SDMB Lawyers: Comic book related legal question

Ok. Granted a comic-book universe’s laws would be fundimentally different from ours (in the DC Universe, there’s a Constitutional Amendment that allows super-heroes to testify in courts without removing their masks), but I was discussing an old DC Comic with a friend and remembered a bit where it was stated that it was a crime to wear a Batman outfit in Gotham City and was slightly boggled.

Is there any way that can be justified or rationalized? I understand that impersonating a police office can be a crime, but just wearing the outfit alone isn’t enough, is it?

And let’s take it one step further: let’s assume the ban on wearing a Batman costume somehow was upheld: how far from the original would the costume in question have to be? The comic I was remembering was an early appearance of either Batwoman or Batgirl (Barbara Gordon). Whichever comic it was, other than the Bat-Logo, neither really looks much like Batman’s costume.

Thoughts? Opinions? Derisive laughter :slight_smile: ?


I suppose it could be justified through the state’s police power, protecting the public. Batman does get shot at a lot, can’t have the villains shooting up the costume ball.

I think (he said cautiously) I will leave it to the legal experts of the board to discuss the extent of the states’ police power vis-à-vis the rights of superheroes to their secret identities.

But along the same lines, I offer for your delectation the case of Coyote v. Acme: opening statements by the plaintiff* and the defense. Sadly, the decision of the Court has not yet made it onto the Internet.

  • (which I find on another site was the work of one Ian Frazier, published in The New Yorker February 26, 1990, and later developed into a book)

Are you saying it’s a crime to wear the outfit, as long as you aren’t Batman?

In which case, that seems fair. Unlicensed Superhero Impersonations.

Actually, I recall reading a Batman anthology which included the first appearance of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl…where she pointed out that the law was worded as “no man may wear a Batman costume”.

Why anyone would want to wear a Batman costume in the city where such a costume would make them the target of several dozen dangerous criminals is beyond me.

You could’ve used a better example by mentioning Powers and how it’s illegal in that universe to wear any super-powered costume. Lord knows how they would define what a “super-powered costume” is. No capes? No tights? That’d kill business at Bally’s and any drag queen competitions.

Worth mentioning: a law must be specific enough to put the citizen on notice of what conduct is prohibited to survive a due process challenge. “Any super-powered costume” might well fail; I’d argue it. Maybe you could draft a statute well enough to cover Batman costumes: “Any costume designed to resemble or reasonably perceivable as being substantially similar to that typically worn by Batman, including but not limited to: cowl, bat insignia on chest, upwards-pointed stylized costume ears…”

Kat: That’s the story I was remembering, but I’m pretty certain it came up in a Batwoman story as well.

Asylum: I love Powers, but I don’t think the example is as effective. DC, the Ingersoll Amendment aside, pretends to be an analogue of our world…with superheroes. Powers has no such pretense.

Pravnik: I like the “protecting the public” rationale! I was thinking more of the “impersonate a super-hero” bit which didn’t really work for me. :slight_smile:


Well, in a slightly related example from Abberant (an excellent superhero roleplaying game), the courts ruled that the public identity of a superhero (or villain) could be sued even if the real identity was unknown. Therefore, under that rule, you could sue Batman without knowing he was Bruce Wayne. How you’d get him into the court room is another matter…

Well, obviously, you’d need a superbureaucrat, the Mad Subpoenaer, capable of launching summons to appear faster than a speeding bullet.

Yeah, can you clarify, Fenris? Was this to to prevent Batman imitators, or did it include Batman himself?

Sure: The law was to prevent Batman impersonators (which, given that Batman can testify in court, masked, makes some sense).

The specific context was that Barbara Gordon (Commissioner Gordon’s daughter) had sewn a Batgirl costume for a costume party. She ended up preventing a kidnapping. When Batman found out, he tried to get her on the “no-one is allowed to wear a Batman costume in Gotham” rule, but Batgirl, ever the student of nuances of law pointed out, as Kat said, the law specifes that no man can wear a Batman costume.

But forgetting the no-one/no-man business, I don’t think that the two costumes are close enough to count. Here’s what Batman looked like circa 1966

And here’s Batgirl’s outfit from the same era (a reprint of her first appearance, in fact).