Money Can't Buy Happiness

By | Monday, March 27, 2006 2 comments
I thought I'd start my talks about The Thing by looking at the basic theme of the first four issues: money can't buy happiness. Over in J. Michael Straczynski's Fantastic Four, one of the plot developments he made was to make the Thing a multi-billionaire. It's largely a sub-plot within that book, but it's an interesting notion to take a classic blue-collar archetype character and see how they handle the, for them, unique situation of suddenly coming into a lot of money.

Now, I'm not certain if the plot point came up first and Dan Slott starting playing it up more, or if Slott specifically asked to have Straczynski write that in so it could be a launching point for the new series. In either event, it's provided a nice backdrop for Slott's storylines, allowing for Ben Grimm to have some classic plots reminiscent of Marvel Two-in-One but still create some new forms of interaction with his companions.

Take, for example, issue #1. The book starts off with the Thing and Black Goliath fighting a new villain named Cauldron. The story reads much like a classic superhero fisticuff, with the somewhat more modern twist at the end of some bystanders claiming that they'll sue for pain and suffering. More interesting, however, is that Ben learns after the fight that Black Goliath had only invited him over in the first place to help pay for some of his research. Not to make Goliath a cold and impersonal character, he still seems to maintain his friendship with Ben and cares about his personal life -- a more distinct tip of the hat to the old Two-in-One stories where they first met -- but the subtext of using his friend's wealth as a means to further his own ends seems to taint the relationship somewhat. Even in #4, his oldest friend, Reed Richards, hits Ben up for money and, although Reed's intentions are shown to be more altruistic, Ben's impression is that the relationship is again tainted by his financial status.

The message is abundantly clear, certainly by #4, that a man's measure is not tied to the size of his bank account. Many people dream the "American dream" of "making it big" and "striking it rich" but those dreams aren't really worth having if you aren't aware of what you truely enjoy and what really makes you happy. When was the last time Marth Stewart was really happy? Has Paris Hilton ever been truely content? I'm not about to pass judgement on either of them and, despite their charicatures in the book, I don't think Slott has either. But it's a question that he does seem to think that we should all ask ourselves. Is the money we earn (or are given) what makes us happy, or is it something else? Does the money have value if we can't be content?

And you thought this new series was just another directionless superhero slugfest title! So, if you haven't already, tell your local comic shop dealer to put The Thing on your pull list.
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Anonymous said...

I still can't buy this "Oops! I'm rich!" subplot for Ben. I mean, surely the guy's got a little money coming in from the Avengers and USAF, right? Probably not enough to be rich per se, but he's at least got some pocket cash. And I don't see Ben being an idiot who runs out and spends his money at the drop of a hat, either, given his "wrong side of the tracks" upbringing and the Fantastic Four going flat broke every other year. I mean, cripes, what would he spend that much money on anyway? Sky-Cycles?

Well, Reed notes in Thing #1 that Ben's never really been wanting for anything per se... at least as long as he's been a member of the FF. So it's not like Straczynski or Slott are saying, "This guy was destitute before he became wealthy." But I think that if, by some bizarre chain of events, I suddenly became a billionaire and money was seriously not an issue, I would probably blow some of it recklessly. I doubt I'd spend it on poker and horse racing, but I'd likely find myself with an unecessarily powerful computer, lots of original comic book art that I wouldn't even have room to display, and a house with secret rooms and trap doors because... well, it'd be cool to have a house with secret rooms and traps doors.

Most of the time, I'm a realist. I don't go on daydreaming about winning the lottery or anything like that. I look at the paycheck I get and see how I can make that stretch out to pay the bills and maybe buy a few extra comic books from time to time. But I have to admit that even I wish from time to time that money was NOT an issue at all. That I didn't have to spend at least a third of my life ensuring that I can afford to have a roof over my head.

Ultimately, if I got a billion dollars, sure, I'd pay off the car and the house and the credit cards and whatever. And I'd try to set up some kind of trust fund to ensure that I'd have a steady income even if I never worked again. But then, I'd go on a shopping spree like I've never dreamed of before.

So I don't know that the premise is entirely unrealistic. If all of your limits are suddenly removed, regardless of what we're discussing, you are very likely to indulge to excess for at least a little while, until you have your god-son Franklin point out what an ass you're being. :)