A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Friday, February 24, 2006

Gimme That Old Time Religion

I've done the law and politics thing here a lot, but despite having a degree in Religion, I haven't had much of anything to say on that subject. So I bought Testament #1 from Vertigo in the expectation that it would give me something good to review on just that front.

Without going into too much detail, the opening arc is "Abraham of Ur," and draws parallels to the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac (the "Akedah"), as told in Genesis 22. For those unfamiliar with the story, it involves God instructing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and then stopping Abraham at the last moment. Rushkoff presents the Biblical story pretty straightforwardly, but he makes some potentially significant changes that are likely to escape most readers.

Some are rather obvious, such as his employment of more than one deity to play the role of God. Others might be nothing more than mistakes. For instance, when God stays Abraham's hand, Rushkoff inexplicably has the ram speak God's dialogue. (The ram is also depicted as standing next to Isaac, out in the open, rather than stuck in a thicket, as the scripture describes.)

But the big change is Rushkoff's repeated utilization of and reference to Moloch. Moloch (or Molech) was a deity worshipped by some Canaanites, and to whom child sacrifices were made. On page 3, Rushkoff has one of Abraham's servants say "Abraham has already defied Moloch....Perhaps his new god tests him?" "Or his old one wants him back," the other servant replies. When Abraham and Isaac reach their destination on Mount Moriah, we get the series' first splash page:

However, Moloch is never mentioned during the story of Abraham. In fact, Moloch is not mentioned in the Bible at all until two whole books later. His name first appears in Leviticus 18:21: "'Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.'"

So Rushkoff's use of Moloch in the Akedah story is textually anachronistic. The Bible's timeline doesn't allow for Abraham to have been a former worshipper of Moloch, or for an old stone altar of Moloch to be situated on Moriah.

Both of these aspects also contradict their Biblical depictions. When Abraham and Isaac reach their destination on Mount Moriah, the scripture says "Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it." As depicted in Testament, Abraham doesn't have to build an altar, because there is a giant stone one waiting for him. And Abram's first covenant with God, or YHWH, comes in Genesis 12, just a few verses after his name first appears. There is no indication that Abram ever changed gods or worshipped anyone other than YHWH. Certainly not Moloch.

My point here isn't to condemn the liberties that Rushkoff has taken so much as to draw attention to the fact that they exist. Especially because Rushkoff has more than one 'out' for the changes he's made. One comes straight from his own pen:

"So there's parallel action happening in Bible time, which is kind of like 1100 BC and all, but I don't see bible time as historical, so it's more like myth-time. And, like Torah, time is all screwy in there, anyway. Torah doesn't happen quite in order and events resonate with other ones centuries before or after. Something happening in one century can either trigger or justify things happening in another."

This makes it easy to cheat the timeline for storytelling purposes. The other reason is somewhat more scholarly, and, judging from other statements of Rushkoff's, involves a theory that he would seem to be aware of. The theory is that Abraham's story itself is the anachronism, a later-scripted message from a time when Moloch-worship was prevalent, written to condemn child sacrifice by retconning God's opposition to it far back into Israel's history. It's not a theory I'm particularly fond of, but I suspect it's one that Rushkoff may subscribe to, and it's one that seems to be on display here.

That's pretty much all I have to say about #1. I fully expect that Rushkoff will continue to tweak the Biblical narrative to fit his needs and that's fine, but for those who are reading, I think it's good to be aware that he is taking some liberties along the way. If you find yourself wanting to crosscheck a depiction, Bible Gateway is a great and simple resource.

Monday, February 20, 2006

(Don't) Show Some Restraint

One of my recurring gripes about courtroom scenes in comics has been the illustration of defendants in shackles and prison garb. As some of you may recall, the problem with shackles and restraints on a defendant is that it sends a rather strong and extremely negative message to the jurors. Being restrained at the defense table doesn't exactly help with the "innocent until proven guilty" aspect of court.

That said, if a defendant has demonstrated an inability to restrain himself in the courtroom, the judge can take certain actions in response. The court is not required to abide an unruly and openly dangerous defendant. After all, creating a scene in front of the jurors probably means the unbiased ship has already sailed.

But supervillains can create a unique situation that isn't paralleled in the real world. A defendant would never be allowed into a courtroom armed, but any given metahuman is inherently armed. There's an unacceptable danger in allowing a criminal defendant who can fire deadly energy bolts from his hands to sit, unemcumbered, in a room full of people deciding his fate.

So what is a court to do? The defendant has a Constitutional right to participate in his trial, so excluding him upfront is out of the question. But restraining him violates his right to an impartial jury. And it can't allow a defendant who could kill the judge or prosecutor with a glance to have the freedom to do so.

