Tagged: Batman Eternal

The Law Is A Ass


arkham-manor-612x968-f3e97So in Batman Eternal #29

What? No I didn’t promise that I wouldn’t write about Batman Eternal this week, I promised I’d try. Also I’m not really writing about the year-long Batman story that is certainly living up to its name, so chillax. (Chillax. How is that even a word? Sounds like a murder weapon in Alaska.) This week I’m writing about what came after Batman Eternal #29. With a little of what came after Batman Eternal #34 thrown in. Which means what I’m writing about is Arkham Manor #1.

In Batman Eternal #29, Arkham Asylum – the hospital for the criminally insane located on the outskirts of Gotham City that houses Joker, Two-Face, Mister Zsasz, and most of the rest of Batman’s rogue gallery – blew up. Although how and why isn’t really important what the hell, I’ve got some time to kill. To put it succinctly, Deacon Blackfire, a magically delicious villain was using his magic in a fight with Jim Corrigan in the tunnels below Arkham Asylum. Blackfire was attempting to pull the Spectre, the ghostly spirit of God’s vengeance that lives inside of Corrigan’s body, out of Corrigan’s body. But Blackfire wasn’t adept enough for this kind of magic and in Batman Eternal # 29, his attempts resulted in …


Usually, this is where I’d warn you I’m going to tell you how Batman Eternal #29 ended. This time I’m not. Arkham Manor #1 came out about a month before Batman Eternal # 29, even though it takes place after that story, and it gave away the ending to Batman Eternal #29. If DC didn’t mind spoiling its own story, why should I?

… an explosion. An explosion which caused Arkham Asylum to collapse in on itself in Batman Eternal #30.

Hundreds of people died when Arkham Asylum came tumbling down. But wouldn’t you know it, they were incidental deaths. Collateral damage, as it were. Somehow Joker, Two-Face, Mister Zsasz, and most of the rest of Batman’s rogue gallery survived.

Arkham Asylum’s destruction left Mayor Hady and Gotham City with a big question, where to put “the city’s most dangerous lunatics.” Any time someone suggested a possible new location for all those dangerous lunatics, the citizens of Gotham City basically responded, “Not in my backyard.” Even the ones who lived in brownstones and didn’t have back yards.

Fortunately for Mayor Hady and the city fathers, in Batman Eternal #34 the federal government seized control of Wayne Enterprises and all of its assets. I talked about the how and why of this three weeks ago, so you can go there to read about it, if you don’t already know. (BTW, I really recommend that you go to my old column to read about how and why the Feds took over Wayne Enterprises rather than reading Batman Eternal #34. Not because my new web-based home for the column needs the hits, I just think the experience will be more pleasant.)

Anyway, Bruce Wayne was left largely penniless. (Well, he does have this one giant penny sitting around doing nothing, but I’m not sure it’s negotiable.) Bruce had moved out of Wayne Manor and was living in an apartment in Gotham City. So Gotham City used eminent domain to take over Wayne Manor and make it Arkham Manor, the new home for Gotham’s criminally insane.

Eminent domain, the process by which the government may take private property for public use, is not a new concept. The concept dates back to biblical times, when King Ahab of Israel, offered to purchase the vineyards of one of his subjects, Naboth. Naboth declined Ahab’s offer, so Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, framed Naboth for blasphemy and had him stoned to death. After which Ahab got the vineyards. Since that time, they’ve refined the concept of eminent domain. It’s a little more fair and a little less killy. After the French Revolution, the French formally adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. Among it’s provisions is the sentence, “Property being an inviolable and sacred right no one can be deprived of it, unless the public necessity plainly demands it, and upon condition of a just and previous indemnity.” The Founding Fathers drafted similar language in the Fifth Amendment of Constitution of the United States, “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” Like I said, a little less killy. (Yes, there’s a bit of a history lesson here, but history is important. To paraphrase George Santayana; those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Usually in summer school.)

So Gotham City decided to take Wayne Manor through eminent domain and convert it to Arkham Manor. In order to invoke eminent domain, the government must prove four elements” 1) there’s some private property, that 2) the government plans to take, for 3) a public use, after 4) making just compensation to the owner of the property.

