I’m a big fan of whodunits with their intricate plots and subtle clues and challenging mind games. Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz, a weekly comic strip syndicated by the Universal Press Syndicate and available on UPS’s GoComics.com, is a whodunit; but one without the intricacies, subtleties, and, usually, the challenge. Each week The Inspector’s one-page comic story presents us with a mystery and the clues necessary to solve it. Then the actual solution is printed upside down on the bottom of the page.
The problem is that the mysteries are frequently inane and the solutions preposterous. Like the recent one about a burglary at an art collector’s house. The collector said his dim-witted cleaning lady, who he keeps because she has a cleaning compulsion, saw the burglar. She did but couldn’t identify him. The Inspector saw the broken glass in the door the burglar used to enter the house and noted there was no broken glass on the floor. He deduced the cleaning lady must have broken the window herself to pretend there was a theft, then gave into her compulsive cleaning and cleaned up the broken glass. Somehow that proved that she was the thief and there was no burglar.
Problem is, if the cleaning lady’s compulsion was so strong that she’d clean up glass she broke herself to fake a burglary, she’d have had the same compulsion to clean up the broken glass if it had really been broken by a burglar. So the absence of broken glass only proved that the cleaning lady compulsively cleaned it up, not who broke it.
That’s an example of when the strip’s solution is stupid. Sometimes the solution isn’t stupid, just annoying. Like the May 26th installment.
Contrary to popular belief, the Fifth Amendment is not the one that repealed Prohibition. And, contrary to popular belief, the Fifth Amendment is not what we’re talking about today. (Hey, I had a snappy opening joke to go with the Fifth Amendment but nothing for the Sixth Amendment. You wanted I should let it go to waste over a technicality?)
Last time, we were here together, I promised to explain why Batman would not be able to testify in a courtroom in DC’s New 52 continuity, even though he could in the old continuity. If you’ve been paying attention – and considering we’re only two paragraphs into this column, if you haven’t been paying attention you really should get your attention span checked – you can probably guess that said explanation involves the Sixth Amendment.
The Sixth Amendment is one of the two amendments in the Bill of Rights that deals with the rights of the accused in a criminal trial. It creates a list of rights which it grants to all defendants in criminal proceedings. For our purposes today we’re only going to deal with one of those Sixth Amendment rights; the defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him or her. Hey, there are eight of those rights in the Sixth and if we were going to talk about all eight, we’d be here all day. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got plans for tonight.
The right of confrontation means more than that the defendant gets to sit in the courtroom and glower at the witnesses while they testify. It doesn’t, however, go as far as allowing the defendant to get up in the witness’s face or physically assault the witness, like they were on an episode of The Jerry Springer Show. No, the right to confrontation lies somewhere in between; and I don’t mean Dr. Phil. What it means is that the defendant gets to cross-examine the witnesses who testify for the prosecution.
Cross-examination, which the noted legal scholar John Henry Wigmore called “the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of the truth,” means the accused gets to ask the witnesses questions designed to attack the witness’s testimony and, if possible, cast doubts on the witness’s credibility. Among the ways in which a defendant may seek to attack a witness’s credibility is to show that the witness is a convicted criminal so not worthy of being believed. Another is to show that the witness has a bias in the case, such as the witness hates the defendant, or the witness wants to get the defendant out of the way so he could make the moves on the defendant’s girlfriend or the defendant knew the witness was secretly a bigamist, or any of the dozens of techniques we watched Perry Mason employ over and over again in nine seasons of the original series, half a season of the failed revival with Monte Markham, and 26 made-for-TV movies with the original Perry and Della back again. Basically, anything that would show the jury that the witness has a motive to lie about the defendant. Another technique, which can be employed on some occasions, is to show that the witness has a generally bad reputation for honesty, so is not a person whose statements or testimony should be believed. There are others, but these will suffice for our discussion today.
They suffice, because they all have something in common. In order for the defendant to be able to use any of those cross-examination tactics, the defendant has to know who the witness is. A defendant can’t very well establish a witness’s bias or past criminal record or reputation for honesty if the defendant does not know who the witness is.
Which brings us to Batman. We, the readers, may know that it’s Bruce Wayne under that cowl with the twin cell towers doubling as ear pieces, but the court doesn’t. And, more important, the defendant and his or her attorneys don’t. How does the defendant prove Batman has bias or a motive to lie about or a bad reputation for truth, if the defendant doesn’t know who the hell Batman is behind that mask? He doesn’t.
Which is why American courts are generally about as accepting of allowing masked witnesses to testify as Sheldon Cooper is of accepting change; either an alteration of his routine or pocket money from someone when he doesn’t know where those pockets may have been. No, as a general principle, masked witnesses cannot testify in American courts, because it would deny the defendant his right to confront the witness.
