Hedge Fund – Super Rich Super Heroes in The Great Recession

Guest Written by Mark Gundle

In a global sense, the economy isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders. Massive debt, shrinking job markets, unfair tax brackets, and slow deaths of the middle class in several countries are all contributing to the continuing unrest and discomfort that are plaguing people across the globe. Four years after the US government announced its financial crisis that seemed to take the whole world with it, not much has changed for the common man. Progress, while being made, is being made at a snail’s pace. With all this weighing on the shoulders of those not taking home six-figure paychecks, it’s only natural to want to escape from the world for a bit, which could be part of the reason that summer flicks have been making record amounts of money. In particular, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises have broken records in record time.

Which brings us to the point of this little article today, children; in a struggling economy, what do we make of heroes whose superpower is basically an infinite money cheat?

The recent trend in comic book films has been to make the characters relatable to the audience. Granted, Marvel has been doing this for far longer a time than DC (since at least the early 1960s, when a young high-school student got bit by a radioactive spider), but DC has definitely tried to pick up on that trend in recent years, and doing so has been one of the reasons for the New 52 relaunch. Yes, this is the company that has the unreachable bastions of cardboard-personality perfection that are Superman, the Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern and the like, but give credit where it is due; at the time they were created, that’s what people wanted (a case could be made against Superman, though, as he was a MUCH less empowered being during his first run in the late 1930s). Relatable characters are a thing now. And as far as movies go – especially recently – they’ve gone the extra mile to ensure that. The Spider-Man movies have always had Peter Parker’s everyman lifestyle at the forefront in some way, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy has examined Batman as being much more like any of us than practically any previous incarnation, and every movie leading up to The Avengers has had their eponymous characters have at least one very vulnerable, very human moment that everyone in the audience could connect to, and helps to build the all-important suspension of disbelief (no, seriously, it’s crucial).

But money? It’s a hit. Take the two most popular characters from the summer’s two most popular franchises. You know who I’m talking about. Don’t play that game.

Tony Stark. Iron Man. He’s a cool exec with a heart of steel, as his 60s theme song puts it, and nobody watching the films would really disagree. We look at Tony Stark and we see one of the common people; someone who would rather be at an AC/DC concert than the opera, and who would spend all day tinkering in his garage if given half a chance. So let’s take a look at his checking account, eh?

Assuming the infographic  is true, this is a guy who has enough personal wealth to trump some national GDPs put together. He’s constantly tinkering with the Iron Man, and such tinkering does not come cheap. He already has a top-of-the-line house, a whole fleet of luxury cars, and the production capital to build one of these suckers in his garage, and that’s BEFORE building the Mk. II prototype. For me, the suspension of disbelief isn’t broken by him having all this. The suspension of disbelief is broken when he continues to build the blasted things, each one an upgrade on the last.

Keep in mind that, prior to this, he sent his company into an economic nosedive by shutting down the weapons division it was famous for. As a board member, it’s likely that he was paid in stock rather than cash, so that would have severely curtailed his income. His stock crashes, and while it could be assumed that it eventually picked back up, we’re still dealing with a guy who is spending MASSIVE amounts of money on one-off suits of powered armor, with costs going from $80,000,000 for an unarmed steel prototype to a jaw-dropping HALF BILLION for the latest model (in fairness, though, War Machine wasn’t really his doing).

For all of his cool and all of his awesome, where the HELL is he getting this kind of money? With any luck, it’ll be explained, but holding out hope is foolish; this is a country where even presidential candidates don’t have to share their tax returns, right Mitt?

Anyway…

Bruce Wayne. Batman. He had an infographic himself for the Dark Knight iteration of the character, and while it’d be SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper to get those wonderful toys, it’s still a heart-attack inducing nine figure sum we’re looking at. Not something your average schlub could scrape together working overtime, that’s for damn sure.

Christopher Nolan’s Batman, however, gets major points for actually addressing Wayne’s wealth in all three movies; he’s head of the company because he bought a majority shareholding, there’s a scene or two dedicated to business upkeep, and the most recent movie has him robbed of his billions and his company on the brink of failure (two seemingly-independent events, mind you). In the most basic sense; this incarnation of Bruce Wayne, while still stupidly rich, does NOT have a limitless bank account, and these movies work harder than any other work before them to prove that. Even using the stuff already on hand is a bit of a double-edged sword; yes, he wasn’t blowing away millions by his lonesome, but the stuff in his storage shed is STILL worth more than any of us will ever make ever. $10,000 for communications? $18,000,000 for a tank? $1,000 for a BULLETPROOF JOCK STRAP?

