14 Methods By Which Superheroes Finance Their Crusades Against Crime, Injustice, and Other Sources of Unpleasantness
1. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
When we fantasize about living the life of a superhero, we tend to focus on the more exciting aspects of the trade (swinging from rooftops, foiling evil schemes, rescuing damsels in distress) rather than the less-interesting things… like, say, how to come up with the cash needed to pay for the costumes, training, weapons, and wheels that a properly equipped superhero needs. At first glance, this solution — work a day job to support your extracurricular adventures — sounds like simplicity itself. Plus, the right profession can help a hero in a number of ways: a reporter hears about crises as they happen, say, or a police officer can access criminal databases without arousing too much suspicion. On the other hand, you have to assume your archenemies are going to figure out why you’re never around between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and plan their crime sprees accordingly. And what do you do when your boss does something that makes it impossible for you to slip away when duty calls… like, say, order you to cover a live television event (see image)?
2. “Freelancing! That’s the answer to all my financial woes!”
You say you’re a busy superhero who likes to eat but needs the flexibility to come and go as you please? Then why not give freelancing a try? Granted, it means no steady paycheque… and you’ll likely have to deal with clients who will treat you like dirt… and you’ll probably end up taking jobs that make your superheroing that much harder, like — oh, I don’t know, be forced to take pictures of yourself in your hero guise that “prove” you’re up to something bad, or something crazy like that — but aside from that, it’s not all bad. Plus, a freelancing career is always good for adding a little dramatic tension: “My conscience tells me I should join my comrades in battle, but I promised my editor I would finish these pages by Friday, and I really need the money for my sick uncle’s medicine.”
3. The old-fashioned way: with a big fat inheritance.
In the first Batman movie, a flummoxed Joker asks his henchmen one question after Batman saves Vicki Vale from his clutches: “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” Simple, Jack: he pays for them. Starting out life with a huge financial head start has its perks, but chief among them has to be the freedom to not worry about your cash flow when you start crashing up Batmobiles. Bruce Wayne is the obvious example here; Oliver Queen (a.k.a. Green Arrow) also started out with a silver spoon, living it up as a spoiled trust-fund baby before that fateful boat ride and unscheduled desert island excursion. Then there’s Warren Worthington III — “Angel” to his friends — whose sole purpose in any Marvel super-team appears to be playing the part of the independently wealthy benefactor who’s bankrolling the whole enterprise. Bottom line: like everything else, rich people have a way easier time breaking into the hero business.
4. Wanted: captain of industry. Apply within.
Speaking of rich people. This is the category in which a superhero acquires the funds needed for their activities by putting his or her awesome talents to use in the fun and fast-paced world of high-stakes capitalism. They may or may not have started out with a bit of family money, but the important distinction here between this group and the previous one is that the real source of their crimefighting lucre is their business wheelings and/or dealings. Tony “Iron Man” Stark is the first hero to come to mind; depending on who’s handling the writing duties, Bruce Wayne has oscillated between acting as an absentee figurehead who leaves the running of Wayne Industries to his trusted advisors and a hands-on CEO who sees the continued success of his business ventures as a means to his crimefighting end.
5. Invent stuff, patent stuff, live off the proceeds.
This is an often overlooked method for raising cash, for the simple reason that not everyone is smart enough to do it. Oh sure, you get the occasional fluke, like the guy who first came up with the pet rock idea and made millions off of it, but by and large most of us are not mentally equipped for this option. Thankfully, this does not apply to the smarty-pants superhero set. Consider Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four; it’s often mentioned he is able to afford the team’s Manhattan headquarters, equipment and living expenses in large part because of the many patents he holds on various devices and processes (and let’s not forget the rent he collects from the other tenants of the Baxter Building). Even still, there have been a few financial rough spots for the team, like that one time early in their career when Richards lost all the team’s money on the stock market and they were forced to accept a movie company’s job offer, only to find out it was actually a super-villain’s clever scheme to trap them. Ah, the Silver Age.
6. “What is this… money that you speak of?”
Into this category we can safely slot all the heroes who, for one reason or another, don’t require money to ply their trade or deal with day-to-day expenses. They might be sorcerers who magically find the means to get by; earthbound spirits who are beyond such earthly concerns as groceries or dry-cleaning bills; space aliens and beings from the future whose every need is taken care of by their advanced technology… and so on. This could help explain, for instance, how it is that Dr. Strange can afford the property taxes on a prime piece of New York City real estate despite his lack of a medical practice or other obvious source of income.
7. “Finders keepers!”
One of my favorite moments in the 1999 Titans series happens in the first issue, when the heroes are sitting around a table and discussing the feasibility of reuniting the team. When someone brings up the inevitable question — who’s going to pay for all this? — Tempest (a.k.a. The-Man-Formerly-Known-as-Aqualad) heaves a heavy chest of jewels and doubloons on the table and says something to the effect of, “Will this cover it?” The Sub-Mariner also went this route in his 1990s series when he needed some start-up capital for his new business venture. After all, if it’s just lying there on the ocean floor, what’s the harm?