Wayne Manor is clearly the private property of Bruce Wayne. Yes, even though the federal government seized Wayne Enterprises’s assets, Wayne Manor would probably still have been Bruce’s property. Remember, Wayne Enterprises was a corporation. The reason a business incorporates is to protect the property of the owners from lawsuits. After the corporation is created, it becomes a legal entity of it’s own and is solely responsible for its actions. If the corporation is sued, those harmed by the corporation can seize the corporate assets but not the assets of the corporation’s owners, that is to say the shareholders.

When the Wayne family established Wayne Enterprises, none of their lawyers would have allowed the Waynes to transfer ownership of Wayne Manor over to the corporation. Such an act would have completely negated the whole reason behind creating the corporation in the first place, limited liability. An attorney would have to be the Chief O’Hara of lawyers to let a client do something that stupid. So let’s assume, even after the Feds seized Wayne Enterprises, Bruce Wayne still owned Wayne Manor.

The government wanted to take Wayne Manor and convert it into a hospital to house the criminally insane, which would be a public use. The only question left would be the just compensation element.

Usually the just compensation happens this way. The government makes an offer which it considers to be fair market value for the property. Generally it’s a lowball offer, because we all know the government never overpays for anything. The property owner rejects the offer as too low and makes a counter offer of what the owner thinks is fair market value. Generally it’s high. The two parties negotiate over what is a fair market value for the property. If they reach an agreement, that amount is paid and the government takes over the property. If the two parties can’t reach an agreement, then they go to court and there’s a condemnation hearing during which the court will determine fair market value.

Sometimes the property owner doesn’t want to lose his property. So he might argue that the taking isn’t for public use. Again there’s a condemnation hearing, this time to determine whether the intended use is really a public use. If the judge rules it is a public use, the condemnation goes forward. I’ve never been able to figure out why these are called condemnation proceedings. No one is condemning the property, they’re just putting it to a new and different use.

None of those steps happened in the case of Wayne Manor. Why not? It wasn’t because the story got the law wrong. It was because Bruce Wayne knew he presently didn’t have the assets needed to maintain Wayne Manor or, in all probability, pay its property taxes. Bruce also believed his father, a doctor who advocated for better treatment of the mentally ill, would have given Wayne Manor to the city in the face of this emergency were he still alive. So Bruce voluntarily agreed to the condemnation proceedings and gave up Wayne Manor.

Bruce apparently believed in the old concept of noblesse oblige. And that makes him a better man than I am. Me, I would have held out for some money from Gotham City. Maybe I wouldn’t have soaked them, but if I just lost my personal fortune and was sitting on a house that was easily worth ten or twenty – and more probably thirty or forty – million dollars that the government wanted to buy, I would have wanted a little something something to get myself back on my financial feet.

But Bruce asked for nothing. He let his ancestral home go not for a pittance, not for a song but for nothing. Because he felt it was his duty. With a sense of noblesse oblige that strong, had Bruce lived back in the times of Caesar, he would have been the noblesse Roman of them all.

The Law Is A Ass


BMETRL_Cv35_54650225dc3750.55505312Whether you call it disaster porn or destruction porn or, if you’re like me, boring; America can’t get it’s fill of exploding buildings, collapsing bridges, or shock waves leveling cities. Movie after movie gives us scene after scene of such wholesale destruction. Usually, it’s meteors or earthquakes or volcanoes or tornadoes or hurricanes or leaks from the earth’s molten core. Sometimes it’s alien invaders or great big robots or even greater bigger scaly monsters. (Big? They’re monstrous. Kaiju ask?) But whatever the cause, the effect is destruction.

Given America’s love of destruction porn, it’s not surprising the “art” form found its way into comic books. Batman Eternal started with a two-page money shot of subway trains colliding. And more than half a year later, the series, like a victim of the destruction it glorifies, has limped it’s way to the latest images of orgiastic destruction found in Batman Eternal #35.

(Yes, Batman Eternal again. But cheer up. I’ve reached the last issue in my Batman Eternal stories I’ve got to write about pile. So unless Batman Eternal does something incredibly stupid in the issue that comes out this week, I won’t be writing about it next week. Promise. Of course, a promise predicated on Batman Eternal not doing anything stupid is kind of an empty promise.)