Now this is not a hard and fast rule. Some courts allow for some degree of witness anonymity in cases where the witness would face danger should the witness’s identity be revealed to the defendant; such as a detective who is in the middle of an undercover operation and can’t be outted or an eyewitness who fears retaliation. (I think the courts would be hard-pressed to rule that Batman was afraid of retaliation, considering putting himself in the path of retaliation is what he does on a daily basis.)
Courts also allow witness anonymity in cases of “forfeiture by wrongdoing” such as the defendant, or the defendant’s friends, threatening a witness and making the witness reluctant to testify. When this happens, courts rule that the defendant waived the right of confrontation by his or her wrongdoing. Again, I don’t think many courts would find that a defendant’s threats against Batman would hold much sway or cause him the slightest reluctance. If anything, they’d be more likely to encourage him.
In other cases, courts have allowed a witness to testify anonymously when the witness’s true identity was known to the prosecution and the prosecution supplied to the defendant the potential materials that the defense could use to impeach that witness. That could apply to, say, Captain America, because someone like Nick Fury could voucher for the man behind the mask, but it would not apply to the Batman, as no one knows who he is, not even the Gotham City Police or the District Attorney’s office. So no one could supply the defense with Batman’s impeaching information.
Without some constitutional amendment or federal law in the DC Universe which allowed for masked super heroes to testify in criminal proceedings, it is unlikely that Superman, Flash, Batman or any of the other DC heroes with secret identities could testify.
The old DC continuity actually had such a law that regulated the activities of masked super heroes. It was called the Keene Act. And according to our own John Ostrander, said act was modified by an amendment which, among other things, provided for how masked super heroes could testify; an amendment which, I immodestly note, John called “The Ingersoll Amendment.”
So under the old DC Universe continuity, Batman would have been able to testify. However no such legislation exists in the New 52 DC universe continuity. I know this because of Justice League# 30. In that story, Len (Captain Cold) Snart talks to Jake Shell “Parole Officer to the Rogues” and complains that even though Lex Luthor credited Captain Cold with helping to save the world from Forever Evil, the Flash won’t stand idly by and let Captain Cold walk free. Shell answers, “Unless the Flash unmasks and testifies under his real name, they’re not going to let him speak at your hearing.”
So it’s established that in the New 52, masked super heroes can’t testify at a parole hearing. Parole hearings are more informal proceedings and courts have held that the defendant’s panoply of trial rights – such as the right to confrontation – don’t apply as fully there as they do in an actual trial. So, if a masked super hero can’t testify under the relaxed procedures of a parole hearing in the New 52 world, a masked super hero will not be able to testify in a New 52 trial.
Or won’t until someone writes a story in which he or she really needs a masked super hero to testify, then that writer will figure out a way for it to happen. Then masked super heroes will be allowed to testify in the New 52 and I’ll probably get a new column out of it.
Writers of the New 52, the ball is in your courtroom.
When lawyers talk about Miranda, we mean the Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona and not a Brazilian movie star famous for her samba singing and fruit-laden hats that were so big they must have caused neck strain. When comic books talk about Miranda, it’s more of a crap shoot. I assume they’re talking about the Supreme Court case, but…
Well let’s put it this way, the banana on Carmen Miranda’s hat probably has more accurate knowledge of Miranda v. Arizona than the average comic book story. Case in point: Batman and Two-Face #27. (Or, maybe that should be court case in point.)
To quote Michael Corleone, “Just when I thought I was out … they pull me back in.”
Seriously, I thought after two columns I had exhausted the exhausting “Iron Jonah” storyline which is still running in the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip. I mean, one week I wrote about how J. Jonah Jameson lied to Tony Stark and got his hands on an old suit of Iron Man armor, then used it to try to capture Spider-Man by chasing him all over Manhattan while shooting repulsor rays indiscriminately at buildings and streets. I wrote about how said acts could – and should – have resulted in JJJ being prosecuted criminally and sued civilly for the wanton property damage he caused.
Then, in the next column, I wrote about how the same people who sued JJJ for property damage could also sue Tony Stark – he of the much deeper pockets – for negligently entrusting the Iron Man armor to JJJ which JJJ used to cause the property damage. I even outlined five theories under which the plaintiffs in these suits could have proven their case of negligent entrustment against Tony Stark. The first was strict liability, wherein a person does something so inherently dangerous that the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove negligence or fault. (I wrote about strict liability, even if, like someone who was as big an idiot as Tony Stark was, I didn’t call it that by name.) So, because I didn’t call it by name, and because I love the sound of my own voice even when I’m not speaking but writing, let me expound briefly on strict liability.
