Avengers & others: Responsibility of superheros | How much does it cost to save the world?

Manuel Thomas
May 10, 2019
The fascination for superheroes seems unbroken: The Avengers break all records at the box office. The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow, while DC regularly sends its heroes Batman and Superman to save the world. The stories told by comic-strip films have changed over the years like the comics themselves on which they are based: For a long time, superhero stories showed the simple struggle between good and evil and what it means to be superhuman in a human world. For some time now, however, the social and economic consequences of the superheroes' actions have also been increasingly addressed à "What does it cost to save the world? We take a look at the recent history of comic film adaptations and recalculate on the basis of the Avengers and Superman.

Who watches the Watchmen?

"Who watches the Watchmen? is written in wet, blood-red letters on a cracked, cement grey wall; tear gas envelops the fragile facade. A young, emaciated woman holds one hand in front of her face, her other hand holds a spray can tightly, red paint covers her fingertips. A man of strong build with a black mask shoots a tear-gas grenade into the young woman's back with a grenade launcher, she collapses in pain and remains unconscious on the ground. The man with the mask is not a policeman, not a criminal, but a superhero: "The Comedian", with the real name Edward Blake.

"The Comedian" is a member of the "Watchmen", a group of superheroes who made it their business to save the world. Some of the Watchmen, however, went mad, were murdered, or became government mercenaries, like Blake. A law forces the former heroes to work for the government or hang up the cape. The comedian has decided to work for the government, while the population is calling loudly for the action of the heroes and those who give them orders to assert their own interests to be monitored by themselves - "Who watches the Watchmen?"

In contrast to many other comics and comic adaptations, "Watchmen" is not about the simple struggle between good and evil, but about the social, political and economic consequences of being a superhero: What if the mask slips? What if the heroes are not heroes at all? What if the heroes are abused by politicians for their own purposes? Who is responsible for the actions of the heroes, who pays them, who pays for the destruction of cities caused in part by them, for the hospital stays of civilians?

Responsibility of superheroes

Over the years, these questions have become a popular theme of modern superhero mythology: In "The Dark Knight", Batman has to ask himself whether his presence is responsible for the emergence of evil powers such as Joker and whether he has to bear the corresponding responsibility for destruction, murder and such kind of things. In "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice", Batman himself is now accused of being responsible for the deaths of numerous people. In the end, Batman's fight with General Zod in "Man of Steel" caused half of Metropolis to fall apart and millions of people lost their lives. The Avengers, on the other hand, have to answer in "Infinity War" for the destruction of New York in "The Avengers" and for the destruction of the fictional city "Sokovia" in "Age of Ultron".

Saving the world here, saving the world there: The state and companies such as insurance companies cannot do the clean-up work alone and bear the costs for the actions of the superheroes. The Avengers - like the Watchmen - are therefore called upon to work for the government or to hang up the cape, which ultimately leads to a rift between Iron Man and Captain America.

How much does it cost to save the world?

But what does it cost - theoretically - to save the world? We calculated for New York, from the first "Avengers" film, and for Metropolis from "Man of Steel":

  • "The Avengers": The Avengers' fight against Loki and the Chitauri army takes place in a relatively small catchment area of New York. Due to the large number of skyscrapers, the number of institutions such as museums and the gigantic number of cars such as taxis, the damage is immense: 70 billion US dollars property damage, 90 billion US dollars for clean-up work, makes 160 billion US dollars. So there is a lot to do for liability insurance, car insurance, building insurance and the like. Not included: Life insurance costs for numerous citizens.

  • "Man of Steel: When General Zod rages through Metropolis and Superman gets in his way, no stone remains on the other. The battle stretches through the entire city, including a train station and trains at Superman's expense. Accordingly, the damage is even higher than the damage caused by the Avengers in New York: 450 billion US dollars in property damage, 250 billion US dollars for clean-up work, makes 700 billion US dollars. Not taken into account: Costs of life insurance for citizens.

By way of comparison, the loss of 9/11 amounted to approximately USD 55bn in property damage plus economic losses of USD 123bn, i.e. a total of USD 188bn.