Anyway, I am writing about Batman Eternal #35 this week. However, before I can do that, I must do this…


Batman Eternal #35 doesn’t end – the story’s got seventeen issues to go – but if you don’t want to know the cliff from which Batman was left hanging at the end of issue 35 stop reading this column. Oh and don’t look at the cover, either, because the cliffhanger for issue 35 is stupidly on it’s cover.

For a change, it wasn’t natural disasters causing the destruction in Batman Eternal# 35. It was Jason Bard, the acting commissioner of the GCPD. Turns out Bard wasn’t the shining example of good honest cop that Commissioner Gordon believed him to be when Gordon recruited Bard from the Detroit Police to the GCPD. Bard was in bed with crime boss Carmine Falcone, masked villain Hush, and whoever’s secretly planning the whole Batman Eternal scheme which has been torturing Batman – not to mention us – for close to a year now. But Bard wasn’t your usual corrupt cop in Gotham City. (In Gotham City a corrupt cop is more usual than the suspects in Casablanca). Bard wasn’t in it for the money, he had a personal reason to take down Batman.

As ace reporter Vicki Vale learned from a bartender in Batman Eternal # 35 and 36, Jason’s fiancé was also a cop in Detroit. One night during a drug raid, a Batman wannabee distracted Jason’s fiancé and she was killed. Jason blamed Batman for his fiance’s death. (Which is about as logical as blaming Elvis because your brother was watching an Elvis impersonator on the Vegas Strip instead of looking where he was going and stupidly walked into oncoming traffic. But who said logic was ever a part of Batman Eternal?) Actually, Bard blamed Batman and Commissioner Gordon for encouraging law-breaking vigilantes. So he joined the criminal scheme to take them both down.

It took Vicki all of one day in Detroit to learn of Jason’s psychological infirmary. How is it that seasoned police commissioner Jim Gordon’s vetting process wasn’t as good as hers? When Jim Gordon recruited Bard, he didn’t talk to any co-workers or friends to learn that Bard hated both him and Batman?

But I digress. (Or maybe I’m stalling, because I don’t want to write about the idiocy that came next.) In Batman Eternal # 35, Bard set a trap for Batman. After the United States Government took control of all of Wayne Enterprises assets and operations in Batman Eternal #34, because Wayne Enterprises had helped Batman secret explosives throughout Gotham City, it gave Bard access to Wayne Enterprises. Bard plundered Wayne Enterprises R&D department, which created the equipment for Batman and Batman, Incorporated. In addition, Lucius Fox, who designed all of Batman’s weapons, agreed to work with Bard to set the trap.

The story didn’t reveal why Fox agreed to help trap Batman. Maybe he had nothing better to do. In Batman Eternal 35, Wayne Enterprises building has a sign on it saying the government had seized it and no entry was permitted. So apparently the government shut down all operations of Wayne Enterprises, even the ones that didn’t involve planting secret weapons caches. Because that’s what the government would want to do after taking over a multi-billion dollar multinational conglomerate; cease all operations and put thousands of people out of work. Isn’t that why President Truman seized the steel mills during the Korean War, so he could shut them down?

Where was I? Oh yes, the trap. Jason lured Batman into Gotham City by blowing up the Beacon Tower construction site. Yes, the police baited it’s trap by blowing up a construction site. Okay, the site itself was a Wayne Enterprises project so it was shut down and deserted. But, still, the police blew it up. What if the government decided to start the project up again? Oops.

So no one was present at the site when it exploded. Which is more than can be said for the clearly occupied buildings that had their lights on which were right next to the explosions. We can only hope that they didn’t sustain any collateral damage or injuries from being near a big bang. We can hope, because, Bard apparently didn’t give a fig.

As Batman drove into Gotham City, Jason had Lucius Fox take control of the car. The Batmobile became Bard’s “very own RC racer.” Bard ordered Batman to pull over and give up. When Batman refused, Bard sprang the trap. Did he use the remote controls to stop the car? Of course not, that would have been the sensible thing to do. No, Bard activated the car’s jet propulsion unit, despite the fact that there were people in the street near the Batmobile, and sent it racing through city streets at jet-propelled speed.

