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THE LAW IS A ASS for 10/31/2000
"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 67
Originally written as installment # 56 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 603, June 7, 1985 issue
Not much to say. I got mail. I answered it. Life's complicated enough--especially in an election year --without my cluttering it up with lots of explanations.
"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 37
I'm often asked, how do I decide what to write about every week? (Okay! I've never been asked that, but I had to start the column with something.) Usually, it's simple. I read the week's comics, and when I see something to write about; I write about it. Then, every once in a while, I'll throw in a specialty column, like my last installment about famous comic book copyright infringement suits, or this week's fan mail column.
Why another specialty column so soon? Two words: The Flash. As in: Did you really want to read another column about The Flash's murder, this week?
The ever present danger of writing a column of criticism and catching others in their mistakes is that your readers are hoping to catch you in one yourself. That way those others get to write in and say, "Gotcha!" That's what Rob Means of Washington, D.C. did. Rob pointed out a recent column, in which I answered the question do Superman and other comic book aliens have any rights under the Constitution? I answered that it depended on whether they were citizens. As Rob went on to point out, the Constitution does not protect the rights of citizens but of people, after all, if it only protected citizens then every unnaturalized immigrant would have no rights.
Well, Rob, you did catch me in a mistake. Not one of law, mind you, but one of imprecise writing. If you reread the passage in question you will see that I said it would depend on if they're citizens, because citizens were recognized as people. What I was saying in my column, although not as well as I should have, is that extra-terrestrials will have rights, if they are recognized as being people, and that citizenship is one way that said recognition can be accomplished. Citizenship, of course, is not the only way that an ET can be deemed a person, but it's convenient.
I hope that settles that question.
Or almost settles it. L.G. Dugais of Woodside N.Y. felt that I answered the same question too literally, and that I should have speculated on how the law of Earth-1 or Earth Marvel might change to accommodate beings such as Superman. Two points in response. The reason that I answered that question literally, as I answer all questions literally, is that the stated purpose of this column (well, the one other than making me some money) is to apply comic book situations to the law of the so-called real world, to see if the portrayal is accurate. This is done, in part, to give explanations of the law and how it really to the lay readers of this column. For this reason, I can't make up speculative law, but must adhere to the real law. If I make it up, I'm not telling you how the real-world law works.
The second point is that my printed answer was that a court would have to hold a hearing or some other legal proceeding to determine whether the ET is a person and thus entitled to any rights. And, L.G., wasn't that speculation? Unless I've missed the most important news story of our time, there haven't been any reports in any paper not sold in supermarkets checkout lanes of any contact with intelligent life forms from other worlds. So, how could my answer have been anything but speculation as to how this earth, or by extension Earth-1, would handle the situation?
L.G. also asked me question concerning Earth-2's law making it illegal to unmask super heroes. He wanted me to comment on what Superman would do to Lois Lane, if she did unmask him, and what the punishment would be for her crime. And he wanted me to speculate.
Okay. Here goes. If Lois did learn and reveal Superman's identity, she would be in violation of the law. Yes, I know that the law prohibits unmasking a hero and Superman doesn't wear a mask. Still, the obvious intent of the law is to prevent the revealing of a hero's secret identity and I speculate that no court would interpret the law so narrowly as to forbid only pulling off a piece of costume. Second, I speculate that Superman would turn Lois over to the Feds for her heinous breach of the peace; the Feds, because the law in question was stated to be a federal law. Finally, as to the penalty, well that would depend on what penalty was mandated in the statute. But, as I was asked to speculate, I'll guess that the penalty created was drawing and quartering, tarring and feathering, pressing, stoning, and reading the Congressional Record, but not necessarily in that order. However, the penalty could not be forced readings of Prez. The Constitution doesn't allow cruel and unusual punishment.
Moving adroitly I'll slip right to Ken Hanh of Auburn, N.Y. who said he finally enjoyed one of my columns, and Terry Cannon of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who told me that I must be getting popular in his neck of the woods, as for the last two months I have not been on the Oklahoma City Comics Club dart board. Gee, thanks guys.
Thanks also, only this time I'm sure, to Susan Lattanzio of Rockwell, Connecticut and her nice comments.
Nicholas Nahat from Detroit, Michigan sent me a letter with seven questions. He wanted to know what the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services is going to do about all the Asgardians stuck in New York since the Rainbow Bridge got shattered. Panic!
Actually, I think the Asgardians are trying to hide their presence, so I'm not sure INS knows about them. If, they ever find out, INS will either have to give them green cards or deport them. I think the former is the more likely. Given the help that the Asgardians have provided earth with, deportation might prove to be an unpopular choice. And I understand that Baldar is working on his curve ball to guarantee his being allowed to stay.
Nick wanted to know what system of law the frontier territories in Journey operated under. The American legal system of the early eighteen hundreds was one composed of common law derived from British common law; common law being that law created by the courts in its decisions as opposed to statutory law created by legislatures. None of the law you see in Journey is valid any longer. I believe that every state in the union, with the exception of Louisiana, has switched from common law to statutory law. To a large extent, the common law was similar to our own law as both were, ultimately, derived from the Magna Carta. But please don't ask me to outline the intricacies of the old common law, I don't really know all of them myself. And, if Wolverine MacAllister wanders too far north from his Michigan territory, ending up in French Canada, he would operate under French law and the Napoleonic Code. And please, really don't ask me about that. When it comes to knowledge of things Napoleonic, I'm a little short.
Nick asked me about the legal status of Professor X's school vis-a-vis its academic standards. Each state sets its own criterion as to what standards must be reached, before it will accredit a school, either public or private. As Professor X's school is still running, I must assume that he meets the minimum New York accreditation standards. But so do the New York City schools, so how hard can that be?
