The Law Is A Ass #307: Back In the Saddle Again
Let’s see now, where were we before we were interrupted?
Back in the Mesozoic Era, there was something called the print media. You remember the print media, don’t you? It was in all the papers. Well, one of the all the papers that print media printed in was Comics Buyer’s Guide; or CBG as those of us who didn’t want to type out Comics Buyer’s Guide all the time called it. CBG was a weekly trade paper about the comic-book industry. It wasn’t as big and important as Billboard or Variety or even as vital as that paper that gives positive reviews to every movie no matter how wretched, because studios have to get their pull quotes from somewhere. But CBG was ours and we loved it.
And I loved CBG more than most, because for over two decades I wrote a regular feature called “The Law Is a Ass” for it; a column that combined legal analysis and comic books.
Legal analysis and comic books? How did that unlikely combination come about? No big mystery. See, I just finished my sixth decade on this planet by the simple expedient of not dying before my 61st birthday. For more than five of the six decades I’ve been on this planet, I’ve read and loved comic books. (Sometimes the comics books have even loved me back.) And for more than three of the six decades I’ve been on this planet, I ate, breathed, and lived the law. First there were my three years in an accredited law school (the unaccredited ones were cheaper, but woefully inadequate for getting me out of my parents’ basement). Then there were my 28 years as a practicing attorney in the Cuyahoga County Public Defender Office in Cleveland, Ohio. Unlike the comics books, however, the law never loved me back, not even sometimes. So, like so many other lawyers, the one thing I wanted to get out of my profession was a way to get out of my profession.
“The Law Is a Ass” is one of the ways I used to get out of my profession, even if only temporarily. In said column, I combined my life-long love of comic books with my long life – my really, really long life – as a practicing attorney to analyze how the law was portrayed in the comic books I read. (Sometimes I wrote about the TV shows I saw or the movies I went to or even books I read. If it was a representation of the law in popular culture, I would analyze it.) But mostly, the law and how it was portrayed in comic books. That was my bread and margarine. (Can I help it if my doctor told me I shouldn’t eat butter?)
When I wrote the column, when I read it in the pages of CBG, when people talked to me about it in comic conventions; I wasn’t a lawyer. I was, like Scott Turow or John Grisham or Erle Stanley Gardner before me, a writer who started out as a lawyer. I had escaped.
Why, you may ask, would I bother to write about how the law was portrayed in comic books stories? They were, after all, just comic books stories. So who cared if they got things a little wrong? Or even, as is frequently the case, a lot wrong? First, because of that whole self-deluding escape thing I talked about earlier. And second, because I believed then, and still believe now, that the comic book stories shouldn’t have gotten the law wrong.
Comic books ask us to believe that a man can fly. Or that a man can shoot destructive optic-beams out of his eyes that can only be stopped by two things, a ruby quartz visor or his eyelids. Or that a heavenly help-mate named Mopee could use lightning to dump a random mixture of chemicals on a man and give him super speed. (Okay, none of us believed that Mopee one, not even for a little bit.) Still comic books, especially the standard super hero comic book, ask us to believe a lot more than six impossible things before breakfast. That’s a lot of impossible things. A lot of fantasy elements we have to willingly suspend our disbelief for.
But that’s the stock in trade of the super hero comic book story, the impossible fantasy feats of the super heroes and super villains. Their bread and butter, as it were. (Hey super heroes are in shape, they can eat butter.)
So super hero comic books are fantasy. However, as the late Rod Serling showed us so ably in [[[The Twilight Zone]]], the best fantasy is the fantasy that is firmly anchored in reality. Belief can only be suspended so far and there comes a point when, if the real-world elements of the story are every bit as fantastic as the fantasy elements, the story risks losing the reader. That’s why I believe that the law in comic book stories should be portrayed as close to real as possible. The law in a story shouldn’t be just another fantasy flight of fancy.
(Didn’t John Ostrander say something like this in his column some weeks back? I’d say it proves that great minds think alike, but that can’t be the case. After all, one of those minds is mine.)
I think those who write comic book stories should research how the law works, so that they can portray it as accurately as possible in their stories. And that’s why I write my column, the raison d’être of my column. (Not to be confused with the candy I eat while writing. That’s the Raisinets of my column.) I hope that by showing writers where they got the law wrong, that they’ll take care to do better in the future. And if they don’t, I’ll be here to point fingers, go tsk, and set you, my readers, straight. Or, if they get it correct, I’ll be here to point fingers, go well done, and tell you, my readers, why it’s right.
Now I understand that the “real world” would have to make some concessions to the fantasy, if that fantasy existed in the real world. If, for example, the Marvel super heroes and super villains really were running around in New York City, a law like the Superhuman Registration Act whose passage precipitated the [[[Civil War]]] storyline in Marvel Comics a few years back might be not only logical but necessary. But even if that law still existed, it couldn’t have existed the way it existed in Civil War. And maybe I’ll get around to telling you why not one of these days.
But not next week. I have a superior idea for next week.