One of the most interesting comic book mini-series for a lawyer is DC’s Cry for Justice. The story was a 7-part series that touched on many legal and ethical issues for lawyers.
Let’s review the series from a lawyer’s point of view.
Cry For Justice
DC’s “Cry for Justice” was written by James Robinson and art by Mauro Cascioli. The story begins after the highly confusing “Final Crisis.” What was not difficult to understand about “Final Crisis,” was it ends with Batman and the Martin Manhunter dead [apparently in Batman's case, who had been thrown back in time, and Martin Manhunter was brought back to life in Blackest Night] after planet Earth went through a reality-bending-cosmic-meat-grinder.
Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) does not take this well. The series opens with Green Lantern debating Superman, Wonder Woman and other members of the Justice League. Green Lantern no longer wants to wait for villains to do harm, but to track down evil before they can do harm.
Hal Jordan reasons that modern villains were no longer simply scared into the shadows because the good guys were good. Waiting for the bad guys to simply show up to cause problems had cost too many lives. It also had enslaved almost the entire human race and nearly destroyed all of reality in Final Crisis. It was time to take preventative action.
It does not take someone with a Political Science degree to see the first few pages of Cry For Justice are a debate on the Bush Doctrine.
Super Heroes & Preventive War
Most of the members of the Justice League do not agree with Green Lantern. The debate ends with Hal Jordan and Green Arrow leaving the Justice League’s space station saying, “You want a league. I want justice.”
There are other heroes who felt the same as Hal Jordan across the planet. Virtually all were inspired to find “justice” based off the deaths of others.
There are even some “enhanced interrogations” of villains by heroes to get answers.
And all roads eventually led to a villain named Prometheus stealing advanced technology.
Unfortunately for our heroes, seeking justice did not go according to plan.
A Smart & Well-Armed Bad Guy
The villain Prometheus had a suit of armor programed with how to defeat virtually all known super heroes. His cruelty knew few limits, including making a throw rug out of a dead super hero’s body. After a long con, we learn Prometheus impersonated Captain Marvel (Shazam!) and gained access to the Justice League space station with the rest of the heroes [the real Captain Marvel was found as his mortal self, tied up with his lips sewn shut with wire so he could not say Shazam. Yes, wire.].
Prometheus managed to defeat almost everyone in the Justice League, including ripping off Red Arrow’s arm (Green Arrow’s son).
During the traditional bad guy monologue outlining his plans, we learn there are devices across the planet that would encase cities in force fields and launch them across time and space. The goal was for a fate worse than death knowing that loved ones were forever missing.
Prometheus demanded to be set free in exchange for the codes to stop the devices. And just to prove he was really evil, the attack had already begun in Green Arrow’s home Star City during the fight with the heroes and his capture. However, Star City was not launched across time and space; it was destroyed with 90,000 dead, including Green Arrow’s granddaughter.
Realizing they could not stop the devices from killing more, Green Arrow convinces the rest of the Justice League to let Prometheus go free in exchange for the codes to stop the doomsday weapons. The heroes stop a massive death toll in the millions. The cost of “victory” was letting the bad guy get away.
Is It Justice?
It looks like evil won, with the bad guy safely gloating and plotting in his fortress between worlds and dimensions.
Much to Prometheus’s surprise, Green Arrow appears and puts one arrow through Prometheus’s skull.
Only one word is said by Green Arrow after killing Prometheus: Justice.
What Lawyers Think About When Reading A Cry for Justice
Cry For Justice has wonderful legal issues. It was extremely well written with excellent artwork. James Robinson was masterful at incorporating thoughtful ethical issues in a very timely story.
The first obvious ethical issue is that heroes do not normally kill bad guys. Those upholding the law do not normally execute the villains. It looks more like “revenge” less like “justice.” The entire concept of “due process” is a chalk outline on the floor when the good guys go around killing criminals.
However, there are the threats to a country that exceed any formal court proceeding. Someone who can destroy cities, leave 90,000 dead, and hide outside of reality as we know it, falls into that group without question.
Let’s take a look at history for anything close to a precedent.
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto planned the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He was the commander-in-chief of the combined fleet of the Japanese Navy.
And after Pearl Harbor, we wanted him dead.
When the US learned of a flight Yamamoto was going to be on, the Air Force shot down Yamamoto’s plane.
The mission was code named “Operation Vengeance.”
The military planners were not shy in how they felt about Admiral Yamamoto.
It was not even a remote idea to somehow capture the Admiral to convict him in a US Court for the attack on Pearl Harbor. Such an idea was totally unrealistic. A marshal would have a difficult time serving an arrest warrant on the Admiral’s battleship, also surrounded by a well-armed navy.
Moreover, Yamamoto was a brilliant officer who was in charge of the Japanese Navy. His targeted killing historically made sense as a decapitation strike given his skill and popularity within the fleet.
We were also at war. Something that cannot be over looked or understated. Targeting leaders is what armies and navies do to each other.
The same can be said for Bin Ladin.
As for the War on Terror (or Overseas Contingency Operation) the killing of Bin Ladin and other “targeted killing” is based off the Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force passed shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
There are many pronounced differences differences between the War on Terror and World War II. When battles are fought in shadows by SEALs, special forces and Drones, the successful operations do not make the news. It will likely be years before it is publicly known the secret battles that have taken place since 2001 and two US Presidents.
However, there is a very different view to outright ordering the deaths of “war criminals” or threats against the country. These were best articulated in Justice Jackson’s opening statement at the Nuremberg Trials:
The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.
In the prisoners’ dock sit twenty-odd broken men. Reproached by the humiliation of those they have led almost as bitterly as by the desolation of those they have attacked, their personal capacity for evil is forever past. It is hard now to perceive in these men as captives the power by which as Nazi leaders they once dominated much of the world and terrified most of it. Merely as individuals their fate is of little consequence to the world.
What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalisms and of militarism, of intrigue and war- making which have embroiled Europe generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life. They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived and with the forces they directed that any tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which are attached to their names. Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively With the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.
For the complete text, please see transcript available on the University of Missouri-Kansas City, School of Law ”Famous Trials” website.
While a war crimes trial lacks the impressive physical display of power of a SEAL team, the solemnness of the proceedings deters dancing in the streets like victory at a sporting event.
So, did Green Arrow make the right decision in killing Prometheus?
Was killing the villain who caused the deaths of 90,000 justified?
Would capturing Prometheus for trial have been a better example?
Is Justice Jackson’s “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated,“ a goal that can be lived up to (even if only in comics) or simply lofty rhetoric in the face of Realpolitik?
Prometheus was a highly intelligent villain who defeated the Justice League in minutes. Supergirl down in one shot. Other heroes maimed. The villain’s powers favor it would be safer to kill instead of capture.
However, Green Arrow was acting solely on his own, not under orders from a President or at least the color of authority from a Congressional Resolution authorizing force (Congress would likely pass a force bill similar to combating the Barbary Pirates or War on Terror, given 90,000 people were killed. Special Forces would likely have orders to shoot to kill if they could find Prometheus).
It appears the threat of Prometheus justified killing over capture, because there are some forms of justice beyond the jurisdiction of any court, especially where the capture is simply not an option because of the level of the villain’s power. However, this was done without any legal authority on Green Arrow’s part.
Worse yet, Green Arrow did not collect or destroy Prometheus’ technology to ensure no one else would get it.
With that said, Green Arrow killed Prometheus “between worlds and dimensions.” There would be an impressive jurisdictional defense on how either Federal or State law applied outside of reality as we know it (jury nullification carried the day in comic).
And that is how a lawyer reads comic books.