Bob Ingersoll: Taking the Stand For Comics

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Bob Ingersoll Attorney Comics

Wouldn't it be nice if, whenever your friends gave you the usual line about how comic books are "less than literary," you could point to some comic-reading role model? A doctor, maybe, or perhaps a minister?

How about an attorney?

Bob Ingersoll is the writer of the weekly column The Law is a Ass. If your friends point out the poor grammar of the title, you can confidently 'pooh-pooh' their lack of literary education. According to Bob: "The phrase 'the law is a ass' is from Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist' -- chapter 51 to be exact. In said words, Mr. Bumble, an ungrammatical and vulgar character, is told that he is legally responsible for the wrongs of his wife, because the law presumes a husband can control her actions. Mr. Bumble's ungrammatical and vulgar response was, 'If the law supposes that, the law is a ass -- a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor.'"

Bob's column appears regularly in The Comics Buyers' Guide, and is also available online at World Famous Comics. In it, he explores how the events in comics would be different if they were subject to the reality of the law. he also has worked, and is working, on a few other comics projects. We had the opportunity to catch up with Bob via the modern electronic marvel we call 'e-mail' to see what was new in the legal arena of comics.

When not analyzing the legal doings and misdoings of comic book characters, what type of law do you practice?

I'm a public defender in Cleveland, Ohio. I practice exclusively criminal defense work. For sixteen of my eighteen years of practice I've worked in the Appellate Division of the office, reading transcripts and writing appeals briefs. Which means I don't get into court much so have never seen the real criminal stand up in the back of the courtroom to confess. I just stay in my office reading and writing and have about as good a tan as a vampire in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Which superhero would find himself serving the longest sentence if ever arrested for his or her alleged crimes? And which is the most law abiding?

I'm going to expand the definition of super hero to incorporate costumed hero, so that the range of possible answers is maximized. I'm also going to expand the definition of hero so that characters like the Punisher can be included. Because the Punisher would be my answer. (Okay, it would have been my answer if he weren't dead and now an angel.) It doesn't matter that the Punisher was guilty of killing people he deemed to be "bad guys," he's still not allowed to kill them. Thus, with many, many murders to his credit, Punisher would be facing many, many consecutive life sentences, and it doesn't get much longer than that.

Actually, Punisher would now be facing the death penalty, as New York State has reinstated it, so his punishment could be shorter. It would still be for life, but the life would be a bit shorter.

Which is the most law-abiding costumed hero? If we assume that whatever governments involved haven't enacted some anti-vigilantism laws that a hero would be violating simply by acting, the most law-abiding hero would be...

I don't know. I guess Ted Knight, the original Starman. he's in retirement so is not doing anything of a questionable nature anymore. Jay Garrick is very law-abiding, as speeding laws apply only to vehicles not to joggers. Assuming Superman has gotten the necessary FAA variances to be flying around the city, he's fairly law-abiding -- that unfortunate incident in the Pocket Universe notwithstanding...

One of the popular costumed heroes enjoying a fan resurgence of late is Daredevil -- who is also an attorney. DC's (now deceased) Vigilante was a prosecutor and then later a judge. If you were to create a masked man -- powered or not -- whose civilian identity was someone inside the legal system, what would be your take on the theme?

An interesting question. I'd probably go with a variant of Daredevil. By day, our dashing hero is a lawyer working for some sort of poverty law firm representing disadvantaged clients. By night, the lawyer becomes this costumed hero, who would then become involved in the problems of his clients and try to help solve them as a super-hero.

Another possibility is one I came up with once when someone asked me what I would do if asked to revive the Vigilante. Take the same basic concept of the Vigilante and mix in The Wise Guy. You have a judge or prosecutor who is tired of seeing criminals being released because of "technicalities" and who finds that the public's trust in the legal system is eroding because of these criminals getting away with crime. but rather than going out to kill the criminals, what the character does is use his chameleon-like powers to infiltrate the criminal organizations and collect evidence which could be used at trial to ensure convictions. In that way, the public's trust in the justice system is strengthened -- until the next OJ-type trial comes along, anyway.

Given that science fiction often serves as a precursor to reality, is it possible the world might yet see a masked vigilante -- and, if so, would you represent him?

