Thursday, April 26, 2012

Richer Than Smaug

Forbes, a literary magazine about and for people far richer and smarter than I am, just released its list of Top 15 richest fictional characters. Topping the list is Smaug, the dragon from The Hobbit. Forbes estimates his net worth is around $62 billion—not counting, of course, whatever deal he managed to snag from MGM.

Flintheart Glomgold, Scrooge McDuck’s mortal nemesis according to Disney, ducked into second place with approximately 51.9 billion dollar (ahem) bills. Carlisle Cullen, vampire patriarch from Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, has banked around $36.3 billion for third. Naturally, a couple of superheroes made the list: Marvel’s Tony “Iron Man” Stark weighed in at No. 5 with $9.3 billion, while Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne settled for eighth with a relatively paltry $6.9 billion.

When I was little and imagined myself very wealthy, I envisioned I’d spend it like Richie Rich (No. 6, according to Forbes)--on zoos and gold-plated helicopters and pearls so big you could bowl with ‘em. But now that I’m an adult, I wonder … are there more responsible ways to spend ludicrous amounts of money? Once the house is paid off and the GT-40’s in the garage, what’s next? What, we might ask, would Jesus buy?

It’s sobering that some of these fictional characters never really even enjoyed their wealth. I get the feeling that Flintheart only wanted to be rich to make ol’ Scrooge jealous. Smaug just slept on his nest egg.

In my better moments, I’d like to think I’d go the Tony Stark/Bruce Wayne route: I’d not, perhaps, construct a flying suit or buy a Batmobile. But I’d like to think that I’d use a good chunk of that cash helping others. I hope that I’d be mature enough to understand that money is better spent doing good than doing nothing.

The so-called 1-percenters have a bad rep these days, and perhaps rightly so in some ways. But there are real inspirations to be found among the rich. Rick Warren, pastor at Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life, reportedly flips the concept of tithing on its head—giving 90 percent of his income to charity. Last year, Microsoft founder Bill Gates lost the title of the world’s richest man because he donated $28 billion to his own charitable foundation. Eventually, Gates and wife Melinda hope to give away 95 percent of their fortune.

In 2007, USA Today reported that American give $295 billion to charity every year—twice as much per capita as folks from the next most generous country. Some studies show that Christians give twice as much as non-Christians, though exact figures are hard to come by.

It makes sense, given how blessed most of us have been. And yet, Scot McKnight in a 2010 blog for Beliefnet suggests that it’s the poor, not the rich, who are the most generous. Households that take in $10,000 or less give away 11.2 percent of their income. Those that make $150,000 or more? Just 2.7 percent.

It makes you wonder how much more good we could do in the world, doesn’t it? What would happen if we all became, at least fiscally speaking, a little more heroic?  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Batman in 140 Characters or Less?

So I signed up for Twitter today and, as a consequence, am now following a motley assortment of Tweeters: Friends, celebrities, friends of celebrities, and … Batman.

It was a natural choice, really. Since I’ve written a book on the guy, I thought it’d make sense to follow him—see what he’s thinking as he careens through the Gotham City night, chasing all manner of bad guys. His latest tweet: “Who harm yet claim virtue, oppress yet claim to be oppressed, decry defenders as aggressors yet claim your aggression as defense: I see you.”

Brooding, honorable, very Batman-esque. Made me feel rather shallow in comparison. My first tweet was about the dandelions in my back yard. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered, is Batman really the sort of guy to be on Twitter?

Oh, I’m sure he’d have a smartphone stashed in his utility belt. And perhaps if he followed Joker or Riddler, he might have the opportunity to get some insight into Gotham’s next big crime spree. (“Van Gogh exhibit @GothamArt. Anyone up for a visit?”) You know they’d have Twitter accounts. Joker’s the type of (ahem) clown who’d hold a packed subway train for ransom just to get a few more followers.

But Batman? I kinda doubt it. For better or worse, it seems as though he’d keep his thoughts to himself, not telegraph them across the world in 140-character blasts. That’s part of his mystique, is it not? That his actions speak louder than tweets?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Courage Under Duress, Superhero Style

Many children long to be superheroes when they grow up. I spent almost a full three years of my childhood in a cape, battling all manner of imaginary evildoers. But few of us superhero wannabes ever have the chance. And that makes 7-year-old Kye of Arlington, Texas, a very lucky lad.

Kye has leukemia, and a while back he expressed a desire to star in a Batman movie. Alas, Christian Bale seems to have the role sewn up—at least through this summer. But an organization called A Wish With Wings gave him, I think, an even better opportunity: To be the caped crimefighter for a day and haul in some vindictive villains.

According to the Arlington Star-Telegram, Kye began his reign as north Texas’ surrogate batman by foiling the Joker’s designs on a bank. Next he quashed the Riddler’s attempt to set off a car bomb. And then he had an opportunity that the real Batman never, ever gets: To hold his own press conference.

“I just want to say, that was fun,” he told the media, adding that his skills as a martial artist make him quite suited to superhero duties.

Of course, we all know that the most indispensable quality of a superhero is courage under duress. Kye, I think, has that covered.