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Law is a Ass by Bob Ingersoll
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is portrayed in comics then explains how it would really work.

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THE LAW IS A ASS for 04/03/2001
"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 89
Originally written as installment # 78 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 659, July 4, 1986 issue

Ah, the July 4 issue. How appropriate for something as American as income taxes.

Oh, and for the record, Marvel never did release that Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Elephants comic. By the time it was ready, the joke had been ridden into the ground, through the ground and out the other side of the Earth--be it China or the Indian Ocean. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle joke has suffered more overexposure than a nudist colony without sun screen and died its richly-deserved death.

That's not to say Marvel didn't print the comic. It just waited a year or so and changed the name to Power Pachyderms.


"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 89
Bob Ingersoll

It is, I'm afraid, that time of the year again. As I write these words, April 15th is, again, upon us. Lest you get the wrong idea, I do not dread the ides of April plus two, because it is the anniversary of the Titanic. Rather it is because, as the second story in Action # 581 so annoyingly reminded us, it's income tax time. (Really, people, I read comics as a form of escape from my problems. I don't want to see Superman suffering the same 1040 hassles that I have.)

However, the fact that Superman has to fill out a tax return is interesting in itself. It means that the IRS has finally wised up and Superman is a complete idiot.

What do I mean? Well there's this old story called "Superman Owes a Billion Dollars!" from Superman # 148. We're talking the October 1961 issue here, and I want to thank Randy Freeman of Riverside, California for sending me a copy. I remembered the story from twenty-five years ago, and always wanted to do a column on it. But I couldn't remember where in my collection to find it. Now, at last, I can do to the IRS what they've been doing to me for years!

In the story, IRS agent, Rupert Brand, determines, that Superman is a tax evader. For years Superman had turned coal into diamonds, found lost treasures, and collected rewards for capturing criminals, all of which was income to him for which he would owe taxes. This is true. The IRS defines income as "Any accretion to wealth however acquired," a definition which includes any of the above described money making schemes.

And, while Brand knows that Superman does not keep any of these riches but donates all of it to charities, he also knows the tax code limits the amount of one's income which can be deducted as a charitable contribution. So, even though Superman gave all of his income to charity, he would still have some taxable income on which he would owe taxes. (Yes, Randy, at least that part of the story was correct; there is a upper limit on monies one can claim as charitable deductions.)

Anyway Brand calculates that Superman owes one billion dollars in back taxes (A conveniently even number that. Why not one billion, three hundred fifty-six million four hundred thirty-seven thousand eighty-eight dollars and twelve cents? I wonder if there were any rounding errors in the calculations?) Then Brand gives Superman twenty-four hours to pay up or be arrested for tax evasion. Superman is in trouble. Tax evasion got bigger men than him; Al Capone for one. But I had a problem with that part of the story, too.

Twenty-four hours?

The IRS doesn't demand payment in twenty-four hours. It sets up payment plans with tax delinquents--at least those it doesn't sent to jail--and lets them pay off the delinquencies over a matter of time. Usually years. It doesn't demand that the money be in its coffers by noon tomorrow.

Twenty-four hours?

Where does Brand think Superman will come up with that much money so fast, while avoiding the problem that whatever money he finds or creates to pay his 1961 income tax will be taxable income for 1962? Superman could single handedly eliminate the national debt on his taxes each year.

The story ends, after Superman's several attempts to raise the money result, due to several plot gimmicks, in failure, when Brand's boss rules that Superman doesn't owe any taxes because of the dependents clause. To quote the IRS chief, "Superman has for years supported billions of needy people with clothing, housing, food, and protective service! Indeed, the whole world is dependent on him." So, if Superman were to deduct from his income the dependency allowances for these billions of people he supports, he wouldn't have any taxable income left.

Ah, virtue is preserved. Superman isn't a tax evader, after all. Of course, you don't want to know what he really is. I mean, the only way Superman could have gotten Brand's boss to ignore the IRS regulations and permit him to deduct the entire population of the world as dependents, is if Superman bribed the man.

You see, the Internal Revenue regulations specifically limit dependents to persons for whom the taxpayer has contributed more than fifty per cent of his/her yearly support. As philanthropic as Superman was, I doubt that he contributed more than fifty per cent of the support to every needy person in the world. But, even if he did, these needy persons still aren't dependents.

The tax regs also limit dependents to citizens or residents of the United States who are related to the taxpayer either by consanguinity or marriage and who are not more than two generations removed, or who were a member of the taxpayer's household for the entire year. As Superman is the unmarried last survivor of a distant planet, he has no relations by blood or marriage living in the USA or in his household. In short, Superman has no dependents whatsoever, except for himself.

Those being the state of the regs, I don't see how Brand's boss could have mis-interpreted them and, erroneously, thought Superman could deduct the entire world as dependents. For the record he couldn't. He couldn't deduct any dependents.

So, Superman owes a bundle!

I'm glad to see that the IRS has finally seen through Superman's duplicity and is collecting its due.

