Monthly Archives: October 2012

NYCC Recap

We are back from New York Comic Con!  Thanks to everyone who stopped by the booth or attended our panel and signing.  Thanks especially to everyone who bought a copy of the book!  We had a great time doing the panel.  We opened it up to Q&A pretty quickly and had a non-stop stream of fantastic questions from the audience.  If we couldn’t get to your question or if you thought of more, please email us at and

James and Ryan give a panel discussion on The Law of Superheroes

James and Ryan at the Law of Superheroes panel discussion.

The audience at our NYCC panel

Our fantastic fans!

After the panel we had a chance to meet several of our regular readers and commenters as well as some people who heard of us for the first time at the con.  Special shout out to Linda, Martha, David, Danny, Andrew, and Ken!

The rest of the con was also great.  We met several comic book writers and artists whose work we’ve discussed here, including Mark Waid (current author of Daredevil), Paolo Rivera (the artist and cover artist for several issues of Daredevil), Dan Slott (who did a fantastic run of She-Hulk), Comfort Love and Adam Withers (the team behind The Uniques), Tom King (author of A Once Crowded Sky), and more!  We also picked up a lot of great comics to write about. We also met part of the team at Broadcast Thought, a group of forensic psychiatrists who have done some really insightful thinking about comics.  We expect to see some big things from them in the future!

While in New York we also recorded an interview with Marketplace and appeared in the The New York Times (for the second time).  We have more exciting announcements planned, so stay tuned!

For more about the panel, check out this article at Legal As She Is Spoke!

Book Clarification

Alert reader Kris wrote in with a note about one of the examples in the book:

Wonder Woman didn’t kill Maxwell Lord to save Batman. At that point, Superman had already attacked and nearly killed Batman, who was then convalescing back in Justice League HQ. Lord was compelling Superman to kill Wonder Woman as this point, by making Supes believe she was Doomsday in the middle of killing Lois Lane. When she managed to track down Lord she tied him up with her golden lasso and then commanded Lord to release Supes, which he did, but then Lord told her that he still had control, and once she let Lord loose from the lasso it would just start all over again. … This was in Wonder Woman #219, by Greg Rucka. Infinite Crisis #1 had a one-panel flashback to this issue.

In fact, we’re both correct.  Our version of the story comes from Manhunter, in which the story is also told via flashbacks and video footage.  In that book, Superman is shown choking Batman saying “I’ll kill you Doomsday!”.   Superman, who is relating the story, says “It was actually Batman who I was fighting, and I almost killed him.  If it wasn’t for Wonder Woman tracing it back to Max, I would still be under his thrall.”  It’s never made clear that Wonder Woman killed Max in a separate incident from the attack on Batman.

So in some sense we can blame the continuity editing at DC, but nonetheless we should have checked the canonical version of the story in Wonder Woman.

Joe Sacco

Safe Area Goražde and The Fixer and Other Stories are graphic journalistic works by Joe Sacco detailing his time spent covering the Bosnian War from approximately 1992 to 1995. Sacco won an Eisner award in 2001 for the former. His 2009 work Footnotes in Gaza won an Eisner in 2010. All three are non-fiction, which is a bit outside our normal fare, but they’re all excellent reads which make unexpected and excellent use of the graphic novel format.

But they’re also a little difficult for this particular site in that though they definitely occur in the real world, they do so in a time and place that makes legal analysis pretty difficult. Much of the country existed in an almost pure state of lawlessness during the war. Beginning in March 1992 and continuing through the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in December 1992, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina exerted no effective control over almost any of its territory. Even large chunks of the capital city, Sarajevo, were effectively under the control of local warlords. These strongmen officially answered to government superiors, but in practice, they did almost anything they wanted, carving out fiefdoms for themselves and their supporters. The government had little ability to enforce its decisions there, and the stories suggest that there might not even have been much interest in doing so, given that without the strongmen, the official military would have been unable to maintain the war.

So the stories are really a case study of what happens where normal state legal systems cease to operate. It’s a bloody mess, both literally and figuratively. National governments have proved almost entirely incapable of dealing with the actions of participants during the war. Indeed, there exists a special tribunal of the United Nations, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the ICTY, which is specifically tasked with adjudicating complaints of war crimes arising out of conduct during the war. Just last year, Ratko Mladić, commander of the Army of the Republika Srpska, the main Serbian political entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was extradited to the Hague to be tried for war crimes, where his trial is pending.