Bard steered the Batmobile first up and then off a highway overpass. It launched into the air and flew on a course Bard had set. A collision course. It crashed into a building, went through it and crashed out the other side. Then it crashed through a second building while en route to Bard’s actual target, the Wayne Enterprises tower. Finally, it crashed through the Wayne building; in one side and out the other. By then the Batmobile had lost enough momentum that it couldn’t fly any longer. It free-fell toward a fiery crash with the ground several dozen stories below.

This entire scene was like a high-speed car chase. Yeah there was only one car, but it had all the other elements; a car speeding through the streets of a city out of control causing property damage and potentially risking injury to the people.

Police departments don’t like high-speed car chases. They even have protocols dictating what steps police officers must take before they get involved in a high-speed chase, because they try to avoid them. Know why police departments don’t like high-speed chases? Because they involve a car speeding through the streets of a city out of control causing property damage and potentially risking injury to the people.

But as I said, this was only like a high-speed car chase. See, in a high-speed chase, the police are chasing someone who is trying to get away. The police didn’t instigate the potentially dangerous situation. In this story, the police totally caused everything that happened.

The police blew up a construction site. The police fired up jet engines on a city street which had people on it. The police caused a car to careen through the guard rail of a major highway overpass. The police sent the car flying through not one, not two, but three buildings. Yes, the Wayne Enterprises building was empty, but what about the other two? The police sent a jet-powered car through them without regard for the safety of anyone who might be inside them. Finally, the police caused the car to free-fall to the ground below, without regard for the safety of any drivers or pedestrians who might near the WE building at the wrong time.

Know another reason why police departments don’t like high-speed chases? Because innocent bystanders sue cities and police departments over the personal injuries and property damage caused by high-speed chases. And even though such suits frequently fail, because police departments have a qualified immunity from civil suits when they are acting within clearly established law, it still costs the police department time and money to defend such suits. That’s another reason why police departments have procedures they follow for high-speed chases, so they can show their protocols follow clearly established law. However, when the police actually cause all the property damage and personal injury, by sending a remote-controlled, jet-propelled guided missile on a literal collision course with several buildings and possibly several people, all to capture one man, it’s not acting within clearly established law. I’m not sure Gotham City and its Police Department wouldn’t be found liable in this case.

All this property damage and all the potential for injury to innocent people who were nearby, caused because the police were trying to arrest one man. It’s enough to make you glad the police are on our side. Imagine the mayhem they could cause if they were working against us.

The Law Is A Ass


500px-Batman_Eternal_Vol_1-13_Cover-1_TeaserIf you thought things looked bad in Batman Eternal before, well now they’re even worse. But enough about Batman Eternal, let’s look at where this year-long story has put our friend Commissioner James Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department. It’s not looking too good for him, either.

In Batman Eternal # 21, Commissioner Jim Gordon, who had been tried on 162 counts of manslaughter was found guilty on 123 of them. That must have been soooome interesting trial. The prosecution alleged Gordon negligently discharged his service revolver in a subway station, causing a transformer box to explode. This catastrophe somehow caused two subway trains to collide. The resulting death toll was 162, hence 162 counts of manslaughter. So, based on these facts, how was Gordon convicted on only 123 counts? Shouldn’t he have been guilty of everyone who died in the crash? Not most everybody?

Did 39 people who were on the subway all die of sudden, simultaneous heart attacks just seconds before the crash? Or 28 died from slow-acting poison administered by their wives at breakfast, while 10 of them succumbed to Legionaries’ Disease, and one of them just burst out in spontaneous human combustion? No, there’s nothing wrong with this result, I’m just curious as to what evidence the jury could have heard that made them believe that Gordon was responsible for only 123 of the deaths but not those last 39.

Anyway for some reason not explained in the story, Gordon was convicted of 123 counts of manslaughter. Then, for some reason also not explained in the story, he was promptly sentenced to life in prison in Blackgate Penitentiary.

