Last week the Marvel and DC cinematic universes both debuted content, namely Zack Snyder’s Justice League and the first episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, with nothing in common save for one throwaway plot point: You don’t get paid for being a superhero.
In Justice League, Barry Allen juggles dead-end gigs to make ends meet when he isn’t The Flash, and (spoiler I guess, but here’s a free four hours of your life back!) ends the movie as an entry-level employee of the Central City Police’s CSI team. Over on Falcon, titular hero Sam Wilson can’t secure a bank loan for his family’s failing fishing business because he can’t show any income from his time as an Avenger. They don’t pay. At all.
Both Allen and Wilson are characters recruited to world-saving super teams by billionaires: Allen by Bruce Wayne, and Wilson (via Captain America) by Tony Stark. Throughout countless iterations of these stories across mediums, one consistent feature is that the wealth of Batman and Iron Man bankrolls the gadgets, gear, and hideouts for the Justice League and Avengers, respectively. And in Batman’s case, he also recruits and minds his own crime-fighting family back in Gotham.
Yet neither of these assholes pays an actual living wage to people risking their lives for a brand. Since DC Comics, especially the DECU, is less concerned with grounding its characters, I wasn’t surprised that Ben Affleck’s Batman didn’t understand how poorly this line would land to a kid with a dead mother and a father in jail. But for Marvel’s MCU to cheat rank-and-file Avengers out of a paycheck seems weirdly out of touch.
After all, the MCU’s secret sauce isn’t a particular director or storyline, it’s the relatable character development inside of its bigger arcs. And yet nowhere else in our modern world would it make sense to recruit highly specialized talent to risk their physical well-being for no compensation or insurance.
Except one! So congrats, college football coach probably not reading this, you really are Batman! Or Iron Man! Whatever!
For purposes of both structure (This is Batman Friday, not Iron Man Monday, dammit) and tone (Batman’s parents are DEAD), we’ll shift focus from Stark and onto Wayne, whose recruiting and development philosophies are eerily similar to that of your average major program despot. Also, Batman is way more of a miserable, self-consumed asshole with no hobbies or discernable empathy, which means he was probably on that 2003 LSU staff, too.
Tony Stark might not be paying The Avengers, but his character and Silicon Valley adjacency would lead me to believe he’s not in the office ten hours a week, let alone 70, and maybe there’s an expense account or two he’s not paying attention to. If you’ve ever worked for a very rich person, you know how easy it is for them to forget that you and everyone else in the building aren’t also very rich.
Oh, but Batman. Our pal Batman:
- Seeks out physically gifted young people looking for validation and paternal stand-ins.
- Indoctrinates them to a monoculture focused solely on a version of success he defines.
- Provides these young people expensive uniforms and amenities in lieu of actual compensation that might encourage some real agency on their part.
- Trains them ruthlessly, demands total fealty during this process, and monopolizes their time to the point that no other relationships or activities are possible outside of the team.
- Is willing to risk the well-being of his labor to do battle with other socially maladjusted egomaniacs.
- Is rich as hell, but has never made one of his wards the same.
I could go on, but you get it. And if you don’t, there’s a line from Justice League, delivered by Alfred, that supports my point: “Maybe a man who broods all day in a cave isn’t cut out to be a recruiter.”
And yet Batman and college football coaches (no one in particular of course, lol, we’d never single just one of ‘em out as an exemplar) land five star after five star. Maybe that’s because the development process for superheroes and football players is built to bottleneck labor into helping the rich stay that way before they can help themselves.
Maybe NIL will help college football players. In the meantime, Alfred might wanna point out that if you’re gonna get one out of every three Robins murdered, you could at least 1099 them.