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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 02/25/2003

"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 185

Originally written as installment # 164 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 815, June 30, 1989 issue

When I first agreed to do this page for Justin and World Famous Comics, I figured what's the downside? I get to revise my old columns and make them up-to-date in case I can find someone who might be interested in publishing a collection as a book and get the older ones into. I broaden the possible exposure for the column. Like I said, what's the downside?

I forgot about the fact that I'd have to relive truly horrible stories such as The Question # 26. And believe me, that a considerable downside.


Installment # 185

Riddle me this: what's the difference between The Question # 26, "Riddles," and a bucket of manure?

The bucket.

First there was the art. Don already described the art in his "Comics Guide" in CBG # 801 as, "supremely ugly." I agree.

Don also commented on the story, which he said was good. Fortunately, I don't always have to agree with my Editor. And here, I do not agree. I didn't think the story was good, I though it, too, was "supremely ugly."

Let's start with the fact that Question # 26 was another of those retroactive continuity stories, which uses "Batman: Year One" and "Batman: Year Two" as an excuse to re-write completely everything we knew--or thought we knew--about an existing Batman character. The current Catwoman mini-series is doing this to Catwoman. Question # 26 did it to the Riddler.

According to Question # 26, the Riddler--whose real name was Edward Nashton, incidentally, he changed to Edward Nigma when he became the Riddler--is a "minor-leaguer with a gimmick" who is too much the "small-time has-been" for the Batman to bother with. Already I was bothered.

While I do not object to retroactive continuity, when it is done well; I very much mind it, when it does a disservice to an existing character. Such was done with the Riddler, here.

First, there is the name-changing bit. It was always part of the Riddler's charm, that he became obsessed with puzzles as a child, because his name was E. Nigma and adopted his obsession as a motif for crime as an adult. It was silly, but I liked it.

Yes, I know that no one in the real world has the name Nigma, let alone E. Nigma. So what? Are we going to let a little thing like reality stop us from enjoying a fun bit, when the fact that no one in the real world dresses up in grey and blue to look like a bat--bats are brown and black, by the way--and fights crime with a kid sidekick wearing green curl-up-at-the-toes pixie shoes and a red shoot-me shirt doesn't stop us from enjoying Batman?

I liked it better the original way.

What was more annoying, however, was the fact that at one point in the story, the police let Riddler go free, because the arresting officer forgot to read him his rights. I've said--on numerous occasion, so when are people going to get this right, already?--when a suspect's rights are not read to him, it does not make his arrest illegal or invalidate said arrest. It only invalidates any confession obtained. However, for the sake of argument, I'll assume some complex set of circumstances, by which the only evidence the State against the Riddler was his confession and without it they could not have prosecuted Riddler. It still wouldn't have let him go!

Those of us with long memories remember what the Riddler did in the past. Let's review some of the high points in his career.

In Batman # 171, Riddler robs the patrons of the Ox Club at gunpoint and steals the daily take out of the office safe--several counts of aggravated robbery. In Batman # 179, Riddler escapes prison, a crime in and of itself, and commits two counts each of breaking and entering and theft. In Detective # 377, Riddler again escapes prison and commits aggravated robbery three more times. In Batman # 263, Riddler escapes, puts Batman in a death trap--which is attempted murder, and commits more aggravated robberies. In Batman # 279, Riddler escapes and adds two more thefts. Batman # 317 has another escape, another aggravated robbery, and a gun smuggling. In Detective # 526, Riddler escapes again, but doesn't have a chance to do much else before Batman catches him. In Batman # 362, Riddler has another attempted murder, another aggravated robbery, and takes a bus load of passengers hostage while trying to escape--ie. a bus load of kidnapping charges. In Batman # 400, Riddler escapes, kidnaps Vicki Vale, he tries to kill Batman and Robin. I don't pretend that I've found all of Riddler's past appearances; only more than enough to make my point.

What does it all mean? First, Riddler may not be a homicidal maniac like the Joker, but he's not so "small-time" that Batman wouldn't bother with him. The Batman takes on muggers, fercryinoutloud. Are you going to tell me that he's not going to bother with some whack job who dresses up in an ugly green jump suit and tries to whack people? Second, I don't care how bad the evidence against him in some new case might be, the Riddler would never be released.

