The Keene Act And You
November 30, 2010 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Is Batman a State Actor? Could you pass a Mutant Registation Act? Law And The Multiverse considers legal matters in a world of capes, supes, and alternate dimensions. (via Mefiprojects)
posted by The Whelk (32 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
This is a book deal waiting to happen.

In fact, this is a comic book script waiting to happen.
posted by empath at 3:00 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hunt the Dark Knight!
posted by Artw at 3:04 PM on November 30, 2010

Oh, this is delightful. I am fascinated by the nuts and bolts of the legal system, and I also enjoy a good superhero story. Great idea. You should do an entry on whether or not Batman and his ilk can or should be required to testify under their legal names in court when the bad guys they apprehend are prosecuted, thereby compromising their secret identities.
posted by Gator at 3:07 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

But what about superheroes like Batman who work in close cooperation with the police? Could they fairly be described as state actors, thus triggering a whole spate of Constitutional protections? I think the answer may be yes.

Wasn't this bloodthirsty desire for "justice" what Alan Moore was satirizing in Watchmen? It's all just a fantasy, but what does this fantasy say about us?
posted by KokuRyu at 3:09 PM on November 30, 2010

Yeah, this is Watchman stuff here....
posted by HuronBob at 3:13 PM on November 30, 2010

It's all just a fantasy, but what does this fantasy say about us?

That we all desire to punch others in the face without being punched in the face in return.
posted by GuyZero at 3:13 PM on November 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

ouch... I guess you knew that...

/removes idiot hat... damn...stuck...
posted by HuronBob at 3:14 PM on November 30, 2010

This is awesome. Is x-ray vision an illegal search?
posted by sevenyearlurk at 3:15 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is awesome. I'd love to see a legal essay in this light on the Johnson County War, where a team of hired killers went after "cattle rustlers," and were stopped by a sheriff's posse, and then rescued by the U.S. Army. It's like one of those Marvel crossover annuals come to life.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:16 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't need your laws. I'm the Goddamn Batman.

To be honest, who isn't Batman, these days? (via)
posted by filthy light thief at 3:21 PM on November 30, 2010

To be honest, who isn't Batman, these days?

Pretty much nobody, if you live in Batman City.

posted by Gator at 3:23 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is x-ray vision an illegal search?

There was a Rick Veitch Question miniseries a few years back wherein The Question came to Metropolis and foiled Luthor's plan to kill Superman; a plan Superman had no idea was going down. Why not? Luthor's goons did their dealings in bathrooms stalls and bedrooms with closed shutters, knowing that Superman would be too much of a boy scout to use his x-ray vision to violate privacy.

The Question, on the other hand, had no problems with kicking in bathroom doors and beating the crap out of people he found there.
posted by griphus at 3:29 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Reminds me of this post from January: Simulated U.S. Government Agency Responses to Vampire-Americans.

Apart from academic thought experiments, another thing that tackles this surprisingly well is Comedy Central's recent show Ugly Americans, which tosses dozens of different kinds of beasties into modern-day New York and follows one human social worker from the Department of Integration who has to get them settled as new American citizens. For instance:

Social Services Shutdown
Vampire Conversions
Vampire Processing Center
posted by Rhaomi at 3:33 PM on November 30, 2010

I love The Question.
posted by josher71 at 3:42 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

In other news, Why Are There So Few Black Supervillians?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:42 PM on November 30, 2010

The excellent Astro City did a story about this a few years ago.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 3:43 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why no black supervillains? Because Moses Magnum stole all the badassness there was available back in the 70s, leaving you white punk ass fools to fight over the supervillain scraps. Doctor Doom? Please. Step off, muthafucka.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:59 PM on November 30, 2010

This is a really cool idea. Goes with Polite Dissent in my RSS feed.
posted by yerfatma at 4:00 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Should Jimmy Olsen report genie-based income? What if that income later turns out to be a harsh lesson being taught by Superman? Is he eligible for a rebate?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:09 PM on November 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm glad people like it. The idea came out of a random conversation with some friends, as so many things do. I've got several more post ideas in the hopper, and there's been some great suggestions here and on the Projects post. valkyryn has also offered to contribute some articles, so I'm looking forward to that.

As I mentioned in the Projects post, I do welcome any illustrations people might like to do, and I'd happily pay for a decent banner image to replace the stock Wordpress theme image. Probably something like a courtroom artist illustration except with characters in it or a comic-book-style courtroom scene.
posted by jedicus at 5:10 PM on November 30, 2010

When in doubt... there's always this classic image.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:43 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I pointed my friend who's a comic nerd and an amateur legal nerd at it. This is right up his alley. Thanks for creating and posting it.
posted by immlass at 6:35 PM on November 30, 2010

This is awesome!

