing its high-end work and I suppose it cannot project the appearance that it is weak on supervillainy either.

Where does the Riddler fit in? Well, apparently his success lies in the fact that he mostly takes on smaller cases. The same ones that are beneath Batman's pay grade and the same ones that the police ignore as they attempt to reign in Mr. Freeze.

It's actually a pretty brilliant strategy. It allows the Riddler to simultaneously earn a "fat check" while establishing his reputation in the community as a legitimate problem-solver. Of course, he doesn't want to be stuck with the reputation of being a guy who takes on easy cases. So every so often, he throws in a hard one, wherein he steps on Batman's own detection process. In effect, the Riddler is edging out the GCPD from law enforcement completely (although he claims that his strategy helps him establish credibility--I just don't see it).

Good for the cops? Absolutely not. Good for society? Who knows. Good for the Riddler? Absolutely.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Externalities: Week of 4/26/10

Superheroes fight crime and save lives. But by doing so they impose certain costs on people not directly involved. These are superhero externalities.

Rather than
do a separate "externalities" post for each disaster, I thought I might try sharing all of the best ones from the week in a single post.

Here we go:

Uncanny X-Men #523 by Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson, Marvel Comics (2010)

Cable and Hope are on the run from Bastion, a "super-sentinel from the future hellbent on exterminating all mutants." Bastion's goons have tracked the pair of heroes to a little motel and have begun to surround the joint.

The only way out? Heavy destruction of city and personal property, of course.

Wolverine: Weapon X #12 by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney, Marvel Comics (2010)

Hate waiting for the subway? Bet you would hate it even more if the A train was regularly delayed by underground superhuman battles.

Here we have Captain America attempting to escape an army of Deathloks, powerful Terminator-like cyborgs sent back in time from the future to eliminate the superheroes that would one day pose a threat to their reign. The chase leads Cap down into a subway station, where a group of innocent bystanders are trying to get home from work.


Ultimate Avengers #6 by Mark Millar and Carlos Pacheco, Marvel Comics (2010)

Ultimate Captain America is not faring much better. Currently, he is using his ship to teleport around the world in search of the evil Red Skull. Too bad his flight skills are getting in the way.

This is, of course, a Mark Millar comic, so there is no shortage of pointless destruction. What's particularly fascinating here is how little Captain America seems to care about this blatant destruction and potential harm of others individuals.

Anything to get the job done, I suppose.

Amazing Spider-Man #628 by Roger Stern and Lee Weeks, Marvel Comics (2010)
Click to See More

Ah, a classic maneuver. During an airborne chase/battle, Spider-Man and Captain Universe crash through the window of a health club, damaging not only the window, but some expensive equipment. And they're not even members!

Interestingly enough, Spider-Man actually recognizes that innocent people might be getting hurt during the battle. Following this episode at the health club, he leads Captain Universe to an abandoned field so that the two could continue fighting, while only imposing minimal damage to third parties. It's nice to see that Spider-Man has a sense about these things, as opposed to, say, Ultimate Captain America.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #34 by Brad Meltzer and Georges Jeanty,
Dark Horse Comics (2010)

I saved the best for last. If you're a Buffy fanatic and have not yet heard the identity of Twilight, then you should turn away from this post immediately because here comes the MASSIVE SPOILER. I'm serious.

OK, it's Angel. Buffy and Angel have been reunited at last. The first thing they do, obviously, is have some sex. Sounds innocent enough. Hell, they've done it before and the only result was an evil Angel.

Here's the problem. Buffy has recently been granted extra superhuman powers, which she was able to harness from recently fallen slayers. Meanwhile, Angel is, um, pretty powerful too. Apparently, when two especially powerful beings like Buffy and Angel get it on, the universe reacts. And not in a good way.

Remember the infamous love scene between Superman and Wonder Woman in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again? This is even worse. To balance out the enormous surge of power, the universe has to kill off a bunch of life or energy or something. Honestly, I'm not exactly clear yet what's going on. But Giles was not subtle in saying that Buffy's happiness is uncontroversially bad for the world. Tidal waves. Volcanic eruptions. The works.

That's right. Buffy and Angel want to be happy. The only cost is on the rest of the world. I'd say that's a pretty big externality.