A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

You'd think network execs would know this stuff....

Studio 60
A group of network honchos are discussing a possible new "reality" show with a romance theme, which they have titled "All You Need is Love". The following dialogue follows:

Hallie: We can't get the rights to the title "All You Need is Love"...

Jordan: The Beatles said no?

Hallie: There was already a show that used it.

Jordan: Damn it to hell!

Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of intellectual property law (even a layman like myself) would have known that there were no "rights" to get. Copyright law does not protect titles, short phrases, or words, and unless the Beatles or the producers of the prior show had filed for trademark protection and still have an active interest in the name, the name is freely available. The case can also be made that "all you need is love" is a common phrase known to be in use long before either the song or the show in question.

There have been many shows, plays, books, movies and songs that use the same title, and it is perfectly legal and proper to do so. A search of the IMDB will turn up many such examples...

Saving Grace (movies in 1985, 1998, 2000, and a 2006 song by Tom Petty)
Crash (films in 1922, 1977, 1987, 1996, 2004, and several TV shows)
Bombshell (1933, 1935, 1996, 2006)
... and so on.

In addition, there are a lot of films with titles based on songs, including:

Blue Velvet
And the Band Played on
Boogie nights
Man on the Moon
Can't Buy Me Love
Sixteen Candles
Uptown Girls
My Own Private Idaho
American Pie
Happy Feet
Pretty Woman
Some Kind of Wonderful
Beyond the Sea
Down with Love
When a Man Loves a Woman
My Blue Heaven
Sweet Home Alabama

...and so on.

There is absolutely nothing to prevent Hallie's show from going forward, except maybe the boundaries of good taste.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Klaw and Colonization

2005's Black Panther #1 featured two flashback sequences, the latter of which depicted an unidentified group of Europeans attempting to invade Wakanda in the 19th century.

The identity of these invaders was revealed two issues later, by the "classic" Black Panther villain Ulysses Klaw (more on those quote marks momentarily). He explains that he comes from a "military family. My great-great-great grandfather was one of the founders of South Africa. The Panther killed him in an unfair fight." He says that this event motivates his desire for revenge against T'Challa, and it led him to pursue a career as an assassin. A few pages later, he reflects further:

If you're familiar with the Black Panther, you probably understand the quote marks. Klaw is a classic BP villain, but this is not your daddy's Klaw. He resembles the traditional Klaw slightly less than the Post-Crisis billionaire Lex Luthor resembled his Pre-Crisis super-scientist counterpart. He's now a professional assassin rather than a scientist; he's motivated by a Hatfield-McCoy-esque attitude of revenge ('Your great-great-great grandfather killed my great-great-great grandfather!!') instead of lust for vibranium; and instead of being Dutch, he is now from Belgium.

And it's that last point that I'm writing to address, because it is ironically at odds with the new family history given to Klaw. It's hard to say that any European country "founded" South Africa, but even if one is given credit, it can't be Belgium. Belgium's only significant involvement in African colonization was in the Congo, starting in 1877. South Africa was dominated by the Boers, who were predominantly...Dutch. "Boer" is Dutch for "farmer." So while this family background could be a fairly good fit for the old Dutch Klaw, it's rather at odds with a Belgian Klaw.

Interestingly, Reginald Hudlin, the book's author, identifies said ancestor as a Boer in his afterward in the first Black Panther trade paperback. "The Boers have just finished conquering South Africa and are now moving on Wakanda. They've got rifles, they've got gatling guns." "Our villain is a South African who was named after his ancestor, who was one of the Boers who led the abortive attempt to invade Wakanda a centry ago."

It's curious to call Klaw "South African" since his family hasn't lived there for five generations, but this does confirm the late 19th century setting that's implied by the text. The colonization of the African interior, the presence of a Gatling gun in the story, and the degree of Klaw's ancestor all indicate that the "19th century" scene was set in the last quarter of that century.