So both books are highly recommended, for two reasons. First, they provide a truly unique and engaging window into one of the least understood conflicts of the late twentieth century. The late Christopher Hitchens penned the introduction for Safe Area Goražde, and he does a better job of explaining the works’ merits than we ever could:

Having persisted so long as an affront to civilization, and having ended so abruptly with the most compromising compromise that Holbrookian statecraft could confect, the siege of Sarajevo and the obliteration of civilian “safe havens” at Srebrenica and Zepa have passed into an area of the semi-conscious. In a dim fashion, people apprehended that the mass graves of the latter were the price — and the pressure — for Bosnian signature at Dayton. Yet did this not after all constitute peace? Even a peace “process”? How excellent it is, then, that just as we are all forgiving ourselves, Joe Sacco steps forward to clear his throat, and our vision. How excellent it is, too, that he should have hit upon unfashionable, inaccessible old Goražde and not one of the war’s more chic or celebrated spots. . . .

But second, the books should serve as a kind of reminder to other comics writers: You can’t just ignore the rule of law. It really does matter. When the legal system fails to operate, things do not continue on as they always have minus a few lawyers and pesky forms to fill out. When Bane seals off Gotham City, things should have gotten really messy, really fast, even in the absence of a besieging army, and even more than they did in the movie. Not only does failing to take these things into account make for a less believable story, but it also passes up some truly amazing potential for drama. The Fixer doesn’t really have a “plot” in any traditional kind of sense, but its main character—not really a protagonist, but certainly the focus of the narrative—is an amazingly interesting and colorful character. Sometimes the most fascinating stories aren’t world-shaking epics, where superhuman beings save the day altruistically, but the accounts of people in small, absurd, and absurdly dangerous circumstances making choices with incomplete information and impure motives.


This is another reminder that we will be giving a talk at New York Comic Con from 5:00-5:45 this Friday at the Unbound Stage.  Afterward we’ll be autographing copies of our book (which will be available for purchase at the convention) from 6:15-7:15 at autographing table 4.

From 10am-noon and 3:30-4:30 at the Penguin Group booth we will be giving in-character “legal advice” to anyone who comes by in costume (i.e. advice for the fictional character, not for you).  That’s booth #921, which is not far from the DC Entertainment booth (here’s a map).  We hope to see you there!

Looper and Abandoned Attempt

In this second post about Looper we’re going to delve considerably more deeply into the movie, and with that comes a couple of pretty serious spoilers.  You have been warned.

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Looper is a pretty great movie.  The story, acting, music, and effects are all top notch.  While watching it this weekend, a couple of legal issues came to mind.  This post ran a little long, so there will be a second Looper post later this week.  There are some spoilers ahead, but I’ve tried to self-censor the most significant ones.

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I Married a Skrull!

Today’s post is about Johnny Storm (aka the Human Torch) and his marriage to Alicia Masters (actually the Skrull Lyja posing as Masters).  Ken wrote in to ask “Was Johnny Storm’s marriage to Lyja valid?”

This isn’t the only time that this scenario has occurred in comics.  Ken also asked about the marriage between Namor the Sub-Mariner and Dorma (actually Llyra in disguise).  In that case a quirk of Atlantean law came to the rescue: because Namor thought he was marrying Dorma, his marriage was to her and not Llyra, even though Dorma was not present at the ceremony.  I’m not sure what that says about the nature of consent in Atlantean law, but we’ll stick with the Johnny Storm/Lyja case, since New York law is a bit easier to research.

I. Void and Voidable Marriages

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is that their marriage would be voidable.  N.Y. Domestic Relations Law § 7 states

A marriage is void from the time its nullity is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction if either party thereto: … 4. Consent[ed] to such marriage by reason of force, duress or fraud

There’s a distinction between a marriage (or other contract) that is voidable and one that is void.  A void marriage (defined in §§ 5-6) is one that never exists at all, typically in cases if incest or bigamy.  A voidable marriage is a marriage until a court declares it void, and so can theoretically remain a legitimate marriage if the parties want it to be.  So in this case if Johnny Storm and Lyja agreed that they really did love each other after all (certainly Lyja claims to), then they could stay married, though there would be a lot of paperwork to correct.

