Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Batman and the Power of Wealth

VegasBitch198I'm still recovering from a week-long vacation, but have been trying to keep up with what's going on in the outside world just a bit. Before the recent release of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Returns was overshadowed by the opening-night shooting that left a dozen people dead, and scores more injured, its coming was anticipated as an enjoyable escape from the realities of every day life.

At least one blogger, however, was already thinking about the real-world social concerns that the existence of such a fictional character implies. In his entry, "The Dark Knight Buyses," Dave Lartigue considers the idea that Batman is actually a far more powerful superhero than any of his super-powered counterparts:
Just as Superman has super-strength and Flash has super-speed, Batman has super-wealth. It’s not just wealth beyond that of an average man, it’s wealth beyond that of a wealthy man. Maybe the comics make some lip service about it being a controlled, finite amount, but nothing about Batman suggests that this is actually the case. He has preternatural, off-the-scale wealth.
The idea is that, whatever another superhero might do by virtue of super-speed or super-strength, Batman can either duplicate or counter by virtue of his wealth.
(Batman's) wealth enables him to defeat Superman through synthesizing Kryptonite. I don’t know if he’s fought Green Lantern, but in the most recent incarnation of the Justice League comic he’s removed the ring from Hal Jordan’s finger without him noticing. Batman needs no magic ring to manifest his will, he just buys stuff. Does he need to fly? He buys a jet. Does he need to bend metal? Wayne Industries has an experimental construction power suit that does just that. Does he need a giant supercomputer installed in an underground cavern? Money gets the job done. Batman buys his way to success, and since the wealth is unlimited, so is the success.
It is further observed that Batman's wealth gives him the luxury of choice. He can chose where to shop (or not to shop), what rules to follow or not follow (such as his self-imposed prohibition on killing his enemies), and so on. In theory, Batman can do anything he wants, and thus should be unbeatable. Indeed, Lartigue rightly points out that whenever Batman and Superman end up fighting each other, Batman is inevitably the victor, which makes good logical sense.

While, arguably, the analogy breaks down with the existence of Lex Luthor (like Batman, Luthor is super-wealthy, and thus is afforded all the privileges that wealth brings without having any self-imposed restrictions on how he might use those privleges, yet in comic-book world he always seems to fail in his efforts against Superman), Lartigue makes one of the strongest cases I've ever seen for the reality that not all people are equally able to do whatever they would like to do, despite the prevailing ideology that one can do whatever one wants, if only one wants it deeply enough.
Batman didn’t become Batman because his parents were murdered in an alley when he was eight, he became Batman because his parents were murdered in an alley when he was eight and left him with a fortune in money and spare time. There are plenty of kids whose parents get murdered and don’t end up stalking rooftops for evil clowns. Batman becomes Batman because he can afford to.
As Lartigue sadly notes, there are more Luthor-types in the real world than there are Batman-types, and without self-imposed restrictions, they win far more often in the real-world than they do in comic-book world. Some would argue that there shouldn't ever be any limitations on how money is earned or spent. I disagree. We simply cannot trust Luthor-types to do the right thing, and there therefore needs to be some kind of counter-balance against the power of super-wealth that isn't simply self-imposed. Without such counter-balance (in the form, perhaps, of regulations on what kind of wealth might be taxed, or what it might be spent on, but I do not exclusively mean to suggest only such regulations), we cannot hope for the "good guys" to win more often than the "bad guys."

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