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THE LAW IS A ASS for 06/20/2000
"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 48
Originally written as installment # 38 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 569, October 12, 1984 issue
This column features, among other features, a commentary on what is probably the worst comic I've ever read. Champions Wonder World Express. (As I note, this shouldn't be confused with the Marvel or Hero comic called Champions. No, this one was from a totally different and, thankfully, defunct publisher.
Unfortunately, I don't own it any longer. I used to loan it out to friends so they could experience it in all its excruciating horror and one of them didn't forgive it. For such a crime, I hope this person is suffering the only fit punishment: he has to re-read it every day.
"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 48
Overkill. It's the process by which an excessive amount of force is used to combat a vastly inferior opponent. An example would be using actual literary skills and thought to write a review of Battlefield Earth. Another, and far more classic example, is to use a bazooka to kill a fly.
(Speaking of bazooka's I may owe an apology to Bazooka Joan, an otherwise undistinguished Firestorm foe. In last week's column, I included a one-liner that Joan's sky sled should have spun on its axis from the recoil when her big gun fired. If her weapon was, indeed a big gunand she took her name from having rotted her teeth with too much bubble gumthen nothing was wrong with what I wrote. If, on the other hand, she really did use a bazooka, then I owe the apology: bazookas fire rockets through hollow tubes, there is no recoil. Unfortunately, the story didn't actually make it clear what kind of weapon Joan employed, so I don't know if I actually owe the apology. Personally, I going to go with the she used a big gun and didn't know how to name herself theory. I mean, why should science ruin a perfectly good joke?
An other example of overkill--to get myself back on track--would be to devote a full column to any of the four comic-book stories on tap for this week. Instead, I'll write about these stories in one column, hoping that the four-in-one approach will be more balanced; although my shrink wonders if I'm ever balanced
The first fly in my ointment is Batman # 377. Come on, you didn't think I was going to let that one pass. And, yes, I mean pages 2 through 4. I haven't seen such an overly dramatic courtroom scene since the trial sequence of Woody Allen's Bananas. Bananas was being satiric, so it engaged in gross exaggeration of the typical courtroom scene cliches. The problem was Bananashyperbole notwithstanding, was also more accurate than Batman # 377.
Bruce Wayne is in court for his custody battle over Jason Todd, whom Amanda Groscz has taken from Bruce and given to Natalia Knight. As the trial went on, Bruce exhibited an increasing amount of anger toward the proceedings. It culminated when Bruce commented that the judge was openly hostile to him and concluded that someone must have gotten to him. That Bruce is right--as readers of Detective # 543 know Mayor Hamilton Hill, a political enemy of Commissioner who's honked at Bruce both for Bruce's friendship with Gordon and the fact that Bruce opposed Hill in the last election--belies the point that Bruce's own anger to the court and the judge gave the judge the opening to be hostile.
(Memo to all courtroom litigants: If you're being hostile and the judge is being hostile back, it's not wise to accuse the judge of being on the take in open court. It's a sure way to guarantee that you'll never win the judge over to your side. If you suspect the judge is on the take, you accuse him of that in private and offer him a bigger take. That's how you deal with a judge on the take.
(Additional memo: No I'm not really advocating that you bribe a judge. It's against the law to bribe one and it's against the law to advocate bribing one. It's just why should the law ruin a perfectly good joke?)
Getting back to the judge for a moment, and the fact that Mayor Hill has influenced him, I find it hard to believe that Mayor Hill, no matter how corrupt he is, would involve himself in Bruce's custody battle. The pay-off of such involvement, pure spite, is slight and the potential for harm--such as Bruce using even a minuscule fraction of his vast fortune to hire detectives to find out who got to the judge or, worse yet, Commissioner Gordon asking his friend Batman to look into the matter for his other friend, Bruce--is great. Either set of investigators could bring down Hill for all time. A sensible, corrupt politician would stay out of this affair, which had no direct affect on his own matters.
Then we have Amanda Groscz. (And how do you pronounce her name, anyway? It looks like the third line of an eye chart.) She has determined that Bruce is an unfit caregiver for such infamous acts as having Jason out after 11 p.m. on a school night. The fact that she, herself, permitted Jason to stay up after midnight on a school night should tell her that, just maybe, her perceptions are a little skewed.
And if Amanda thinks Bruce's infamous acts--which are, in reality, exceedingly innocuous--make him unfit to care for Jason, then why has she awarded temporary custody to Natalia Knight? There are allegations--which just happen to be true--that Ms. Knight is a major-league felon, the Night Thief. It just isn't consistent for Amanda to forgive Ms. Knight's transgressions while, at the same time, jumping all over Bruce for his non-transgressions.