Alas, love does not conquer all here, and Johnny wants none of it.  So could he prove a case of fraud?

II. Fraud

New York law treats the kind of fraud sufficient to void a marriage as similar to that which would void a contract.  “Marriage is a civil contract, and the courts will annul such a marriage like other contracts, where the consent of a party to it has been procured by fraud or the misrepresentation of a material fact.”  Lembo v. Lembo, 193 Misc. 1055, 1057 (Sup. Ct. 1949).  Further:

Where the ground relied upon for dissolution is fraud, the fraud contemplated by the statute must be of a nature and import so serious that it destroys the essence of the marriage contract and of a magnitude that the person asserting the fraud as a ground for dissolution would not have entered the marriage contract, if, in advance thereof, the misrepresentations had been revealed.

Di Pillo v. Di Pillo, 17 Misc.2d 673, 675 (Sup. Ct. 1959).  It seems pretty clear that lying about one’s identity as an alien at war with the human race and impersonating another person already known to the other party are sufficient.  Johnny would not have married Lyja had she been honest about her identity.  Indeed, he likely would have attacked her on sight.

III. An Alternate Approach

Another approach would be to argue that the marriage was void from the beginning (as opposed to voidable) because human/Skrull marriage is not legally recognized in New York.  Our prior post about this was a bit controversial, but our conclusion there was that interspecies marriages (e.g. Clark Kent and Lois Lane) may not be legal under current law.  Since the Storm/Lyja marriage occurred in 1987, long before even same sex marriage was legalized anywhere in the United States, we feel even more comfortable asserting that a human/Skrull marriage would not be legal (again, assuming that the marriage laws on Earth 616 were the same in 1987 as they were in the real world).

IV. Conclusion

Whether because a human/Skrull marriage is legally impossible or simply because Storm was tricked into marrying Lyja, Johnny would have no trouble getting out of the marriage.  There might still be legal consequences, however.  A question for any tax attorneys or accountants in the audience: if Johnny had filed his tax return as married/filing jointly and claimed the standard deduction, would he have to repay any tax if the marriage was later declared void?  If so, could he seek compensation from Lyja?

Graphic Justice

Dr. Thomas Giddens, a Lecturer in Law at St. Mary’s University College in the UK, has informed us of a new research project called Graphic Justice, centered on the crossover between comics/graphic fiction and the concerns of law and justice.  We think this may be of interest to our academic readers.  Here is some additional information from Dr. Giddens:

Themes of public protection, justice, and punishment are widespread in mainstream superhero narratives (think Justice League of AmericaSuperman, or Spider-Man), but there is also a wealth of graphic literature beyond the spandex-wearing mainstream that, like other artistic media, deals with all walks of human life (the work of the Hernandez Brothers, for instance, or Ghost World, or the Pulitzer prize winning Maus).  Indeed, from the mainstream western comics that inspire Hollywood films, to the diverse and multi-layered world of Japanese manga, or the rich history of French-language bandes dessinées, comics have permeated our global culture (consider the huge cultural impact, for example, of Batman or Tintin).  Moreover, the blending of words and images in the very form of the comics medium itself may pose important questions about the limitations and interpretation of textual language—fundamental issues for the highly text-dependent discipline of law.  Add to all this the complex intellectual property issues involved in this collaborative and methodologically varied medium, and the lack of interest seems clearly to be one that is in need of a remedy.

The remedy is this: Graphic Justice.

Whether you work in legal studies, philosophy, cultural studies, penology, law enforcement, art, criminology, sociology, imprisonment/corrections, or literary studies, if you’re interested in comics and the concerns of justice—this call is for you.  An international and collaborative space has been set up where interested parties can submit ideas and post articles, where contacts can be made and networks built up, understanding can be nurtured, and the intersection of comics and justice can be mined, examined, questioned, and developed.  Depending upon levels of interest, the project may include seminars or dedicated conference streams, or even a full Graphic Justice conference.  The aim is to gather together academics and practitioners, interested parties and artists, and to promote discourse and engagement on this expansive and under-researched area.

