I just saw Doctor Strange in theatres. It’s a good movie, but this is not a review. I went into the movie not knowing much about Doctor Strange. His was not one of the titles I followed in 80s. But when I saw the movie, I recognized something familiar about his origin story: like most superheroes, he starts rich.
I guess I started to realize something was up with the economic distribution of superheroes when I thought about all the gadgets Iron Man and Batman both had. Unlimited weaponry, endless supply of toys. But it was when I was teaching a class on Superheroes, Social Justice, and the Principle of the Common Good (the kind of class you can develop at a Catholic Marianist University like University of Dayton) and as a class we started to see a pattern in the heroes. While each of them manifested different powers—most of them, most of the famous ones, had something each of us did not. Most had sources of wealth and positions of elite privilege before they got superpowers.
This is important to think about when we think of Superheroes and Power—that power is often not given to those who have no power before, but is given to those who have always had power. With a few notable exceptions, becoming a superhero requires money. This means that the average person doesn’t become a superhero without money—just like they don’t become a lot of things in the real world without money. And that is an interesting thing to think about when you think about superhero escapist fiction. We have all these possibilities! We can choose ANY storyline. We think it’s about a redistribution of power—that ANYONE can become a superhero–but analyzing origin stories, the results say something different.
The Net Worth of Superheroes
Those who have power in the superhero universe and who have the job of protecting citizens are often unacquainted with most of the 99%, are used to being wealthy and powerful, and are often living far removed from common society in Fortresses of Solitude, atop penthouses, or in private academies on large estates, or in mansions or whole buildings in downtown NYC (there are exceptions—I can hear you already, bursting to say names—but I’m talking about a surprising majority of the major superheroes we have today).