Fly number 2 is Flash # 339. Have I missed an issue of Flash since the Flash-murderer story started? In checking, I find I have, is just seems like I haven't. And, I suspect, the next several issues of The Flash will be Chock-Full-O'-Columns. The Flash's trial has finally started. If the remainder of the proceedings go anything like the voir dire, I'll have columns for the remainder of the decade.
Yes, I snuck an actual legal term in on you. Voir Dire is what we lawyers call the process of choosing juries for a trial. (I don't know why. It's some French term for "to speak the truth," but I was a Spanish major in college.) In Flash # 339, we're shown the jury selection process as, first, DA Slater then defense attorney Cecile Horton question jurors for their suitability. They call the prospective jurors one-by-one and question them individually to determine if they are suitable.
Well, that's close to the way it happens. In voir dire, the attorneys do question jurors. But as for calling the juries one-by-one to the stand to be questioned ...
I've never seen it happen. Jurors are usually called in groups. A venire pool of thirty or so potential jurors is called into the courtroom. Then, the first twelve prospective jurors sit in the jury box and are questioned. As individual prospective jurors are dismissed, new prospective jurors are called from the venire pool to replace them. But individual voir dire isn't something courts tend to do a lot as it is far more time consuming that a standard mass voir dire.
Sometimes, usually in cases involving the death penalty, courts will have an individual voir dire, but the Flash wasn't facing the death penalty. I suppose, because the Flash's trial is a high-publicity affair, the extraordinary procedures of a capital case might be invoked. Another possibility is that jurors in Central City might have strong opinions about the Flash. A juror who was personally saved by the Flash could be prejudiced in his favor. The DA might have requested individual voir dire, because there was a strong likelihood that they'd find such potential jurors in the pool. If the juror is telling his or her account only to the court and not in front of the other prospective jurors, there is less likelihood that the prospective juror's account could influence or prejudice the other potential jurors in the Flash's favor.
So we'll give them a pass on this one. It's not the way things are usually done, but it isn't definitely wrong either.
Which brings us to the method used in the story for bumping jurors. Here I can't be as forgiving. There are two ways that a juror are challenged by a lawyer and removed from the case, which we call "bumping" a juror: a challenge for cause and a peremptory challenge. A challenge for cause means that one, or both, of the attorneys believes that for some reason--bias, self-interest, professional involvement, a bad hair day--one of the potential jurors cannot be fair and impartial. The attorney makes his case to the judge and if the judge believes that the juror cannot be fair, will excuse the juror. In the case of the Flash, for example, if the Flash saved one of the jurors' life and that juror said he or she would be biased in favor of the Flash and could not be fair or impartial, that juror would be excused for cause. There is no limit to the number of jurors who can be excused for cause.
After both sides have examined the jury pool for potential biases and ferreted out which jurors can be challenged for cause, the second type of challenge comes into play. Each side also gets a limited number of peremptory challenges, a challenge which can be exercised for unspecified reasons. The lawyer doesn't like the juror's looks, the lawyer thinks the juror is a bigot, the juror is carrying a hangman's noose. The lawyer who doesn't like this juror can excuse that juror without giving any reasons and the juror is dismissed.
In Flash # 339, we see Cecile Horton excusing a perspective juror, because that juror is a minister's daughter. I can imagine few instances in which being a minister's daughter would prevent someone from being a fair and impartial juror. Maybe if someone were trying to shut down the church's Bingo games because it was sucking all the gambling money from the riverboat casino, but not in a murder trial. So, being a minister's daughter would be insufficient to support a challenge for cause. Thus, Cecile must have challenged the juror with a peremptory. There are two problems with that conclusion, however. The first is that Cecile gave a reason. You don't give reasons for peremptory challenges. The second is that Cecile used the challenge at a time appropriate for a challenge for cause, not a peremptory challenge.
True it's a minor point. Still it's one which bothered me as it shows a basic lack of research or a willingness to sacrifice reality for drama.
I had another problem with the jury selection process: where was the Flash? He's the defendant in this trial. He has a constitutional right to be present at all important stages of the trial. The voir dire is an important stage of the trial. Lawyers frequently consult with their clients to see if they have any "bad vibes" about a juror. Under the Constitution, they could not have started the trial without the defendant present for the voir dire. Yes, if a defendant voluntary fails to appear after trial has started, the trial can proceed in his absence. But it can't start without the defendant being there. As this was the first day of jury selection, the trial hadn't started yet and they couldn't have started the trial without the Flash being there.