The reason I bring all of this up now is that there was the hint of an answer to this problem presented in a recent Newsweek article. A bunch of prosecutors have put together an organized effort to take down the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, and this is going to entail putting a lot of really, REALLY nasty guys on trial. It seems they have a well-established predilection for courtroom violence, but the prosecutors already have a means of taking care of it.

After a six-year investigation, now comes the next challenge for law enforcement: how to hold a fair trial while protecting the lives of the judge, jurors, witnesses and lawyers in the courtroom. Five years ago an Aryan Brotherhood member on trial broke free of his handcuffs, seized a television and hurled it at the judge. Another stabbed his own attorney with a metal shank he'd smuggled into the courthouse.

Prosecutors acknowledge they're taking a risk by bringing so many of the men into a courtroom together, but they say they have no choice. "There really was an idea that it should be a body blow against the gang," says a government employee close to the case who requested anonymity because the judge asked all participants not to speak to the press. The defendants will be tried in small groups at Santa Ana, Calif.'s federal courthouse, in a tiered courtroom built especially for high-threat cases. Federal marshals won't discuss security details, but attorneys confirm that the defendants' shackles will be bolted to the floor, their restraints hidden from the jury by panels.

It's a simple, yet ingenious, solution. The problem with restraining a defendant is the negative message it sends to the jurors when they see it. Thus, the easiest way around that is to make sure the jurors don't see it.

I suppose it's possible that the defense could still object to this treatment, particularly since it's being based on something akin to a 'guilt by association' expectation. But given the circumstances and history of these guys, I think the court might have struck a good balance. It protects the defendant's rights as well as the courtroom's safety.

And it's a policy that could be naturally extended to metahuman defendants. They just have to be restrained in ways that the jury can't see. Mental-power dampeners, for instance. It might require some imaginative mechanisms, but it's a possibility.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

SoD: Year One

This past Thursday marked the one year anniversary of this here blog. Granted, everything didn't turn out quite the way I'd initially hoped, but the fact that it's still up and running is a decent enough feat. I've rather enjoyed what's transpired over the past year, and I look forward to year two.

On a more personal note, I shared a couple of months back that my postings had gotten more sparse because of a temp job I'd taken on. Well, as of about two and a half weeks ago, that temp job turned into a full-time Associate position at that same lawfirm. It's not the prosecutorial work I was seeking, but after a year's worth of being turned down by the folks I sought to work with, I opted for the place that was actually willing to pay me. I very much doubt it's what I want to do long-term, but it's good work and experience for now.

So now it's not merely a law school graduate who's writing for this blog, it's an actual lawyer. To be fair, he's not really any smarter or informed than before, but it sure sounds better to my ears. Now if only I can be a lawyer who posts more often.

Thanks again.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Now that's more like it!

Young Avengers #10

You know, if I were prone to egotism, I'd be trying to grab credit at this point. Though honestly, I doubt if Jim Cheung even knows this blog exists. But whatever, even if it isn't a result of my relentless whining here, it's nice to see the cover of the latest issue:

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Well, well, well. What have we here? Kate's holding the bow correctly, the arrow is on the correct side of the bow, she's keeping her index finger the hell away from the arrow, her quiver is where it should be, and best of all, her bow actually looks like a bow. She's got a nice old-fashioned one-piece recurve there. It looks a bit like a vintage Fred Bear, though it might be one of those aluminum ones that were all the rage back in the early '70s. In any case, it's a real bow. Nice.

And the goodness continues inside. Young Avengers is comics done good. It's comics the way all comics should be; looking forward, not back. Taking elements from the past and building on them rather than rehashing, reinventing, recycling, reinterpreting, redacting, or rewriting them. It's comics that are smart, fun, exciting, compelling, engaging and (wait for it) entertaining. With characters you care about, behaving in character. If you aren't reading Young Avengers, you're missing out on what is quite frankly the best thing Marvel has been publishing in a while.

Okay, enough with the effusive fanboy praise. I like the book, we get it. But this is Suspension of Disbelief, the nitpick blog. So where are the nitpicks?

Okay, I'll give you one. And this one falls on Allan Heinberg, the writer, not the artist.


When the late Dr. Richard Feynman used to teach at Caltech, he occasionally performed the following demonstration, which will serve quite nicely to illustrate the nitpick at hand:

Dr. Feynman would reach into his coat pocket and pull out a rubber ball. He would bounce the ball on the desk. It would bounce a few times, then he would put his hand on it, pressing it to the desktop and arresting its movement. Then he would speak.

"I have damped the ball."

Dr. Feynman would then drop the ball into a glass of water. Then he would fish it out and set it, dripping on the desk.

"Now I have dampened the ball."

"Any questions?"

Comic book writers and editors: Please get this right. It's irritating when you don't. My comics are worth less when they have corrections written in with a red pen. Thank you.

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