To be fair, a few of the early Boers were from Belgium, but they started immigrating in the late 1600s, not the late 1800s. So no matter what country he was from, Klaw's great-great-great-granddaddy was a couple of centuries too late to "found" South Africa (though that could be chalked up to an exaggeration on Klaw's part). And they never had the kinds of ties with the Belgian government or military that the story suggests. Rather, the Boers were notoriously independent, and the late 19th century saw them fighting against an invading European army, not having one support their own expansionist agenda.

I don't really have any concluding thoughts, so I'll close by simply sharing my opinion that this:

is, in my opinion, one of the silliest designs for a major supervillain ever, and even if I'm not that fond of the new backstory, I don't miss that look one bit. I don't know how Marvel plans to straighten out Klaw in the future, but hopefully they'll retain the shapeshifting hand that Hudlin and JRJR gave him. And let him keep his nose.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

RIP, Manhunter?

Dagnabbit it.

Just when I was getting back into the groove of posting, and with an all-new trial storyline offering months' worth of fodder (good or bad), the new DC solicitations decide to be a killjoy and inform me that Manhunter is cancelled with issue #30.

I may rip the book a lot for its depiction of the law, but it's really quite good, and I don't think DC's had a struggling book with this much of an avid fanbase since the days of Chase, Chronos, and Major Bummer.

One hopes that DC might do like Marvel has done with Spider-Girl innumerable times now, and grant Manhunter another reprieve. If that happens, I'd be more than happy to offer up my own assistance in shoring up the law in the book, like Polite Scott occasionally does with medicine. I'll just count it towards my pro bono service. *grin*

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Manhunter #27: Wonder Woman's Grand Jury

Long story short: In order to save the world, Wonder Woman killed Maxwell Lord. Now the U.S. government is pursuing charges against her for murdering a federal officer.


So we've established that it's reasonable for the U.S. courts to have jurisdiction over Wonder Woman and her killing of Max Lord. And that while it may seem bizarre for the U.S. gov't to publicize that it had a mind-controlling psycho supervillain in its employ, it's plausible enough if 1) the public doesn't know Max was a supervillain, and 2) the videotape doesn't reveal it was a defensive killing. Of course, this only works up until the point Superman publicly states that Max was a mind-controlling supervillain and that Diana killed him to save the world. Once that happens, they'd be best off to just blame the whole thing on former President psycho-pseudo-clone Luthor.

The government's first step in pursuing charges, then, would be to indict Diana for murder by presenting the case against her before a grand jury. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution begins: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury..." Grand juries meet to hear evidence from a prosecutor, and they decide whether to issue formal charges against a person. This requirement isn't binding on the states (as several other Amendments are), but it means that a grand jury indictment is basically necessary for any federal felony charge. So this is a necessary step for the government to undertake before Wonder Woman can be tried for murder.

One thing the issue captures correctly are the comments in Kate's speech about how skewed grand jury presentations are. When a grand jury hears evidence, it only hears from the prosecutor. The defense isn't even in the room. So in determining whether probable cause exists to issue an indictment, the grand jury isn't able to consider any of the defense's evidence.

Another aspect of the grand jury process captured correctly is the repeated assertion that what happens in a grand jury hearing is confidential. The prosecutor and the grand jurors are prohibited by law from discussing what happens in the grand jury room. Witnesses, on the other hand, are under no such prohibition, and can discuss their experience with anyone.

Even though it's Kate that invokes this rule, the defendant and the defense attorney aren't supposed to be in the grand jury to start with, like I said above. A grand jury hearing is a forum only for the prosecutor to present the state's case, and for the grand jurors to ask questions in return. There is no role for the defense, and unless the defendant himself (or herself) is called as a witness to testify, then the defendant can't be present. In fact, at this stage, the defense doesn't really have a role to play at all.*

This does get acknowledged somewhat in the issue, when the judge tells Kate that she's made a special exception for Kate and Diana to be present. But I'm not aware of any rules that allow such an exception to be made, so that's still a pretty big cheat. (If that is possible, I'd be happy to be corrected.)

