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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 01/25/2000
"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 28
Originally written as installment #29 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 557, July 20, 1984 issue

Now, class, it's time for a history lesson.

In the 1940's, Archie Comics produced a line of super-heroes featuring such characters as the Shield, the Hangman, Mr. Justice, and the Comet. When the super-hero craze of the 40's ended--about the same time as World War II ended and the popular need for costumed heroes who could defeat the Axis powers was no more--these super-heroes disappeared one-by-one.

In the late 1950's and early 1960's Archie Comics produced another line of super-heroes featuring such characters as The Fly, Fly-Girl, and the Jaguar. These characters came and went--their comics appearing, being cancelled, then reappearing. By the late 60's, these heroes also disappeared, we thought for good.

Are you beginning to sense a pattern here? Archie didn't. In the mid-1980's Archie Comics produced the Archie Adventure Series of comics in which their heroes of the 40's teamed up with some of their heroes of the 60's to form The Mighty Crusaders. The characters appeared both in The Mighty Crusaders comic book and in solo adventures in their own titles--adventures which were uniformly horrible. True to their history, the Archie Adventure Series heroes disappeared a few years later; this time not nearly quick enough.

The Archie Adventure Series was--after The Vigilante and the trial of the Flash story line--the third most productive source of columns in my early days. The installment you're about to read discussed The Mighty Crusaders # 9, the single worst comic Archie Adventure published--at least, from a legal inaccuracies point of view and maybe overall. When Comics Buyer's Guide co-editor, Don Thompson--who hadn't read the comic in question as yet--read this installment of "The Law is a Ass," he actually called me to make sure that I hadn't misread the comic and that I was being fair to it. He couldn't believe any one story could have been so bad. I read him selected passages from the book over the phone, and he ran the installment unchanged. He even told me I had been more than fair.

If you have the same doubts that Don had, after reading the installment which follows, I won't do you the disservice of reading selected passages of the actual comic to you. You'll simply have to take my word on this: as long as there are stories like The Mighty Crusaders # 9, I won't make-up material for my column. I won't have to.

Nothing I could create could possibly top the real thing.


"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 28
Bob Ingersoll

I have not made secret my dislike for almost every comic coming out of the Archie Adventure Series comic line. Indeed, I think, at times, I have worn this opinion like a badge of distinction. Anyone who might wonder why has only to look at The Mighty Crusaders # 9 to learn the reason.

And yet, for all my dislike of the Archie Adventure Line, it has produced more column material than any other source, with the possible exception of The Vigilante or The Flash. Anyone who might wonder why has only to look at The Mighty Crusaders # 9 to learn the reason.

Actually, to be honest, I haven't really done a column on Vig in months. I still use him as a passing joke, because my dislike for the earlier issues of his book became something of a trademark for the column. However, since Vigilante # 5, I haven't devoted an entire column to trashing one of Vig's books, as I am about to do to . . .

Did you all guess The Mighty Crusaders # 9?

The book starts at you right away. The cover shows a close-up of the Shield--the flagship hero of the 1940's comic line, which ultimately evolved into the Archie Adventure line--his head bowed, his hands in manacles being led to his appointment with destiny. Shield is being pelted with tomatoes, cans, and other assorted garbage thrown by an unsympathetic crowd. Unsympathetic, hell; these people are downright hostile! The reasons for the crowd's anger and the Shield's predicament can be gleaned from picket signs in the background which denounce Shield as a murderer.

A troublesome cover. Not only have I seen the same scene, and I mean the exact same scene--except with different heroes--several times over; it's always a lie. The hero, it turns out, isn't a killer. He was framed by the clever machinations of a super-villain.

Yes, I know the Flash really killed Reverse-Flash; he's the exception not the rule. Beside which, even the Flash's murder was a total cop-out. Flash killed in self-defense, so his act wasn't murder; it was justifiable homicide. Finally, the Flash murder trial story line has gone on for so long now, he has a bigger problem. If any of the witness to Reverse-Flash's death are still alive, I doubt they can remember what happened. I know I can't.

Immediately upon seeing the cover to The Mighty Crusaders # 9, I was prepared to hate it faster than a speeding cliche and more powerfully than an old bromide. (And I don't mean the seltzer, although that would have helped settle my stomach the story.)

The story starts with the Shield, in costume, watching TV in his hotel room, when two police officers arrive to arrest him for felony murder. Immediately, my trained legal mind said, "Say what?" (Yes, my mind talks. It's just not always articulate.)

Felony murder is causing of another person's death while committing a felony, a felony being a major crime which is punishable by more than one year in prison. That means the Shield hasn't only killed, he killed while committing another felony. I wondered when this hero could have had time for all this nefarious evil doing.

