The Top Six Rich Guys in the DC Universe
Money, Money, Money, Money
In a very real sense, DC Comics (as well as the Marvel Universe) has evolved into an intricate breathing universe.
As a fledgling writer, one of the exercises we’re all asked to do is to flesh out our characters by giving them a background story. It takes a lot of thought. For this one instance you get to be God. The writer sits back and looks at either a blank screen or a piece of paper and creates life from nothing.
Well, not nothing, he has the thoughts in his head. In his imagination, he creates a man or woman and then he tries to see their face. He’ll make the character old or young, fat or thin, and fill in the gaps with a written description. Then he’ll start on a personal history of who his family was and whether he came from a rich, middle class, or poor background.
Part of what makes a character a character is the economical means of earning a buck. What does he do for a living? Is he smart of stupid? Or does he even need to work at all?
Here we have the life styles of the rich and metahuman.
The DC Universe has a class of super-rich characters who have unimaginable wealth. Some have old money. Some have gotten their resources through ill-gotten gains. Others made their money from being really smart and inventing things. In any event, you need to know about them because having a lot of money in any universe makes you a major player where you can make anything happen with enough cash.
We’re going to start with the most obvious and probably the richest.
Yeah. He might have this thing about patrolling the streets in a bat costume and waging a one man war on crime, but let’s face it – Bruce Wayne is insanely rich.
Bruce comes from old money built on industry and real estate. If Thomas and Martha Wayne had not been killed when Bruce was a kid, Bruce Wayne would have been incredibly spoiled. His father was a doctor who didn’t even need to work.
Under Bruce’s (and Lucius Fox’s) stewardship, the Wayne Fortune has flourished immensely. Almost every company run by a hero who doubles as an industrialist (including Ted Kord, of Kord Industries; Rex Tyler, or Tyler Chemicals; Michael Holt, or Holt Holdings, Inc.; and Superman’s Daily Planet) is ultimately owned by Bruce Wayne. The Wayne fortune is diversified in oil, real estate, electronics, media, botanical and food production, and scientific research. The payoff to Batman is that he gets to use (and lose) prototypes from any of these industries in his war on crime – claiming that their losses are through industrial theft or sabotage.
Batman’s investments have more to do with protecting his allies’ income and insuring that they do not fall into the corruption that comes through most corporations. In keeping his fortune controlled, Bruce Wayne is one of the richest men on the planet.
Depending on the version of Luthor’s origin you go by, Luthor was the son of an abusive alcoholic. Luthor, a gifted child, had no desire to remain under his parents’ thumbs and took out a large insurance policy on them after “fixing” their car brakes.
Luthor used his inheritance money to advance his personal fortune through the establishment of his own genius in his electronics company. He built his company from the ground up using illegal and unscrupulous ways (never getting caught) which established his firm of LexCorp as one of the industry's leaders. LexCorp has holdings in every major city on the planet and is a competitor of WayneTech (owned by, you guessed it, Bruce Wayne), and allowed him to make a successful bid to the US Presidency. While Luthor was president he left Talia Head (aka Talia Al Ghul, daughter of Ra's Al Ghul) who after selling off most of Luthor’s holdings sold LexCorp to Bruce Wayne for a dollar. Luthor found out about this during his removal from office.
He has managed to rebuild most of his fortune, but given that most of his former assets are now owned by Bruce Wayne, he could not be considered financially superior.
We need to always remember that Luthor does not play fair. When he went to assist Gotham City after its cataclysm, he went with the intent of owning it, like he did Metropolis. It was at that point that Batman reminded him that Gotham City was already owned and never for sale. Luthor then made an effort to frame Bruce Wayne for murder.
You would never know it to listen to Green Arrow’s rantings about corporate fat cats, but Ollie is quite rich. He inherited Queen Industries from his father, Robert Queen. Oliver Queen was originally a spoiled rich playboy who spent his days drinking and sailing yachts. It wasn’t until he fell overboard and had to live by his wits on a desert island that he learned his mastery with the bow and arrow.
While on the road with Hal Jordan, Queen found himself siding with the plights of the common man and has done much to help the poor through the profits of his family business. He also financed the building of the original Justice League satellite and used his fortune to help fund his Green Arrow exploits.
At one point, he had lost most of his money but through the events of Quiver, he inherited the fortune of Stanley Dover who planned on taking Ollie's soulless husk body by transferring his own soul to it. Fortunately, Ollie’s original soul reoccupied his body, leaving Dover dead and Ollie rich again.
While Ollie’s fortune is nowhere near that of Bruce Wayne’s or Lex Luthor’s he still has a substantial amount of money to do years of legal battles with greedy corporations – just to annoy them.
Profits from the Queen Industry fund his vigilante life and also go to the poor.
There is an interesting phenomenon that happens with DC characters. Many of the characters start as cartoonish caricatures and then, after a retcon, they are rewritten as more serious and realistic characters.
Simon Stagg is one of these people.
Originating in the 1960’s as one of the cast to Metamorpho’s title, he was a Howard Hughes like figure – without all of the obsessive compulsive disorders. We all know the type. He was the visionary rich man who would say things like, “There is a rare herb in the rain forests of South America that is guarded by a monstrously large rabid bear with heat vision – I will pay a million dollars to anyone who can get me that herb.”
Rex Mason was that daredevil adventurer who would go and get that herb.