In any case, that still doesn't explain why the judge herself is present, because judges aren't present during grand jury hearings either. The prosecutor is the one in charge. And grand jury hearings take place in the grand jury room, not in a courtroom.

Grand juries are also larger than trial juries. They can have as many as 23 people, but every meeting of the grand jury is required by law to have at least 16 members present to conduct business. Javier Pina draws a consistent group of grand jurors, but they appear to total only a dozen in number, the size of a typical trial jury.

In short, even though we're told this is a grand jury proceeding, it still has almost all the appearances of a regular trial. The courtroom setting, the presiding judge, the presence of adversarial parties, and a 12-person jury in a jury box. These are all standard aspects of a courtroom trial, none of which are part of a grand jury hearing. All it's missing is an audience in the courtroom. Aside from a couple of nods in the dialogue to the general rules of a grand jury ("You cannot object in a grand jury proceeding"; "You know those proceedings are sealed;" the power of the prosecutor), the scenes don't bear much resemblance at all to an actual grand jury.


* Careful readers may notice that this could be seen as being at odds with what I said about Diana potentially waiving her diplomatic immunity. If she shouldn't be part of the process at this stage, how could she waive any immunities? The simple answer is: she can't. At least, not in any way that would be binding after the grand jury indicts her. But if the issues are going to portray her as cooperating with prosecutors, then I'll assume that she's not claiming any immunities until she says differently. And at that time I can reiterate why I think such a claim isn't any good anyway.

Manhunter #27: Two Minor Points

In my grand jury post above, I couldn't find an appropriate place to include two minor nitpicks. So here there are:

- When the prosecutor is showing the video at the issue's beginning, Kate objects. Although the judge essentially makes the right call, I can't figure out what Kate is supposed to be objecting to. She never states what her objection is, and subsequent dialogue suggests that she was objecting just to taint the jury. She ends up looking sloppy, and a little sleazy.

- I've covered this before, but in a courtroom, the American flag belongs on the judge's right. I know it's a little thing, but it's just so easy to get right. I'm not even sure where you'd get reference material of a courtroom showing it backwards.

Of course, even if corrected, these scenes would still be erroneous in the context of a grand jury hearing. But that's the theme of the other post.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Manhunter #27: Diplomatic Immunity

Lately, it seems like everything I write is undercut by some kind of continuity concern that was beyond the scope of the issue I was considering. In the case of Manhunter #27 and Wonder Woman's grand jury, it appears that Themyscira was one of the casualties of Infinite Crisis. It was invaded by OMACs, and was transported to an undisclosed location. Diana, left behind, closed the embassy and released her staff. This, naturally, changes matters somewhat.

So before I get back to the matter of the grand jury, how does this affect Wonder Woman's status with regard to diplomatic immunity? After all, the question is asked (although not answered) in the issue itself.

There's a good argument to be made that, in light of the above events, Diana isn't entitled to diplomatic immunity at all anymore. She shut down the embassy a year ago, DCU time, and presumably spent much of the intervening time traveling abroad. Even if closing down the embassy didn't put an end to her formal diplomatic status, the intervening year allowed plenty of time for the U.S. to declare her persona non grata and treat her like a normal visitor henceforth.

Really, though, whether Diana is entitled to diplomatic immunity is really something of a moot point, since Diana doesn't seem to be claiming it. Ordinary, low-level diplomats cannot waive their own immunity; a valid waiver requires the signature of a foreign minister or ambassador. And even if we are to assume that Diana still retains some kind of diplomatic status, she's still the ambassador, not to mention a Princess of her homeland. So she's probably qualified to waive her own immunity.

Based on what we've seen thus far, Wonder Woman appears to be willfully cooperating with prosecutors. She returned to the U.S., she retained a lawyer, and she hasn't simply flown off to another country. All this suggests that she has submitted herself to the jurisdiction of the court, and isn't claiming any privilege of diplomatic immunity.

