Not everyone can take the preposterous and examine it through the lens of the practical. Doing so for comic effect is the The Onion's gig, but those guys are old pros. Larry Niven did it for both comic and scientific effect in "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex", but most of us aren't Larry Niven. (Geek-life brag: I once talked to Larry Niven about that column at a concert of Star Wars music.) Too often the "what would happen if [extraordinary character] encountered [mundane circumstance]" shtick falls flat, like a Usenet flame war or a tiresome Saturday Night Live skit.
That's why it's impressive that attorneys James Daily and Ryan Davidson have pulled it off so flawlessly in the educational and fun "The Law of Superheroes." Their publisher sent Popehat an advance copy.
The book introduced me to the authors' blog Law and the Multiverse, which I shall now follow. The book concerns the same subject: how would the law treat the sorts of things that happens in the comics?
Is Batman a state actor? Does the newest Robin inherit the old Robin's assets or liabilities? For that matter, is Robin liable when Batman goes nuts and kills someone? How, exactly, can you expect to testify wearing a cowl? Are mind-readings admissible? All those buildings that get knocked down — who pays for them? Should the Avengers have a charter with an arbitration clause, and will it be enforceable if they do? What's better, tax-wise, for the Fantastic Four — a corporation or an LLC? And everybody in every Alan Moore comic should be in jail, right?
Those are the sorts of subjects Daily and Davidson tackle. They apply constitutional, criminal, and civil law issues to comic book heroes and villains, from the familiar to the (to me) obscure.
There are so many ways they could have handled this wrong. They could have been too serious about comics and not serious enough about the law, or vice-versa. They could have written the book in to much detail, like a law review article, or too little, like a comic book. They could have assumed too much of their readers' legal acumen, or too little. Instead, they did it just right. "The Law of Superheroes" is both entertaining and informative. People who aren't lawyers or law-geeks will learn something about the law, and lawyers and law-geeks will be thoroughly entertained at the application of familiar principles to comic extravaganzas. (This means, of course, that I disagreed with some of their legal analysis, and thought about how I would have explained it better. The book would have been intolerable had that not been the case.)
I gripe a lot here that the media does a terrible job at explaining the law to the American public. "The Law of Superheroes" shows that it can be done clearly and directly and effectively, even if you are talking about people in tights who have mood issues and talk funny. It's an enjoyable read; I suspect I'll return to it. Recommended.