By James Daily and Ryan Davidson, Gotham Books, a division of Penguin, 320 pages, $26
Does Superman violate the Fourth Amendment when he uses X-ray vision? If Spider-Man testifies in court wearing his costume, does this violate the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause? Can the government regulate superpowers as weapons without running afoul of the Second Amendment? Would a court recognize Batman and Robin as a limited partnership? If a supervillain commits a federal crime against an American superhero on Mars, can the supervillain be charged in federal court in the U.S.? These are just some of the questions the authors ask in an interesting and quirky new book that certainly deserves praise for originality.
In November 2010, attorneys James Daily and Ryan Davidson created and published a blog called Law and the Multiverse, which explores a myriad of legal questions that superheroes and supervillains might face outside comic books. The blog quickly generated tremendous media attention along with thousands of hits to their website—20,000 a day according to a 2011 article in the ABA Journal. From this cult following, a foothold in the world of legal practitioners was born—the duo now present continuing legal education classes where they discuss criminal law, torts, constitutional law, and ethical questions touched on by comic book characters. The authors are quite prolific, updating their blog posts every two to three days, and sometimes daily. Oftentimes, legal practitioners and avid comic book fans send questions to the blog’s creators sparking fresh material for the authors to tackle. Their new book, The Law of Superheroes, grew out of their blog and continues to build upon the real-world legal implications of comic book characters’ actions.
Daily, an attorney in Missouri who practices intellectual property, and Davidson, an attorney in Indiana who practices insurance law, describe themselves as “both lawyers and comic book nerds.” Their writing is most engaging when they delve deeper into moral issues surrounding superheroes and assess whether those moral issues raise legal ones. A case in point is whether superheroes’ using their natural powers—such as the ability to exert force on natural objects without touching them—would qualify as aggravated assault. Does this require more actus reus, akin to a regular person picking up a weapon, in which case the charge would likely get bumped up from assault to aggravated assault?
Their discussion concerning which supervillains would be deemed insane in a court of law is quite entertaining. It seems the Joker is not only a competent criminal, but likely competent to stand trial. Indeed, the Joker would likely not qualify for the insanity defense as he “almost always knows exactly what he is doing, and almost always knows that what he is doing is illegal.” By contrast, the authors concede that the Hulk and Doomsday would probably be good candidates to successfully plead the defense of insanity.
Comic book scenes are used throughout the book, lending authenticity to the legal scenarios. In fact, many readers may be surprised at how frequently courtroom scenes occur in the universe of DC Comics, Marvel, and Dark House.
Unfortunately, the authors run the risk of losing their readers in the second half of the book with their lengthy discourse on tort law, insurance law, administrative law, intellectual property law, and immigration law. In the authors’ insistence on providing background and context for each legal subject, the book sometimes loses its focus and reads like a first-year law school issue spotting exam. Thorough and detail-oriented, the authors manage to think of every legal problem that could possibly affect comic book characters. This approach, however, leaves the reader feeling like she has been barraged with a litany of legal scenarios potentially affecting superheroes without a deeper examination of the material. Many readers may end up wishing that the authors had closely examined two or three major legal themes instead of throwing the kitchen sink of topics into the book’s pages.
The book’s discussions concerning piercing the superhero corporate veil and which superheroes would qualify for special accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act are a little too tedious for a book that seemed to promise more stimulating material. While their blog is brilliantly executed, their book is unfocused and at times borders on superfluous. The material is more conducive to blog posts, where the authors can examine one question or scenario, speak to the point of law it affects, and raise relevant issues. At 100 pages, this book would be a must-read; at three times that length, its barrage of details, while informative, would likely wear down even the most powerful of superheroes.
For the blog’s die-hard fans, this book may very well satisfy their appetite for reading more analyses concerning comic book characters’ legal conundrums. Although it provides readers with an opportunity to participate in the “good natured over-thinking” the authors claim comic book fans often engage in, Daily and Davidson fall short on their ability to sustain the reader throughout the book’s pages; indeed, the book may likely disappoint many because the authors failed to fully capitalize on an interesting concept they created through their blog.
Lauren-Brooke Eisen is a former prosecutor who works for a New York City-based nonprofit, where she focuses on criminal justice policy, including writing about trends in legislation.