A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Guess Who’s Coming To Shabbos Dinner?

Action Comics #835
When I read the most recent Action, I wondered about how accurate the final scene was, so I fired off an e-mail to My friend Mordechai. Here are his comments regarding this scene:

Hi. My name’s Mordechai, but you can call me Typo Lad. Everyone else does. I run a little blog called "What WERE They Thinking?!". I’m a comic book fan, obviously. I’m also an Orthodox Jew. Now, while there are lots of Jews in comic books (Kitty Pryde, Doc Samson, Two Gun Kid, Moon Knight, etc) there are very few Orthodox Jews. By this I mean head-covering, Shomer Shabbos Jews (Refers to one who keeps the laws of the Sabbath). The closest I’ve ever seen in any comic were two separate incidents where Justice and The Thing said Kaddish (the mourner’s prayer).

Then came Gail Simone’s run on Action Comics. In it, she introduced Josef, a Jewish reporter for the Daily Planet who wore a yarmulke (Kippah, beanie, skullcap). Now, shortly before, Gotham Central had shown a Detective with a yarmulke, but all he seemed to do was go on doughnut runs*, so he doesn’t really count. But this guy interacted with Jimmy and Superman and was an actual part of the story. He interacted to the point that he invites Superman to Shabbos dinner.

Which happened in the most recent issue #835. Which I am now going to nitpick the heck out of.

Let me start with a caveat: I am assuming Josef is Orthodox due to his dress, mode of speech, and the contents of his house. At the very least, we see that he is Shomer Shabbos. I am trying to be careful to not judge him by my own standards, but by comparing him to typical older adult Jewish males from my old neighborhood.

So let’s start:

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Panel 1:
Okay, first off Superman, you’re being very rude. How, do you ask? By ringing the bell. Shomer Shabbos Jews do not use electricity on Shabbos and while a non-Jewish guest doesn’t have to not ring the bell, it’s considered a bit tacky. Next time, knock.

From an artistic perspective we also have a problem. See that funny looking box over the doorbell? That’s a Mezuzah. It’s a box containing a small scroll of parchment that Jews put on their doorposts. So what’s wrong with it? It’s too low and in the wrong place. Mezuzah’s should be at around eye level and are put on the inner part of the doorframe, not the outer part.

Panel 2:
Nice apartment! Kudos to John Byrne, who has drawn what looks like just about every apartment in Pelham parkway, The Bronx. Please note the candelabra on the buffet. This is a Menorah. A Chanukiah is what we light for Chanukah, but they are commonly called Menorahs for a reason I cannot find. Chanukiot consist of a total of 9 candleholders; one for each day of Chanukah (aka Hanukkah) plus a "Shamash". A Menorah can be six or eight (plus shamash). This may mean that someone in their family holds the same traditions as mine, and lit one candle for each member of the household. Not Esther, however, as we see later that there are just two candles at the table (more on that later). The lighting of only two candles is a fairly common practice.

Now we run into two problems from one source: The flowers.

Problem one: Flowers are Muktzah, meaning they cannot be "used" on Shabbos. You can’t move them and you especially cannot put them in water. No reason Superman should know this, but he’s basically saying "Hi, I got these for you. Go on, take them and violate the laws of Shabbos rather than offend the guy who can crush mountains in his bare hands!". Tch.

Problem two: less commonly known fact - you cannot accept gifts on Shabbos. This is actually a fairly complicated Halacha (law) that has to do with the fact that you cannot obtain property on Shabbos. Many people going to other’s houses for Shabbos meals will bring wine or candy, as that’s not a problem if they, the bringer, partake in it themselves at the meal itself.

So yeah, not doing so well at this point.

And to be really nitpicky: I hope Superman likes cold food. Jews don’t cook on Shabbos, only before. So the later he gets, the colder the food gets. Unless they got one of those fancy-shmancy warming plates that you can use, but most older Jews eschew that.

Panel 3:
Okay, grape juice instead of wine. Cute. And common. However, wine is considered more Chashuv (important) than grape juice, and as such if one has an important guest, it would be an insult to tell him "Normally we make the blessing with wine, but for you, tonight only, we got grape juice!". Now I know that Superman doesn’t drink, and there was a good story establishing why that is back in the '90s, but how does Josef know this?

