A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Monday, July 30, 2007

KKKomic Book Heroes

Spoilers follow for The American Way

Some time back, MacQ did a post on The American Way. I picked up a copy of the trade a couple of weeks ago, and enjoyed it for the most part. My biggest gripe, I suppose, was having the whole story fall into an old North vs. South dynamic.

And one aspect of that rubbed me wrong enough to want to share. That would be this guy (the one on the left):

His hero name is Southern Cross. His power is, obviously, very much like the Human Torch's. And in the latter half of the book, he turns out to be a really big racist. As in, very-eager-to-go-lynching racist.

And his logo, naturally, is a cross. Specifically, a slight variation on this cross,

which is the symbol of the Ku Klux Klan.

So...no. I can't believe that the U.S. government would take a virulent racist with pyrokinetic powers, name him something that (with those powers) hints at cross-burnings, and stick him in a white costume with a KKK logo. And this is, of course, assuming that the feds didn't themselves give the racist guy fire powers to start with.

I can handle the flying, flaming man angle. But not the idea that the feds would be so remarkably stupid as to put together a KKK-themed superhero during the Civil Rights era. George Wallace, maybe. On a particularly evil day. But the Kennedy administration? No way.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

She-Hulk #19: The Trial of the Leader

After a several month dry spell, and right before Peter David takes over the book and drops the legal aspects entirely, Dan Slott treats us to one last superhuman prosecution in She-Hulk #19. This time, it's long-time Hulk villain The Leader who is on trial for, well, pretty much everything he's ever done. Including, perhaps most significantly, his nuking of Middletown, Arizona in The Incredible Hulk #345.

Normally, Arizona crimes don't end up in NYC courtrooms. But this is the Marvel Universe, and since the only two well-known attorneys in the MU live in New York City, pretty much everything ends up in a New York court somehow. (Note how this contrasts with the DCU, where for the last few years, most everything ends up in Kate Spencer's Los Angeles zip code.) The setting is not entirely inexplicable, since it is in a federal court. To be specific, the Sol Brodsky Federal Building, the MU's new "superhuman courthouse." Whatever that entails.

The prosecution successfully, and easily, paints the Leader as a ruthless, evil bastard. We're treated to glimpses of four prosecution witnesses: a Middletown survivor and subject of Leader's experiments; a military officer who responses to Middletown; a woman who was nearly killed when the Leader destroyed a Las Vegas casino; and a woman whose husband died when the Leader commanded him to commit suicide.

I'm pretty sure you can find a federal violation or two in nuking a small American city. Maybe even in destroying a casino. We'll even forgive the notion of several of the Leader's bigger federal crimes being rolled into a single trial. But carjacking and ordering a suicide? I don't see that making its way into a federal prosecution. And she can't testify at this stage unless he's been prosecuted for the offenses she's testifying about.

Mallory Book doesn't object to any of this, nor does she cross-examine any of the witnesses. That's because the defense she has planned doesn't depend on claiming the Leader is innocent, or even decent. No, her defense is to blame gamma radiation.

Ms. Book calls Dr. Leonard Samson to the stand first. He testifies that the Leader was an average joe before his gamma exposure, and that afterwards his brain changed and he "began exhibiting anti-social behavior almost immediately." Book even gets him to say that it's not common for high school dropouts to try to take over the world after accidents at work.

Dr. Samson is clearly testifying as an expert, and he certainly has the credentials to do so. One conspicuous problem with his testimony is that there's no indication that he's ever actually examined the Leader. He's familiar with the guy's backstory, but he says nothing that suggests he's done any specific psychological evaluation of the Leader. That won't necessarily prevent him from testifying, but it's a huge weakness that the prosecution would definitely stress. Of course, Ms. Book doesn't give the prosecution the opportunity:

Maybe it's just me, but Dr. Samson seems actually happy to offer up testimony to help the Leader.

