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In the DC and Marvel universes, alien invasions seem to happen almost weekly, super-villains have impossible technology, which they use to rob banks, and genius super-heroes invent equally impossible technologies to combat them.

And yet somehow, nobody seems to come up with practical applications of said technologies for the average consumer.

Stilt-Man's outfit could be sold to, say window washing companies, first responders, and more. Tony Stark's Arc Reactors should be powering buildings independently of the power grid. I'm just scratching the surface.

Now out of universe, the main reason they don't have anti-grav, lightspeed spaceflight, et al, available to the public is because it would make the world so advanced, and so different from the real world of the reader that they might find it harder to identify with it, and may stop reading. The book would become more like a sci-fi comic, and less than simply a super-hero comic.

But with the clear existence of this tech, what are some (interesting) ways that government or business might ask for, or even demand, the tech for the people? And what are some reasons the heroes (or villains) might demur?

One reason I could envision is they don't want the tech getting out there, for fear it'll be hacked, and their powers and abilities could be rendered vulnerable. That's just an off the cuff idea.

There's been occasional stories about this.

The Armor Wars storylines in Iron Man deal with Stark's tech being used in a variety of other people's (good and bad) powered suits, and his attempts to stop them.

JMS had a scene in Fantastic Four where they needed some money. He scribbled a formula on a piece of paper, said it was for a new acne medication - told them to call Revlon and say he'll take thirty million plus royalties for it.

Dan Slott did a series of stories where Spider-Man adapts his tech for the consumer market, quite profitably. The polymers of his webbing becomes new materials for motorcycle helmets, Spider-Tracer tech becomes an improvement to wireless earphones, etc.

Heck, In Independence Day II, Earth reverse-engineers and adapts the alien technology, creating not only powerful new weapons, but many changes to society. But as mentioned, that's a Sci-Fi story, so such societal changes would be more readily accepted by the reader/viewer

So perhaps a sub-question is, in addition to ideas as to how it would be handled, what are some favorite stories where it WAS addressed?

(flipped a coin as to whether this fit more here as in Sci-Fi and Fantasy - seemed more germane here since it's more about the storytelling aspect than in-universe "explanations")

Postscript - A very germane TVTropes entry has been pointed out in the comments - Reed Richards is Useless.

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    $\begingroup$ "Now out of universe, the main reason they don't have anti-grav, lightspeed spaceflight, et al, available to the public is because it would make the world so advanced, and so different from the real world of the reader that they might find it harder to identify with it, and may stop reading. The book would become more like a sci-fi comic, and less than simply a super-hero comic." It's even more than that. If the technology is banal, super-hero also became banal... $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jun 27 '18 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ "When EVERYBODY is special, then NO ONE is" $\endgroup$ – VBartilucci Jun 27 '18 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ That's the point. and even if not everybody can by an Iron Man suit, let's say all cops have one, the "real" Iron Man is much less unique... $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jun 27 '18 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ "JMS had a scene in Fantastic Four where they needed some money. He scribbled a formula on a piece of paper, said it was for a new acne medication - told them to call Revlon and say he'll take thirty million plus royalties for it." That's weird. Usually Reed Richards is Useless. (TV Tropes warning - though it is highly relevant to the question.) $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jun 27 '18 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ As Ryan Reynolds said: that's just lazy writing. $\endgroup$ – Renan Jun 27 '18 at 16:27
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Villains don't want to do so because it means others will have access to their technology. This could let rivals get more powerful or pesky heroes find ways to reverse engineer or counter the villains' abilities. They don't like to share. (Heroes too, for that matter.)

Heroes don't like to share because the technology has too many "military" applications that could wind up in the wrong hands. "With great power comes great responsibility." NOT originally from Uncle Ben

Another reason that fits both groups or those that fall in between1. If Tony Stark publicly sells a technology that then gets in the wrong hands, he might get sued for it. While Mr. Stark can afford the lawyers to defend himself, others aren't quite so lucky. I doubt Peter Parker could afford a liability lawsuit.

Also, there's the risk of exposure. Few costumed characters in comic books are willing to give out their secret identities. But signing their name on a patent application for some kind of highly web-like super polymer increases the risk that someone will associate that name with Spider-Man. It creates a threat to their secret identity.

Possibly in some cases someone attempts to profit from their high-tech gadgets, but they get shut down. The U.S. government has laws around exporting nuclear equipment and material2 and used to have laws against exporting encryption3. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the government would move quickly to quash any efforts to bring high-tech super-things to market. Or at least to control their release in a way that doesn't threaten security.

