Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2010 Issue

Superheroes Face the Law at the Yale Law Library

Yalelawcomics

Not even Batman, Superman and the Hulk are above the law.


By Michael Stillman

The courtroom is ordinarily a dull place. Lawyers argue over motions, defendants plea bargain, delay is followed by delay, and incomprehensible legalese replaces intelligible thought. There is little excitement in the everyday business that goes on in court. Then, suddenly, a spectacular case rivets the public attention. A major celebrity finds himself on trial, and the people follow every word. It may be O.J. or Bernie Madoff, Superman or Batman, we can't take our eyes off... Wait! Superman? Batman? Have we pierced the veil between reality and fantasy? While certainly much of what is said in court emanates from the world of fantasy, the Yale Law School has moved a step beyond with an exhibit now on display: Superheroes in Court! Lawyers, Law and Comic Books.

From now through December 16, the Lillian Goldman Law Library at the Yale University Law School will be hosting a display of comic books, mainly from the collection of attorney and comic collector Mark S. Zaid. Zaid is also a dealer in comics as well as a co-founder of the Comic Book Collecting Association. His specialty is the connection between comics and the law. Mostly, this concerns the adventures of superheroes, and ordinary comic characters in court.

Generally, these episodes end in Perry Mason-like dramatic events, outbursts in court, tearful confessions, or outright violence, such as displayed by the Hulk when he was placed on trial. We are not sure why the local District Attorney was so foolish as to attempt to put this beast on trial, but a quick look at the cover of this 1972 comic, with the Hulk breaking free from his chains, shows that green gentleman was not pleased. And, while his words may not have been intelligible, it is evident that he did not choose to exercise his right to remain silent. Of course, not all the celebrity defendants were quite so irrational, with more "normal" superheroes, such as Superman and Batman, also being dragged before a jury of... their peers?

While superheroes graced the covers of some of these legalistic comics, others involved more regular types of people, detectives, or those involved in romance and some of the sordid activities that accompany this institution. Then there are the horror comics where various ghoulish creatures make their appearance in court. It is perhaps the staid, proper image that courts hold in the public eye that makes the appearance of bizarre creatures in their midst so fascinating to us.

The exhibition also contains items related to the more mundane side of the law. There are documents related to copyright issues, the legal right to Superman, and 1950s battles over free speech and censorship of comics. As recent events have shown (such as the sale of a Superman comic for $1.5 million), this form of art/communication/information/entertainment has developed a wildly devoted following over the past few decades. The law, at least in the cartoonish form of Judge Judy and Nancy Grace, has its loyal following as well. Now these forces have come together, like Batman and Robin. You may view them at the Yale Law Library in New Haven, Connecticut, now through December 16. For hours and directions, visit www.law.yale.edu/library.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.

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