Batman: No Man’s Land, Part 1

Our first post on the No Man’s Land story arc is a short one dealing with an issue of contract law.  Spoilers will be part and parcel of our discussion of this series, but it came out in 1999, so we feel the statute of limitations has run.

I. The Setup

After an earthquake destroys much of Gotham, Batman is feeling understandably overwhelmed.  In order to prevent some of the looting and recruit some assistance, he appeals to Oswald Cobblepot’s self-interest: help me out because the sooner the city is up and running the sooner you can get back to being a crime boss.  The alternative is to get on Batman’s bad side, so the Penguin joins up.  We later learn (in Batman Chronicles #12) that this arrangement was enforced via a contract signed by the various thugs and mobsters.  That contract is the subject of this post.

II. The Contract

Unfortunately, we only get a good look at two of the contract’s nine clauses, and parts of them are obscured (our guesses are given in brackets):

ITEM EIGHT: In addition to the clause against looting (above) the undersigned hereby agrees to rob no one of faith.  Actions will be grounded in logic, but during the course of this mission, nothing will be stated nor implied to any person or persons with the express intent of crushing spirit or will.  The injuries encountered in an undertaking of this magnitude will not be limited to those of the body.  This [shall] be kept in mind at all times.

ITEM NINE: No guns or firearms of any kind shall be utilized [or] displayed.  The undersigned hereby acknowledges [that if he or she is] caught bringing firearms into Gotham City in the [course] of this mission, the undersigned will be prosecuted [to the] full extent of the law.

The meaning of “rob no one of faith” is apparently not to refrain from stealing from priests and nuns but rather not to steal someone’s sense of hope or faith that things will improve.  The clause comes up when a thug feels compelled to lie to a kid who asks “Were you guys sent by Batman?” (the thug says yes, though he does not know this to be the case).

This a well-intentioned clause, but unfortunately it’s pretty poorly drafted.  The principle faults are that it is vague, unnecessarily restrictive in parts, and yet also not restrictive enough in other parts.  (Item Nine is basically fine except that we would add “while carrying out the Mission” to the end of the first sentence.)

“Faith,” “spirit,” and “will” are all too vague.  Something like “refrain from inflicting emotional distress” is better defined legally and serves essentially the same purpose.

“The express intent of crushing spirit or will” means that the person would have to actually express their intent (e.g. saying something like “I’m going to go be needlessly cruel to that little kid.”).   That’s much more restrictive than necessary.  We want the thugs to do more than refrain from intentionally distressing people.  They should also take reasonable care not to do so accidentally.

“This shall be kept in mind at all times” is not restrictive enough.  Someone can happily keep in mind the fact that the earthquake survivors may be psychologically injured while negligently or recklessly rubbing salt in the wound.  It would be better if they had an affirmative duty to help, at least to a reasonable extent.

Instead, we might offer something like this:

ITEM EIGHT: In addition to the clause against looting (above) the undersigned hereby agrees not to intentionally, recklessly, or negligently inflict emotional distress upon anyone in the course of carrying out the Mission.  The undersigned shall act rationally while carrying out the Mission except as necessary in order to avoid inflicting emotional distress.  The undersigned shall make reasonable efforts to relieve the physical as well as emotional and psychological injuries of Survivors encountered while carrying out the Mission.

Of course, both Survivors and the Mission should be defined elsewhere in the contract.  Presumably the mission already is, but we can’t say for sure.

Another thing we would do differently: we wouldn’t stamp it with “From the desk of Bruce Wayne.”  Given that it was Batman that talked the Penguin into cooperating, it seems monumentally stupid to then use Bruce Wayne’s letterhead on the contracts.  It beggars belief that no one put two and two together.

A final general contract drafting note: there had better be an indemnification clause in there.  That is, an agreement that if the thugs harm anybody or their property while carrying out the mission, then the thugs will take the heat rather than Bruce Wayne.

III. Conclusion

So far No Man’s Land is off to a good start!  There are some good legal issues here, and although we’d expect a better contract from a Yale Law alumnus, Batman can probably be forgiven the sloppy drafting given the tight schedule and the stress of cleaning up after a massive earthquake and fire.

9 responses to “Batman: No Man’s Land, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Law and the Multiverse: No Man's Land, Part I | Black's Blawg

  2. I do enjoy a good analysis and learn a lot about american law from this but i promised myself i would not be a barracks room lawyer and not argue much however….

    I wonder if you are missing the point here – the people who would have had to understand and enforce the law are not Law alumni – they are thugs with all the intellectual capacity that implies. Whilst cobblepot and batman may have been aware of the deficiencies of language is it possible they considered the audience more than they considered the legal niceties.

    Should you ever find yourself a crime flunky with armies of equally well qualified flunkies around you maybe your crime boss would have made something like your suggested agreement?
    Oh and i agree the whole ‘from the desk of’ is just stupid.

    • Writing for your audience is important. Yes, you may sacrifice a little bit of precision or contractual rights, but all the precision and contractual rights in the world will do you no good if the contract is unwittingly breached by someone that you can’t easily sue or recover from.

      That said, I don’t think that Item Eight is all that well drafted from that standpoint either. If I were trying to make a very straightforward, colloquial version it might run like this:

      “Item Eight: You also agree to make a reasonable effort not to make anyone feel sad, worried, or hopeless. If You can’t carry out part of the Mission without making anyone feel that way, then don’t do that part of the Mission. If You find anyone who is hurt, sick, or feeling sad, worried, or hopeless, do what You can to make them better or feel better.”

      “You” would be a defined term, like Mission.

  3. Out of curiosity how is it legal at all for the U.S government to declare Gotham a no-man’s land?

    • That’s the big issue, and the one that people wanted to know about specifically. I haven’t actually gotten to that part in the comics yet, but we’ll definitely address it when we get there.

  4. You said that Item Nine looked pretty good. I’m bothered by the last few words of it, though. It says that anyone in violation will “be prosecuted [to the] full extent of the law.”

    My question is: Full extent of WHAT law?

    Where, and how, and by whom, will signatories to the contract be prosecuted for gun-related offenses? The core premise of “No Man’s Land” was that the U.S. government now denied Gotham City any status as a part of the USA under federal law (and apparently also stripped it of its standing under state law — whatever state Gotham was in — so that state authorities weren’t allowed to go in to maintain law and order either?

    P.S. After “Zero Hour” in 1994, the continuity about Bruce Wayne’s formal education seems to have become this: He took classes on one campus or another around the world during his long travels and training for becoming the ultimate crimefighter . . . but never even completed a bachelor’s degree. So I guess he doesn’t have that diploma from Yale any more. (That might explain some flaws in the contract, although I’m still baffled by the question of just what court he thought was going to try cases regarding people who had smuggled guns into Gotham.)

    • The contract was written before the US government did anything with regard to Gotham, so Batman could have still reasonably expected either Gotham or ‘Gothamstate’ to prosecute the gun crimes. Of course, it’s a bit of an overreach to flatly state that someone will be prosecuted (that’s up to the prosecutor, not Batman), but one can at least take it to mean that Batman would inform the police of the criminal acts.

      • It also serves as a more subtle way of saying, “Remember: I’m Batman. If you do something I don’t want you to do, I’m going to beat the stuffing out of you.” The threat of prosecution is secondary…I think it serves more as a “don’t p*** me off” reminder.

  5. Ah. It’s been a long, long time since I read any of the relevant material, and my timing was all off. For all I knew, “Batman Chronicles #12” could have been published in the middle of the “No Man’s Land” event, with a story describing the contract as being written and signed shortly after the time the federal order came down to abandon Gotham.

    Live and learn! 🙂

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