But he wasn't. There, that is. Granted, he was fighting a super-villain at the time, but what did he do, messenger a note to the judge? "Please excuse the Flash from his trial today, he'll be fighting a super-villain. Flash's Mother."
Which brings up my biggest complaint about Flash # 339.
An oversized, mentally-retarded individual with immense size strength who the Flash Rogues Gallery tricked into being a super-villain. It was Lenny from Of Mice and Men except he wasn't named Lenny, he was named Dufus (A mentally-retarded individual named Dufus. Now there's a name designed to offend everyone) And to make him a super-villain, the Rogues Gallery gives this immensely large person some advanced weaponry and armor And name him Big Sir. (I'm amazed they didn't have his lance fire electro-blasts called the Monte Ray.) It's a good thing the year is drawing to a close. Already we've had Pinball Wizard, Bazooka Joan, Big Sir, and The Answer as solid contenders for the Worst Villain of 1984 Award. If we had too many more months, and too many more contestants, they might start splitting the votes. (Aside to Mind Bender. Sorry I couldn't nominate you this year. You're a turkey all right, but you don't even come close to the running.)
Fly number 3: Jon Sable, Freelance # 18. Actually this time my problem with the book is that I don't have something to write about. Mike Grell enjoys using wordless action sequences in the book. Usually, I have no problem following them. However, I did have a problem following the climatic sequence in this particular comic. Until I re-read it, I thought Jon Sable had killed some innocent bystander in a Ford Pinto just to save the Olympic torch bearer. If he had, you can be sure I would have been all over him for murder. But, what he did was flame the famous ignitable fuel tank on the Pinto occupied by the person who had fired a heat-seeking missile at the torch bearer, so the heat of the burning Pinto attracted the missile and saved the torchbearer. That made it a case self-defense--actually, defense of a third person, but just as permissible--and a justifiable homicide.
I do have another problem with the book, however. The surprise ending reveals that Anastasia Yurkovich, a Soviet who Sable helped defect a few issues back, wasn't a defector, after all. She was a sleeper agent, who had to be smuggled into the United States, so that she could kill the torch bearer on American soil as vengeance for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, which the United States boycotted.
My problem is why did they need Anastasia? The story established that another Soviet sleeper agent, Sparrow, was already in the United States and involved with the Olympic mission. Why were two sleeper agents needed to fire a heat-seeking missile out of a Pinto? Sparrow could have done it alone. Remember, no one knew what Sparrow looked like, so they wouldn't have stopped him. Smuggling in Anastasia, when Sparrow was already in place, only served to complicate the mission and involve Jon Sable, who, ultimately, thwarted it.
Generally speaking--and Mission: Impossible notwithstanding--the simpler the plan is, the greater the change for success, because the less there is that can go wrong. Simplicity dictated that Sparrow alone was enough to carry out the mission. Complicating the mission with Anastasia only caused it to fail. Other than that complaint, however, I really enjoyed the two-part Jon Sable Olympic adventure. Of course, that one complaint kind of invalidated the whole story, but let's not be picky.
Fly number 4 is a little thing--and I do mean thing--called Champions. At least, I think it's called Champions. It might also be called Wonder World Express. Both titles appear on the cover and it has no indicia, so I'm not sure what the official title is. This book is a published fanzine--and I apologize to fanzines everywhere for giving them a bad name--written, drawn, and edited by someone named Moses. I use the terms, "written, drawn, and edited" loosely, by the way. This book has to be experienced to be disbelieved.
Written? This book wins the Watergate Witness Award for intentional obfuscation. I'll give you an example. Manjack, the Deadman, who is the main character, is returning to Earth from somewhere in the opening pages. Pages 2 and 3 show him floating on air and running through traffic and that's all they show. (I tell you this, so you won't think some essential information contained in the pictures has been denied you.) Pages 2 and 3 had the following copy. (This will be a tad long, but only a full quote can give the full feeling of the shoddy wordsmithing here.)
"The Mysterious Manjack's mindwaves, mixed and muddy, rapture ecstacies short circuit his soul being. Planet Earth! Wholly familiar yet not Manjack's home! The mystical Manjack marvels at the mysterious wonders of life's secret realities. Those things that weave mortal man's mass myths march through his mind-eye and become a weary, meandering gauzed gaze. Haunting aloneness and familiarity paralyze the Manjack. Immobilized by his accomplishment. Gracefully, he swoops through the day's traffic searchingly. Unaware--he's semi-visible to some others of the buzz hurry day. Irked by his inner need."