8. “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…”
Superheroing is a tough gig, no question, and a lot of that has to do with the fact it takes a lot of training and equipment to get to that level, especially if you don’t have any natural or radiation-spawned talents to give you an edge. So is it so wrong for heroes to get a decent return on their investment by charging for their services? Luke Cage was the original hero for hire, using his newfound powers to perform pro bono good deeds whilst charging clients for protection and investigation services; since then, a number of heroes and teams have worked for hire, including Manhunter, the Power Company, the Conglomerate, and (my personal fave) Hero Hotline, whose night shift crew included Zeep the Living Sponge, the greatest name for any superhero ever.
9. Uncle Sam. ‘Nuff said.
Into this camp you can safely place all the super-soldiers and law-enforcement types whose bills are covered by the U.S. government or another government agency. Just think of them as highly buff civil servants, and you get the idea. The Ultimates in Marvel’s line of Ultimate titles or the Justice League during its UN charter phase are obvious examples; Robocop is another (although his superiors may quibble over whether he’s considered “on the payroll” or “company property”). Marvel’s 2006 Civil War storyline took the idea to its logical extreme, offering every costumed hero a chance to join one of 50 state-based super-teams in exchange for a government salary. (Dibs on Delaware!) The danger, of course, is that politically based funding can be, well, political — just ask Canada’s Alpha Flight, who almost didn’t survive the first issue of their 1983 series because of government cutbacks that shut down the agency overseeing their training and deployment.
10. It’s not considered “cheating” if you’re doing it for the greater good. Or to score a really sweet ride.
Back when the first X-Men movie came out in 2000, Patrick Stewart was asked a question that a lot of X-fans have probably thought from time to time: where exactly did Professor X get all the cash needed to pay for a mansion, a super-advanced computer, a fully equipped Danger Room, a supersonic jet, and all the other cool toys? Good sport that he is, Stewart said he assumed Professor X came from a wealthy family… but, he added, it’s entirely possible the professor used his mental powers for financial gain, rationalizing it was for the greater good. Granted, using one’s powers to increase one’s net worth is more often associated with the super-villain set (think of all the time-travelling villains who use their powers to plunder the riches of the past or future), but it’s still an option that’s open to some heroes, should the need arise.
No, we’re not harping on the young superheroes still living at home with their parents or legal guardians; their job is to go to school when they aren’t out saving the world. No, we’re talking about the heroes who actively seek out wealthy benefactors who can provide food, a place to crash, and the occasional ride to a super-villain slugfest while they, you know, train and stay focused on their next mission. When you think about it, this pretty much describes the Avengers set-up; aside from the heavyweights with their own sources of income (think Thor’s medical practice or Cap’s freelance artist career), weren’t most of the team’s second-stringers always hanging around Avengers Mansion waiting for Jarvis to serve dinner? And when the original Teen Titans needed a home base, they got a nifty T-shaped tower in New York Harbor courtesy of Steve Dayton, Beast Boy’s foster dad and the world’s fifth-richest man. (Though given the rate at which they or their enemies trashed the place, he probably dropped a few places down that list as time went on.)
12. “C’mon, it’s not as if these bullet-ridden corpses are going to need the cash.”
Fighting crime can be an expensive business, especially if you’re a Punisher-type vigilante who goes through a lot of ammo keeping the streets safe from punks and mobsters. And while you know you’re one of the good guys, the law may have a slightly different attitude about your crimefighting efforts, making it a little difficult for you to raise funds through legitimate channels. So why not help yourself to the bundles of cash just lying around the warehouse or crack den you just shot up? It’s okay to take the cash because you’re not in this for personal gain; it’s blood money that’s going towards… well, spilling more blood. But at least it’s bad guy blood.
13. “Just sign here… and here… initial here…”
So let’s pretend you’re a hotshot hero whose name is on everyone’s lips and the paparazzi can’t get enough of you. Hey, it could happen. It’s a world where people are going to make a buck off your likeness whether you like it or not, so
you might as well get your cut. Booster Gold is a prime example of a man who got into the hero game to make a lot of money, a motive that didn’t always endear him to his Justice League comrades (just watch the Justice League Unlimited episode titled “The Greatest Story Never Told” for a great example of this). But it’s not just ethically challenged heroes that go down this route; the Fantastic Four license their likenesses to companies in the Marvel universe (the Marvel universe version of Marvel Comics — and yes, there is one — is the team’s official publisher), and a Superman story from the early ’80s revealed how the Man of Steel has a lawyer who works pro bono to ensure all of Superman’s earnings from licensing deals go straight to charity. Now, if Superman ever hit hard times and decided to keep a small percentage of that income for himself… okay, it’s not likely to happen, but at least the option is there. And really, who could fault him for that?
14. Do things on the cheap.
Who says you need a fancy costume and high-tech headquarters to fight crime? Why, you can stop super-villains with just about anything lying around the house if you put your mind to it. Wild Dog may not be a household name, but he probably prefers it that way; introduced in a DC mini-series in 1987, he’s an average man with military training who decides to target street crime and domestic terrorism in his hometown after suffering the prerequisite traumatic loss. His outfit was nothing more than camouflage pants, combat boots, a football jersey (with the local college’s “wild dog” mascot on the front, hence his name), a hockey mask and a pair of “electrified gloves.” Oh, and a Jatimatic GG-95 SMG PDW submachine gun, which may or may not have been an economical choice — I haven’t checked the gun shows lately to find out. Wild Dog drove around in a pickup truck and had a habit of using items in his immediate environment to incapacitate his enemies, all the better to save a few bucks on ammo and, er, glove recharges. With street smarts like that, who needs a Batarang budget?