Book Review: The Law of Superheroes, James Daily & Ryan Davidson (2012)

August 31st, 2012 1:21 pm by Kelly Garbato

Death & Taxes

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free advanced review copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

Could Superman really run for president of the United States? Might the makers of the genetically modified spider that bit Peter Parker sue him for patent violations? Is the Superhuman Registration Act constitutional?

In The Law of Superheroes, lawyers, co-bloggers (www.lawandthemultiverse.com), and self-proclaimed comic book nerds James Daily and Ryan Davidson attempt to answer these questions – and many more. Wherever the law and comic book stories intersect (and the points are both numerous and varied!), Daily and Davidson are there, armed with a library’s worth of case law, a comprehensive knowledge of comic book lore, and an easy, engaging sense of humor. The result is an accessible, enjoyable look at US law as explained using examples culled from comic books.

The book is split into thirteen chapters, each of which covers a different area of US law:

1 – Constitutional Law: e.g., Does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment grant mutants civil rights? Could the state ever force a superhuman to relinquish his or her superpowers?

2 – Criminal Law: If you murder a superhero who’s later resurrected, is it still murder? Is the Joker legally insane?

3 – Evidence: Could the court ever allow testimony given by a masked superhero? Can the services of psychics be used to verify a witness’s testimony?

4 – Criminal Procedure: Would evidence gathered by Batman be admissible in criminal court? Could a superhero be held liable for false arrest?

5 – Tort Law and Insurance: Does the nonconsensual use of telepathy constitute a violation of privacy? Who’s legally responsible for the massive property damages sustained in the comic book universes?

6 – Contracts: Could Batman really contract the services of thugs to rescue civilians, as he does in No Man’s Land? Are contracts with the Devil enforceable?

7 – Business Law: Which business designation would best fit a superhero team, e.g., for tax and liability purposes? Does the Americans with Disabilities Act afford mutants any protection?

8 – Administrative Law: Would Superman owe taxes on pieces of coal that he crushed into diamonds? How would flying superheroes deal with the FAA?

9 – Intellectual Property: Does Peter Parker own the copyright to photos he takes for the Daily Bugle? Do the surviving members of The Beatles have a copyright claim on music created by their counterparts in an alternate universe?

10 – Travel and Immigration: Could Superman really renounce his US citizenship? Would international restriction on travel apply to superhumans who travel by teleportation devices (i.e., since they aren’t technically crossing borders)?

11 – International Law: What are the territorial markers of Atlantis? Do US courts have any jurisdiction over crimes committed on other planets?

12 – Immortality, Alter Egos, and Resurrection: Would the compound interest on their investments provide a living wage to immortals? Can immortal beings collect Social Security in perpetuity?

13 – Non-Human Intelligences: As a non-human, would Superman have any rights at all? Can the Endangered Species Act be used to protect intelligent super-nonhumans?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found the early,“sexier” chapters on Constitutional and criminal law more entertaining than those on business and administrative law. That said, the authors still manage to make the tax code seem somewhat interesting.

My chief complaint is that the most fascinating chapter – and that with the greatest potential for real-world implications – is the also the shortest: “Non-Human Intelligences.” The discussion begins with an all-too-brief look at animal rights law (without condescending to animal rights advocates – yay!) and how this might be applied to “intelligent” fictional nonhumans, including but not limited to the very humanoid Superman and his fellow Kryptonians; the apes of Gorilla City and the aliens Shi’ar and Skrull also get a mention. (“Intelligent” in scare quotes because, as per usual, intelligence is defined strictly in human terms.)

Artificial Intelligences – such as Brainiac, Awesome Andy, Ultron, and the Vision – receive just a page and a half of attention! The only legal issue discussed in any depth is who might lay claim to intellectual property created by AIs. The authors note several other (and much more interesting) concerns (e.g., “if an AI is a legal person, then is deleting it tantamount to murder?”), but fail to follow up on any of them.

Additionally, Daily and Davidson focus disproportionately on the DC and Marvel Universes; Dark Horse gets precious few mentions. Finally, while they include a number of reprinted panels, the quality isn’t always that great. (Granted, this problem might be specific to the advanced review copies.)

All in all, The Law of Superheroes is a fun, quirky book with great crossover potential. The authors approach both topics from an introductory perspective, so that the reader need not have much preexisting knowledge of either to follow along. A must for anyone who enjoys pop culture analysis, Smart Pop style.

(This review is also posted on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined.)

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