As it turns out, it was back in The Mighty Crusaders # 1. In that story, the Shield found Bennie "The Gip" Fast and Cincinnati Red robbing a jewelry store. (Cincinnati Red, indeed. With a name like that, you just know the man's base.) Shield jumped through the plate glass window of the store to make a dramatic entrance, duked it out with the aforementioned thieves--who were, incidentally, armed with revolvers--and subdued them. Two cops arrived on the scene. Shield argued with them about the use of excessive force, then disappeared, because the Comet--another Mighty Crusader--summoned Shield with an Altroxian fireball and teleported him to the Mighty Crusaders' latest mission. Unknown to the Shield at the time was the fact that one of the jewel thieves, poor old Cincinnati Red, died--and the police think it was as a result of the Shield's punch.

As I said, all of that happened in Mighty Crusaders # 1. The follow-up story, when the Shield was arrested and tried for the murder, didn't occur until Mighty Crusaders # 9--more than a year and one-half later and after seven issues of Mighty Crusaders had passed by, six installments of the Shield's own back-up feature in an other comic book had been printed and the Shield had appeared in three issues of his own comic book. Now the story in Mighty Crusaders # 9, which logistically should have followed the first Mighty Crusaders story almost immediately, finally appears.

This is just one example of the slipshod editing and continuity found in the Archie Adventure line. Another is seen on pages 5, 6, and 7 of Mighty Crusaders # 9. Here the original scene from Mighty Crusaders # 1, wherein Mr. Red died, is repeated. No footnote told the reader that this scene already appeared in issue # 1, however. Only those readers with long memories or those willing to put up with the painful research I undertook--painful because it entailed my re-reading the run of a comic which wasn't worth reading the first time--knew when the Shield's crime occurred.

But I digress. Shield jumped through a window to break-up a burglary in progress, punched several felons--all of who were armed--and one died. For that Shield's being charged with felony murder. As I said, causing a death while committing an underlying felony.

Perhaps you are wondering wherein the Shield's underlying felony hid. I know I was. According to the summary on Mighty Crusaders # 9, page 2, panel 5 the police reasoned as follows: Shield broke into a jewelry store--he jumped through the window, remember--and that's breaking and entering. Then he beat-up on three burglars and that's assault. One he beat to death and that's causing a death while committing a felony, or felony murder.

Did you follow that reasoning, Folks? That's your tax dollars at work; your D.A. at his legal-minded best. I suggest that if any of you personally know the D.A. who brought these charges, you run--don't walk--to his office and present him with your deed to the Brooklyn Bridge. If he bought that bushwa, he'll buy anything.

You see Shield didn't commit breaking and entering, when he jumped into that jewelry store. Breaking and entering doesn't mean you break into a place and then you enter it. It means to trespass into an unoccupied structure with the specific intent to commit a theft or a felony therein. It's the actor's intent when he entered that defines the crime of breaking and entering, not the act of entering. Was Shield's intent to steal or commit a felony? If it was, his trespass was breaking and entering. If his intent was neither larcenous nor felonious, then his trespass was . . . well, a trespass.

Shield's intent was to stop a theft, not to commit one. He had neither larcenous nor felonious intent. He trespassed, but he did not commit a felony. At least, not breaking and entering.

How about assault. Did Shield commit a felonious assault by hitting Fast and Red? What do you think? Fifty points and a free An Infinite Number of Monkeys on an Infinite Number of Typewriters Could Write Better Tripe Than This Award to anyone who answered, "No."

Shield was stopping a theft, a laudable and completely legal act. As he was a private citizen who personally saw a felony being committed, he had the right to make a citizen's arrest. In making said arrest, both in order to complete the collar and to protect himself, Shield had the right to meet force with force. He could use as much force as was necessary to make the arrest and to repel the force used against him. The burglars had guns. Guns kill. (Yes, I know, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." But people with guns kill a whole lot better than unarmed people.) Shield had the right to use his fists as weapons to complete the arrest in light of the fact that he was facing guns. Thus, Shield didn't commit an assault, his use of force was legally justifiable as necessary for an arrest.

It was also justifiable force under the self-defense doctrine. In defending himself, Shield had the right to use as much force as was being directed at him. So long as Shield didn't use excessive force, his self-defense claim is valid.

Shield was facing guns. Guns constitute deadly force, that is force which can kill. I don't think that using fists--even fists which have an iron-like consistency such as the Shield's--is excessive force in the face of guns. Guns kill.

So we have no breaking and entering. We have no assault. We have, in other words, no underlying felony. Then how, pray tell, could the D.A. have been prosecuting Shield for felony murder? Don't ask me, I wasn't the D.A.

Later in the book, we are treated to a scene between two other Mighty Crusaders, Tom (The Fly) Troy and Kim (Fly-Girl)-- Oh, Lord! What is Fly-Girl's civilian identity? I know I'm being derelict in my duties, but I can't really can't bear to go back and re-read any more Archie Adventure Comics to find out her real name. Please forgive me. Anyway we have a scene between Tom (The Fly) Troy and Kim (Fly-Girl) What's-Her-Name. Tom, you see, is a lawyer in his civilian life and Kim doesn't want him to represent Shield.

Why not? They're friends and fellow super-heroes. Wouldn't Fly-Girl have a vested interest in Shield's acquittal? (A rhetorical question, for which the rhetorical answer is, "Yes.")