Book's second witness is Jen "She-Hulk" Walters. Jen admits to being more "uninhibited" as She-Hulk, and Book presses her into admitting to all her sexual relationships as She-Hulk. (While the court might compel Jen to reveal the number of her sexual partners, I rather doubt any judge would force her to name names on the record. Here, it's obviously played for laughs, so we'll forgive that.) Book finally gets Jen to admit that she has always preferred to live out her life as She-Hulk, and then Book wraps up with this:

The prosecutor may be sitting upright in the background, but he's clearly nodded off. There's no other explanation for why he'd allow the defense attorney to go off on this preachifying narrative without objecting. Especially when she draws a conclusion about her client's mental state based on the witness's mental state.

I'm also amused at the undertones of Book's theory. Bruce Banner gets belted by gamma rays, and it makes him want to smash things. Sam Sterns gets exposed to gamma radiation, and it makes him want to take over the world. Jen Walters gets a gamma-irradiated transfusion, and it makes her want to sleep with a lot of men.

I studied that last panel of Book for a bit, trying to figure out what kind of defense she's advancing. There is no "addict defense." Intoxication can negate some elements of some crimes, but it's not being argued that the Leader was 'intoxicated' on gamma radiation. This is a full-time condition for him. And he was in full control of his mental capacities.

Finally, I determined that Mallory Book is pursuing a particular kind of insanity defense: the irresistible impulse. You may remember this from the trial of Copperhead. Your typical insanity defense involves a person who claims they couldn't distinguish between right and wrong. That certainly does NOT describe the Leader, who proudly admits to being an evil person earlier in the issue. The irresistible impulse defense claims that the defendant was fully aware that his actions were wrong, but that he was helpless to stop himself from doing them anyway. He couldn't control himself. Inhibitions don't really play a role, but Book does reference control.

There's a chance that Book may have forfeited the opportunity to make this defense at all. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure require a defendant to notify the court in advance that it is going to pursue an insanity defense. Since insanity defenses will inevitably involve competing doctors and diagnoses, it's unfair for the defense to suddenly spring the defense at trial, with no opportunity for the prosecution to rebut with its own experts. Here, not only does the prosecutor not object (despite earlier indications that he didn't know what the defense plan was going to be), but he doesn't even cross-examine the defense witnesses. Further proof that he's sleeping. Or grossly incompetent. Take your pick.

Assuming that she did the proper pretrial notification, the burden is still on Book to show her client was 'insane.' And to meet that burden, she's going to need to do better than a doctor who hasn't examined her client and a woman who suffers from a similar condition. She'll need to put somebody on the stand who can say "The Leader can't control what he does." The defendant himself, if no one else. And this may be a tough claim to make, since the Leader demonstrates later in the issue, and in front of a crowd of people, that he is fully capable of controlling his own actions.

In fact, her two witnesses so far may have hurt her argument. Book wants to argue that the influence of gamma rays are what drove her client to want to kill and conquer. Well, both of Book's witnesses are gamma-irradiated people (which Book specifically drew attention to), and neither of them are murderers or wannabe despots. Neither of them are even so much as antisocial. If she wants to put the blame on the gamma rays, then she needs to do some explaining as to why her client's condition is so different from theirs. Once again, that's going to require some testimony specific to the Leader, and not broader talk of gamma rays.

And then there's a small, niggling, detail that the federal courts don't recognize the defense of irresistible impulse, which should make Mallory's entire defense strategy useless and wholly objectionable. But, since the insanity defense is something that courts have fluctuated on over the years, we'll give Mallory the benefit of the doubt and assume that the Marvel Universe Federal Rules allow it.

Next issue I expect the trial will wrap up, but it's hard to see at this point how any verdict will be much of a "win" for the defense. The only apparent options for the jury are "Guilty" and "Not guilty by reason of insanity." If the former, he's liable to be on the receiving end of a needle. If the latter, then he avoids execution or imprisonment for the moment, but he's guaranteed to be committed. Walking away a free man is not exactly a viable option.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A "Fell" Follow-Up

I was a latecomer to Fell, the $1.99 Image series by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith. It's a book that I highly recommend, and it's probably the best bang-for-your-buck among current series.

