A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Monday, February 28, 2005

Profile: Loren

It was suggested in comments below that we share our credentials, so that you, dear reader, have reason to trust our reviews and nitpicks. Rather than merely append a mini-bio to posts, I thought it'd be best to for us to share a little more about ourselves upfront. And I'll also add some thoughts about what my personal philosophy on this blog is.

I'm Loren Collins, a 26-year old lifelong Georgia resident. I graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law last spring, and before that I got a B.A. in Political Science and Religion from UGA. I specialized in criminal law during law school, and during my third year I interned in two different prosecutor's offices. At the moment, I'm seeking employment in a district attorney's office. I discovered Robert Ingersoll's column archives last year, and have since wanted to emulate his work.

So my fields of expertise here are mostly criminal law and politics, but I'm sure to touch upon other legal issues or random trivia that I'm familiar with. For instance, as a metro Atlantan, I plan on taking Robert Kirkman to task for his treatment of Atlanta in Walking Dead.

Given the general theme of fact-checking and pointing out mistakes, does that mean I expect creators to put out books that are completely error-free? Of course not. I don't expect a comic author to consult the Federal Rules of Evidence before writing a courtroom scene. They're not lawyers any more than I'm a psychologist.

Some manipulation of real-world ways is unavoidable because of the restrictions of the medium. Consider the courtroom setting. Opening and closing statements must be a lot shorter. Allowing witnesses to give narrative answers avoids Bendis-esque back-and-forth dialogue. If the questioning of a witness is relevant on the whole, then it can hurt the scene to break it up with objections that would be overruled. Dramatic and storytelling demands can trump reality in these situations, just as they do on many a legal procedural drama on TV.

My expectations also vary depending on the publication. Manhunter is a serious, mature book whose title character and protagonist is a prosecutor. As such, I'm going to hold "The Trial of the Shadow Thief" to a much higher standard than a Kyle Baker-penned "The Trial of Woozy Winks" in Plastic Man. And if a comic's plot relies on an erroneous legal assumption (as a recent Gotham Central arc very nearly did), then that's worse than a bad throwaway reference.

Then there are certain errors that I never want to see repeated again, in any story, and which every writer should avoid. Perhaps the biggest one is when the prosecutor is shown calling the defendant as a witness at trial. Never happens. Can't happen. It's illegal, and in violation of the defendant's right against self-incrimination. Another biggie is that the prosecution always presents its evidence first at trial. If you can't get courtroom basics right, then maybe you shouldn't be writing a courtroom story.

Of course, I'm very willing to point out any errors, whether I actually mind them or not. Why? First, it helps to inform the reader. Things like "The Science of Star Trek" can both critique and provide tidbits of knowledge that people might not otherwise learn. Second, it might help someone from making a similar mistake in a future story. Getting something wrong may or may not hurt a story, but getting it right can only help. In other words, maybe we can help make comics better.

We expect our films and television programs to maintain a certain degree of accuracy. No respectable episode of "Law & Order" would be as error-riddled as Manhunter #7. No movie about archery would feature as many basic mistakes as you'll find in a archery comic. Comics should aspire to the same levels of accuracy as other entertainment media, and readers shouldn't settle for less.