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Law is a Ass by Bob Ingersoll
Join us each Tuesday as Bob Ingersoll analyzes how the law
is portrayed in comics then explains how it would really work.

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THE LAW IS A ASS for 04/08/2003

"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 191

Originally written as installment # 168 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 816, July 7, 1989 issue

We all have our buttons. Since this column kind of turns into a lecture on civic responsibility toward the middle, I should warn you that the Kitty Genovese case is one of mine.


Installment # 191

He must have mellowed in his old age.

There it was in The Question # 27 (June, 1989 issue); proof that Vic (The Question) Sage had softened like an over-ripe grapefruit, days-old in the Florida sun. Had turned into something pulpy and yielding to the touch. Right there on Pages Thirteen through Nineteen--staring at us in four-color and white. The Question let the murderer live.

I mean The Question had the badguy dead--and I do mean dead!--to rights. He came upon three punks, one of whom was holding an innocent victim by his ankles off the edge of a--oh let's make it twenty stories, that's a good round number--building. The punks threatened to drop the victim if he didn't tell them how to get into some safe. "You do--and you'll follow him," Question warned. The punks didn't believe Question, so the Main Punk turned butterfingers. The Question beat up the two buddies and turns his attention to the Main Punk.

During the course of the fight, Question kicked Main Punk, and Main Punk rolled off the same roof, only to grab onto the cornice at the last second. It was quite a trick considering Main Punk had one broken arm and was already well off the roof when he made his grab.

"You gotta pull me up," Main Punk pleaded. The Question smiled grimly and said, "I made you a promise, remember? I said that if you dropped the man you'd follow him. You dropped him. Didn't you? Bye," and walked away. (Okay, I made up the part about smiling grimly. Not only are grim smiles virtually impossible to make, adverb-spewing purple prosesmiths notwithstanding; who can tell what Question is really doing under that faceless mask of his?

Slowly Main Punk's hold on the cornice slackens . . . loosens . . . then is no more. Main Punk falls.

But the Question grabs him at the last second and saves him.

Long-time readers remember a different Question. And I'm talking real long-time here; the type who can remember their surprise upon buying World's Finest Comics # 141 and Detective Comics # 327 (May, 1964 issues) and finding out that Batman--we didn't use the article back then--was suddenly, inexplicably sporting a stupid yellow circle around his tunic's bat emblem. Those same long-time readers remember an untitled Question story which appeared as a back-up feature in Charlton Comics' Blue Beetle # 4 (December, 1967 issue). In that story, the Question was fighting two murderers in the sewers. During the course of the fight, Question kicked the murderers and they fell into the raging current of water, which was rushing through the sewer out to the river.

The murderers managed to grab onto a pipe in the sewer. "Help! Do something!" one said. "We're caught in the current. Can't hold on much longer!" "C'mon!" the other added. "You have to save us! You must!"

The Question smiled grimly behind his mask. "You're both crazy if you think I'd risk my neck to save the likes of you! As far as I'm concerned, you're just so much sewage! And you deserve to be right where you are!" And having spoken his piece, the Question watched as the two murderers sliped off the pipe and washed down the drain to their deaths.

Like I said, the Question's mellowed.

Of course that earlier Question story was plotted by Question's creator, Steve Ditko. It was probably a warm-up exercise for a Mr. A story he was crafting.

But what, you may ask, does all this have to do with asses and the law? Just this: I wanted to assure you that that earlier Question didn't do anything illegal by letting the murderers die, and the modern-day Question wouldn't have done anything illegal, if he had let his modern-day murderer die.

The law does not impose upon anyone a duty to be a good Samaritan. People can watch and do nothing, when they see someone in trouble, and not get in trouble themselves. Their failure to act or help will not result in any legal repercussions.

So, the earlier Question didn't do anything wrong by not helping the murderers . . .

He didn't do anything right, either.

Personally, I prefer the actions of the modern-day Question. Helping others should be condoned and encouraged--especially, if the help can be provided at no risk to the good Samaritan providing it.

After all, helping one another is what separates us from the inert slugs who, on March 13, 1964, sat by and did nothing, except stand by their windows and watch while a girl named Kitty Genovese was slowly, tortuously, hideously knifed to death in the middle-class section of New York City called Kew Gardens. Nothin. Not even make a safe, anonymous phone call to the police! Nothing!

One phone call, for God's sake! Was that too much to ask?


While we're on the subject of helping . . . What the bloody hell was the Judge in Green Arrow # 19 doing?

While on patrol, Green Arrow came upon a police officer who was confronting a man in a mask who was carrying a rifle. (The man was carrying the rifle, that is, not the mask.) The Officer told the masked man to freeze. The masked man didn't. He fired his rifle at the officer.

The Officer thought the man had a firearm and shot his revolver at the guy but missed. Green Arrow also thought it was a firearm and shot an arrow at the guy. He didn't miss. It turns out that the assailant was actually a kid playing "Gotcha!" with one of those toy air guns that fire paint pellets. A kid who was too stupid to comply when an armed police officer ordered him to freeze and who was moronic enough actually to discharge his rifle at the officer. Fortunately, the officer was not hurt. Just as fortunately, the kid did not die from his arrow wound; although that wasn't from any lack of trying on his part.

At a judicial inquest on the incident, the Judge ruled that the police officer and Green Arrow both reasonably believed the officer was in danger of his life, so both the officer and Green Arrow were legally entitled to use deadly force against the man they reasonably believed was an armed assailant.

So far, so good. That's legally correct. Self-defense is not limited to the person being attacked. A third party, one not involved in a confrontation, can use deadly force in defense of one of the persons involved in the fight, as long as the person involved could have used deadly force. That's the law.

So why did the Judge berate Green Arrow as some kind of "self-proclaimed vigilante, shooting down innocent people in the streets?" That's hardly the way to encourage citizens to help, when they see someone in trouble.

And why did the Judge say, "crime in the street is a serious problem, to be handled in an ordered manner, by trained officers of the law?" Green Arrow not trained? What were those twenty-odd years of service in the JL of A, ticker tape?

If I seem upset, it's because I am. Green Arrow did nothing wrong. Nothing! The judge even admitted it. So why did the pompous twerp, obviously in love with his own voice and drunk on his own power, decide to lecture GA on responsibility?

It's times like this that make me realize; on occasion the only people who are as "sober as a judge," are the ones who have a half-a-happy-hour head start on their benders.


BOB INGERSOLL, Cleveland Public Defender, Cleveland comic collector, and Cleveland's legal analyst hopes there weren't any judges reading this week's column.


Listen, Your Honors, I hope you don't think I was out of line with that, "sober as a judge," crack."

Bob Ingersoll

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