The Day Superman Broke the Law?

Fantom Comics has just launched a new site for comics commentary and criticism called Subculture for the Cultured, and we’re proud to announce that we will be contributing a monthly column alongside EcocomicsThe Patron Saint of Superheroes, and many other fantastic blogs.  Our inaugural column discusses a classic Silver Age Superman story, “The Day Superman Broke the Law” (reprinted in Showcase Presents: Superman, Vol. 3)  After the surprisingly strong reader reaction to our recent suggestion that Peter Parker may not have been entirely on the level in his dealings with the Daily Bugle, we think this one will go over a bit better.  So head over to SftC and check it out!

10 responses to “The Day Superman Broke the Law?

  1. Personally I suspect the real issue is that Parker is a popular character.

    • Yeah, Pete’s a stand up guy, but JJJ has every right to sue the tobacco juice out of the poor guy. Good thing She-Hulk got JJJ to drop the suit.

      • James Pollock

        I still see the balance of equities favoring Pete. Sure, you have the ongoing deception and a few batteries on the one side, but on the other you have the libel, the slander, and the repeated attempts at murder.

        PS Superman frequently changes from mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent to Superman WHILE ON THE CLOCK. Therefore, when he submits his timecard and accepts his paycheck, he’s committing fraud on the Daily Planet. He has ALSO has consistently failed to disclose that he is the subject of reporting in the Daily Planet, and he IS bound by the journalist code of ethics, unlike Pete, who, when he started selling photos of Spider-Man, was an independent contractor.

      • Martin Phipps

        If Peter should disclose that the Spider-Man pictures the Bugle publishes are pictures of him then Clark should disclose that the Superman stories the Planet publishes are about him. The Planet would have every right to sue Clark if the world found out Superman was on their payroll and it adversely affected the credibility of the paper. They certainly could not publish any more “Superman Saves the Day!” headlines without mentioning that Superman worked at the paper!

      • On timecards at least you can argue that it’s necessary to prevent crimes and he usually doesn’t seem to spend more than a few minutes fighting crime on the clock. As for disclosures, he probably should.

    • As I pointed out, the problem with the Peter Parker example is that the legal bloggers here assume that if the Bugle had known Peter is Spider-Man, they wouldn’t have published the pictures because of journalistic ethics–but everyone else concludes that they wouldn’t have published the pictures because of JJJ’s personal hatred for Spider-Man.

      Given JJJ’s known attitude, his influence over the newspaper, and the unethical things the paper’s done in the past, I don’t believe for one moment that the reason the Bugle wouldn’t have published the pictures has anything to do with ethics at all. Just the fact that JJJ hates Spider-Man. And you can’t say “if I knew the pictures were taken by someone I hate, I wouldn’t have bought them”.

      • In matters of professional knowledge the majority opinion is not necessarily the correct one.

      • Ken Arromdee

        Figuring out why JJJ wouldn’t buy the pictures is not a matter of professional knowledge. It’s about analyzing character motivations, and none of us have professional qualifications to do that.

        Professional qualifications only come into play when, given a particular character motivation, we want to analyze the legal implications of that motivation. They are of no benefit when the motivation itself is in question.

      • Well, I don’t want people to assume we’re correct just because we’re attorneys. That’s a classic logical fallacy. It also reinforces credentialism, and I like to think that this blog shows that legal reasoning is not something that only a trained lawyer can do.

        When I write a post, I’m most concerned about three things, in roughly this order: 1) making a correct statement of the law 2) applying it to an interesting set of facts and 3) coming to the correct conclusion (i.e. in the sense that a court in the fictional world would come to the same conclusion). And I try to keep it funny or at least entertaining along the way.

        With regard to Peter Parker, I think the contention comes from how one sees the facts in the first place, not the law or how it’s applied. One can say that JJJ is sleazy but not completely unethical and thus would have refused to publish the pictures. One could also say that he hates Spider-Man and would not have dealt with him directly, even though he was willing to support him indirectly through Parker. Or one could say that he was indeed sleazy enough to publish the pictures and greedy enough to deal with Spider-Man despite his hatred of him.

        Which of these views is correct? I don’t know, although obviously I support the former. But I think the discussion on the post shows that there are definitely disputed material facts, which means that the case would go to trial rather than ending with a dismissal or summary judgment. So at the very least Parker would have a significant legal battle on his hands (ignoring, for the moment, the amnesty program and Jennifer Walters’s unethical intention to keep the case tied up in court for years as a way of ingratiating herself with her in-laws).

      • James Pollock

        Perhaps the difference comes from being familiar with different subsets of the comics. For example, my opinion comes from my knowledge of the first 250 issues of ASM, plus the first 100 or so of PPTSS and MTU. That is, I read almost every Spider-Man story from his origin up to the mid-80’s… and almost nothing since. Thus, the characterization of JJJ and the relationships between Peter, JJJ, the Bugle, and others was shaped by the writers of that period. Others might be more familiar with the recent stories, and still others might be better versed in the movie or animated versions. Some tiny slice of the public might be most familiar with his appearances on “The Electric Company” or the early 80’s live-action TV show.
        Based on Jonah’s willingness to deal with “unsavory” characters like Kraven the Hunter, his funding of projects that created the Scorpion and the Spider-Slayers, but mostly his overriding love of the Bugle, JJJ would have gritted his teeth and bought pictures of Spider-Man offered by Spider-Man. He wouldn’t have dealt fairly with him, but he would have dealt. (This assumes that he honestly felt that photos of Spider-Man helped sell papers, which is, I think, a reasonable assumption. He was extremely unsatisfied with the performance of his staff photographers and willing to buy from a nerdy high-school student who showed up with photos that weren’t very good.)

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