Legal Affairs

Current Issue


printer friendly
email this article
letter to the editor

space space space

March|April 2003


By Josh Saunders

Occasionally, it falls within the purview of the law to ponder the nature of superheroes. In January, Marvel Enterprises asked a U.S. trade court to declare that the Fantastic Four were nonhuman, so that their action figures would be subject to the 6.8 percent tariff on toys rather than the 12 percent duty on dolls. After careful consideration, the court agreed; though it was "truly a close call," the court ruled that Mole Man is indeed more mole than man.

The lawyers who argued the case happen themselves to be human, which is not to say that there is no comic-book bar. She-Hulk, the Hulk's lesser-known cousin, once argued against the Mutant Registration Act before the Supreme Court. (Her appearance was cut short when her archenemy began wreaking havoc outside the courthouse and she felt duty-bound to administer some street justice.) Two-Face, the Batman villain, had been an assistant D.A. until he lost his mind—and half his face—when a mobster threw acid at him. But few comic-book characters enjoy as rich a relationship with the law as Daredevil, the superhero who has been defending New York since Stan Lee created him in 1964 and who is currently portrayed by Ben Affleck on the big screen.

Daredevil's story goes like this: One fateful day, Matt Murdock, a young student, saw that a blind old man was about to be hit by an oncoming truck. Murdock dashed into the street and pushed the man out of harm's way, but, in a tragic comicbook twist, radioactive waste from the truck splattered into his eyes, robbing him of his sight. In the wake of the accident, he found that his other senses were heightened: He could read a newspaper by touching it, and see through walls using a sonar ability.

Like many superheroes, Murdock decided to keep his powers a secret, even from his father, an aging boxer known as "Battlin' Jack" who decided to avenge his son's loss as any good father would—by planning a lawsuit. But smooth-talking lawyers from the truck company convinced the uneducated man to drop his case. His father's bullying by these suits was young Murdock's formative experience with the law. The negative impression was cemented when his father was murdered by mobsters, and corrupt police failed to bring the killers to justice.

So Murdock fashioned himself a spandex bodysuit and brought justice to the killers. Then he enrolled at Columbia Law School. He went on to graduate at the top of his class, and ever since he's been a brilliant lawyer. He even runs a free legal-aid clinic in Hell's Kitchen.

Despite his law-abiding reflexes, Matt Murdock, Esq., finds himself in the same bind as so many of his superhero peers: compelled to play fast and loose with the law to ensure justice is served. He can tell when witnesses are lying by listening to the rush of their heartbeats and smell month-old powder burns from across a courtroom, and once he used his enhanced sense of hearing to monitor jury deliberations. Outside the courtroom, he summons his powers to gather evidence on behalf of his clients, occasionally "encouraging" (a billy club helps) reluctant witnesses to testify. When Daredevil is forced to decide whether he's more superhero than lawyer, it's truly a close call.

Josh Saunders is a writer living in New York. He last wrote for Legal Affairs about jury nullification.

printer friendly email this article letter to the editor reprint premissions
space space space space
Contact Us