Also, if those are rolls to Superman’s left? They should be covered. During Kiddush and until the blessing on the bread is made, any bread products on the table are covered.

Also, Josef should have told Kal-El that the yarmulke is really unnecessary. Only Jews need to wear those. Yes, if you go to a Bar Mitzvah or the Wailing Wall you’ll be asked to put one on, but that’s for other reasons. There’s no real reason for a non-Jew to cover his hair at someone’s Shabbos table. It’s sweet, but silly.

New page!

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Panel 1:
Mmm. I wonder what kind of Kugels they are? My wife makes broccoli, potato, and corn Kugels. My mom makes this amazing Salt & Pepper lukshon (noodle) Kugel.

Kugels, for the uninitiated, are divine little souffle-like dishes.

Gail at this point has succeeded in making me hungry.

The dialogue at this point is actually starting to grate on me a bit and sound like typical "bubbie" talk. Still, what are you going to do?

Panel 2:
Love the breakfront. I have rarely been in a Jewish home in my life that did not have a breakfront. I also love how the candles have not visibly shortened at this point. Let me tell you something, by the time you get to dessert on a Shabbos dinner, the candles have burned out a long, long time before. Once they’re out, they’re out. No more lighting of fires until after Shabbos is over with.

Okay, let’s turn the page, shall we?

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The last three panels confuse me. Superman’s dialogue clearly continues uninterrupted from panel four to panel five, yet suddenly Joseph is not only standing, but is behind him? Just feels jumpy.

These three panels have a few major slips:

Panel 4:
Superman, you’re really being very rude. You do not address someone who is sitting while you yourself are standing. You sit and talk to them at their level. Especially an older person. Very chutzpadick (rude and dismissive).

Panel 5
What? NO!

Superman, you mean to tell me you’re "familiar with Kiddush" but you don’t know rule one of Orthodox male/female interactions? That’d be look, don’t touch. You don’t kiss a Jewish woman on the cheek. Ever. Unless you’re family. This is a major error here.

Panel 6:
Wait, why did Esther take her Tichul (headscarf) off? I could understand if she wore one to light the candles and then took it off for the meal, but we see her wearing one for the meal, in her own home, and then when she’s outside, she takes it off? That’s very much backwards. Hair covering observation varies from person to person, even within the same family. Still, I’ve never met a woman who covers her hair in her home and then does not cover it when she goes out. Unless we’re supposed to believe that Esther is wearing a Sheitel (wig).

One important note: I like that Josef and Esther are observing the custom of walking the guest out of the house. Too many people these days don’t do that.

And would it have killed Ms. Simone to not use the stereotypical "Such a nice young man,"? In all my born days, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Jewish person say that in a non-ironic sense.

Like I said above, these are nitpicks. This was actually a very respectful comic, especially when you consider that none of the creators involved are (to my knowledge) Jewish.

(Although with names like "Balsman" and "Schaeffer", maybe the Letterer and Assistant Editor have a bit of Hebriac blood in them)

I’ll be back some other time with topics like "Moon Knight: For This I got Ordained As a Rabbi?"

*Although it is important to note that there are apparently Kosher doughnut shops in Gotham. Cool factoid.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Challengers of the Unknown #2: The Trial of the Challs

Greg over at Comics Should Be Good has a retrospective on Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale Challengers of the Unknown mini-series from the early 1990s. I can't say that I've read the whole thing, but I have read the second issue, which features the Challs (or rather, three of them) on trial. It's an issue I've intended to review since starting this blog.

In the first issue of the mini, Challenger Mountain explodes. The blast kills hundrds in neighboring Challengerville, and causes millions in property damage. This page provides a great synopsis of the issue's events. In short, a saboteur sent a bomb into the Mountain, but the Challs believe that the explosion was caused by one of Prof's experiments. Because of the bomb, it's not made clear whether Prof's actions would have caused an explosion on their own or not. In any case, Prof died in the blast.

That same site (and I find it rather neat that someone other than DC owns ChallengersoftheUnknown.com) also has a detailed breakdown of issue #2. So if you'd like to see an issue summary and some panels before heading into the legal stuff, have at it.

