A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Astro City Justice

This past week, Kurt Busiek's Astro City: The Dark Age maxi-series began. The first issue has certainly whetted my appetite for the next fifteen, and judging by the last page, it looks like we'll get a little courtroom action in the coming months to boot.

But I have no worries, because Kurt has already proven himself more than capable of writing a good legal yarn. I'm speaking specifically of the last two issues of the last Astro City mini-series, Local Heroes #4-5. In that story, we're told the story of Vince Oleck, an Astro City defense attorney who first used a superhuman defense strategy in 1974. As he tells the jury, sure the evidence at the crime scene points to his client, but in a world with shapeshifters and evil Earth-2 counterparts, that still leaves room for doubt.

Overall, Kurt does a good job with both the law and the story. His lawyers talk and act like real lawyers for the most part. The courtroom action is as accurate as I've seen in a superhero comic. At first glance it might seem that he messed up by having the prosecution question three witnesses and the defense cross-examine the same three on the next page (instead of direct, cross, direct, cross, etc). But a careful reading shows that even that is just the story jumping back and forth in time for dramatic effect, and the panels are not strictly consecutive in time.

In fact, only two things actually caught my eye as potential errors, and both were mere comments in captions. Early on, Oleck thinks about calling some witnesses who will lie on the stand to give the defendant an alibi. It's an ethical violation for an attorney to put forth evidence that he knows or should know is false. However, that's today's rule, and this story was set in 1974, so I'm not certain whether this is accurate for the time or not. Fortunately, Vince never called these witnesses, so it's a moot issue for him.

When Vince suggests to the court that shapeshifters might have committed the crime, he thinks to himself "They could have gotten a court order that night, pumped [the defendant's] stomach, got his dinner." The Supreme Court had an infamous 1952 case that threw out evidence of a warrantless stomach-pumping, but it's a different matter when a court order is involved. Would a court order have been approved under these circumstances? I gotta admit, I don't know.

See, that's how good Kurt is; even the stuff that made me pull out a textbook turned out to be probably forgivable. And the defense strategy in general was a good take on the quirks of law in a superhero world, far better than some other interpretations I've seen.

I do have one nitpick on The Dark Age #1. The text on the last page reads "The Silver Agent...has been arrested, and CHANGED with the murder of a foreign head of state." No biggie, but it ought to be fixed for the inevitable tpb.

Finally, if you haven't already, I highly recommend reading Astro City #1/2. It's a free read online, and it's arguably one of the best and most touching superhero stories ever.