December 27, 2012

Review: The Law of Superheroes

Category: Reviews — By @ 3:07 pm

The Law of Superheroes Cover

Could Batman patent the Batmobile? Is it murder if you kill Wolverine, knowing he’ll regenerate? Does Superman need a warrant to use his X-ray vision on your house? How much trouble can Stark Industries get in if one of Iron Man’s fights levels your business?

James Daily, J.D. and Ryan Davidson, J.D.’s The Law of Superheroes answers these and more questions about the legal implications of super-heroic tropes. You may recognize the names or the concept: The pair of lawyers and self-described comic-book nerds also write the blog Law and the Multiverse.

You’d think a book about law would be a dry read, but it’s actually a lot of fun. That’s sort of the point: some land dispute might not grab the average reader’s attention, but Superman’s troubles with the IRS? That’s something anyone can relate to. More than a “what if?” collection, the book works as an overview of U.S. and international law, told through the lens of comic books.

Examples

Some of the implications are kind of surprising. For instance: Music from a parallel universe where the Beatles never broke up (New Excalibur 4) might not be protected by copyright, because Earth-2182′s U.S. and U.K. never signed our universe’s Berne Convention. On the other hand, the surviving Beatles might still be able to control distribution through trademark law.

Another interesting thing to think about: if Commissioner Gordon calls Batman in on a case, he’s legally required to follow the same rules as the police regarding search warrants and the like, or else evidence may not be admissible. But if Batman goes after the Riddler on his own, he can probably sneak into the villain’s hideout looking for clues and not jeopardize the case (although he’d technically be guilty of breaking and entering).

As a non-human, Superman might not be legally entitled to legal rights as a person, though he and Gorilla Grodd would probably both be protected under animal cruelty statutes and the Endangered Species Act. This is one of several cases where it seems likely that law would change to settle the question (sort of like the DCU’s twelfth amendment allowing masked testimony).

As for that question about Wolverine: It really does depend on whether you know he’ll shrug it off. If you shoot him and think he’ll die, you’ve attempted murder and can be charged as such. If you know it’ll barely slow him down, it’s only assault. On a related note, if you kill Ra’s Al Ghul and then he climbs out of the Lazarus pit, you’re still culpable for murder. You did kill him, after all.

Missing

I was kind of hoping for a little more depth on some subjects, but they cover a lot of ground, and there isn’t really room. (Good thing they have a blog!)

The other thing that disappointed me is that they rarely stray from the mainstream DC and Marvel universes. Hob Gadling from Sandman is discussed at length in the chapter on immortality, and Moist from Dr. Horrible is mentioned in passing during the chapter on super powers as disabilities, but that’s about it. In particular, I would have liked to see some discussion of an Astro City story in which a defense attorney, under extreme pressure from his ruthless and well-connected client, successfully uses the doppelganger defense.

Overall

The Law of Superheroes is one of those fun books that you can take with you when you know you’ll only have sporadic reading time. It’s broken down into broad areas of law and then specific issues, so it’s easy to take a few minutes to read about mutant civil rights or immortality and property inheritance, then put it down for a while and come back later.

Verdict: Recommended. And then head over to their blog for more!

A review copy was provided by the publisher.