Issue two picks up five months later (probably a little fast, but a lot better than some other timeframes we've covered) in the Federal Courthouse in Denver, Colorado. With Prof dead, only Red, Ace, and Rocky are on trial.

On trial for what? Well, the issue never actually says what they're charged with. The attorneys ask the jury to find the Challs "guilty" and "innocent," but never say guilty or innocent of what. (And in any case, the defense attorney should be asking for a "not guilty" verdict, not an "innocent" one.) Even at the end of the issue, the jurors find the Challs "not guilty of any criminal misconduct." It's all pretty vague.

We could create a laundry list of potential charges that might have been brought against the Challs for the destruction of Challengerville, but most of those would be state criminal charges. I'm content to assume that whatever federal charges could be gleaned from the circumstances were what got the Challs into federal court. Given the mention of the death penalty later in the issue, it's necessary to say that at least some federal murder charges were involved. This is one of those occasions where being vague actually works to the writer's benefit, since I can't say anything it definitely wrong.

Unfortunately, there's not much else in this issue that's to Loeb's benefit. Starting on the first page, he has the defense attorney giving the first opening statement. The first opening statement in court goes to the party with the burden of proof, which in criminal cases is the prosecutor. Loeb gets the order of the opening statements backwards.

I was tempted to say that he gets the witness portion of the trial backwards too, but that's not quite true. Rather, Loeb doesn't have the prosecution put on a case at all. Opening statements end at the bottom of page three, and the defense starts calling witnesses at the top of page four. No indication is made as to any passage of time. Nobody's even changed clothes. And throughout the rest of the issue, every other witness is a defense witness. How the prosecutor can say she's been "sterling in there," without having called any witnesses or presented any evidence at all, is beyond me.

Yes, the prosecutor manages to go the entire issue claiming the Challs should be convicted of, well, something, but the only time she even hinted at them being responsible for the blast was in her opening statement: "They were four men and a woman who were operating a near-nuclear facility and blew up the whole damn mountain." That's it. It ends up being the defense attorney who finally presents a theory as to how the Challs were involved (i.e., it was Prof's fault). Then again, the prosecutor is seemingly possessed by a demon of some sort, so perhaps the demon was impairing her legal skills. Since the prosecutor has a fair number of out-of-line statements, I'll just chalk them all up to the demon (the script strongly suggests exactly that in a couple of places).

Loeb manages to err with the closing statements too. This time he puts them in the right order with respect to each other, but he inserts them before the defense's last surprise witness. They're not even good closing statements, since they say virtually nothing about the exploding mountain, but rather just a lot about the character of the defendants.

The last witness is Superman, who shows up to take the witness stand, give a narrative speech about how the Challs are heroes, quote the tagline from his movie ("you believe a man can fly"), and basically shame the jury into finding the Challs not guilty. It's a cute moment that Loeb definitely liked, but it's bad for two reasons. First, trials don't have surprise witnesses anymore. It's prejudicial to the other side to suddenly bring an unexpected person to the stand without having given some time to prepare.

Second, Superman's testimony doesn't shed any light on the question of the Challengers' guilt. He even admits that he doesn't know them. There's no value to putting him on the stand, so he would almost assuredly be excluded from testifying.

In fact, his testimony isn't the only one that's problematic. The parade of defense witnesses on pages four and five are all troublesome as well. Their testimony is all about how the Challengers were heroes and helped the city of Challengerville before the mountain exploded. That would be fine if the court was considering sentencing, but it's irrelevant to the question of guilt. None of them knew the Challs personally, so they can't even slip in as character witnesses.

On the plus side (finally!), the prosecutor's question to the defense witnesses ("How much money would you lose if the Challengers were found guilty today?") is a legitimate question to ask in order to impeach a witness's credibility. A financial interest in a case's outcome can affect a person's testimony.

(The last witness to respond on page five says "I take the Fifth." He probably can't do that. The Fifth Amendment's guarantee is against self-incrimination; unless Mr. Daniels would risk incriminating himself by answering the question about money loss, he can't take the Fifth.)