But hell, compared to other versions of the character, this Batman is SLUMMIN’ it. He didn’t really pay out of pocket for much of his equipment, and generally seems to be a much more bare-bones type of crime fighter. His car’s not as tricked out, his plane’s not as capable, his suit’s not as invincible, and his cave is still VERY much a cave instead of a secret high-tech hideout in comparison to other versions. And while Bruce himself had just about all of it in storage beforehand, his company still suffered. Funds channeled from R&D into a super-secret hedge fund, the CEO putting on the appearance of a careless tool, and using company money to supply an all-out assault on crime has left Wayne Enterprises on the brink of bankruptcy.

And in a world where even juggernauts like Freddie Mac get cast down from their gilded thrones, that’s probably the LEAST responsible thing to do.

But that’s not the point of this article, to debate business sense or to say that either Batman or Iron Man aren’t heroes. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t love them. The idea here is to ask why, given that it’s such a sensitive and yet such an important issue in today’s world, they can still be relatable. Did I answer my own question? Yes and no. Yes, it can make folks rather uncomfortable, and not making mention of the Stark / Wayne / McDuck money pool is probably a good idea from that angle. No, that doesn’t mean that by not addressing the no-limit credit cards means we’re just going to assume that these guys are just regular Joes who got lucky. Remember; many of us are scraping to get by, and rather than use the money to better the lives of people in the simple /obvious / risk of death-free way, they spend untold millions on miniature nuclear reactors and Sound-O-Vision to clean up the streets the hard way. As Alfred points out in The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce could have kept his company afloat by putting his Bat-toys on the civilian market. And while Obadiah Stane was an evil money-grabbing bastard, he did have a point in saying that the miniaturized Arc Reactor could save the company; that thing alone would have pulled up the company’s stock back to par and then some, even if used for the wrong reasons.

I found it funny that the most popular superheroes of 2012 are the ones that are closest to irrelevance, as far as the all-too-precious relatable factor is concerned. And while both companies do bang-up jobs at present their characters as ordinary human beings, they conveniently neglect to address how big a part the silver spoons they were born with played in their ability to transcend the ordinary and place them in the super pack.

The Geek had to be Released! (An Analysis on the Tesseract in Marvel’s Films)

Guest written by Mark Gundle

 

It’s okay, Marvel. We’re smart. We’ve pieced it together. And we know that there are a boatload of reasons (namely; timing, good storytelling, lack of space, leaving room for expansion, discussion among the fanbase that led exactly to this sort of thing being written, etc..) for not expanding on a plot point that has had several geek friends and I chomping at the bit since the double-whammy of Thor and Captain America when seen in the context of the Iron Man films. But at this point, it’s less a titillating plot point and is quickly becoming an elephant in the room; eventually, keeping it in the dark is going to be counter-productive.

Just outright say it in one of the next films so some of your more dedicated fans can finally have a good night’s sleep; the finished Arc Reactor and the Tesseract are the same blasted technology.

Now, why does this bug the crap out of some people? For some, it’s an issue akin to one a detective would face; all the evidence is there and the hypothesis is just begging to be proven, and we just have to know if we’re right or wrong. For some, it’s a matter of personal pride; what, does Marvel think the audience won’t get it, so they’re not telling us? And for others, it simply bugs them because at this point- now that the Avengers have assembled and the idea has its roots in at least two of the preceding films – they really might as well just out and say it, like it’s a playground super-secret that Boy X likes Girl Y but just can’t spit it out despite half of the jungle gym kids knowing already.

The discussions pertaining to the topic have been happening since movie-goers first started to piece it together, and from what this humble writer has started to gather, such speculation is starting to get a little old (even though it couldn’t possibly have been addressed yet, we know, we geeks are flawed creatures).

But some of you reading this probably haven’t the faintest idea what I’m smoking. As with any trial, let me present my evidence to you, the jury.

The second scene in Captain America had Hugo Weaving’s deliciously over-the-top Red Skull find the Tesseract, which he describes as being part of Odin’s treasure room (often considered to be where he kept the Infinity Gauntlet, the Destroyer, the Casket of Ancient Winters, and of course the mighty Mjolnir in Thor). For bonus nerd points, the place it’s kept was also used as the setting for a battle between Frost Giants and Asgardians in Thor’s prologue, but that’s for another day.