It's enough to make one wish he could go back in time and uncreate the alliteration. If you can figure out what the preceding paragraph means, then I worry about you. Incidentally, I quoted exactly. All the misspellings, improper grammar and nonexistent words are exactly as I found them. Searchingly? Maybe I'd better uninvent the adverb, too.
Drawn? I'm not an artist, so my critique isn't from a professional. Still, Champions is possessed of some of the worst art I've ever seen. Art so bad, it makes one want to tear his own eyes from his sockets rather than look at it.
Edited? Editing implies coherence. Champions meanders through 37 pages. It tells something like ten stories which, I think, are supposed to be interconnected, but for which the connection is never made. Perhaps--God forbid--the connections are being saved for the--God forbid!--second issue. The book literally reads like the first two to five pages of ten different stories were all thrown together without any captions saying, "To be continued" or "The End" separating them. It is one storyline after another, none of which are resolved.
Incidentally, Champions should not be confused with the old Marvel book of the same name. And that brings us to the reason I'm writing about it in my column. The whole thing is a textbook case of trademark and copyright infringement.
We start with the title, Champions. Marvel may still own the trademark on that name. If so, Moses violated Marvel's trademark simply by calling his book Champions.
The main character is named Manjack, the Deadman. (Attention DC, Deadman is your trademark, isn't it? So if the character's name is ever cover featured, you can act.) Manjack sports a costume which--but for a few cosmetic changes--is identical to the old skin-tight, face-masked costume that Dr. Strange sported in the late 60's. Having a character whose physical appearance is too similar to another can be copyright infringement. Don't believe me? When was the last time you saw Fawcett publishing a Captain Marvel story?
Next we have Marsduke the Magus. This character, a supreme sorcerer, lives in a house similar to Dr. Strange's house. So similar, in fact, that Strange's house and Marsduke's house have to have been tract houses from the same Levitationtown housing development. They are twins. Identical twins. Which is OK as Marsduke is identical to Dr. Strange, except that he doesn't have Strange's moustache. I mean identical. Same cape, same amulet, same shirt, same gloves. Marsduke goes beyond mere copyright infringement, it borders on plagiarism.
There's more. We have Spyder, an arachnid-like man who climbs up and down the sides of buildings and swings through the city. (Attention responsible parties: a cute misspelling of some other character's name doesn't make your character original.) Captain Starcross is cosmically conscious, and if you think that effect is portrayed by a close-up of the good Captain's face, blond hair flowing in the wind, over which is superimposed a starry field on a black background, you're correct.
Next is Mak Maklyn, who stole an experimental rocket suit then duplicated it to arm his troops and become Rocketman and his Rocketeers. (Hey, Pacific Comics and Dave Stevens, you might want to watch this one, too, just in case Rocketeers keep cropping up. But you have to let Marvel back in, as the Rocketeers' costumes are the same as the A.I.M. costumes, except that they have Robin's insignia patch on the shoulder.)
Had enough? Tough. There's more.
There's Ghost Tyger, a gung (sic) fu master who wears White Tiger's costume onto which both Shang Chi's yin-yang symbol and Iron Fist's flaring collar have been sewn. There's Ameri-Rican, who sports Shield's costume--Archie Comics, come on down!--and, assuming, as I do, that he's Puerto Rican, has a name that can offend the people who don't want Puerto Rico to be a state, the people who want Puerto Rico to be independent, and the people with good taste. We have Jocko Lantern, Satan's Son, whose garb, and lineage, is a wonderful replica of Damion Hellstrom's. Incidentally, Jocko Lantern's nickname is Lucifer's Lad, so maybe he's hoping to try out for the Legion of Super-Heroes. Finally, we have a character named the Blue Devil. For a change, he doesn't look like any other company's character. But his name alone is enough to infringe on DC's trademark.
Champions ends with a ten-page back-up solo Spyder story drawn by Erik Larsen (Historical aside, yes it's the same Erik Larsen. This was one of his first published stories, but everyone has to start somewhere.) It is better drawn and a little better written ("His flying fists bring shocking sleep those who's deeds defy the spirit of justice.") This story is notable, because the Spyder, who is presumably the same character who kept popping up in the first story, has a completely different secrete identity in this second story than he did in the first.
A text page promises more adventures of these and other "New Age" characters in a book called Gods of the New Age. Characters such as some unnamed character who looks like a cross between Iron Man and DC's own New God, Orion, and White Tyger, who is probably Ghost Tyger with a more honest name. We can only hope that Marvel, DC, Pacific, Archie, anyone else whose copyright or trademark is being infringed upon, and the League of Decency will slap enough cease and desist orders on it to keep Gods of the New Age. If that happens, I will consider it payment enough. I won't even ask for a finder's fee.
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