The three remaining Challengers take the stand as well, and all three testify about what happened in the mountain. Actually no, that's a total lie, because that would relevant to the charges against them. So instead, Loeb has them all testify about their history as members of the Challengers of the Unknown. And he has a reporter take the stand to talk about Prof's personal history. There's objectionable material scattered throughout, but this is still the closest to allowable testimony that Loeb gets.

Eventually, the defense attorney puts forward an actual defense: "On that fateful day, [Prof] Walter Haley pulled that fatal switch and blew up Challenger Mountain." This is good. It explains, simply and plainly, why the three men on trial weren't criminally responsible for the explosion. For some reason, the defendants are rather unhappy with this, as if they'd rather go to jail than admit "Prof did it." And remember, since none of them know about the bomb, they all [i]do[/i] think that Prof did it.

The prosecutor has an unexpected response to this: "And now, by introducing as their defense that the guilty party is a dead man, they've admitted their guilt!" I really hope Loeb meant for this line to be a demon-afflicted one (even though she's missing the visual cue that accompanies her other outbursts), because it would be phenomenally stupid for an intelligent lawyer to say. How can saying that someone else is guilty possibly be construed as admission of one's own guilt?

Finally, we reach the jury verdict: "We the jury find the Challengers of the Unknown not guilty of any criminal misconduct." It's a little odd that they don't use the defendants' names, made odder by the fact that we finally see clearly that the front of the defense table has hanging off of the front headshots of all four Challs with their nicknames. Are we to assume Prof is on trial too, as a dead man?

Still, that's an acceptable verdict. What isn't acceptable is what follows: "But, your honor, we do feel that the Challengers should make full financial restitution to the town of Challengerville." Sorry, no. For one thing, juries don't hand down punishments; that's the judge's job. But more importantly, a criminal jury cannot find the defendants Not Guilty, and then still punish the defendants. A 'not guilty' verdict means no punishment gets imposed, at least if and until there's a civil trial.

I'll close with a little flub that's presumably on Tim Sale's part, though it might have been in Loeb's script. On the splash panel of pages two and three, we see a lot of cameras and spotlights in the back of the courtroom. As I've mentioned before, federal criminal trials aren't allowed to be filmed. And even if the DCU had a different general rule, the sheer number and size of spotlights would be a huge distraction and annoyance to the judge, jurors, and any witnesses, and would be disallowed for that reason.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Wonder Woman: Murderer?

After Wonder Woman #219 and the OMAC Project "Sacrifice" crossover, allegations of murder have surrounded Wonder Woman. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here's your recap:

It is revealed that Max Lord has secretly been a bad guy for, well, forever. It also turns out that he has been psychicly manipulating Superman's mind in order to bend Supes to Max's will. He ends up taking control of Superman, who has a drawn-out battle with Wonder Woman. The fight winds up at Lord's castle in Switzerland, where he drops his control of Superman long enough to present Diana with the choice of stopping him by fatal means. And Diana chooses to twist Max's head around backwards. Max had also arranged for the moment to be videotaped, and the film was broadcast worldwide after his death.

So in Wonder Woman #222, Diana turned herself in to the Hague, Netherlands, so that she might be tried for murder by the World Court.

The World Court is another name for the International Court of Justice. But the ICJ does not handle criminal cases; its role is to resolve legal disputes brought to it by states. The worldwide court for criminal actions is the International Criminal Court, which is also located in the Hague. It has been controversial in American politics, largely because of questions of who the Court might exercise jurisdiction over. What happens if the ICC started defining 'war crimes' or 'crimes against humanity' a lot broader than we do? Could American soldiers find themselves in front of a foreign tribunal for actions that wouldn't be crimes in this country? This potential uncertainty makes some people wary of the Court.

Still, even the broadest interpretation of the Court's jurisdiction doesn't include what Wonder Woman did. Even if we assume her guilt upfront, she is still only guilty of a single, premeditated murder (and even then under mitigating circumstances). This, on a global scale, is a rather routine crime, and far below the purvue of the ICC. Just imagine the reach the Court would have if it could prosecute every murder committed anywhere, or only every murder that involves a foreigner. The page linked above spells out the Court's limited scope:

The Court's jurisdiction will be limited to the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole. It will therefore have jurisdiction with respect to the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, all of which are fully defined in the Statute and further elaborated by the Elements of Crimes.