The international and collaborative space can be found at, and you can contact Graphic Justice via the comments sections on that website, or via email to

Daredevil #18

The most recent issue of Daredevil raises some interesting legal questions, though unfortunately we may have to wait until the next issue to get all the details.  Nonetheless, let’s see what we can figure out from what we know already.

(As usual, there are spoilers ahead, but you really should be reading Mark Waid’s Daredevil run.  It’s available digitally via Comixology or in print at your friendly local comic book store, so go get a copy and come back.)

I. Accessory to Murder

The “client of the month” in this issue is the brother of Adele Santiago, a nurse working for drug kingpin Victor Hierra.  Adele was charged with being an accessory to Hierra’s murder.  The only problem is that he and she were in a locked room when Hierra was killed, drained of his blood without leaving a trace of evidence.  Presumably lacking enough evidence to charge her with the murder directly, the prosecutor charged her with being an accessory.  Under N.Y. Penal Law § 20.00, acting as an accessory to a crime carries the same criminal liability as the underlying crime:

When one person engages in conduct which constitutes an offense, another person is criminally liable for such conduct when, acting with the mental culpability required for the commission thereof, he solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or intentionally aids such person to engage in such conduct.

We can probably eliminate the “solicits, requests, commands, [or] importunes” part, leaving “intentionally aids.”  I suspect the prosecutor’s theory will be that Adele helped the murderer enter and leave, presumably taking Hierra’s blood with him.

Now, you might think, “wait, how can Adele be charged with being an accessory to murder if the prosecutor can’t prove who killed the victim?”  It turns out that it doesn’t matter:

In any prosecution for an offense in which the criminal liability of the defendant is based upon the conduct of another person pursuant to section 20.00, it is no defense that: … 2. Such other person has not been prosecuted for or convicted of any offense based upon the conduct in question

N.Y. Penal Law § 20.05.  Thus, it’s enough that the prosecution can prove that Hierra was murdered (which should be easy: draining someone’s blood without leaving any evidence doesn’t exactly happen by accident) and that Adele helped.  The evidence is all circumstantial, but that can be enough if there’s no reasonable doubt.

II. The New Business Model, Redux

So that’s what Adele is charged with, but she isn’t the one who came to see Foggy at the former Nelson & Murdock (now just Nelson) law office.  Rather, Adele’s brother (first name not given) showed up, asking about Nelson & Murdock’s services assisting clients in representing themselves.  We’ve written about that before and concluded that, while difficult to do well, it is theoretically ethically sound, at least in New York.  That makes this exchange between Adele’s brother and Foggy kind of weird:

AB: [Adele’s corrupt public defender] barely makes an effort.  You must teach me what I need to know.

Foggy: *Sigh* Mr. Santiago, this isn’t a dispute over a neighbor’s fence.  This is way above your pay grade.  I can’t teach you.

It’s just as well that Foggy ultimately decides to take the case as Adele’s lawyer, since Adele’s brother couldn’t represent her himself.  (Basically) anyone can represent themselves, but only a lawyer can represent another person, at least in the US.

Similarly, since Adele’s brother isn’t a lawyer, Foggy couldn’t ethically teach him to teach Adele, for at least two reasons.  First, attorney-client privilege would go out the window because everything would be going through a third party.  Second, it’s hard enough to do a reasonable job of teaching someone to represent themselves; teaching a person to teach another would be much more difficult.  So while Foggy came to a correct result (representing Adele directly), the alternatives he seemed to be considering made no sense.

III. Conclusion

Several more legal questions came up in this issue, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens before we can comment on them fully.  We may also revisit Adele’s case and Foggy’s representation.  It will be interesting to see where Waid goes with both.

New York Comic Con Update

Just a reminder: Ryan and I will be speaking at New York Comic Con next week, Friday October 12 from 5pm-5:45pm with a book signing to follow from 6:15-7:15.  Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the convention.  Three and four-day passes are all sold out, but tickets for Friday are still available as of this writing.  In the last two years all of the tickets have sold out before the event, so don’t wait!