Yes, it's possible. Yes, I would represent him (or her). Understand that my office can only represent indigents to whose cases we are appointed. but if this vigilante was indigent and our office appointed and I was assigned to the case, I would have no problem representing the vigilante. I believe everyone is entitled to a defense. So, unless there was a conflict of interest which prevented me from taking on that specific case, I would represent the vigilante.

You've done some writing other than your regular column -- Hero Alliance, Captain America: Liberty's Torch (with Tony Isabella). Are there any other projects we should be on the lookout for? Is there any chance of a resurgence of Hero Alliance under another imprint?

Yes. Tony Isabella and I have a Star Trek pretige format one-shot coming from Wildstorm early next year. It's called Star Trek: All of Me and takes place in the original five-year mission. Aaron LoPresti is penciling the book and, I believe, Randy Elliot is inking. It's due out in February, I believe. And thank you for giving me this opportunity to "plug away."

To answer the second part of this question: When Innovation closed down, all of its assets were transferred to the only secured creditor of the company, an osteopath in Cleveland. Last I knew, Hero Alliance and the other properties owned by Innovation (Power Factor and Legends of the Star Grazers) were still owned by him. I know he's looked to sell them in the past and believe he would sell them if someone were interested in buying them. Moreover, I don't think his asking price is excessive. So, if someone were interested in purchasing the rights to revive the title, it could happen. But if no one purchases the rights, the characters will languish.

With Hero Alliance, you introduced the first heroine who drew strength from... (ahem)... "vasocongestion." Exactly how did you and David Campiti come up with that idea, and what brand of beer was involved?

We didn't.

Hero Alliance was created by David Campiti and Kevin Juaire. I came aboard Hero Alliance with issue 4, after a three-issue mini-series and three issues of the regular book had come out. The bit that "the hornier Golden Guard got, the stronger she got," was part of the series Bible when I came on as writer, so it would have come from David or Kevin. I had nothing to do with creating the idea; I was just the first one to mention it in a story. I came up with the pseudo-science explanation for the bit -- the vasocongestion you mentioned -- but that was my only contribution.

What is the most recent legal entanglement in comics we can expect you to educate us on in your next column?

I've just turned in a couple of columns to CBG. One deals with "No Man's Land" and my belief that the government both couldn't, and wouldn't, shut down a metropolitan area as big and as major as Gotham City. Couldn't without violating several laws and constitutional provisions. Wouldn't, because it would be economic suicide for the country.

The other column takes off from Superman and Batman: Generations #3 and discusses the concept that simply because someone has a videotape of an alleged crime being committed, doesn't make said tape automatically admissible as evidence in court.

Ally McBeal: Fine television, or fodder for a "The Law is a Ass" spin-off series?

Unfortunately, I have to beg off on this one. Believe it or not, I have never seen an episode of Ally McBeal. I watched the first six episodes of David Kelly's other lawyer show -- The Practice -- and found the law so inaccurate as to be painful. I actually got hoarse from screaming at the TV or shouting, "Objection!" all the time. (The Practice's inaccuracy in its portrayal of the law is very frustrating, given that David Kelly used to be a practicing attorney.) If you're interested -- here comes another plug -- you can find a column with my take on an episode on my web page. It's the second installment of the column.

Anyway, I found The Practice so frustrating to watch, because of the inaccuracies, that I stopped watching it and never started watching Ally McBeal when it premiered, because I expected more of the same. So I don't know if Ally McBeal is accurate or inaccurate.

Were I to watch Ally McBeal, I might be more forgiving of it than I am The Practice. I know Ally is supposed to be a comedy, so its portrayal of the law isn't necessarily supposed to be accurate. Or, at least, as accurate as The Practice's is supposed to be.

Regarding the law and comics in the real world, has there been any substantial progress in protecting storeowners from RICO statues since the formation of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund?

I honestly don't know. I haven't really heard of the RICO statute being invoked against many comic book shops. For the most part, prosecutors are simply going after the comic book shops using ordinary state obscenity laws. As for progress in that front, there have been both wins and losses. Every win is some progress. Unfortunately, the wins haven't stopped, and won't stop, local municipalities from trying to enforce its obscenity laws on comic book stores. Obscenity is presently one of those emotion-charged issues and no one wants to appear to be "soft on porn" -- no pun intended. So, in that regard, there is no real progress, the indictments and prosecutions are still coming and the industry has to keep fighting them.