The central assumption of economics is rationality, the assumption that individuals have objectives and tend to take the actions that best achieve them. As Leather puts it:
“Any time you make an effort, you’re trying to receive some kind of reward. That’s human nature. We do the things that benefit us.”
But what are those things? What counts as a benefit? If we know nothing at all about objectives, the rationality assumption has no predictive power, since anything at all that someone did could be explained on the basis that doing it was his objective. We solve that problem by vague but plausible assumptions about what people want, based in part on observation, in part on introspection—money, health, food, housing, … .
The author of this story has a problem—how to make the behavior of supervillains and superheroes plausible. Elaborate fight scenes and witty dialog make dramatic sense, produce comic books people enjoy reading, but do not look like a very practical way for a super powered criminal to make a living.
The explanation, for Leather, is that while she makes her living by stealing stuff, making money is not really her objective. Her objective is to be a celebrity. She achieves it by stealing stuff, if possible in dramatic ways. A few years earlier, she tried to achieve it by fighting criminals. The main reason she abandoned the superhero profession, by her own account, was because she concluded that as a superhero she would never make it to stardom.
“Anyway. Here I was. Going out, working hard every night. And there was a night I took out two super thugs. Red Beast and Shocker, if you keep up. Anyway, that fight hurt. I was lucky not to be hospitalized. But I managed to stop them. Get them locked up. And saved a whole crowd of people.” She took a long drag off her cigarette. “I got page four of the Bay City Chronicle.”
“When I was Dynamo Girl, I could barely get page four. Leather makes the front page whether she gets away or goes to jail.”
Once you recognize her objective, her behavior makes sense. She designs the blow off, the prestige job, her final heist before leaving town, to pull in Darkhood, a superhero at about her level, hence a suitable opponent for a high profile fight. She ends the fight leaving behind seven million dollars and the Mountbatten Urn.
After putting on a show that will be remembered for years.
So much for the motives that explain the behavior of one supervillain. What about the heroes? For some, the answer is the same–status, prestige, stardom. For others, especially lower level ones such as Darkhood, neither material rewards nor status are a sufficient incentive.
“And if you beat him? I mean, take him fully down, stop him entirely, and humiliate him?”
Leather shrugs. “Then he’ll have to rethink his line of work. And if he can’t hack it, he’ll do something else with his nights and the world will be better off without him.”
“And if he can hack it?”
“Then he’s the real deal, and he’ll be stronger next time, and when our paths next cross it’ll be glorious.”
“So you fight her,” I said quietly. “And you drive her off. Or you put her in jail. But you know she’s going to get away or break out. You know that. How do you keep doing it?” He looked at me. “Someone has to,” he said.
Darkhood is the real deal.