The Law of Superheroes
by James Daily and Ryan Davidson*
Other than a few issues of Archie Comics when I was a kid, I have never been a reader of comic books, but the idea of this book intrigued me and I thoroughly enjoyed the book itself. Most of us have enough pop culture knowledge to recognize Batman and Superman and some of the most villainous villains and even know a bit about their alter-egos and some of the story lines. That is enough to get into this book and find it exceedingly interesting. The authors are self-described “lawyers and comic book nerds” and this book grew out of their blog, Law and the Multiverse. In an attempt to make law more interesting, both the blog and the book introduce real world legal principles by applying them to the facts and situations found in comic books.
In addition to appealing to both comic book fans and novices, this book is also written for both legal experts and those without legal training. The authors have a knack for discussing legal concepts in a way that is neither dumbed-down nor obtuse. Lawyers can have fun thinking about questions like how the Second Amendment applies to superpowers, whether allowing superheroes to testify in costume violates the confrontation clause (or whether requiring them to remove their masks violates their privacy rights), whether mutants are a protected class and how the ADA applies, and what is the best business organization for the Justice League. For non-lawyers, the authors explain a plethora of legal concepts briefly before demonstrating how those legal concepts would apply in the worlds of various comic books. Contracts aren’t so hard to understand when you apply the concepts in contract law to a contract between Batman and Penguin’s thugs to help find the survivors of an earthquake in Gotham City.
The table of contents reads a little like a law school transcript, with chapters covering constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, criminal procedure, tort law and insurance, contracts, business law, administrative law, intellectual property, travel and immigration and international law. The authors explore an impressive list of legal issues. Even just reading the headings raises interesting questions: citizenship and parallel universes, immortality and compound interest, superhero corporations and liability, hearsay and telepathy, supervillain sentencing and the Eighth Amendment, anti-mutant hate crimes, mutants and civil rights, psychic powers and the Fifth Amendment.
The book certainly provides a new look at law, but for those who don’t read comic books, it also provides an look at the government and legal systems in comic books, which it seems are detailed and sophisticated, with government agencies, courts and laws. The DC Universe even has its own version of the Twelfth Amendment.
And the authors even have something for legal researchers — the discussions are carefully footnoted with citations to cases, statutes, constitutional provisions and law review articles in flawless Bluebook format. The comic books themselves are even cited in proper Bluebook format, which, for a citation geek like me, is just another example of how well this book blends law and comic books.
*James Daily & Ryan Davidson, The Law of Superheroes (Gotham Books 2012).