Saturday, September 11, 2010

If it please the court, will the witness stop flying about the courtroom?

There's a new exhibit at Yale devoted to comics and the law.
 Of course, comics and the law have a long history.
In addition to the legal battles fought over comics themselves, ranging from the early Superman lawsuits to Marvel's attempts to hold up production of the Rocketeer film over characters with similar names, there have been many characters who practiced law.
The earliest of these in superhero narrative may be Two-Face, the Batman villain who is a scarred district attorney, discussed in this snippet from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns.

Two-Face first appears in Detective Comics #66, about 4 years into Batman's run.
Matt Murdock is possibly the most significant attorney in comics in the last 50 years, better known as Daredevil.
Here's a scene from the classic Frank MIller run that shows integration of Murdock's profession and his, ahem, avocation.

Of course, the deal here is that by detecting pulse rate using his heightened senses, this blind lawyer can tell when someone's lying- except in this case, where the culprit has a pacemaker that regulates his pulse! So this in turn effects the way Murdock practices law and the way his deferred identity functions.
Here's the denouement in a later plotline. The adversary realizes the truth.

And my personal favorite, Daredevil #7, with that great Wally Wood art.
Prince Namor journeys to the surface to file a lawsuit against the surface dwellers (that would be us).
Frustrated with the slow pace of the court system, Namor breaks out of jail and runs rampant in the city. Of course, Daredevil must stop him.

The above DD images are all from the delightful Matt Murdock Chronicles blog!
Here's a recent case from Marvel Ultimates. Once most heroes' identities are known, Banner is put on trial for the crimes of The Hulk. Guess who defends?

Of course, comic narratives have been playing fast and loose with the workings of the law throughout their existence, just as have television shows and films.
However, this has evolved. Superheroes often used the courts as personal vehicles, as in this Lois Lane story. Who knew both Superman and Batman were licensed to practice law?

In an early 60s story, Superman was on the witness stand and questioned regarding his secret identity. His response was to write the name of his alter-ego on a chalkboard. However, it was written so fast that it melted the slate board. The court accepted this evasion as a valid answer, seemingly without question.
Flash forward to the same question being asked during a murder trial a few years ago.
There's a fascinating analysis of this and related issues over at the Strange Horizons blog. I don't completely agree with it, but it's very insightful.
For decades, Attorney Robert Ingersoll had a column in Comic Buyer's Guide titled The Law Is A Ass, which dealt with legal issues as related to comics content.  An archive of these fascinating columns can be found here.
I doubt this intriguing topic will ever be exhausted.  But we have advanced the portrayal of the superhero in court a great deal since this was all we had.

Original Art Sundays #57 (late) : A Private Myth, the show

Just a quick note that nine pages of A Private Myth, along with the cover, are being shown at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design's Faculty Art Show.
I had a couple friends from outside my MCAD world show up briefly at tonight's opening, and saw some people I used to work with at my previous college, along with many of the usual crowd from MCAD.
Also had a wonderful and unexpected talk with gallery curator Kerry Morgan about the prospects of an upcoming show we hope to have MCAD host. But I don't want to speak out of turn so I'll stop there.
Had a great chat with former student Charles Priceabout fencing and his father the attorney, and talked a bit about Rodrigo y Gabriela with my pal, fellow prog music hound and former Photoshop teacher Rik Sferra, who introduced me to R & G's great music. I was delighted to talk shop with fellow comics teacher Jim Keefe, whose work on Flash Gordon was also on display.
Jim was nice enough to indulge me and take a quick shot of me with the work.
When I first saw this shot, I thought, oh my Lord, I'm a wall. After doing some levels corrections in Photoshop, I was pleasantly surprised- I didn't think I looked that good!
I know, this isn't really new work. It's kind of cheating to use this as Original Art Sundays, especially on a Friday.
But hey, I don't show that often so it's sort of a big deal to me, even being one of many in the show.
Also, seeing the work in different contexts than originals in my grubby mitts or scans posted here allows a fresh perspective. I see different things in the work in this context, both good and bad. This gives me a fresh eye for upcoming pages.
The really weird thing was that my work ended up in the exact same spot where I had my BFA exhibition back in 1999. You've come a long way, baby....