No, we’re introduced to a blue, glowing thing that holds the untapped potential for unlimited power. The Tesseract was used to develop new weaponry, which was itself used to great effect; imagine playing Halo or Call of Duty with a pistol that shot through walls, shot in a straight line, had no real need to reload, and turned every enemy you’ve faced thus far into blue goo / ash, and that’s more or less what we’re dealing with. One can imagine what fun a megalomaniac like the Red Skull would have with such toys in his chest.

Right off the bat, we get two movies that provide an explanation for what the Tesseract is; a treasure of Asgard that somehow found its way into human custody and protection, glows with an obnoxious blue light, and has enormous civilian and military application.

So that’s the Tesseract. What about the first piece of awesome that the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced us to? Built in a cave (yes, yes, with a box of scraps, we know it’s funny) to replace a car battery, the Arc Reactor’s humble beginning skyrocketed to being the battery equivalent of a rock star when it was used to power Tony Stark’s Iron Man weapon / tool / hi-tech prosthesis. Using palladium in some fashion, it’s noted that the Arc Reactor supplies clean energy – and a lot of it, let’s face it, three gigajoules per second on the first attempt can’t be wrong – but isn’t particularly cost-effective. So, we have a blue glowing thing that has enormous civilian and military potential (hence Obadiah Stane’s willingness to just pluck the damn thing out of Tony’s chest).

But here’s where the plot thickens, children.

As Nick Fury tells Tony in one of Iron Man 2’s quieter scenes, the Arc Reactor was unfinished and that, when it finally was completed, it would be the be-all end-all of energy. His father, Howard Stark, had originated the idea and also served in WWII alongside Captain America himself (if strictly in a technological capacity). After the good Captain liberates a camp and acquires a sample of the enemy’s tech – itself based on the Tesseract guns that Skull’s been making – he has Howard experiment with it. And towards the film’s end, Howard recovers the Tesseract after it fell from the site of Cap and Skull’s final brawl.

Leading American genius recovers an obnoxious blue glowing power source and develops an obnoxious blue glowing power source. Hmmm…

Now, as Iron Man 2 goes on to say, Howard died before he could perfect the Arc Reactor, though he left a clue behind for his son to complete it (for the truly nerdy among us, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot shows a drawing of a hypercube in Howard’s notes, Google it for a rather telling synonym). Tony being Tony, he does so, and assuming we didn’t remember that tidbit about the completed Arc Reactor being significantly more powerful, we have the lovely Black Widow’s analysis that Iron Man’s repulsor output reads significantly higher. What’s more, this seems to completely cure his palladium poisoning, which should be impossible even with Tony’s genius; remember that this is a guy who – by his own admission – has tried literally everything else.

Obnoxious blue power source seems to inspire a knock-off obnoxious blue power source which in turn is perfected into the original obnoxious blue power source. As the still-fanon theory goes, Tony Stark, using clues from his father, successfully recreated the Tesseract.

And that has some of the more ardent geeks in an absolute uproar over its lack of acknowledgement.

Now, before this ends, I should say that there are two clinchers to the theory that all but confirm it, which certainly doesn’t help the case. For one, watch the breakout scene from Captain America again, where everybody’s running amok and the big damn factory’s being blown up. Some of the Allied troops start fiddling with one of the Hydra guns in the middle of the battlefield, and it makes an odd noise before firing its blue ray of destruction. Watch it. Listen to it. Sound familiar? It should; you’ve had two movies to listen to it. That sound is the exact same noise made by Iron Man’s repulsor blasts just before they fire.

Tesseract-based weaponry making the exact same sounds as Arc Reactor- based weaponry? The House of Ardent Geeks agree; there’s no way that’s a coincidence. The other allusion to the connection between the two technologies comes in The Avengers; during the typical misunderstanding fight between Thor and Tony, Thor opts to summon up the lightning and uses it to try and fry the Iron Man suit. It backfires; JARVIS helpfully states that the attack not only did nothing to damage the suit, it actually ramped up the Arc Reactor to four times its capacity. Not something that one typically thinks when the weapon of one world discharges itself onto the weapon of another. Hell, that scene alone probably could have made the argument itself.

Yes, it’s all there. Yes, we’ve pieced it together. Yes, it’s an incredibly clever piece of world-building. But it’s okay, Marvel, you can tell us now.

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