Due Process in a Superhero Universe

Tuesday night George and I were having a long conversation via text.  (Yes, Mr. Wordstar is a texting monster.  He’s the reason I had to go with unlimited texting.)  Truthfully we should have just picked up the phone and talked, but oh well.

Anyway, GRRM wanted to know if I had watched the latest episode of The Flash yet.  I hadn’t because of the time difference between L.A. and Santa Fe,  but we ended up talking about how the Star Labs Scooby gang keep locking people up in the basement in tiny rooms that appear to have no bed, no toilet, and that we never see them get a meal.  George asked if this bothered me?

My response — oh Hell yes!  Especially since one of the characters is a police officer and supposedly a good cop and a good man.

I understand this is fantasy and that super villains have enormous powers, BUT that doesn’t mean we throw out the Constitution with its guarantees of Due Process, right to a speedy trial, legal counsel.  I think they get away with it on The Flash because Barry seems so sweet and kind and approachable and the kids in the gang are all so cute.  Or you take the other approach and allow Jim Gordon in Gotham to become a vigilante cop which pretty much undermines the nature of the character.  But none of these disguise the fact that what is occurring is a grotesque undermining of the rule of law.

Yes, it’ makes things harder if you have to think about and address these issues, but that makes for good story telling and better writing.  To do otherwise is just lazy.  I can promise you if we even get Wild Cards going as a TV series we’re not going to dodge these tough questions and even tougher solutions.

13 Responses to Due Process in a Superhero Universe

  • Gregg Chamberlain says:

    good topic for discussion… i wonder if Ottawa U here might have a legal type in their Ask An Expert service i could quiz about how the legal process might work in a world where metahuman abilities were possible.

    i recall in the movie, Hancock, Will Smith’s titular character pretty much “volunteered” to go serve his prison time until the crime rate in L.A. escalated to the point where the cops and city asked the governor to let him out again to deal with the underworld.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      That would be cool. I would love to hear their thoughts. I addressed some of this in my Wild Cards graphic novel (assuming my artist ever gets off the stick and gets the art done) it will see the light of day.

  • Randall Paré says:

    This is why fantasy fiction should never be confused with reality.


    I totally enjoy heroic fiction. But in real life we would not abide vigilantes and if they had freakish powers, we’d send the military at them until they were annihilated.

    This doesn’t mean heroic fiction can’t be entertaining or, at times, meaningful. Just that they should never be confused with blueprints for how to actually address criminal justice. They exist more as fantastical parables.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I agree that we suspend disbelief when we watch these shows, but it would the ground the show and make it more believable if they at least nodded toward these questions. We didn’t shy from them in Wild Cards and I think that’s one reason the series has lasted this long.

  • We have actually seen that Cisco feeds them. He brings Big Belly Burger takeout. A constant diet of super-fatty burgers probably still counts as cruel and unusual punishment, of course. And the bathroom issue has not been addressed.

  • They’ve actually mentioned this issue of a lack of due process a handful of times on the show, and there is a deleted scene where they bring food to a prisoner. But yeah. The comic book has Iron Heights Penitentiary set up to handle prisoners with superpowers. They should really do something like that for this show.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    An apology, guys. Usually I get an email informing me there are comments, but since my email has been down for 3 days I missed this. Thank heaven I hopped over to the website and found you all.

    Thanks for continuing the discussion.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    A follow up about my graphic novel — the story features Francis Xavier Black, a young detective in the Jokertown precinct, and they arrest a woman who uses her hands to animate objects and turn them into weapons. To counter this they have her hands confined so she can’t move her fingers. Which means she can’t feed herself or wipe herself when she goes to the bathroom. Franny, who also has a law degree is concerned that this is cruel and unusual. Just like keeping someone sedated could be seen as cruel and unusual.

    I used that in a spec Wild Cards feature I wrote a number of years ago. Congress changed the law so aces (superheroes) could be placed in comas and confined.

  • Russell Howard says:


    Law and the Multiverse is a great blog on superpowers and law run by two attorneys. They look at various comic book legal ramifications.

  • mac says:

    I started noticing the same thing a few weeks back, but in the other series, Arrow. Diggle had his brother locked up in a 6X6 cell with no toilet. And I always wondered about the people that Arrow put on Lian Yu, as it didn’t seem there was anyone there to take care of them. I thought it was funny when they ‘changed’ Arrow’s character to be a non-killer, but his solution was essentially isolation and starvation.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      They made a nod to the island issue in Arrow with a throw about line about how that spy group was taking care of them, but we never see it. Maybe these fake cells are just for the convenience of the shooting schedule — just slap up some bars, but it’s annoying as hell. I know superheroes are fantasy, but try to ground things a bit better then that. Jessica Jones and Daredevil do it much better.

  • I held off on reading this, thinking it might have spoilers, and being on free-Hulu’s eight-day delay. Silly me.

    The issue of due process (and the lack thereof) does bother me (I have a Criminal Justice degree), but I basically look at it as “the showrunners don’t want to devote the world-building time to that.” Which is silly, a couple of throwaway lines would take care of it.

    In the real world, it would be a very, very thorny problem– one that would divide people along republican/democrat and liberal/conservative lines even more sharply than does gun control, I think. After all, when you’re dealing with deadly weapons that *are people,* as opposed to merely in the hands of people… it’s going to get ugly.

    Another work you might want to look at is this: http://www.amazon.com/Law-Superheroes-James-Daily/dp/1592408397/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455596526&sr=1-1&keywords=the+law+of+superheroes

    I have it, but haven’t gotten to it, yet. (It’s a very good thing that I’ve switched to an e-reader, or my To Be Read Pile would be a threat to life and limb. And possibly *structural integrity,* too.)

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