A Comic Book Entry: Super-selfish Super-geniuses

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On to the snark!

There’s a trope in comics I ran across called “Cut Lex Luthor a Check.”  The idea is that if someone paid a genius like Lex Luthor, or his counterpart Dr. Doom, enough money for their world-destroying devices (which with a little tinkering could be world-saving devices), they would have no need to be supervillains anymore.  Of course, they are supervillains, and so money holds no power over them although they hold a LOT of power over money (however, this may work on lesser supervillains such as the Tinkerer).  As Princess from “Powerpuff Girls” said, “I have the greatest superpower of all!  Cold hard cash!”  When the incarnation of evil agrees, you know you’re on to something.

But here’s where a problem comes into the internal logic of a comic book universe.  Marvel and DC are populated with hero geniuses.  Batman, Mr. Fantastic, and Iron Man are probably the most famous.  Now, Batman and Iron Man are pretty much on the same level of genius and use their genius in pretty much the same way.  Mr. Fantastic is a special case.  So, yes, Batman and Iron Man own technology companies and horde the best stuff for themselves to fight crime and alien invasions and pretty much whatever the writers think would be awesome at the time (apparently rule 1 of DC is – everything is awesome with Batman; the Marvel parallel [although not quite relevant in this discussion] is – everything is awesome with Wolverine).  Both heroes have enough wealth to make King Solomon blush.  The problems?

1) Iron Man – He’s been very careful NOT to let his weapon designs get into the hands of people he doesn’t personally trust.  Many of his comics are centered around someone stealing the plans for his armor or the actual armor and him going and beating the snot out of them to get it back. He’s invaded foreign sovereign nations and stolen his armor back from the US government on more than one occasion (and yet not tried for treason; go figure).  I get it; he doesn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands (his recovering alcoholic hands are fine, however).  I’ll give Tony credit for creating the Mandroid armor, although like some countries, he sold the third-rate stuff instead of the top of the line stuff.  And of course he made a huge profit from the deal, so it’s not as though it was completely altruistic.  But the man is a weapons’ dealer. Still, I’m surprised at how few commercial/civilian applications the Iron Man technology has been used for.  His armors run on compact, nearly limitless energy sources.  How in the world could that not be marketable and imminently useful?  Okay, yes that’s what Tony is up to in the movies, but the comic book version has going on 50 years to develop clean energy sources, and that Tony was written right through the oil crisis of the 1970s.  He’s devoted to national security, right?  His technology could make the county energy independent within a few decades (I allow him some time to scale up and work on getting costs down).  Or maybe some applications of those force fields would be useful.  How great would it be if instead of a car popping an airbag it popped a force field that absorbed all kinetic energy?  Or maybe he could have worked for more advances in the medical field, since that’s what the armor was originally designed for?  Imagine if Stark Industries went into the field of prosthetics.  But no.  I’ll give Tony a slight pass for being a selfish bastard with his technology since he pretty much is a selfish bastard, but I’m surprised all his high-minded friends and fellow superheroes don’t push him to be a little more generous.

2) Batman – he also has access to advanced technology he keeps to himself.  Now, his stuff isn’t going to revolutionize the army (actually, it might), but imagine what it could do for the Gotham City PD. Gotham City is a terrible place to live, even by fictional standards.  I’d rather live in Sunnydale than Gotham City.  It’s like a circle of Hell Dante didn’t get around to describing because it was so awful. Ostensibly based on New York City, Gotham is pretty much an amalgam of the bad part of every city ever.  There is no part of Gotham City that is not a ghetto as far as I can tell.  Your choices of neighborhood are like choosing between Hell’s Kitchen in NYC, or the South Side of Chicago.  One Bat cannot patrol the whole city, leaving Gotham’s finest to do their best.  And they just have the same lousy gear of any police department, probably worse considering Gotham seems to be in a budget crunch.  So the Gotham City PD is underpaid, under-equipped, and under-staffed.  But Batman, who has a bunch of variations of Bat-armor which keeps him from getting a Bat-sucking-chest-wound when shot, isn’t sharing.  Why not?  Couldn’t Wayne Tech make some money from manufacturing advanced armored vests?  The military would certainly buy them and that would help the troops.  Any police force that could afford awesome armor would probably buy it too.  So Gotham City is broke.  Bruce Wayne is supposed to be a philanthropist; he could just donate a whole bunch of gear to the Gotham CPD because he’s just that kind of guy.  It doesn’t have to be gear he developed; just the good stuff that’s already available would make a huge difference for the poor cops of the GCPD who are forced to fight slightly super-powered psychopaths without so much as a SWAT team.  Or he could buy out and re-build Arkham to the kind of place the inmates aren’t escaping from every other week.  Or better yet, use his money to run for city government and then be able to actually make changes to the budget and staffing which would benefit the PD for years.

