Nick Spencer in The Astonishing Ant-Man has introduced a very unique concept: a super-villain app for hiring henchmen called “Hench: Every Villain’s Private Army.” Taking the world of food delivery, couch-surfing, ride-sharing apps employing independent contractors to the comic book world, Spencer continues to be one of the most forward thinking writers in comics.
Here is how the Hench app works: the user searches for the super-hero they wish a Henchmen to fight. The App then runs a patented algorithm to find the best match to fight the hero, based on location, power set, and confrontation history. The Henchmen also can have followers like a social media profile. See, The Astonishing Ant-Man 1, December 2015.
The Hench App is a piñata of legal issues. As a preliminary matter, Hench would never get in the Apple App Store for a number of Review Guideline violations, including the fact Hench enables criminal conduct and murder for hire, which violation section 22.3, which states, “Apps that solicit, promote, or encourage criminal or clearly reckless behavior will be rejected.” It would also violate the requirement that an app not be “creepy.”
Assuming Hench could be downloaded as some jailbreak app, we immediately enter the world of RICO, criminal conspiracies, and murder-for-hire.
The ability to select a super-villain like you are ordering a burrito for delivery would leave digital fingerprints of selecting one’s henchmen. There would be electronically stored information on the subject phones and server used by Hench. Evidence showing defendants have planned a murder-for-hire have included many forms of communications, such as phone calls, text messages, emails, wire transfers. United States v. Walker (5th Cir. 2015) 596 F.App’x 302, 308; United States v. Temkin (9th Cir. 2015) 797 F.3d 682, 690. The FBI seeking evidence of a murder-for-hire from an app would not be a stretch of the imagination.
If there were a massive raid, forensically imaging the Hench server likely would identify everyone who downloaded the app and used it. The FBI would then arrest those individuals and search the phones subject to a search warrant. The media fallout of everyone who had an app to order a super-villain to commit murder-for-hire would make those who had Ashley Madison accounts look tame.
The FBI would have jurisdiction in investigating Hench, its users, and subscribers pursuant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which states in relevant part:
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person who has received any income derived, directly or indirectly, from a pattern of racketeering activity or through collection of an unlawful debt in which such person has participated as a principal within the meaning of section 2, title 18, United States Code [18 USCS § 2], to use or invest, directly or indirectly, any part of such income, or the proceeds of such income, in acquisition of any interest in, or the establishment or operation of, any enterprise which is engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce.
18 USCS § 1962.
Racketeering Activity comes in all sizes of criminal activities, including any act or threat involving murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical or any act relating to bribery, mail fraud, and many other crimes. 18 USCS § 1961.
There is no question that a murder-for-hire app would qualify as a racketing activity. A business dedicated to contracting murders for financial gain is the very essence of RICO.
The FBI would also have jurisdiction if Hench requires a super-villain to travel in interstate or foreign commerce. 18 USCS § 1958. As Hench would likely result in personal injury, kidnapping, maiming, assault, and murder, the punishment for Henchmen would range from life to imprisonment to death. 18 USCS §§ 1958; 1959.
Ant-Man is delivering a legally interesting tale to astonish for the end-user of the app. The Hench App features controls for the person hiring the Henchman to call off a hit or finish the job. Murder-for-hire cases generally do not have that level of control, besides a text message to coordinate a hit. This level of control likely would enhance sentencing for those who used the app to commit violent crimes.
How will this all play out in the comic? I recommend reading The Astonishing Ant-Man to find out.