Billionaires become billionaires because they use their superior business acumen to start an enterprise and build it up over time until it, and they, are worth a billion dollars. Or they inherit the billion-dollar business from their fathers and have no business acumen of their own.
Tony Stark is, apparently, the latter kind of billionaire. And over in the Amazing Spider-Man comic strip, he’s proving he has no business sense by committing acts so monumentally stupid that he’s opening himself up to dozens of lawsuits.
Last week I described the story they’re currently running in the Amazing Spider-Man comic strip – a story that’s been plodding along since back in December. For want of a better name I think they’re calling it “Iron Jonah,” but that’s only because King Features Syndicate wouldn’t let them call it by its proper name “Dumb and Dumbass.” Here’s what’s happened so far in this story. (more…)
Okay, a promise is a promise. And I promised to lay off the Superior Spider-Man this week. Lucky for me there’s still an Amazing Spider-Man.
I know you think there aren’t any new Amazing Spider-Man stories right now, but I assure you there are. Where? Well, in the words of the philosopher, “See you in the funny papers.”
In the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip – where J. Jonah Jameson is still the editor/publisher of The Daily Bugle, not mayor; Peter Parker is still Spider-Man, not Doctor Octopus; and Peter and Mary Jane still have at least one more day of marital bliss – they’re running a story in which JJJ is trying to unmask Spider-Man. (JJJ? Lois Lane? What is it about alliterative initials and secret identities?)
No, it has nothing to do with the whole Doctor Octopus is in Peter Parker’s body while Peter is apparently dead, even though some remnant of Peter’s morality is making Ock try to prove he can be a Spider-Man. A superior Spider-Man, even. No, that doesn’t bother me. I mean I never thought that status would remain quo for long.
Ever since the days of Stan Lee, Marvel Comics has operated on the principle of “the appearance of change,” but that’s not even the real reason. The real reason I expected Peter Parker back in control just about now is because in a few short weeks the movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out. Anybody who thought the Disney suits would want a comic book where Doctor Octopus is Spider-Man out at the same time as the movie where Peter Parker is Spider-Man could use a lesson in marketing. And I don’t mean a refresher course at your local Kwik-E-Mart.
So why is The Superior Spider-Man not a good comic for me? Well, let’s look at the latest example of what bothers Bob about The Superior Spider-Man and then we’ll discuss.
Blackout wants to reestablish his rep as a hired killer and how he chose to do it is the subject of this week’s SPOILER ALERT. You know those really big spoilers on cars that resemble the blades of a ventilation fan? They look silly. Don’t use them. And don’t continue reading this column, unless you want the beginning, middle and end of The Superior Spider-Man Annual # 1 spoiled. (more…)
[[[Fifty shades of grey]]] isn’t just a runaway best-seller of debatable literary merit soon to be a major motion picture of, probably, even more debatable merit. It’s also the world we live in.
No, I don’t mean it’s a world of erotic fantasies, BDSM role-playing games, and dominance. Although if it were, can you imagine how that would change the popular Disney attraction “It’s a Small World?” (And I apologize for having put that now unwashable image into your minds.)
What I mean is that the world isn’t just “white hats” and “black hats,” good or evil. It’s a world of grey tones where everyone has some good and some evil, where everyone is grey. Some people are more good than evil, while others are more evil than good, which is why there are shades of grey; at least fifty of them if bad literature can be believed.
Otto Octavius, the former Doctor Octopus and now the controlling mentality in the body of Peter Parker, who is trying to prove he’s a “white hat” by being a superior Spider-Man is proving instead that, like Batman in [[[The Lego Movie]]], he “only work[s] in black. And sometimes, very, very dark grey.” And the world around him is trending darker too, like it’s got some sort of Goth hashtag.
Detective Comics #25 is set during Batman: Year Zero which, despite that title means the story takes place during Batman’s first year, not his zeroth year. At this time, James Gordon wasn’t Commissioner of the G.C.P.D. yet, just a recent transfer from Chicago who found himself in a city overrun by mobsters and crooked cops paid to look the other way while the mobsters mobbed. Gordon wanted to take down both the mobsters and the corrupt cops, starting with Roman Sionis, who Gordon suspected was the secret head behind the Black Mask gang. So what Gordon did was…
Oh, wait. SPOILER WARNING! Leaving your milk out will spoil the milk. Reading this column will spoil Detective Comics # 25. If you don’t want either your milk or comic books spoiled, don’t leave your milk out and don’t read this column. (No, wait. Do read it, just finish reading Detective Comics # 25 first.) (more…)