This past weekend I caught up on the back issues I'd bought, and Warren's comments at the end of #6 piqued my curiosity. As with most issues, he shares what news story inspired the issue, and in the case of #6, it was a particularly horrific story of child abuse. I don't want to spoil it here, but you can read the details at the link below. Or better yet, buy the issue.

Anyhow, in the course of relating his inspiration, Ellis mentions that he didn't know what happened to the real-life parent. So I found out. (The specific form of abuse is referenced in paragraph six.) Her first trial ended in a mistrial, and although she eventually pled guilty to a lesser charge, she never admitted to the particular actions that police charged her with, and which Ellis utilized in his story.

She was sentenced to three months in prison. If you notice, the date on that article is April 20, 2007. Which means that if she began her sentence immediately, and served the entire term, she was likely released late last week.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Purely Prussian

Fair Warning: Links to some fairly offensive audio material follow, which are probably NSFW.

X-Factor #21 brings a new case to the offices of Jamie Madrox and X-Factor Investigations. June and Charlie Tyler aren't mutants, and neither are their grandchildren, twins Molly and Wally. What Molly and Wally are, however, are the "Purity Singers," a duet that travels the country singing about the joys of a world without mutants.

If that concept sounds familiar at all, then you've probably heard of Prussian Blue, the white power duet of twin teenagers Lamb and Lynx Gaede. And thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you can experience the hate firsthand.

First up, "Victory Day, which begins "Well sit down and listen, to what I have to say. There soon will come a great war, a bloody but holy day. And after that purging, our people will be free, and sing up in the bright skies, a sun for all to see..."

Next, "Lamb Near the Lane," with music by Lamb. According to the video director who posted this to YouTube, there's no mention of hate or minorities. I suppose he's not counting "If the white men won’t battle for Life and Race, then the women and children, the terror will face."

There's more at YouTube, but that's enough to share here. So what's my point in this, since it doesn't really have much bearing on the X-Factor story? It's to share with y'all what I had to search out after having first heard about these girls on PrimeTime. To let you see that despite their bizarro niche popularity...

...they are seriously bad singers. The music is lousy, the guitar-playing is barely passable, their voices are flat and dull, and their singing is frequently off-key. If you've watched that second video above, you've noticed that the entire song consists of singing just TWO notes: C and D. And they're kinda flat on both of them. Ignoring the lyrics entirely, musically the girls' material is so bad that it makes even the worst pop song on the radio (currently, Gym Class Heroes' "Take a Look at My Girlfriend") sound like Sinatra by comparison.

And that's why I'm writing about two little racist white girls instead of dissecting the latest She-Hulk. I want to mock not just them, but the entire white power community for liking them. The mere fact that these two have a following suggests that not only are white supremacists addled in all the ways you'd expect them to be, but they're also tone-deaf. I wonder...does racism make a person tone-deaf, or are tone-deaf people more likely to be racist?

Thus, I have my fingers crossed that when the X-Factor team encounters the "Purity Singers" next issue, Peter David makes a joke out of them being lousy musicians too.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Heroes #6 (1996)
Writer: Matt Wayne
Artists: James Fry & Keith Pollard
Editor: Joe Illidge

While parsing through my comic collection, I finally got around to reading the Heroes mini-series from Milestone Media. And frankly, despite the general high quality of the Milestone books, the mini wasn't very good. This particular panel, though, amused me.

I got my first car, a Jeep, in 1997. Was 'SUV' still an obscure acronym the year previous?

To compound this, the very next page has Static use the acronym 'DTU,' with gets another footnote reading "* Dimensional Transfer Unit -- Joe." Apparently, SUV was as equally deserving of explanation as Matt Wayne's technobabble.