I'm sorry to see, however, that Superman hasn't learned from his mistakes. If he wants to avoid taxes, all he has to do is stop acquiring income. Find no more treasure, make no more diamonds, accept no more rewards but have them donated in his name to charities. In that way Superman would have no income. And if Superman has no income, he won't have to pay taxes.

Now, if Superman wants to keep doing all those income producing things to fund charities, he could manage. He would have to set up a not-for-profit foundation, the purpose of which was to make philanthropic donations to various other organizations. Then he could appoint himself as the agent for the foundation and say that anytime he did something that produced income--such as squeezing coal into diamonds--he was acting as the foundation's agent. It wouldn't be Superman's money, then, it would be the foundation's And as it was a not-for-profit organization, it wouldn't owe any taxes. Again, Superman would have no income and would have to pay no taxes.

He'll have no income, that is, unless Felicity Smoak's notion in Firestorm # 48, that a super hero is paid with adulation and fame, is adopted.

Remember the Felicity Smoak/Firestorm malpractice suit that's been hanging around for awhile over in the pages of Firestorm? Well, they finally resolved that little piece of nonsense. And, true to form, they resolved it as stupidly as they started it.

Ms. Smoak sued Firestorm for malpractice, because while he was fighting someone--I think it was Bazooka Joan, but, as I'm making every effort to forget her, I'm not sure--he turned the World Trade Center's roof into a lodestone. The resulting magnetism erased all of the floppy disks in Ms. Smoak's office and her computer software company was ruined. So Felicity sued Firestorm for malpractice, claiming he was a professional hero, because he was paid in fame, and that his incompetence caused her financial harm.

Not only is the paid by fame concept stupid, it shows an absolute ignorance of the law of malpractice. Doesn't anybody bother to look words like malpractice up in a dictionary, before they toss them around in year long subplots?

As the answer appears to be, "No," I will now read the definition of malpractice from Ballentine's Law Dictionary 3rd edition.

There, I've read the definition. We can discuss the problems with the story. What do you mean I've got to include the definition in the column, so that you can read it too? Oh, all right, but picky, picky, picky.

"The violation of a professional duty to act with reasonable care and in good faith without fraud or collusion." Please note with care the phrase, "professional duty," that is a duty incurred while one is laboring in his profession and why it's called the professional duty and not the Howdy duty. It is a duty that professionals owe to persons who seek their professional help. It is not a duty owed to strangers.

For example: let's assume that some doctor creates a new treatment for prickly heat which he markets over the counter. Let's further assume that Felicity Smoak buys the product, applies it to her body and promptly discovers that, due to an allergic reaction, her nose falls off. Can she sue the doctor for malpractice?

I hope you all said no.

Felicity did not enter into any professional relationship with the doctor, so he owed no professional duty of care to her. His actions did not violate his professional duty and were not malpractice.

Now, before those of you with untested prickly heat remedies want to foist them upon the unsuspecting public or those of you with the power of molecular transmutation want to turn major skyscrapers into natural magnets, be warned; I did not say that what the doctor did or what Firestorm did wasn't actionable. I only said it wasn't malpractice.

All men owe a duty of care not to inflict foreseeable or unnecessary harm onto others. An accidental breach of this duty of care results in a tort action for negligence. An intentional breach results in Intentional Infliction of Physical Harm? Look, don't jump on me, that's what the law books call the tort. I didn't name it.

What Firestorm did was a negligent breach of his duty of care not to use his powers carelessly and harm other people. It was actionable, it just wasn't malpractice. If someone had just done a little research and called the suit a negligence suit, I wouldn't have had any problem with the story.

Well, almost no problems. There's still Moonbow to contend with. Remember the new villain/hero from the same issue of Firestorm? Just what the comic world needs, another archer character with gimmick arrows. Did we have a vacancy, because the original Green Arrow died in the Crisis? Well at least this archer hero/villain had an original M.O. to counter the fact that her archer power was rather derivative.

She robs from the rich and gives to the poor.


BOB INGERSOLL, comic reader, attorney, and CBG legal analyst has three more entries for the JUST WHAT WE DON'T NEED ANOTHER ONE OF DERBY: Gophers, Elephants, and Kangaroos. First we had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Then we had the Radioactive Black Belt Adolescent Hamsters. Now Graphix Ltd. is adding the Mildly Microwaved Pre-Pubescent Kung Fu Gophers, Marvel is coming out with the Adult Thermonuclear Samuari Elephants, and Blackthorn is going to release (I swear I'm not making this up) Pre-Teen Dirty Gene Karate Kangaroos.

Enough already! I got the joke the first time. And I didn't like it then.

I first saw the phrase "Teenage mutant ninja" in the October 14, 1983 Everett True strip. I wish I had invested in it. So did Tony Isabella when he wrote the phrase, "Teenage mutant ninja." Little did either of us know we were seeing the birth of a growth industry?

<< 03/27/2001 | 04/03/2001 | 04/10/2001 >>

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