Legality of super heroes

If super heroes existed in real life - like Superman, for instance, or Deadpool (on a more exciting world)… Would it be legal for them to fight crime using all their superpowers? I am pretty sure that FAA would not be happy about a guy flying around without a super plane. And what about the legality of arresting (or killing) crooks and bad guys? Isn’t that something that the Police should do?

Phoenix Jones hasn’t gotten in too much trouble. Granted, he doesn’t kill people, and he doesn’t arrest them (generally he handles things until the cops arrive).

There’s a legal blog dedicated to these kinds of questions. One of the famous ones is Superman’s immigration status in the US - the consensus seems to be that he would fall under a clause providing US citizenship to abandoned children found in the US, unless proof of a non-US origin is shown before their 18th birthday.

In the letters page of DC comics, the editors once answered the question of Clark Kent’s missing birth Certificate by mentioning adoption papers that the Kents had filled out after they found the baby who was (apparently) the only survivor when his home planet Krypton blew up.

Check out the Will Smith superhero film Handcock sometime. It posits the idea of this, holding a superhero responsible for things like vigilantism, collateral damage etc. Pretty funny movie too. It starts with the idea that because he’s constantly being hounded by lawsuits and lawyers and police Handcock, the superhero, has said ‘Fuck it’ and no longer fights crime, he just wanders around like a drunk homeless guy*!*

Is that what you want?

Registering superheroes and superpowered mutants, and making them only use their superpowers with government permission or knock it off entirely, seems to be a recurring theme. See Watchmen, The Incredibles, Civil War, Hancock, X-Men, etc.

As far back is mid-1970’s I remember seeing an issue of an Incredible Hulk comic which began with Bruce Banner aboard a boat, off-shore, hiding out from the authorities who are after his legal hide. And in the same issue, IIRC, there was a scene of Nighthawk conferring with his lawyer over legal wranglings over his right to engage in his super-hero activities.

Most super battles are in major cities and in reality, would kill and injure tens of thousands and cause billions of dollars in damage, I doubt anyone would want them in their city. I’d hate to live in Metropolis or Gotham City.

If you took Fantastic 4 continuity seriously just based on battles fought and collateral damage to the city via supervillain antics the population of Manhattan would have been killed several times over already.

"Kingdom Come" kinda-sorta address this issue also re what you do when a population of super powered people and mutants (mostly quasi-amoral next generation kids of super heroes and super villains) starts to breed and expand.

Law and the multiverse is a fun read. They hit on the flight question, for example, and concludes that under current law the FAA has no authority to regulate flight if it doesn’t involve a device of some sort. So Iron Man and Bat Man would have to worry about their suit and batcopter, but superman wouldn’t. (This and everything else is based on US law, I don’t know enough about other countries to look at that).

Generally you can use force in self defense or to stop a felony (especially murder) from being committed, so trying to stop a villain is probably OK. There’s no ‘only the police deal with crime’ law, and the legal system actually has a lot of structure that still fits older times when most of what we consider police work was handled by private individuals. In all states there’s some provision for a citizen’s arrest or detention, so there’s even provision for holding the criminal until the cops show up or taking him to the police station. OTOH, you run into problems if you try to keep crime fighting, since you start touching on areas that are usually regulated like running a bodyguard or PI business. And you will have a really hard time getting any petty criminals off the street, because you’ve likely tainted the evidence against them and might end up being treated as a police operative acting without a warrant.

Also, there’s huge civil liability for damaged caused if you start getting into super-fights, and criminal liability if anyone gets hurt. If you stop the bad guy from blowing up the whole town you probably have a good argument that whatever you did was justified. But if you end up breaking a wall out of a building, smashing a dozen cars, and smashing up the display aisles in a few stores to stop a half million dollar bank robbery, there’s a good argument that you acted recklessly, that society would be better off with the bank robbery than the damage you caused trying to prevent it. And you would have to come into court to argue that or end up with warrants out for failure to appear, no one just says ‘he had a mask so we can’t ever catch him’.

Also, realistically super powered people just wouldn’t play out anything like the comic books. Keeping identities secret for anyone who doesn’t switch bodies (like the hulk), shapeshift, or otherwise radically alter their appearance wouldn’t work. The military have access to a lot of high-powered weaponry and the police would rapidly get that access if supers were causing lots of problems, without even looking into the various comic book tech. (For example, making a man portable laser strong enough to permanently blind most super heroes is well within today’s tech). Lots of big fights with high property damage and lives lost would lead to police and/or military trying to hunt down and kill the terrorists, not a cycle of ‘wait for a hero to catch him, lock him up, he escapes again, blows up a hospital, wait for a hero…’.

Wouldn’t the definition of “self defense” be up for some discussion in this context? Superman could hardly say “I blasted him with my heat vision because he was about to shoot me.”

One time the mayor of Metropolis deputized Superman on the spot and ordered him to arrest Lex Luthor. I guess that would be legal.

I think the JLA is actually under jurisdiction of the United nations where they get funding. Plus superheroes get a salary.

The title was “Hancock.” You may be referencing a porn version.

It was established in continuity: the Kent found him and gave him to the orphanage as a foundling. After a few days, they decided to official adopt him.

Clark would have been issued a birth certificate as a foundling.

Wait, what? Being found in the wreckage of an alien spacecraft isn’t proof of a non-US origin?

There you go. :slight_smile:

There was a possible-future story where the Supreme Court ruled that (a) the ship was a birthing matrix for a fetus, not a rocket for an already-born infant, and so (b) Kal-El was, technically, born on US soil; Superman’s presidency ensued.

I remember reading a short story where the guy fights crime for awhile, then is hit with a ton of law suits. He moves to a remote island to get away from it all.

There’s also the Nobody Scores take on superhero consequences. Although it does not do the legal stuff.