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Law is a Ass by Bob Ingersoll
Join us each Tuesday as Bob Ingersoll analyzes how the law
is portrayed in comics then explains how it would really work.

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THE LAW IS A ASS for 07/20/1999
DOCKET ENTRY Installment #2
First printed in Tony Isabella's Journal 499
October 27, 1998


This was the first installment of "The Law is a Ass" that I didn't write for Comics Buyer's Guide. As a means of testing what the reaction would be to my doing some columns here on World Famous Comics, Tony Isabella invited me to write a guest column for the four hundred ninety-ninth installment of "Tony Isabella's Journal," which, by the way is the real name of his daily column and not "Tony's Online Tips." Tony even suggested the topic, which I used and the column appears below.

Since it appeared back in October, a couple of things have come up which have required me to revisit it-and put it here in my own page on World Famous Comics-sooner than I might have thought. First was the mistake I did make. In writing the column originally, I overlooked the "self-defense" possibilities available to Nighthawk-you'll see what I mean after you read the column. So this is the revised and corrected version of the column, the one which corrects that mistake and discusses the self-defense ramifications in Nighthawk's case. Now what you have to do is to ignore the version on Tony's page and read only this version, as it is the "new and improved" version. Tony's is the "old and lousy" version.

Not to mention the only correct one.

The other matter is the mistake I didn't make. After the column appeared, TIJ ran a letter criticizing me for wondering why the Defenders didn't look in the rubble of a bombed- out villains' hideout to look for survivors-including their own teammate, who had, apparently died-and explaining that the reason the Defenders didn't look for Nighthawk was that he wasn't really dead. Again, you'll see what I mean after you read the column. This letter said that the Nighthawk who died back in Defenders 106 wasn't the Nighthawk of our earth, but the Nighthawk of Earth-S, the parallel universe where the Squadron Supreme lives, who had replaced the Nighthawk of our earth. If that's the case, someone had better tell Marvel itself. See, I got my information from the most recent version of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, the loose-leaf version that came out in the early 90's. According to this book, in Defenders # 113-115, it was revealed that the Nighthawk of Earth-S was brainwashed by the Over-Mind into believing he was the Nighthawk of our earth. This same story established that the Nighthawk of our earth did die in that earlier issue of The Defenders. Moreover, I didn't rely on the Handbook entry alone. I went back and checked the appropriate issues of The Defenders, a unique brand of torture in and of itself, and verified that according to the story as it existed back then, our Nighthawk did appear to die all those years ago.

What this means, is that, as our Nighthawk did appear to die in the aforementioned issue of The Defenders, my questions about why the Defenders didn't go looking for him are still valid. If Marvel has gone around and changed this account again, it had better let its' left hand know what it's right had has done and correct its own Handbook. It's not like I'm going to try and keep something that convoluted straight by myself.

"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 2
by Bob Ingersoll

Let me get this straight? They didn't look for him? Even though the "they" in question were the Defenders-super-heroes and partners to Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond-and they were fighting a group of super patriots bent on launching a telepathic war against Communism in Rocky Mountain headquarters of said super patriots and the HQ exploded, possibly taking out the whole HQ and the people in it-including Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond-they didn't look for him? Even though said "they" had among their ranks at the time Dr. Strange, a mystic who's astral form could have probed the rubble for signs of life without worrying that the dust and rubble would have gotten his costume dirty, and Daredevil, whose super sensitive hearing would have detected any breathing or heartbeats, had he gone down to check for survivors, just in case; they simply assumed that Nighthawk, their friend and partner, not to mention the other innocents who had been taken prisoner by the super patriots, were dead and didn't even bother checking to be sure? Even though one of the super patriots climbed out of the rubble and attacked them, the Defenders didn't bother to check the headquarters to see whether anyone else-including the aforementioned friend and partner, Nighthawk-might have survived? They just assumed Nighthawk was dead and walked away to hold really a nice memorial service for him, but-and I've got this right, now don't I?-they didn't look for him.

With friends like these, it's lucky Nighthawk had land grabbers.

See, according to the recently-published Nighthawk # 1, someone did find Nighthawk's body in the rubble-I'm betting on developers who wanted to turn that particular, and already razed, part of the Rockies into an alpine theme park-and realized he wasn't dead but in coma. These speculators gave the comatose Nighthawk to some medical speculators who treated him for years until he came out of his coma. Why do I say medical speculators? Nighthawk had no ID on him. As far as the doctors were concerned, he was a "John Doe," an unfortunate unknown found in an explosion whose identity-and, thus, his ability to pay for medical treatment-was, at best, uncertain. Still these doctors didn't ship the John Doe to the local charity hospital, as is usually done. Instead they put him in a private room in a treatment center which, judging from the furniture and size of the room in question, was once a mansion that had converted into a medical facility; hooked him up to four different monitoring devices; and gave him years of costly, round-the-clock medical treatment, without any guarantee that he could pay. Best I can figure, they saw Kyle's well- manicured fingers and decided only a really rich guy could afford such luxuries, so was he good for the tab. None of which, I admit, has anything to do with why Tony asked me to write about Nighthawk # 1 for this special edition of "Tony's Online Journal." Still, that was the explanation they came up with for why Kyle Richmond didn't really die all those years ago despite his having an entry in The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, book of the dead, and, as this explanation was harder to swallow than a piping hot bowl of Cream O' Weed, I figured to make up for it, the rest of the mini-series should give us a story as crisp as new money.

