This job isn’t easy, you know. Or even technically speaking, a job. But if it were a job it wouldn’t be easy is the point I want understood.
It Is Taking Everything I Have Not To Mention The Elephant In The Room
See, here I am, all set to write a letter about how the ‘corporate billionaire’ superhero archetype has outlived its usefulness? And no sooner do I get it finished than a corporate billionaire decides he should circumvent the law to Do A Violence on some people on the assumption that it will make him a hero.
I’m not talking about Elon Musk, for the record.
That’s all I’m going to say about… the recent news cycle, let’s call it. Let’s just say that the awkwardness of trying to talk about comics AROUND the subject that I’m doing my best not to bring up is one more reason why this kind of superhero needs immediate de-emphasis.
A lot of superheros have, as part of their backstory, great riches. And that’s fine. What’s money but a way of measuring social power? So being rich is just one more part of the empowerment fantasy that the Superhero genre is meant to be.
Moreover it’s a good way to hang a lampshade on questions about where the costumes come from, how they have room for a hideout, and how they can afford all the gadgets. And that’s fine. This isn’t the kind of ‘rich guy superhero’ I have a problem with. It only becomes a problem when it starts taking over the rest of the story.
I think you know the kind of taking over I’m talking about. Let’s say that Capybara Lad is getting a reboot, and it involves some shady politics guys trying to control Capybara Corp, suppliers of fodders and shampoos to capybara ranchers the world over. Suddenly instead of getting to see Capybara Lad in action in the Capybarabathysphere, he’s spending most of every issue meeting with lawyers and stockbrokers and trying to figure out who’s buying shares through shell corporations, and at this point you might as well be reading The Bonfire of the Vanities.
Board Room Superheroics
This was a big problem with the Netflix Iron Fist series, but that was hardly the only place it showed up. The Nolan Batman trilogy had it–kept it to a minimum, sure, but it still felt like a waste of time. Even Watchmen, I want to say, spent more time than was justified on Ozymandias being a genius at anticipating marketing trends.
Or Arrow, for example, spent so much time getting bogged down in stuff about Oliver Queen’s Corporation that he had, or who was going to fund and manage a nightclub, and John Barrowman is going to do conspiracy for a while to control the mayor as if we aren’t all just waiting for him to put on a supervillain costume, seriously, any supervillain, I’d even accept Kite-Man if it would just let us move on!
Fun Trivia: Kite-Man’s real name really is Charlie Brown. I can’t find a straight answer as to whether that’s intentional.
I understand why this comes up. You want to make comic books realistic. You want to show that your character isn’t just the costume, that they are smart and cool in their non-secret identity. You want to be able to say that you deserve credit for doing research about all the details of your character, including ‘where does he get his money?’
But this isn’t just putting the cart before the horse. This is putting the cart belonging to the shoemaker who made the shoes worn by the miller who ground the flour used by the baker who made the bread bought by the wife of the guy who drives the cart before the horse.
The Limner,The Wheelwright, And The Printer’s Devil Are In There Somewhere Too
Showing every little detail of ‘how the rich superhero’s riches work’ is boring. You only have so many pages, or so much screentime, and you could be spending them on robot space ninjas exploding, so there’s precious little excuse for spending them on showing offices. Thinking about office things is usually what we’re reading comics to avoid doing.
So what can you do instead? Well, you can go back to the whole point of having rich heroes in the first place: as an excuse for doing cool superhero stuff.
And as proof that it works, let me just point to the way that Marvel has handled Gwyneth Paltrow apparently not wanting to be in the movies anymore. They simply had Pepper Potts break up with Tony Stark, then go off to run what corporations Tony Stark owns somewhere off screen. Now he can concentrate Civil Wars and having sarcastic banter with Spider-Man and all the things we go to a superhero movie to see. Yes, it sucks diversity-wise, all the more reason to hurry up and get to Captain Marvel already, but it lets us skip to the action.
Or Just Look At How It Would Have Helped Iron Fist
How much better would Iron Fist–since that’s who I started off talking about and to whom, in my opinion, the most damage was done by the inclusion of Boardroom Things–if they had just shoved all the ‘he is actually a billionaire’ stuff into the background and forgot about it till it was needed?
We could have spent much more time on Colleen Wing, which wouldn’t have hurt. We could have spent a lot more time on doing Kung Fu, which isn’t that the whole point of the series? We could have avoided entirely that whole cringe-inducing, ableist plot cul-de-sac where he gets institutionalized, because if he has no need to ‘prove’ he is who he says he is, then he can say a lot fewer things that sound delusional.
It would have let you use a version of Iron Fist as much as possible like the most fondly-remembered version, who hung out in a cheap office with Luke Cage. Which is the whole reason Iron Fist got a Netflix series in the first place.
And it really would have helped him come off as much more authentically Buddhist if he didn’t spend so much time caring about material possessions.
I’m not saying that it would have fixed all the problems, but cutting out all the boardroom nonsense would have partially fixed at least some of the things wrong with Iron Fist.
It’s About Trusting Your Audience
Just take it for granted that the audience knows that when they read a superhero story, they are going to have to suspend a disbelief or two. If they’re buying that issue, or that movie ticket, they’re probably already ok with that.
In the same way you don’t have to show us a long complicated origin story to explain why your guy has capybara powers, you don’t have to show us long tedious corporate meetings to explain why he can afford a capybara-themed costume.
Part of the fun of an empowerment fantasy is imagining having the result without having to do the work. No, it isn’t realistic to show a guy who has unlimited amounts of money without showing him doing any work to earn it. But it’s less unrealistic than most of the things in superhero comics.
There’s real people who have a ton of money without doing anything to deserve it, after all.
Capybara Lad Away,
-The Guy Who Wrote This