Now we are in the realm of something legally wrong with the result. Long story short – a term that can’t be applied to Batman Eternal, itself – Gordon really wasn’t sentenced to a life term, because he couldn’t have been.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution – an Amendment which applies both to the federal government and to the individual states by incorporation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment– no government may deprive a person of liberty without due process of law. And even though some people who suffered through six seasons of Snooki and her drinking buddies might want to disavow New Jersey, it is part of the United States. That means the Fifth Amendment fully applied to Jim Gordon’s sentence.

What does the Constitution mean when the Constitution says that a person can’t be deprived of liberty without due process of law? Among other things, it means that a defendant can’t receive a sentence which is not authorized by the sentencing statutes of the jurisdiction in which he or she was convicted. See, e.g., Williams v. New York (1949) 337 U.S. 241.

(Wow, it’s been a few years since I’ve used the old “See, e.g.,” in a sentence. Nice to know the muscles haven’t atrophied.)

Boiled down to its essence, if a state trial court imposes a sentence which is greater than the sentence that jurisdiction’s sentencing statutes authorize, that sentence is void. Boiling the essence down to its essence, if a defendant is convicted of theft and the statutes authorize a maximum sentence of only one year for theft, then the defendant can’t be sentenced to two years. Not even if the defendant stole candy from a baby and the judge thought a longer sentence was more appropriate. The harsher sentence was not authorized by the law and due process says only the sentences authorized by law can be imposed.

In the same way, if a person is convicted of manslaughter in New Jersey and the New Jersey statutes don’t authorize a life sentence for manslaughter, then imposing a life sentence is unconstitutional and the sentence is void. Doesn’t matter that the defendant’s manslaughter was magnified by a factor of 123, the judge can’t up the sentence to something not found in the law, just because the crimes were particularly heinous. (Which means, unfortunately, no matter how much we may think they deserve it, the producers of Jersey Shore can’t get the death penalty.)

New Jersey Statute 2C:11-4 defines manslaughter. It, in fact, defines two kinds of manslaughter. They are aggravated manslaughter, a felony of the first degree, and manslaughter, a felony of the second degree. If you surmise that felonies of the first degree carry harsher sentences than felonies of the second degree, you are correct. Congratulations on your astuteness. If you happened to make this surmise based on what your learned after years of reading “The Law Is a Ass,” then congratulations on your good taste and thanks for paying attention.

Batman Eternal never actually mentioned whether Gordon was charged with manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter. For the purpose of this little treatise, I’ll assume he was charged with the worst form of manslaughter: aggravated manslaughter under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life. Why? Because that’s the version of manslaughter that has the longest sentence. If any version of manslaughter was going to carry a life sentence, that would be the one.

Buuut, it doesn’t. The same statute that defined aggravated manslaughter also set the maximum sentence for aggravated manslaughter. Set it at 30 years.

That’s 30 years; not life.

Last time I looked – in fact every time I looked – a life sentence was longer than 30 years. Gordon’s life sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence for a manslaughter conviction in New Jersey. Which means the life sentence imposed on Gordon was illegal. And unconstitutional.

Sure, the judge could have imposed a maximum sentence of 30 years on each of the 123 counts of manslaughter and ordered Gordon serve them consecutively; that is one after the other, after the other, and so on until you reach 123 of them. Quick math – okay, quick use of the calculator app on my computer – reveals that maximum, consecutive sentences in Gordon’s case yields a sentence of 3,690 years. But that’s still not life.

Yes, 3,690 years is the functional equivalent of a life sentence. In fact it’s closer to the functional equivalent of a life sentence with a few extra zeros added to the back end just to seal the deal. Not to mention seal away the defendant for a good long while. But 123 sentences of 30 years maxed and stacked, is still shorter than a single life sentence. The life sentence was illegal.

Which is why I say Gordon couldn’t have been sentenced to a life term. Because he couldn’t.

Would it have been that difficult for someone to have checked what sentences would be possible for Gordon’s manslaughter convictions? I wasted a whole ten seconds writing a simple and rather unimaginative Google search on “New Jersey manslaughter sentences” which produced a whole page of links almost any of which revealed the answer. With that information, the writers could have given Gordon an actual and legal sentence not whatever sounded the worst.

For that matter, does life actually sound worse than 3,690 years? I don’t think so. After all, 3690 years, much like Batman Eternal, is actually longer than life.