But putting hypothetical situations to the side, what happens when comics characters break actual laws? This is similar to the issue discussed in the multiverse post, but a little different, because it concerns the jurisdiction of our world. (Not Earth-616. Our nonfictional world.) I've argued here before that because the Joker knows that he's a comic character (he explicitly mentions this from time to time), he knows that there is world of people reading about him. And, being the Joker, he would of course want to bring chaos to their lives. But what sorts of causal interactions can a fictional character have with non-fictional characters? Well, fictional people can inspire non-fictional people, scare them, or influence them in other psychological ways. The Joker would naturally take advantage of this and try to get into the heads of his readers, causing chaos.

At the time of Heath Ledger's death, much was written about how putting himself in the mindset of the Joker put him in a bad place, and may have been a causal factor in his suicide. But although lots of people remarked on the fact that the Joker caused Heath Ledger to die, it was not popularly acknowledged that the Joker intentionally caused Heath Ledger to die --- that is, the Joker murdered Heath Ledger.

Some people dislike the idea that a fictional character could murder a nonfictional one. But fictional characters have plans and intentions, and there exist relations between fictional and nonfictional people (you can have a crush on Buffy, for example), so there doesn't seem to be anything blocking the conclusion that fictional characters can intentionally cause their readers to die. The Joker would obviously try to intentionally cause his audience to die, and he's brilliant, so it is likely that any deaths caused by him are intentional ones.

We are in a bind, because our legal system is not well equipped to deal with inter-fictional acts of murder. If a nonfictional person kills a nonfictional person, the legal system gets involved. If a fictional person kills a fictional person, we judge our legal system to have no jurisdiction over them. But what happens in hybrid cases? The law does not mention anything about whether murderers or victims who happen to be fictional fall under its jurisdiction. There is indeterminacy in the legal system here, and it's something we should probably sort out.

It seems pretty clear that what matters is whether the victim is nonfictional. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, nonfictional people often kill fictional people--authors do it to their characters all the time--and we don't think that courts should get involved in such instances. If fictional characters regularly bumped off nonfictional people, however, we would probably want a legal entity to somehow get involved. Secondly, the murder took place on nonfictional soil, as it were, and the victim belonged to a nonfictional nationality. Analogously, American courts care whether American nationals are killed, and whether the crime occurs within American borders, but the nationality of the killer is not in itself relevant to the killer's guilt.

Thus, the Joker should be tried and put behind bars. Editors at DC should be forced to send him off to Arkham for good. They'll probably chafe at being forced to retire one of their most popular characters, but the law's the law. They can probably get a summer event out of it anyway.
posted by painquale at 10:36 PM on November 30, 2010 [11 favorites]

In other news, Why Are There So Few Black Supervillians?

Joss took them all?
posted by NoraReed at 10:40 PM on November 30, 2010

Beyond fantastic. Thank you for posting this.
posted by EatTheWeek at 12:39 AM on December 1, 2010

In (Mefi's own) Charles Stross' "Trade of Queens" series, this concept is mentioned: are visitors from a parallel universe owed habeas corpus rights? Is a declaration of war required for an attack on such a parallel world, or is it a police action within one's frontiers?

This is amazing. Keep it up!
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:05 AM on December 1, 2010

Something that blows my mind: Since all comics published before 2001 bear the seal of the Comics Code Authority of America, they are considered legal documents admissible as evidence in the superhuman law cases on which She-Hulk works. SHE-HULK SMASH FOURTH WALL!
posted by ktrey at 7:27 AM on December 1, 2010

Definite props to jedicus here, and I'm looking forward to contributing.
posted by valkyryn at 8:36 AM on December 1, 2010

Thought of this thread when I saw "Law and the Multiverse" linked on Comics Alliance. More of this kinda stuff. Please to enjoy.
posted by EatTheWeek at 12:50 PM on December 9, 2010

Oh hey apparently it's in the Times online now and print tomorrow.

New banner design by yours truly.
posted by The Whelk at 7:48 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

We have been featured in a New York Times article, which will be in tomorrow's print edition (Dec 21st). Credit to valkyryn for his excellent co-authorship, to The Whelk for our fantastic logo and for posting it to the blue, and to MetaFilter in general for all the great feedback and discussion.
posted by jedicus at 7:49 AM on December 20, 2010

posted by The Whelk at 7:51 AM on December 20, 2010

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