Permit me to explain how repeat offenders are treated in the real world. When they commit the crime of escape, they get a new sentence--one which must, by law, be served consecutively to any sentence they're already serving. Moreover, judges, who tend to take a dim view of persons who commit new crimes after escaping and who must appear hard on crime lest they run against George Bush for President, usually make all the sentences--the escape sentence and any sentence for any new crimes committed--consecutive to any sentence already being served and to each other. Finally, if Gotham State is like most states, it has a recidivist statute which would enhance the sentences Riddler's serving. All told, Riddler's probably serving enough consecutive sentences for several lifetimes.

So, even if the State couldn't prosecute Riddler on a new crime, he was already serving multiple sentences for all of his past crimes. Rather than release Riddler, the State would have returned him to prison to finish serving these sentences.

I suppose it's possible that none of these old stories survived the Crisis, so didn't happen. That's one possibility. It would explain why Riddler is called a "small-timer". Me, I have another possibility: all those old stories did happen . . . The Question # 26 didn't.

Now, let me turn to what really bothered me about The Question # 26. Riddler and his new-found girl friend, Sphinx Scromulski, are riding a bus into Hub City. Sphinx, with the full knowledge and cooperation of Riddler, pulls an Uzi out of her purse and announces a stickup.

When an old woman tells Sphinx to put the gun away, Sphinx quite casually, but quite brutally, kills her. That's aggravated murder while committing an aggravated robbery. In most states, it's a death penalty offense. Even in those states which don't have the death penalty; it's not very nice. So not nice, in fact, that it would get Riddler, and his new partner in crime Sphinx, another of those annoying prison sentences I was talking about earlier.

Then Sphinx gets an idea. She announces that Riddler will ask each passenger a riddle. If the passenger answers the riddle, he or she will be allowed to leave the bus--alive. If the passenger doesn't answer it, he or she will be killed. True to the plan, Riddler asks a passenger a riddle, which the passenger doesn't answer. True to her word, Sphinx kills the passenger.

At this point, the Question intervenes. They fight. Sphinx dies and Riddler is subdued. While they're waiting for the police to arrive, Riddler asks the Question, "Are you going to turn me over to the police?" Question answers, "I don't know. I should. You're guilty of abetting a killer, if not the actual murders. But it is Christmas . . . the season of charity and forgiveness . . ." So, maybe they should play by Riddler's rules. Maybe Question will ask a riddle. If Riddler answers it, he'll go free. If not . . .

I'm not trying to be coy with that last ellipsis. The story ends with Riddler asking, "Well?" and then a big red question mark. We are left to wonder what the Question does.

What the Question does? I'm to believe that Question even considered letting Riddler go? Riddler, knowing that Sphinx was going to kill people in the course of a robbery and that she was going to engage in a course of conduct which would result in the murder of two or more people, helped Sphinx do it by asking the riddles. That's two counts of aggravated murder--both of them death penalty offenses--committed by Sphinx and by the Riddler.

It doesn't matter that Riddler, himself, didn't pull the trigger. An aider and abetter who helps a murderer murder and acts with the same culpable mental state as the actual triggerman is as guilty of the murder as the principle offender. Riddler is guilty of two aggravated murders, both death penalty offenses.

And the Question was actually considering letting Riddler go, because it was the Christmas season? I guess I just don't understand these "Suggested for Mature Readers" comics. I mean I'm all for the spirit of giving and all, but give me a break!


BOB INGERSOLL, Cleveland-based and underpaid public defender, comic book collector--but apparent immature reader--and legal analyst has a confession. In my youth, I used to wish I would get super powers, so I could become a super-hero. Not any more. I didn't realize the heavy burden super-heroes have to carry; I didn't realize the complicated moral issues they have to decide. Like whether to bring a two-time aggravated-murdering death-penalty-eligible perp to justice or let him go.

Solving such conundrums could, no doubt, cause Excedrin Headache # 666.

Bob Ingersoll
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