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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 10/17/2000
"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 65
Originally written as installment # 54 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 600, May 17, 1985 issue

I don't know which is more unfortunate: that this wasn't the first time I wrote about this particular topic of that it was far from the last time I wrote about it. Probably the latter. That they've run this particular immorality play before is frustrating. That they keep on running it borders on irresponsible.

What am I talking about? What immorality play has me so piqued? Oh, no, this is just the pre-credits teaser. To get the answer, you'll have to read ...


"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 65
Bob Ingersoll

You know, fifteen or twenty years ago, they wouldn't have been able to print Amazing Spider-Man # 265. And, I'm not sure that would have been so bad.

It's not that I didn't like the comic. For the most part, I did. I have, in fact, found all the issues of Amazing Spider-Man by DeFalco, Frenz, and Rubinstein to be well executed. Issue 265 was no exception. It was well executed, and I liked it, again up to a point.

Then, at that point, it all fell apart.

The point being the end of the story, the moment when Spider-Man let the bad guy go!

But let's backtrack from the end of the story to those parts I liked more. Not so much because those were the parts I liked, but, because you can't fully understand my rancor at the issue, if you don't have the set-up. So, like a dutiful busser at a five-star bistro here's the set-up. (And, remember, when it's time to show your gratitude, fifteen percent is customary.)

Spider-Man had captured the Black Fox, an international jewel thief and cat burglar, who is no relation the Black Cat, another cat burglar who's been running around Amazing Spider-Man recently and who also dresses in the latest from the Johnny Cash Clashes With PETA Collection. The Fox schmoozes Spider-Man with some farrago about having a wife and four kids in Europe who he hasn't seen in years, because his work has kept them apart, and who he'll never see again, because at his age he won't survive another prison term. Then Spider-Man, who had been fighting with Aunt May so was having family problems of his own, takes pity on the old felon, buys this cock-and-bull and helps the Fox escape.

Sure, Spider-Man lifted the jewels Fox had stolen out of Fox's pocket, so that the thief didn't profit from his latest caper. Sure, Spidey gave those jewels to Silver Sable, so that she could return them to their rightful owner. Sure, the ending made for an Eisneresque change of pace from the usual super-hero fare, when Spidey decided family was important and reconciled with Aunt May. And, no, Spider-Man didn't act out of character. He has always been a compassionate man, and acted compassionately here. Still, there are some times when compassion isn't appropriate. Spider-Man helped an unrepentant international jewel thief escape, so the man won't punished for his crimes.

That bothered me just a tad.

For one thing: it's illegal. Helping known felons escape. The cops could nail Spidey on an obstructing justice count without even pestering Sam Girard to give up his relentless pursuit of Richard Kimble for a week.

Spidey's done this sort of thing before, too. Back in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man # 97, Spidey helped Timothy Quail escape, despite Quail's self-confessed involvement in several illegal activities. Back then Spider-Man had something of an excuse. Quail was an honest man who only planned the crimes, because of duress. Well, a kind of duress. Some gangster threatened to kill Quail, if he didn't help, and Quail, rather than go to the police for help, caved in to this pressure. I didn't think much of Quail's excuse or Spidey's letting him go. In fact, my published chastisement of Spider-Man for obstructing justice can be found in Installment 53 of the past columns archive.

I thought even less of Spider-Man's reason this time around, because this time Spider-Man had no excuse. The Fox wasn't a basically honest man acting under duress. He was a career second-story man. He stole jewels, because he was greedy. He wanted money. He wanted the good life. And he didn't think becoming Mr. Goodwrench was the best means toward his ends. So, he stole jewels.

Now Fox is worried that he'll die in jail and never see his family again. Tough! Boo freakin' hoo. Still, Spidey lets the Fox go, because the Fox is such a good family man. And, we're supposed to feel good about that?

Buffalo bagels!

As the saying goes, "Do the crime and do the time." I have no sympathy for the Fox. This isn't a first offender who made a mistake and deserves probation. This isn't even someone forced into crime by circumstances beyond his control. This is a career criminal who steals because he likes it, likes the lifestyle it affords him, and who should accept the responsibility for his actions and pay the price for his crimes.

Surprising talk for a bleeding heart public defender, huh? I can't help it. Ever since my role model, Joyce Davenport from Hill Street Blues, switched sides and became a D.A., I've become even harder than Talking Barbie found math to be.

Nor, was I moved by the fact that the Fox is the latest in that classic literary classification, the Lovable Rogue. You know the type, the dashing, dapper thief or con man who never uses a gun, never hurts anyone, and dazzles his victims with his charms. This literary phenomenon finds its roots in characters like Raffles and Arsene Lupin, who I don't think ever wore anything less than formal dress tails in their lives. It has continued up through the years to Alexander Mundy and Remington Steele. There is, however, a basic difference between these types and Fox. The classic lovable rogue, either because he's reformed or because he wants to avoid capture himself or for whatever reason, frequently helps capture other criminals. He solves crimes and turns the culprits over to the law.

The Fox lacks this ennobling trait. He's in it for the money; first, last, and always. He's a thief who steals without ever reforming and then whines, when he's caught, because he doesn't want to go to prison, where they don't serve wine.

I was not moved by the Fox's predicament in the slightest. Let him rot in prison!

I found Spider-Man's helping the Fox escape the law totally unconscionable. Fox's situation wasn't exactly conducive to sympathy. But if he was to be given a break, that was for the judicial system--either through the police not charging him or the judge giving him probation--not Spider-Man to decide.

I also found Spider-Man to be something of a hypocrite. In Marvel Team-Up # 171, Spidey took Daredevil to task for making a deal with the Kingpin in order to insure that a murderer would confess and that an innocent boy would be acquitted of a murder, he didn't commit. Why is it bad for DD to bend the law and deal with Kingpin in order to see that justice is done and the right result reached, while it's OK for Spidey to bend the law and let a thief escape justice entirely? Frankly, I can't answer this question. Any takers?

As I said at the beginning of this column they might not have been able to print this story years ago. Before the Comics Code Authority relaxed its standards, they took rather a dim view of stories in which the criminal got away with his crime. Yes, the Fox didn't get away with his latest crime, but he did get away with all his other ones. The old Comics Code would have blanched at Spider-Man's letting the Fox escape. It would have insisted that the Fox pay for his crimes. I'm not so sure that the old Comics Code was wrong here.

This sort of change of pace sets a bad precedent. Basically, it says that one need not accept the responsibility for his or her actions. It encourages the irresponsible attitude that one can do whatever one likes without worrying about the consequences. Such an attitude is detrimental to a civilized society.


Speaking of bad examples, why does Captain Hunter, the person in Atari Force who's trying to track down the protagonists, have to be psychotic? Why does he have to be a bully, who was dismissed from the force for "excessive zeal"--read excessive violence--and shows no signs of having learned from his past mistakes, so, after being reinstated, is just as violent as before? Why couldn't Hunter have been a tenacious cop, who is tracking down a group which stole a valuable space ship? Why couldn't he have been a positive representation of a police officer instead of someone whose excesses would offend even Dirty Harry? Lieutenant Gerard, who I mentioned earlier, managed to be a positive role model policeman despite being the "bad guy" or antagonist in The Fugitive. Hell even Inspector Javert, the poster boy of obsessive, blind-spot police pursuit, was a good and decent man. Is this paradigm now unworkable?

Is there some reason why we're manipulated into wanting the Fox to escape the police in Amazing Spider-Man and into hating the police in Atari Force? Is there some reason why we're not supposed to root for the police anymore? Is there some reason why I've gotten so preachy all of a sudden?

To all three: I hope not.


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