Maybe they succeed in selling their technology. Someone got the patent rights for cell phones. For various technologies that resulted in your smart phone, your internet browser, etc. There's no way to prove (in a comic-book universe) that each of these can't be traced back through shell corporations, false identities, etc. to some super character or other. Carefully "leaking" technology in a controlled manner may be how we get much of our high-tech, cutting edge, stuff these days.

Some devices are too heavily regulated for a super to easily bring to market. Drugs and medical treatments require years of FDA testing for sale in the US and similar rules elsewhere. Cars have to pass stringent testing requirements. Other devices would also require massive investments in safety features that a super may not need at all, but a mere mortal would have to have or would legally require. So the super just... doesn't bother.


1 Punisher isn't a Hero and isn't really a Villain either; he's... something else. Vigilante maybe? Same for Wolverine at least some of the time.

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    $\begingroup$ The term for characters like The Punisher and Wolverine is "anti-hero"... although The Punisher is also most definitely a vigilante. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jun 27 '18 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ I've long considered the idea that the government (f whatever country the tech lands in (if they have the chops to protect it) would take control of it, and sell what facets it deemed safe, making money off the sales, rendering the government able to generate its own finances. If the US Government had kept control of the patents created by NASA, the mind boogie-woogies at the budget it'd have, and how little of it would come from taxes. $\endgroup$ – VBartilucci Jun 27 '18 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ In the case of villains, the argument is even stronger - there's so many legitimate uses of their tech that they could make SO much more money that way. They did a story at DC where the villains (allegedly) go straight - Weather Wizard starts irrigating the Sahara, etc. It was all a plot, of course. But WHY would it be? "The thrill of the chase" seems so lame. $\endgroup$ – VBartilucci Jun 27 '18 at 16:02
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There was a solution for tinkers in the Worm universe.

Making their devices work at all is often a subset of their power set.

Super-hero-world inventors/tinkers/tech-focused-geniuses aren't just smart people. They're a set of individuals with their own specialized superpowers largely focused on creating technology.

While some devices can be replicated by mundane means... most can't. Non-super-powered human attempts to recreate the technologyhave close to zero chance of success in many cases. The tinkers powers may be required to get the devices working in the first place and normal humans may have great trouble even trying to maintain such devices.

Devices that spend too long away from the physical presence of the tinker may simply stop working entirely.

Hence, while some of the simplest tech may end up filtering down to people on the street... the super-genius doesn't have the personal capacity to build and maintain hundreds of thousands of copies of their super-tech and trying to build and maintain it without their active participation often doesn't work terribly well.

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Apart from the comment by @Keptox, which just nails it, another reason is: end of the world.

Speaking of the MU alone, at one time mutant power were literally reverse-engineered and turned into a drug that gave superpowers to non-mutant. Result: street gangs that could disintegrate whole blocks.

Or when a superhuman criminal like Nitro was further powered by biotech means, his self-destruction also killed the New Warriors and started the events that would lead to Civil War.

Criminal geniuses like the Wizard are, simply put, too much obsessed with their petty vengeance against superheroes to take a moment to think and decide to go Wall Street.

Governments owning the means to create supersoldiers do not trust at all the idea of a legion of uncontrollable uperpowerful beings. The best US did in term of high tech was to create the Sentinels as anti-super weapons and, with the help of Stark Senior, the Project Arsenal.

Reed Richards is a genius, but he is too much advanced. He could put on the market things that could change the world forever...but he'd be the only one able to make them work and produce in series.

As of recently, Peter Parker became an industrialist putting his genius to use, just like Tony Stark is doing his part in research and engineering for pacific purposes.

Doctor Doom is known to work on more shady grounds of the tech market and only according to plans that benefit him alone. He generously spares some of his wonders for his loyal subjects in Latveria.

Another genius like Henry Pym could have done wonders in the field of IA, but alas he is too scared to go beyond certain limits after creating Ultron.

And, as all superheroes by now know, Ultron is just the proof that when super high-tech goes haywire, the whole world could end.

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  • $\begingroup$ Then perhaps we flip the question - what are some ways the governments of the world could STOP such technologies from getting out? Or would the onus be on the heroes? I still maintain that there are at least facets of much of the tech with absolute real-word use, that would not result in end of the world scenarios, but what stop-gaps could exist? $\endgroup$ – VBartilucci Jun 27 '18 at 15:24

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