We got beat-up bills.

In Confederate money.

I'll explain, just as soon as I activate my SPOILER WARNINGS, those ubiquitous words that announce I'm going to discuss plot points of Nighthawk # 1, possibly more than you want to know, if you're planning on reading the actual comic. Just before Kyle came out of his coma, he had a vision in which he traveled to "the border of the place where those deemed worthy go" only to be told by a glowing angel that he wasn't worthy. The angel told Kyle that, even though he had been a super-hero who had saved the entire world on more than one occasion, Kyle hadn't saved everyone. Some people had died while Kyle was deciding on new costumes or engaging in membership drives, so, Kyle wasn't worthy to go to heaven. I never realized God was such a hard grader. You'd think he'd, at least, use a curve.

The Angel gives Kyle another chance-specifically by gifting him with eyes that enable him to see evil before it is committed, "to discern the guilty before they are guilty. To truly defend the innocent against the unforeseen," then sends Kyle back to the land of the living, this time to get it right. Kyle is so happy that he immediately adopts a new Nighthawk costume and sets out on his crusade, never once getting suspicious about an angel who split an infinitive. (As Tony revealed in his earlier review of the Nighthawk mini-series, we do find out that this haloed grade-school drop-out wasn't a real angel, but a disguised Mephisto, a genetically-altered nether demon who was using Nighthawk as part of a larger plan to try to take over the world. But that's fodder for the final two issues of the mini-series and other for columns which I leave to other columnists, I'm going back to the law stuff found in Nighthawk # 1. It's who I am It's what I do. And confining myself to the law is why I get to use words like "Ass" in my title and claim I'm quoting Dickens.)

Nighthawk flies around Hell's Kitchen in New York City looking for people his Magic-Eight-Ball eyes tell him are about to commit crimes and, upon finding them, beats them to a pulp before they can commit their crimes. Efficient, maybe, but there's just one little problem. There's a word for this activity: assault. Actually, there several words for it and "against the law" comes immediately to mind. There's a fine line being drawn here. If you beat people up after they commit crimes, then, assuming the force wasn't more than was necessary to effect an arrest, it's okay. If you beat someone up while they're committing the crime or even while they're only attempting to commit the crime, you're on good footing. If you beat them up for what they will do in the future, but haven't done-or even attempted to do-yet, what you're punishing them for what they're thinking about doing. That isn't okay. As I said, it's assault and against the law. Call it one of those silly, inefficient idiosyncracies of our justice system-we require the crime occur before the punishment.

Have I made myself clear? It's niggling, but it's also why Dostoevski's magnum opus wasn't called Punishment and Crime.

Tony asked whether there could be some extenuating circumstances that Nighthawk could use in the event he was prosecuted. I suppose. Several possibilities come to mind.

It's possible that, because Nighthawk's victims weren't exactly on the best of terms with the police, what with them being criminals and all, so wouldn't come in to press charges, No victims and the police likely wouldn't even file charges against him.

Of, if charges were filed, the victims-whose relations with the police probably wouldn't have improved dramatically-might not come in to testify. If this happened, Nighthawk could be found not guilty as the prosecution might have a hard time proving Nighthawk beat up anyone, without anyone to testify that he beat them up.

And even if the victims did testify, a jury might, if it believed Nighthawk's claim, have found him not guilty. This could be one of those jury nullification things, where the twelve peers decide they like what the defendant was doing, so find him not guilty even though he was technically guilty.

Another and more likely possibility is that of self-defense. The law says that if someone is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, he or she is allowed to defend him or herself and to use the same amount of force against assailant as the assailant is using, or is about to use, against the victim. Moreover, the law allows the doctrine of self-defense to be used by third parties. So, if Person A sees that Person B is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm from an attack by Person C, then Person A can defend Person B against Person C and, in so doing, use the same amount of force that Person B could have used to defend him or herself. This is because the law would rather we do something to help others rather than stand around and watch it happen. (Unless, of course, we happen to be watching a Bruce Willis movie, in which case the preferred action is to sit by and watch what happens rather than rushing the screen to help Bruce out. Although some might consider rushing out of the theater as the more viable option.)

Anyway, if Nighthawk could convince the jury that his visions were absolutely, one- hundred percent accurate and that what he saw would come true if he didn't intercede, he could quite probably use a successful self-defense defense. After all, he could establish for the jury that the person he was defending was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, so he was allowed to use force to defend this innocent soon-to-be victim.

Finally, even if Nighthawk were convicted of his assaults, he might be okay. Here a judge could, if he believed the claim of future knowledge, grant Nighthawk probation.

Still, none of that changes the fact that, technically, Nighthawk was breaking the law. By not waiting for the criminals to start committing their crimes, then beating them up and prosecuting them for their crimes-by beating them up before they did anything illegal-Nighthawk was making the classic mistake of putting the hurt before the courts.

BOB INGERSOLL
<< 07/13/1999 | 07/20/1999 | 07/27/1999 >>

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