Kim's reason is that she's afraid that Tom might defend Shield and lose. That could ruin Tom's career. (It wouldn't do wonders for Shield's career, either.) Never mind friendship. Never mind principles. Never mind . . .

Oh never mind, I just don't want to talk about it anymore.

The trial starts. Dr. Henry H. Himmel--presumably a psychiatrist, but he never did give his credentials, so Hank could be a veterinarian for all I know--gives his professional opinion that Shield is a paranoid schizophrenic. Now, old readers of this column should recognize those words as a diagnosis of mental illness, which is the foundation for a criminal insanity defense.

One problem: the State of New York--that is, the prosecution--is still presenting its case. Surely they weren't about to do, what I feared they were about to do.

They were. "You interviewed the defendant at the state's request," the prosecutor asks, "would you say the Shield is . . . criminally insane?"

Your tax dollars are getting a real workout here, folks. First the prosecutor doesn't know when to press--and more important, not press--charges, then he doesn't know how to prosecute them.

Insanity is a defense. It means the defendant admits doing the act with which he has been charged, but argues he is not guilty because his mental illness impaired his reasoning and rendered him not criminally liable. If a defendant is criminally insane, it means he is not guilty. No district attorney is going to establish insanity in the State's case, thereby proving the defendant's innocence. No district attorney, that is, except one who believed the Shield was guilty of felony murder without that pesky, little underlying felony. Obviously, our D.A. got his legal training from the Classic Comics version of Kafka's "The Trial".

Next on the agenda, a defense witness named John Raymond, an assistant to the Chief Medical Examiner (i.e., Quincy's right-hand man) testifies that Cincinnati Red didn't die from a blow from the Shield, but died of undetermined causes. After this testimony, the Judge takes defense counsel Thomas Troy to task. The evidence, the Judge feels, has no probative value. Shield's only defense is self-defense, and the Judge has seen little evidence establishing self-defense.

Shield is charged with causing Cincinnati Red's death, right? (Of course, we all know that it was the departure of Sparky Anderson which led to the Cincinnati Reds' death.) He was accused of causing that death by hitting the man. Now a coroner says the death was not caused by the Shield's punches but by some undetermined cause. A medical expert has just testified that Shield didn't cause the death for which he is on trial and that no one knows what caused the death. And the Judge tells us that this evidence, which proves the Shield didn't cause any death so is not guilty, has no value? Was the judge watching the same trial we were? Does the judge understand the concept of, "Beyond a reasonable doubt?" Will Mona and Carlton ever get back together?

The Mighty Crusaders go out looking for evidence on self-defense. In their quest, the Fly discovers proof that the Brain Emperor, an evil super-villain in the Archie Adventure Comics line, set-up the Shield. Brain Emperor put brain disruptors--devices which kill by causing cerebral hemorrhage--in the heads of each of the robbers. Brain Emperor activated Cincinnati Red's disruptor and killed him, but made it look like the Shield killed the man. (Didn't I tell you I knew from the cover Shield had been framed? But, I'll bet you knew it all the time, too.)

There is one problem with the evidence, however; it came from a spider which was in the jewelry store at the time and saw the whole incident. The Fly, you see, has the ability to talk with insects and arachnids. He is, however, concerned that the testimony of an animal such as a spider might not be admissible in court, except, maybe a kangaroo court. So Fly goes looking for more evidence, the special guns that Brain Emperor had given his flunkeys to kill the Shield. (The brain disruptors were the back-up plan.)

The Crusaders find the gun, but the Judge isn't convinced. He wants corroboration. Tom Troy can't supply it, but another super-hero in the Archie Adventure line, Mr. Justice, can. Mr. Justice has, among other powers, the ability to return dead people to some form of sentient, communicative existence, and he poofs Cincinnati Red into the witness stand. "Your Honor," Troy says triumphantly, "the deceased can confirm our story."

This from a man who was worried about the admissibility of a spider's testimony, as well he should have. Sworn testimony is only considered admissible, because of the belief that the witness' fear of being sent to jail for perjury gives it the indicia of reliability. If the witness cannot swear to tell the truth, he or she is not allowed to testify. As neither a spider nor a dead man has much to fear from perjury prosecutions, neither of their testimony would be considered reliable and, in all probability, neither's testimony would be admissible in court. But why let a little thing like logic stop you? The writer of Mighty Crusaders # 9 didn't.

Well, the jury finds Shield not guilty (Yay!) and the story, mercifully, ends. Not soon enough and not before the Shield bitterly remarks about how quickly the adoring public had turned on him earlier. He is not sure if he wants to continue being their hero.

Since this story, however, the Shield has continued to be a super-hero. I can only conclude that he overcame his motivational difficulties. We never saw it happen, but it must have happened sometime immediately following the story in Mighty Crusaders # 9.

Considering how quickly they scheduled the story which should have come immediately after Mighty Crusaders # 1, the story of Shield's recommitment to super-powered daring-do is probably scheduled for Mighty Crusaders # 53.

With any luck, I won't be around to see it.

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