The Thing is naked in the new Fantastic Four movie. Heck, even San Francisco has an ordinance against public nudity. What happened here?

I fondly remember John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four with excellent adventures across space and time. Since the earliest days of the comic,  the cover declared, “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.” The reviews of the new movie do not honor the comic characters so many love.

Ben Grimm being naked in no way lives up to the comic brought to life by Jack Kirby. Parents potentially have to explain to kids where is The Thing’s “thing.” The FF deserve a Netflix series where they take on the Mole Man with an army of monsters and advance technology; or the Sub-Mariner declaring war on the surface for pollution; or Rama-Tut/Kang seeking to conquer time. Hopefully Marvel can get the rights back and give the world the Fantastic Four it deserves.

Fanboy rage aside, could The Thing be charged with indecent exposure for being naked (assuming a war-hero pilot from New York would suddenly become a nudist Ken-doll-like super-hero)?

New York defines public lewdness as when someone “intentionally exposes the private or intimate parts of his body in a lewd manner or commits any other lewd act (a) in a public place, or (b) in private premises under circumstances in which he may readily be observed from either a public place or from other private premises, and with intent that he be so observed.” NY CLS Penal § 245.00

New York defines exposure when a person “appears in a public place in such a manner that the private or intimate parts of his body are unclothed or exposed.” NY CLS Penal § 245.01. New York law has an exception for exposure, which states, “Nothing in this section shall prevent the adoption by a city, town or village of a local law prohibiting exposure of a person as herein defined in a public place, at any time, whether or not such person is entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition, show or entertainment.” Id.

If Ben Grimm were charged with either public lewdness or exposure, a defense attorney could argue that the law does not apply to Ben Grimm as The Thing, because Grimm no longer has a human body with “intimate parts.” A prosecutor might counter that Grimm is still a human being, protected by the Constitution, Federal, and state law; therefore, Grimm has to also follow the law.

Just as Ben Grimm’s older brother would never abuse him, Ben would never give up his claims on his humanity in order to escape criminal prosecution. Comic stories over the last 35 years had The Thing travel in time and give his past self an antidote to the Cosmic Rays in an alternative timeline to regain his humanity. Moreover, Ben Grimm stayed on the first Secret Wars world where he could change back into a human body. If you have not read those stories, be sure to check them out.

The Thing simply walking around in public would also not be lewd by itself, which would demonstrate that a core element of the law was not broken. However, exposure would be harder to challenge, because Grimm is entering public places “in such a manner that the private or intimate parts of his body are unclothed or exposed.” As such, The Thing would be violating the plain text of the statute.

The best way for a man turned into a rock monster to not be charged with exposure is to AT LEAST wear blue shorts. Pants and boots would also be great. A shirt would also ensure Ben Grimm would be served at most restaurants (assuming their seating could support his weight).

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.