Nope, nothing about individual murders. So where should Wonder Woman be tried? There are two possibilities. One is Switzerland, the country where the alleged crime took place. This would be the most natural venue, especially since Diana is willing to submit herself to the proceedings. Thus, whatever kind of extradition agreement may or may not exist between Switzerland and Themyscira, it seems that Wonder Woman would have been willing to turn herself over to a Swiss court.

And before anyone says "diplomatic immunity," I've addressed that before. My understanding is that Themyscira wouldn't object to a waiver of any immunity. Besides, I'm not sure "Ambassador to Man's World" would be a recognized diplomatic position in Switzerland anyway.

The second possibilty for a trial venue would be Themyscira itself. Paradise Island could, if it so chose, try a citizen of their own for a crime committed elsewhere. Apparently they're more forgiving than the ICJ and chose not to punish Diana, even if they're still willing to let her voluntarily submit to trial elsewhere.

So the case is in the wrong court, but the question that seems to intrigue most people is whether Diana committed murder or not. For those who care, I don't think she did. I think what we have here was a justifiable homicide, based on self-defense and the defense of others. Diana reasonably believed that she and others (and given Superman's powers, that implies a lot of others) were in mortal danger, and she reacted accordingly. It doesn't terribly matter if other, less fatal options were conceivable; Maxwell Lord presented a lethal threat, and Diana responded with lethal force. It was a reasonable response under the circumstances. Given all the evidence, I wouldn't convict her.

However, this doesn't mean that I think a criminal investigation and maybe even a trial (albeit not a trial at the ICC) is out of order. Remember, as the omniscient reader, we have access to a lot of information that a DCU court would not. Taken from their perspective, they have seen video footage of the crime itself (which doesn't help Diana) and probably testimony from Diana's superhero friends (who are probably a little biased). Given the evidence available, I can see why an investigation would be merited. And given Europe's general attitude toward the death penalty, I would imagine they might not be as willing to let a supervillain's execution pass with as little objection as we might let it.

Random final thought: imagine that Wonder Woman was convicted and sentenced to death (even though they don't have the death penalty in Europe). How would Diana be executed? Does Wonder Woman have a weakness like Superman's Kryptonite or J'onn's fire? What means would it take to kill her efficiently? The Purple Death Ray, perhaps?

(And if I've gotten any details about the issues wrong above, please forgive me. I'm reviewing this storyline largely based on what I can remember from reading the material several weeks ago.)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

My Year in Comics: 2005

Yesterday was the first new comic day of 2006. That makes now a good time to begin a comic-related New Year's Resolution that has served me well for two years now. Starting in 2004, I stole an idea from Augie de Blieck, and began tracking my comic buys with an Excel spreadsheet. What I bought, when, from where, and for how much. It's a good way to keep track both of hobby spending and of what comics I own, and for someone who doesn't think he spends much on comics, I surprise myself. And it allows you an quick and easy way to gauge what went well and not so well in the last year.

Over the course of 2005, I spent just a hair under $940 on comics. This was a really big jump from the $700 I spent in 2004. I still managed to average a bargain, because the combined cover prices of my purchases was over $1700. I expect quite a drop for 2006, though.

Where did all the money go? Over half, roughly $510, went to trades and hardcovers. 57 in all, up from only 23 in 2004. And $133 of that (approximately 1/7 of my entire year's comic spending, and about 40% off their cover price) was on tpbs of one series: Usagi Yojimbo. A year ago, I made a list of all the tpbs I wanted, and it included every Usagi trade I didn't already own. In early December I bought my last one, for a total of 15 Usagi tpb purchases in 2005. Now I have a complete library of a series I'll probably never need to talk about here.

Twenty different titles drifted in and out of my box at the shop. A couple more, such as Akiko, were on my pull list but didn't release an issue in 2005. My favorite new title of the year was Jonah Hex; the new title that disappointed the most was probably Villains United, which I dropped halfway through. I can't recall ever dropping a mini-series partway through before.