I give Batman less of a pass than Iron Man.  He’s not supposed to be a selfish bastard.  He’s supposed to be self-sacrificing for the good of the masses (such good as may be found in such a wretched hive of scum and villainy).  He’s selfless!  And yet his answer to the woes of the Gotham City PD is to dress up like a nocturnal mammal, beat up some muggers, and catch the Joker.  Sure, catching the Joker is important, but how many other people could be helped if the GCPD was properly outfitted and staffed?  If he wanted Batman to always be the city savior, he could outsource the Batman image and make a corps of Batmen (which I think is where the comic was going pre-reboot).  Heck, when Darkwing Duck ran into some money, the first thing he did was create a Darkwing Corps!

3) And the case of Mr. Fantastic is a special one.  This falls in with a trope I saw called, “Reed Richards is Useless.”  This is a man who can build six impossible things before breakfast.  His experiment on cosmic radiation was an utter failure but had the significant side-effect of creating the most powerful superhero team in the Marvel universe.  For the comics Mr. Fantastic has invented: time-travel, travel to other dimensions, travel to parallel universes, travel to the Microverse, travel to the Macroverse, travel to alien worlds, giant robots, laser weapons, and the list goes on and on.  Even when he’s not inventing things to start and/or end adventures, the inventions he makes in his spare time for personal reasons are outrageously advanced technology.  He gave his wife a ring with a universe in it for their anniversary.  Every year on their anniversary he takes her back in time to a restaurant so they can watch their first meeting. This is a man who could run rings around Iron Man and Batman in the invention department.  He could have invented limitless, clean energy in an afternoon.  He could have cured cancer before lunchtime.  He could have solved global warming and cleaned up all pollution before putting his kids to bed.  In theory, he’s got people who know his abilities and should be asking him to create free energy and cure cancer and clean up the planet.  Instead, he builds awesome hovercars and jets and portals and weapons and never shares with anyone ever.  What a selfish bastard indeed.  Some hero.

These geniuses could revolutionize their relative universes in significant ways, but by and large do not.  Why?  Well, unfortunately, that’s narrative convention.  If there actually was a Bat-corps, or if Iron Man’s compact energy sources were commercialized, a lot of conflict that Batman and Iron Man were involved in would disappear.  What would Batman do if the criminals of Gotham actually stayed in Arkham?  What would Iron Man do if his armor didn’t end up in the hands of his enemies?  What if Mr. Fantastic actually cured cancer and created free energy and gave everyone hovercars (yes, some of this overlaps with what Iron Man can do but Mr. Fantastic is a lot faster)?  There would be nothing for anyone to do.  Well, that’s not entirely true, but a lot of conflict would be resolved, especially for Batman, since he spends a lot of time trolling for muggers.  Many problems of the world would be resolved and in regards to Mr. Fantastic, solved on a global scale within a week or two.  As heroes, they ought to share their technology.  But as characters who need conflict, they can’t.  This results in holes in their characters which writers have to write around, which is difficult, and results in Mr. Fantastic inventing something that is totally awesome and then promptly forgetting he made the thing after adventure is over with.  By that logic, Mr. Fantastic has a closet full of world-saving devices that are just gathering dust.  And by that logic, Iron Man and Batman are jerks for not sharing their technology.

Alas, I have no solution to this problem.  But it is kind of a constant glaring plothole that a man who can build a high-tech energy source in a cave with scrap won’t commercialize it, that a man who devotes his entire existence to protecting a festering cesspool of a city won’t help outfit the local police department, or that that a man who can invent time travel and dimensional travel and anything else just utterly fails to turn his attention to pressing global matters of energy supply, cancer, and pollution.  Unfortunately, it’s a glaring plothole that will probably never go away.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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