Still, how Charles manages this with only two teachers--himself and a ballet instructor--and a class room labeled "The Danger Room" is beyond me. I suspect that Xavier isn't above using his mutant powers to exert a little mind control on the state accreditation board at review time. After all, that's cheaper than a bribe.
I honestly don't know if Cloak and Dagger could escape being sued for curing someone of his drug addiction under a good Samaritan law, Nick. Deprogrammers haven't been able to escape criminal or civil liability for kidnaping under the same laws, so it is possible that neither could Cloak and Dagger. Cloak and Dagger could escape suit another way, however. They don't have any money, so who's going to sue them in the first place?
Nick asked if unmasking a super hero is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment? No. The Fourth Amendment protection against unusual searches and seizures would not apply to someone unmasking a hero or a villain. Masked bank robbers on our Earth are unmasked, when they're caught. Such an action is deemed a reasonable search by the court. However, while it may not be unconstitutional, it is illegal and is punishable by drawing and quartering, tarring and feathering...
Nick, challenged my position that staking vampires isn't murder, because they aren't alive. I stand by my previously stated position. I don't care what Marvel Universe # 3 said, in a theory derived from Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, about vampirism being a disease whose supernatural origin is unknown. I go by the classic myth. Vampires first die then return to some form of animation. But they are not alive. They already died. So it isn't murder to kill a vampire.
Finally, Nick, I can't say if it's illegal for Hourman to eat Miraclo Pills, because they were never approved by the FDA. Clearly, it would be illegal for him to sell the pills, without FDA approval, and I presume it is equally illegal for him to eat them himself without their permission --although I am not sure what position the FDA takes on self-created and self-ingested pills. However, how do you or I or anyone know that Hourman never got FDA approval for the pills? Yes, I know we've never seen the story wherein Rex Tyler doggedly filled out the triplicated paperwork and exposed himself to the dangers of dealing with the federal bureaucracy to get that permission; but consider yourself lucky that you haven't. Do you have any idea how boring that story would be? Nancy and Sluggo would seem Nobel Prize material by comparison. Let's just assume DC took mercy on us and didn't show us the story, but that it happened off-panel and Hourman can pop all the Miraclo he wants.
Our next letter is from Paul Kusnerik of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and it, too, is a multi-questioned letter. So, again, onward!
A while back Paul asked me if Luke Cage's name change was legal. I said at the time, it wouldn't be if Cage, then an escaped convict, had changed it in order to hide. That, Paul, is not what Cage did. While he was a fugitive from the chain gang he did use the name Luke Cage, but that was never his legal name, only an alias under which he hid. After Cage was cleared, then he legally changed his name to Luke Cage as a way to symbolize that the man he was had died in prison. So, while he may have taken the name to hide, he wasn't hiding when he changed it, and the change was perfectly legal. Paul's next question refers me to a recent Dick Tracy comic strip in which a shoddily constructed Paw Paw Patch Doll is called criminally dangerous; the doll in question literally self destructed in Honey Moon's hands and she cut herself on the wire framework. Paul wanted to know what was meant by the phrase "criminally dangerous."
When the term is used in reference to a commercial product, it means that the product was manufactured so poorly that the manufacturer knows that under ordinary use it will prove defective and that the defects are so dangerous that they are likely to cause serious harm or even death to the unwary user. In such a case, a manufacturer can have criminal charges leveled against him and be prosecuted for valuing profits over lives and putting such a dangerous object into the stream of commerce. An example: The Johnny Pyromaniac Do-It-Yourself Molotov Cocktail Set. Not an example: The Cabbage Patch Kid which causes Daddy to shoot Mommy after she spends his raise to buy every accessory and new wardrobe available for Michael Hucklebee. While the disastrous results of each may be equally foreseeable, Cabbage Patch Kids aren't defective, just nauseating.
Paul wanted to know what legal liabilities Professor X would have had for his "death" in X- Men # 42. Not many. After he was declared dead, Professor X's estate would have been liquidated, all his outstanding debts and taxes would have been paid, then the remaining proceeds would have been distributed to his heirs. From that point on, X would have been earning no income and conducting no business. He would have accrued no additional taxes or debts, thus would have no real liabilities to anyone. The only real problem Professor X would have had was convincing people he was alive again and getting his property back. Or, considering his personality back then (remember this is before we found out that he had a torrid love affair with Moira MacTaggert and had fathered an illegitimate child with yet another woman), maybe his problem would have been convincing people he had ever been alive in the first place.
To answer your fourth question, Paul; no Dracula doesn't have any rights. To quote Dr. McCoy, "He's dead, Jim."
I've already answered your fifth question, Paul, it's still not illegal to kill Dracula. There seems to be a lot of concern about vampires among my readers. Is there some sort of undead plague that I don't know about? (Not counting MTV, of course. I know about that one.)
And no, no one has ever answered my question about diplomatic immunity. I still don't know how it works.
Two people responded to my request for information regarding any local laws designed to control the content or sale of comics books. Cheryl Ann Klepper now of Delaware, Ohio, but formerly of Pennsylvania, and Bruce Vail of Aberdeen, Mississippi supplied me with copies of Pennsylvania and Mississippi statutes. I'll leave it to you to figure out which one sent me which statute. Both of the forwarded statutes dealing with obscenity. Guess what? They make it illegal to sell obscene material including obscene comics books. What neither statute makes clear is, what is an obscene comic book? Are we talking Sally Forth here or something really obscene like Secret Wars?
Well, that's it for now. Be here next time when I promise (or threaten depending on how you look at it) a no-holds-barred column on the concluding chapters in the current Flash story. Those of you who asked, "What current Flash story?" have to stay after class. You've got a lot of catching up to do.
" Are we off? Good! That ought to hold the little b..."
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