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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 12/07/1999
"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 21
Originally written as installment # 271 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 1326
April 16 , 1999 issue

I had just gotten back from Mid-Ohio-Con and boy were my arms tired. Not to mention my brain.

Last week, I needed a "quick fix" column -- one I could ready in a hurry, because I had spent a wonderful weekend at Mid-Ohio-Con but by having such a wonderful time, lost all the time I had to prepare an old column for reprinting. My solution was to grab one of my more recent Comics Buyer's Guide columns and run it. See, recent CBG columns are easy for me to prepare; they don't require as much re-writing or updating. It was an elegant solution, if not stupid. See, I ran the column without checking it first. (As I said, my brain was tired)

Turns out it was part two of a two-part column I wrote dealing with the legal aspects of the early issues of Spider-Man: Chapter One. Unfortunately, I didn't run part one first. (Had I mentioned this brain fatigue from which I was suffering or that I was stupid?)

So this week I run part one. Read it, then use the hyperlink at the top of the page and read last weeks's column and get them in the proper order.

Moreover, as an added bonus, I explain how this one-part column became a two-part column. It was yet another time in which I was stupid.

When I wrote the column which graces this page this week, I used the relaunch of Spider-Man found in Spider-Man: Chapter One to prepare a treatise on the ways in which Spider-Man could have handled the problem of how to cash a check while still keeping his secret identity a secret. Then my brother Jon, one of the overseers of the wonderful Grand Comics Database Project (found at and tell him I send you), reminded me that I had neglected an important consideration. With Spider-Man earning over one hundred thousand dollars (as he did in this revamp) he could no longer keep his secret identity a secret from his manager. Under federal law his manager would have to report Spidey's earnings to the Social Security Administration and the IRS and for that he would require Spidey's Social Security Number and so much for secrecy. I admitted that Jon was correct and promptly wrote the second part of the column covering how Social Security would have affected Spider-Man's anti-social insecurity.

Mea culpa for stupidly running part two last week.

Of course, my having made this stupid mistake, which forced me to run part one this week, means that for the second week in a row I get an easy column and don't have to work as much.

So maybe I wasn't so stupid, after all.


"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 21
Bob Ingersoll

Don't stop me if you've heard this one; you haven't. All this time, we've thought the raison d'etre behind Spider-Man's origin -- the thing we all learned -- was, "With great power comes great responsibility." Wrong. Try, "With great powers comes the fiscal sense of a retread." And that may be selling second-hand steel-belteds short. It doesn't even matter whether you're using the original origin or the origin as it's being reconstituted in Spider-Man: Chapter One; either way Peter Parker is more short-sighted than a myopic mole.

Recently I received an e-mail whose sender (and I apologize I've lost the e-mail, so can't include his name here) remembered in Amazing Spider-Man # 1 (volume 1), rather than reveal his name, Spidey had the promoter who hired him make his check out to "Spider-Man" instead of Peter Parker. Unfortunately, Spidey was unable to cash the check, because he couldn't prove he was Spider-Man under the costume. The e-mailed wanted to know if there was something Spidey could have done to get his money.

Sure there was, something so basic that even back in 1963, when I was only 10, I knew what it was. Make the stupid check out to "cash."

A check made out to "cash" instead of a specific person as the payee is the functional equivalent of cash. With a standard check only the named payee can negotiate it. A check made out to cash is a negotiable instrument that anyone can negotiate. If you've got it, you can cash it. If I've got it, I can cash it. If Spider-Man even wearing a full costume and performing River Dance in the bank lobby had it, he could have cashed it. Doesn't matter. Whoever held it could have cashed it.

Spider-Man could have gone to any bank, cashed the check, then changed into Peter Parker and deposited the cash into Peter Parker's account. Sure he might have lost a little bit extra in transaction fees, but his anonymity would have been safe.

A simple notation that the check was to compensate the performer known as Spider-Man for services rendered on the memo line would have sufficed for the promoter's tax records. Okay, he would have to be more short-winded, 'cause those memo lines are small, but you get the idea.

Too bad Spider-Man didn't.

Yes, there was most definitely something Spider-Man could have done to receive his money. And this even ignores the easiest thing he could have done, which was to have the check made out to Peter Parker. See, at the time, there wasn't really any reason for Peter to keep his identity secret. He hadn't become a super-hero yet, he was only a performer. He didn't know he was going to need a secret identity in the very next issue to protect his loved ones from super-villains. He could as easily have -- and the story never really explains satisfactorily why he didn't -- used his real name.

Now, I must give Spider-Man some credit, he learned from his mistakes so that he didn't repeat them exactly. Instead, in Spider-Man: Chapter One # 2, he figured out a whole new, but equally stupid, way of losing the money he earned in his brief show business career. In the new version, Spider-Man used his powers as a form of identification, so that the bank opened up an account in the name of Spider-Man figuring Spider-Man could prove his identity by showing spider powers. He still hadn't hit upon the simple trick of a check made out to cash, but he figured out something.

Trouble was the Chameleon saw Spider-Man open the account then disguised himself as Spider-Man, used gizmos to duplicate Spidey's powers and cleaned the account out of over one hundred thousand dollars, so that he could buy the customary expensive lab equipment that villains always buy out of some sort of scientific penis envy with Reed Richards. And once again, Spider-Man was out the money.

Or was he?

Wouldn't the Federal Depositor's Insurance Corporation have reimbursed him for this loss? After all, one of the things the FDIC does is pay depositors back the money they lose when a bank is robbed.

Actually, no. I located the FDIC regs on the Internet and read them -- or tried to read them as best anyone can read hundreds of pages written in the quixotic and definitely foreign language known as Federalese. I learned that the FDIC reimburses money lost due to a bank robbery, but when a person disguises himself as the depositor and withdraws the money through fraud, the FDIC doesn't reimburse the depositor. Instead, the depositor must sue the person who defrauded him.

Still, Spider-Man could have gotten his money back. He needed to ask the court to order the Chameleon to pay restitution as part of its sentence. Such restitution happens all the time. The court would have taken possession of the equipment the Chameleon bought with Spidey's money, sold it -- or returned it, the thirty days probably weren't up -- then given the money to Spider-Man as restitution owed to a victim of a crime.

Of course, Spider-Man might have had to reveal his true identity to do this but that would be better than continuing to let his Aunt May pawn her jewelry to pay the rent, wouldn't it?

Apparently not as Spider-Man didn't do this. He let Aunt May work and worry herself almost to death trying to get enough money to get buy rather than even attempt to recover over one hundred thousand dollars.

Ah, yes, the loving nephew. Kind of gives you a warm and fuzzy, doesn't it?

<< 11/30/1999 | 12/07/1999 | 12/14/1999 >>

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