Outside Reading: Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Manhunter #27: The 'Trial' of Wonder Woman, Part 1

Synopsis: Max Lord was revealed to be a mind-controlling supervillain, in the employ of the US government agency Checkmate. He took control of Superman's mind, and threatened to sic him on the world. He gave Wonder Woman the opportunity to kill him and prevent the damage Superman would do, and Wonder Woman turned Max's head around backward.

I covered Diana's last trial at the UN one year ago today. She was apparently exonerated by the World Court, so here we are, one year later and One Year Later, and Wonder Woman is again on trial for Max's murder.

Now, however, Diana is on trial in the United States, and she has Kate "Manhunter" Spencer as her defense attorney. So how does this prosecution stack up against the last one?

For starters, Diana is now being prosecuted in a court that actually has jurisdiction over the alleged crime. The last time I failed to consider the possibility of the United States having jurisdiction over a Theymysciran killing a man in Switzerland, but it's possible.

Jurisdiction may exist here because Max Lord was an American. One option is a federal statute (18 USC 2332) that makes it a federal crime to kill an American national outside the United States. But prosecuting under that statute requires requires the written certification of the Attorney General, and more importantly, the issue suggests that the U.S. is trying Diana because Max was a federal agent.

18 USC 1114 makes it a federal crime to kill an officer of the U.S., and even though the statute doesn't explicitly allow for prosecutions of murders that took place outside American territory, there's caselaw that says it applies to killing a federal officer anywhere. It also provides for the death penalty. And since we now see that the video feed of Diana killing Max had no sound, appearances (Diana pausing to think, then turning his head 180°) do allow for the viewer to reasonably view her act as rather malicious.

But even with a he also had to get Wonder Woman into an American court. Rucka established Diana as a United Nations ambassador, so she should be entitled to diplomatic immunity with regard to U.S. law. (See Diplomatic Immunity.) Even if the act took place in another country, she should still be protected from prosecution under U.S. law., unless Themyscira (or possibly the UN Secretary-General) waived her immunity.

It's not entirely uncommon for countries to waive immunity, particuarly if a crime as heinous as murder is at issue. Here, though, we have a couple of aggravating factors. One is the fact that Wonder Woman killed Max in the defense of others, and not with the sort of malice required for murder. The tape may not show it, but Themyscira is pretty likely to side with Diana. (Incidentally, who's ruling Paradise Island these days, with Hippolyta dead?)

They do, however, have a certain interest in seeing Diana exonerated, and it's possible to imagine the island granting a waiver with full expectations of her acquittal. Oftentimes countries resist waiving immunity in the U.S. out of opposition to the death penalty; once the U.S. agrees to not pursue the death penalty, then a prosecution is allowed to proceed. Themyscira seems to have neglected to make such a bargain, and so Diana is facing a death penalty prosecution. Poor form, Paradise Island.

Personally, I find myself wishing things had gone differently simply for story purposes. If Themyscira had refused to waive immunity, the U.S. could have stripped Diana of her diplomatic status, declared her persona non grata, and expelled her from the country. Then if she returned, she'd be subject to a murder prosecution.

I think there would have been a lot of story potential in an extended arc where Wonder Woman is banned from the United States, forcing her to take her mission of peace to other parts of "Man's World." I even have a title for the arc and inevitable tpb: "Woman Without a Country."

Next time: Grand jury.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I just can't take the SRA seriously

Even after my previous post, part of me really wants to rip into the SRA, and dissect its ridiculousness. I still plan to explain what's wrong with Iron Man's legal rationalization for his Negative Zone prison, but so much of the rest of it is too amorphous to get a good grip on.

Now several months ago, I'd have sung a different story. The details of the SRA weren't exactly explicit, but at least they were a little more consistent and straightforward. From Marvel editor Tom Brevoort:

The Superhuman Registration Act does require anybody with superhuman abilities to register, even if they don't intend to use them in a super heroic capacity. It's just like owning a gun.

And at the most basic level, nothing more is really required. However, if you are intending to use your powers in a super heroic capacity, you have to demonstrate the necessary capability and control, demonstrating that you possess the wherewithall to use those powers responsibly. In essence, this is like qualifying to be on the police force.