I spent just under $380 at my comic shop, Odin's Cosmic Bookshelf, for an average of $7.30 per week. This shows why I'll often go two or three weeks between trips. My eBay spending was practically non-existant after February, but it did provide me with one of the year's best bargains: the first three Cerebus phonebooks for $13.50 total.

Back issue purchases helped me fill some longstanding holes in my collection, and I completed my runs of Young Justice, Static, Mike Grell's Green Arrow, John Byrne's Sensational She-Hulk, and Ty Templeton's last two animated Batman runs.

I've bought four of DC's Showcase Presents volumes. The Jonah Hex one is my unabashed favorite of the four. I hope DC doesn't wait forever to release a second volume.

Best overlooked collection of the year: Max Hamm: Fairy Tale Detective Vol. 1. This book was a hoot, and while it may not be the year's best book, I heard virtually no talk about it. It deserves more attention.

So if you're willing to do a little record-keeping, I'd highly recommend keeping track of your comic buying with Excel or some other means. I'd even be happy to e-mail anyone a sampling of what my spreadsheet looks like, if you'd like to know how to start.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

And the new Spectre is...

With Gotham Central #39 coming out tomorrow, I'm going to take the first of two tangents this week and make my case for an Infinite Crisis-related prediction. Specifically, the answer to the question: who will be the next host for the Spectre?

My answer is hardly novel: GCPD Detective Crispus Allen. Why? Several reasons.

1) He's dead. This automatically gives him a leg up over characters who are not dead.

2) He died seeking vengeance, and his death came before he could see justice done. This is, per Ostrander's history of the Spectre, the standard motivation for a Spectre host. Allen was doing his own independent investigation of corrupt cop Jim Corrigan in order to expose him, and Corrigan killed both Allen and Allen's informant to protect himself.

3) The circumstances of his death share a lot in common with those of the original Jim Corrigan. Both were good cops, both were murdered, both murders involved police snitches, and both died in the middle of unfulfilled quests for justice (as described above). This has all the earmarks of recapturing the essence of the original Corrigan's death, and given DC's new editorial direction, it seems far more likely that they would want to return the Spectre to its roots rather than take the character down a radical new road with a corrupt and murderous host in the form of the 'new' Jim Corrigan.

4) When I first read Gotham Central #37, I thought it was perhaps the most worthless issue of the series. It offered up a little on Allen's spiritual crisis, but the rest of the issue was largely disposable. If Allen is truly dead as of the end of #38, then what was the point of #37? Why spend an entire issue that does virtually nothing other than explore a character's inner struggle over religious faith, when you plan to knock him off in the very next issue? Why do what may be GC's first first-person narrative issue if you intend to kill said first person? If Allen is now gone forever, then #37 was a complete waste of $2.50. If, on the other hand, Allen were to survive on in some ectoplasmic form, then this crisis of faith that was introduced would instead be foreshadowing for the sure spiritual conflict that would result from making a man who doubts God into a man who acts as God's agent of vengeance. It's an instant character hook for the new Spectre, along with the fact that he would still have a family.

Although I have been rather negative about IC's treatment of the Spectre in the past, making Crispus Allen the new host of the Spectre would go a long way towards DC redeeming itself in my eyes. It would manage to replicate much of what made the old Jim Corrigan a good Spectre, without reviving Corrigan or copying him outright. It wouldn't be resorting again to the creatively incestuous notion of making a spandex-wearing superhero into God's agent of vengeance. Plus, it would keep a good character 'alive,' albeit in a different way.

So that's my prediction. I just wanted it, and my reasoning, out there before any answers hit stands. I don't make a lot of predictions as to comic storylines, but I feel darn confident about this one.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Peter Jackson's attention to detail

At CBR's Oddball Comics Forum, Kong fan Airboy (known in his secret identity as physics professor/pilot/Nash Metropolitan aficionado Dr. Roger Freedman, a member of the notorious San Diego Five-String Mob) informs us of Peter Jackson's meticulous attention to detail in his epic remake:

I was amazed by the whole movie, including the incredible attention to period detail. An example: the biplanes that attack Kong during the climactic scene on the Empire State Building are carefully crafted replicas (in metal and CGI) of correct-for-the-period Curtiss F8C Helldivers, and they're painted in the correct colors of the only U. S. Navy squadron that ever flew these airplanes!