Simon Stagg, as he was originally written, was an eccentric egomaniac with a cash roll and a genius intellect. His one treasure that he holds over everything else is his daughter, Sapphire. Sapphire and Mason are madly in love with each other and Stagg, being an enormous control freak with an ego, vowed that no one will marry Sapphire without his permission. In order to keep Mason from marrying his daughter he sent him on a fool’s errand to retrieve the Orb of Ra. The mission was sabotaged by Stagg’s faithful servant Java (a Neanderthal recovered by Mason and brought back to Stagg). Unfortunately for everyone involved, the sabotaged mission wound up transforming Mason into Metamorpho, the Element Man.
Throughout the run of Metamorpho’s title, Stagg has been illustrated as a mad eccentric weasely genius who can’t be trusted. More than anything, Stagg has a personal army of thugs that will do his bidding. Mason continues to do jobs for Stagg as he believes that Stagg’s genius intellect will provide a way for him to return to his humanity.
Stagg after the retcon is still a rich egomaniacal genius, but is a bit more evil and less trustworthy. He has tried to kill or maroon Metamorpho more than once. Lately, Metamorpho has become less concerned over Stagg’s welfare as his schemes usually backfire on him. After Mason and Sapphire have a child, Metamorpho, seeing how naturally dangerous his son was to humans, gave Stagg his son to hold. Through pure luck, Stagg’s genetics (that he shared with the boy’s mother) saved him from being hurt. Metamorpho had hoped that Stagg would not survive the experience.
In any event, Stagg International has been a major force in weapons manufacture and uses questionable techniques to achieve its ends. Stagg’s management style has been unscrupulous and his main goals (other than money and power) is to keep his daughter apart from Rex Mason.
Speaking of characters that started off cartoonish, Maxwell Lord has come a long way.
Initially Lord was portrayed as business con man that saw money in making a world peace keeping task force like the Justice League. He went about recruiting heroes from the DCU to be the newly incarnated Justice League. Lord was able to build his power and fortune through a computer construct left my Metron which had dictated the creation of the superhero team Lord had formed.
Lord eventually broke his influence from the computer construct and became an amoral businessman who continued to manage and control versions of the Justice League.
As he was created by Keith Giffen, Kevin Maguire, and J.M. DeMatteis, Lord’s character was made to show the problems of managing metahumans as that of herding cats. Often assisted by Miracle Man’s Oberon and the robot L-Ron, Lord became a more comical figure than anything else.
Lord’s character was then given metahuman powers which enabled him to subtly control the minds of others around him. Since this was introduced, Lord’s powers have grown dangerously strong and has allowed him to take over Checkmate. After Lord had taken over the mind of Superman and made him into a living weapon, Lord was killed by Wonder Woman (who had to break his neck as a matter of self defense).
Lord returns as one of the dead in the Black Lantern Corp and is resurrected by Deadman through his white power ring. He now commands Checkmate and Project Cadmus and remains an underground power, retaining his vast wealth.
Lord has since been resurrected and continues to cause chaos as his mind control powers are back with him.
Ra's Al Ghul
Where would we be without clandestine dark assassination groups? People have to work, you know? The DC Universe’s most deadly force for hire is the League of Assassins. The group was founded by the long lived Ra’s Al Ghul.
Ra’s Al Ghul (pronounced ray-sh al gool and translated from Arabic to “The Demon’s Head”) was born anywhere from four hundred and fifty to over seven hundred years ago in the Arabia regions. He studied the arts of science and medicine and discovered what is now termed as the Lazarus Pits – a pool of chemicals that can resurrect the dead at the price of short term insanity and superhuman strength.
He has accumulated vast amounts of wealth over his lifetimes and has used it to finance his international organization called The Demon and its subgroup The League of Assassins, also known as “The Demon’s Fang”.
Ra’s Al Ghul’s money has gone to finance organizations both legitimate and illegal. All of the profits from these factions have gone to his ultimate goal of humanity’s destruction in order to preserve the Earth and return it to its former purity – as he views man’s overpopulation as a virus.
Standing in his way is the one man that Ra’s Al Ghul respects – Bruce Wayne, the Batman.
Money makes the world go round. The DC Universe is no exception.
All of the organizations, including the Justice League need some kind of financial backing. This is how Batman can make all those wonderful toys and how the Daily Planet can remain a bastion of truth and integrity.
But it’s a dangerous business.
As Peter Falk had said in the original In-Laws about the CIA, “The benefits are terrific. The trick is not to get killed. That's really the key to the benefit program.” The same can be said about the life of a superhero or supervillain. You can be a brave superhero or an old superhero, it’s rare that you’d be both. So, we can see that the Justice League probably didn’t have a lot regarding a pension plan.
Characters like Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor give a lot of money away in the guise of philanthropy. The difference is that Wayne does it for either noble reasons or as an investment in a person’s well-being and Luthor does it to “look good”. This gives us pause when we make blanket statements that money is the root of all evil.
It can also be the root to some good.
The above characters represent financial power within this fictional universe. Each of these six is completely different from the other five. We have found that a fortune can be built on old money and perpetuated into something great. We can also see that it can finance our own demise. Where you have these powerful figures you have a bit of ego with that. Batman, to some degree, is no exception.
When you take a character like Batman, a member of the aristocracy, and put him at cross purposes with royalty like Wonder Woman and Aquaman, he knows where he stands and will not back down from his own point of view. To him, royalty does not mean much.
Luthor, on the other hand, is a megalomaniac. Through his own self-made power and ego, he believes that most rules and laws don’t apply to him. His firm belief in owning most of Metropolis and being the ultimate power of wherever he is, is what drives him. It is also the root of his hatred of Superman – the one man in the city who will not bend to Luthor’s will.
It is fortunate that while money is an important factor in the DCU that in this fictional universe integrity is still valued high on that list.
© 2013 Christopher Peruzzi
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