That'd be easy enough to address. It's also fairly reasonable in a real-world context. But that's not what the SRA turned out to be at all. In the last issue of She-Hulk, the SRA was responsible for getting Jen drafted into working for S.H.I.E.L.D. against her will (how a US law can mandate participation in a UN organization is an obvious question).

But my favorite illustration of how absurd the execution of the SRA has become is this scene from Amazing Spider-Man #535:

The fellow locked up in the bottom left panel is Richard Gilmore, aka Prodigy. I know this because his name is printed on his door in panel 2. So if the government's interest is in knowing WHO has superpowers, or WHAT those powers are, well, they already know the answers to those questions. Better yet, Mr. Gilmore is not a superhuman himself, but rather gets his powers from his Prodigy suit, which, for whatever reason, they've decided to let him keep and wear in his cell. And for some strange reason, Mr. Gilmore doesn't seem to be acting the part of a civil disobedient (like, oh, everyone else in the Anti-Reg camp), but appears honestly confused as to why he's imprisoned.

So here we have a case study where Iron Man is really concerned with a young man who has no innate superhuman powers, but is not concerned at all with the suit that provides superhuman powers. Go figure.

It's this sort of scene that makes it difficult to evaluate the legal ramifications of characters being asked to "register," because after all these months, that word..."register"...has come to mean everything, and nothing. When a character refuses simply to "register," what is he objecting to? Sharing his name? Revealing his powers? Submitting himself for training? Participating in a SHIELD army? Prodigy certainly has nothing to lose from agreeing to the first two, considering it's knowledge the government already has. And it's hard to imagine him being willing to go to prison rather than take part in some training classes. On the other hand, if it's an objection to the conscription aspect that's landed him in prison, then it's hardly fair to say that his crime is simply refusing to "register." Such an innocuous label for such a weighty obligation.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

My Year in Comics: 2006

I give a lot of thought to finances, and for the last couple of years I've taken a cue from Augie de Blieck, and kept an Excel spreadsheet recording my comic purchases. Now with 2007 starting up, it's time to take a look back at 2006.

I spent just shy of $650 on comics in 2006, down over 30% from 2005, and even slightly less than I spent in 2004. I averaged $12.50 per week.

21 series and mini-series rotated in and out of my pull list during the year, 13 of which are currently on the list. (This doesn't include titles that didn't ship in 2006, such as Herobear/Decoy, which edges out Daredevil: The Target for longest delay, now 4 1/2 years between #1 and #2.) Two titles were cancelled, six I dropped. Seven of my current titles are monthlies. I spent a total of about $350 at my local shop, to which I made 21 visits during the year.

I bought 116 new issues, 51 back issues, and 27 tpbs/HCs/graphic novels. I bought comics off eBay just twice the entire year. My interest in back issues has fallen off a lot lately; looking back, not many stand out in 2006. I discovered Warren Ellis' Fell; I completed the runs of a couple of mini-series; and last week I randomly stumbled across a copy of Amazing Heroes #68, featuring Ambush Bug.

Favorite series added to my pull list: probably X-Factor, the first X-book I've ever had on my pull list in my 14 years of comic buying. Dini's Detective Comics comes close, but the Poison Ivy issue pulls it down. Greg Weisman's Gargoyles is also worth mentioning, but it's been slow coming and hasn't gotten to original stories yet. Biggest disappointment would be Uncle Sam & the Freedom Fighters, a mini I dropped halfway through even though I loved the introductory short story.

I spent about $285 on the 27 books with spines. They included five Showcase Presents volumes (but only one Essential), three Fables books, and three Uncle Scrooge trades. Best volume of the year is a no-brainer: Absolute New Frontier. Most money I've ever spent on a comic, yet still worth every penny.

If anyone's interested in keeping a similar record for themselves in 2007, just drop me an e-mail and I'll send you a sample of my spreadsheet. It's a great aid for budgeting as well as keeping track of your collection.