The Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom graphic novel Triumph and Torment presented a complex legal issue: Doctor Strange owed Doctor Doom a “boon” for surviving a mystical challenge. Doctor Doom’s boon was for Doctor Strange to help Doom liberate his mother from Hell.
That…is a big favor.
A “boon” historically was “Unpaid services, rendered in kind or labor, without being fixed in amount or time, that some tenants owed to the landowner as a condition of tenancy.” See, Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th Edition.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “boon” as “something pleasant or helpful: a benefit or advantage.”
Doctor Strange was bound to no ordinary boon, but an adhesion contract for his personal performance for a rescue mission from Hell. There are many types of contracts, but rescuing someone’s mom from the Devil takes specific performance to a new level (or low in going to Hell).
An “adhesion contract” is a type of contract that one party has no choice as to the terms and “adheres” to the agreement. The origins of these contracts are from life insurance contracts. See, Rory v. Cont’l Ins. Co., 473 Mich. 457, 478, 703 N.W.2d 23, 35-36 (2005) for a brief history. Moreover, personal performance contracts bind a specific individual, but not heirs or assignees, because there is no adequate substitute. See, Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th Edition.
An adhesion contract is “judged by whether the party seeking to enforce the contract has used high pressure tactics or deceptive language in the contract and whether there is inequality of bargaining power between the parties.” Vuksanaj v. Quality Bldg. Serv. Corp., 2014 NY Slip Op 32175(U), ¶¶ 2-3 (Sup. Ct.), citing Morris v. Snappy Car Rental, Inc., 84 N.Y.2d 21, 30, 637 N.E.2d 253, 614 N.Y.S.2d 362 (1994)
New York courts will not order specific performance if “it will result in great hardship and injustice to one party, without any considerable gain or utility to the other, or in cases where the public interest would be prejudiced thereby.” Conger v. N.Y., W. S. & B. R. Co., 120 N.Y. 29, 32 (1890).
Doctor Strange had to “adhere” to the terms of Doctor Doom’s “boon” to rescue Doom’s mother. There does not appear to be high pressure tactics or deceptive language used by Doom at the time of the contract (while in Hell is a different story). While Doctor Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme, there arguably was no bargaining power in accepting Doom’s boon. However, Doom did not ask for Strange to grant him power to conquer the world, but merely free his mother from Mephisto’s version of Hell.
Cynthia von Doom has a claim as a third-party beneficiary to Doctor Doom’s “boon” with Doctor Strange. The late Cynthia could prove that the contract to rescue her from Hell was made for her benefit, thus she was a third-party beneficiary. Rosenheck v. Calcam Assocs., 649 N.Y.S.2d 247, 249 (App. Div. 1996). Many states allow contracts made expressly for the benefit of a third person can be enforced by that party. See, Cal. Civ. Code § 1559. However, since Cynthia was in Hell, she would have significant challenges finding legal representation to bring an action. Moreover, it is unlikely Hell has any courts would follow lex loci contractus in applying the laws of New York to the Doom-Strange boon.
The specific performance of literally going to Hell to rescue Doom’s mother sets a high bar for hardship. Saving someone’s soul from the Devil is beyond any court of equity in granting specific performance.
Doctor Doom’s “boon” for Doctor Strange has many issues with being unenforceable, because the nature of the personal performance requires going to Hell, to the unknown of being able to rescue Cynthia von Doom’s soul, and whether Doctor Strange is violating the Logan Act for working with Doctor Doom, or whether the United States has any export control licensing on magical spells to governments hostile to the United States.
Contract issues aside, Triumph and Torment is one Hell of a good story.