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THE LAW IS A ASS for 07/31/2001
"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 106
Originally written as installment # 95 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 682, December 12, 1986 issue
As anyone who didn't have his head buried in the sand could tell you, the biggest news of 1986 wasn't the congressional election which took place and whether or not the Democrats would retain control of Congress. It was the revamping of Superman.
The revamping process entailed, among other things, modifying Superman's origin, lessening his powers, restarting the numbering on the Superman comic from 1, and--Horror of horrors!--making Clark Kent less of a loser by making him more of a Yuppie--even though some complained that this last step was self-defeating.
Turning Superman into the new media darling, however, didn't make him immune from "The Law Is a Ass." In fact, it didn't take longer than the first story for the "New Superman" to find his way into my tender mercies.
Some people have no sense of propriety.
"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 106
After all, it is an election year. The Equal Time Doctrine is in full effect. So, because last column I dissected some "Old Superman" stories, equal time demands that I blast the legal gaffs of the present regime. To wit: Superman, who is, to use his own words in Superman # 1, "a duly deputized special operative of the Metropolis Police Force," committing Tampering With Evidence, Failure to Report Crime, Dereliction of Duty, and anything else I can think of before I'm finished.
Here's the situation: Superman is looking for the space capsule, which brought him from Krypton to Earth. Someone stole it from Ma and Pa Kent's farm. Superman finds it in a lead-lined laboratory. He also finds a really big problem.
This laboratory is just chock full of Superman facts; height, weight, photographs, his predilection for Reese's Pieces, and other information proving the lab's owner knew Superman is an E.T.--a fact which was not generally known under the "New Superman" mythos and which Superman doesn't want generally known. The trouble is there's also a body--dead for some six weeks now (neck snapped by some enormously powerful force)--and a large vat of acid with fragments of human bones in it. What Superman has, aside from an odor sure to make him regret his super sense of smell, is a homicide.
As a special operative of the police, Superman is duty-bound to report this homicide to the local authorities. Actually, he'd be duty-bound to report the crime, even if he were only a civilian. Superman's being a cop just makes what follows worse.
Superman is in a quandary. He doesn't want people poking around the lab and finding out about his alien origins. He doesn't know what to do.
So he hides the evidence.
He flies the entire lab--body, acid vat, clues, and all--into outer space, until he's ready to turn it over to the police. Superman figures that everything will be all right, because "the near-perfect vacuum of space will preserve all the clues."
Sorry, Supes, it doesn't work that way. For his own personal reasons, Superman has broken the law. Failure To Report a Crime, it's Section 2921.22 of the Ohio Revised Code. I don't know what section of the Metropolis Penal Code we're talking about, because I don't even know what state Metropolis is in--sometimes I wish DC would stop being coy and just call "Metropolis" "New York"--nevertheless, I guarantee, it's also a crime in Metropolis.
I know Superman says he'll tell the police later, but I've read 2921.22. It says "No person, knowing that a felony has been or is being committed, shall knowingly fail to report such information to law enforcement authorities." It doesn't say anything about getting to withhold the information, until it's more convenient to release it.
Those of you who enjoy giving Adrian Chase work by figuring out technicalities for big time crooks to get off on, might argue that Superman can't be guilty of this crime, because he's a special deputy. As soon as he found the body, he had also informed a law enforcement authority--himself. Nice try.
The law is to insure that crimes are reported as soon as possible so they can be investigated as soon as possible, not to let those inconvenienced avoid investigation, by putting them into orbit. On the other hand, I know some cops who would rather book evidence onto the space shuttle than have to deal with the Fill-it-out-in-triplicate paperwork the average criminal investigation requires. But I digress.
What was even more irksome about Superman's actions was that he also committed the crime of Tampering With Evidence, by placing the crime scene into space, where the near perfect vacuum wouldn't preserve the clues but would destroy most of the clues. I know that Superman said the vacuum would preserve the clues. He was wrong.
Jor-El gave Superman all the knowledge of Krypton. As Jor-El was Krypton's foremost scientist, I presumed he included all of Krypton's advanced scientific knowledge with everything else. So I've got to wonder, why Superman has less scientific knowledge than Harlan Ellison, who called me to point out a few of Superman's scientific blunders
In the first place, there's that vat of acid. Liquids boil away in a vacuum. After a few hours in space, the vat of acid would be a vat of empty. That's one clue the police will never see. Then there's what would happen to the body . . .
Harlan reminded me about autopsy tests, that would be affected by putting a corpse in a zero gravity vacuum. To be sure, I double-checked them with our County Coroner. (Boy, didn't I feel foolish asking what would happen to a six-week dead corpse, if Superman put it into outer space! I can imagine the problems I'll have, the next time I try to cross-examine him.)
Many of the tests used to determine time of death--cooling of the body, postmortem lividity, rigor mortis--would be useless on a corpse that's been in room temperature for six weeks. The decomposition of the body, the discoloration of the skin, the swelling caused by the formation of gases in the GI tract and tissues, the liquefaction of the organs, the wet peeling skin--all of these factors will defeat studying such normal factors as rigor and lividity. Still, the body could offer some useful information to a coroner, provided there is a body to study.
As I stated earlier, during decomposition the digestive enzymes release gases into the GI tract and tissues. It is these gases which produce the unpleasant odors associated with decomposing corpses. Now let's leave the body for a moment--considering its condition not a bad idea--and go to Eighth Grade Earth Sciences class. (If you didn't take Earth Sciences, then faithfully watching Mr. Wizard's World will suffice.) Remember when the teacher--or Mr. Wizard--put a partially inflated balloon into the vacuum chamber and pumped the air out? What happened? The balloon exploded. That's because, as the teacher always put it, "Nature abhors a vacuum." (That must be why the great outdoors is so messy. Nature won't use a Hoover.)
Gases in a vacuum expand outward with great force, because they're trying to fill that vacuum. If there is sufficient gas and insufficient resistance, such as with the balloon in a vacuum where the only resistence is the thin rubber of the balloon's skin, the gas will expand with enough force to burst whatever is containing it. That same expansion will occur with the gases in our corpse. After six weeks of decomposition, the liquified organs and peeling skin will offer little resistance to the gasses' expansion. The gases will burst out of the body. The entire body could explode. If there is enough gas, the explosion will be so forceful as to damage the bones.
When--and if--Superman finally turns the body over to the Coroner's Office, he'll give them a mess of exploded organs and broken bones which will be useless for any autopsy. The doctor won't be able to establish any cause of death. He won't be sure that the broken neck didn't break in the explosion.
And don't tell me Superman can establish the cause and time of death for them. He guessed the body had been dead for six weeks (How did he do that, by counting the rings?), but his opinion won't count for much.
In this same story Superman said that he had been tracking his stolen rocket for three months. Later he told Lois Lane that he learned he was from Krypton (a fact he learned the same day he discovered the rocket was missing) a few weeks ago. With a time sense like that--where a few weeks is the same as three months--Superman can't be sure the guy wasn't dead for years.
BOB INGERSOLL, Cleveland lawyer and CBG columnist wanted to point out, Harlan didn't help me with that part about the acid vat. I figured that out myself. Gee, that means Superman doesn't even have the scientific knowledge of an Eighth Grade Earth Sciences graduate, either.
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