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Off My Mind: Superheroes Breaking Laws

Heroes do a lot to protect mankind but does that excuse them from the laws they ignore?

What's the difference between a superhero and a vigilante? There really isn't one. Vigilantes are often seen as menaces who feel they are above the law when the systems fails to accomplish what they have set out to do. Superheroes tend to be embraced by the public, and sometimes even the authorities in being the saviors or protectors of mankind. Neither fully have the authority to do what they do to fight evil.

Superheroes have taken it upon themselves to dedicate themselves to their profession. Just because they have the power and the willingness to fight supervillains and put their lives at risk, does that exempt them from the laws already in place? Superheroes break a number of laws while pursuing criminals. Should they be held accountable or can these infractions be overlooked?

== TEASER ==

It's easy to say that because superheroes sacrifice so much and save so many lives, the minor laws they may bend or break are insignificant. The important thing to consider is no one should be above the law. The laws that exist have been made and passed for a reason.

Superheroes do have abilities and the willingness to go above and beyond but as citizens of the city, state or country they operate in, that doesn't mean they can do whatever they want. If it was truly believed heroes have the right to take matters into their own hands, wouldn't a superhero exemption clause be officially passed?

In order to capture the evil masterminds in the world, superheroes break numerous laws. Here are just a few of the big ones they constantly break (and it just happens that Batman is guilty of breaking most of these).

Breaking and Entering

Sometimes capturing a supervillain means tracking them down. Information needs to be obtained. Superheroes won't visit their local library or city hall to try to find public records on individuals. What they tend to do is break into the offices or residents of the suspected criminal in order to find out where the person is or what illegal activities they might be part of. All of this is done without a warrant or court order. They break in when no one is around and rifle through the files as they please.

Hopefully when the hero does break into someone's office or home, part of their skills include gaining access without destroying personal property. Some heroes have smashed their way in to gain the information. This would lead to further laws being broken.

Miranda Rights and Coercion

Once a superhero corners a bad guy, they often need more information on the criminal's boss. Many evil geniuses use henchmen who tend to fall prey to the heroes' crusade. The heroes will do what they can to force the individual to tell them what they want to know. There isn't the option for a lawyer to be present. The hero will threaten violence or dangle them in a precarious manner in order to frighten them to talk.

In this situation, the criminal or henchman seems to have no personal rights. The hero sees it as because they have aligned themselves with a criminal mastermind, all their rights have been relinquished. Of course any information gathered would be inadmissible in court but that's the prosecutor's problem apparently.


What happens when a superhero confronts a villain? It's not a matter of placing them under arrest. It tends to always come down to physical violence. The hero has to usually beat the villain into submission in order to have them ready for the proper authorities to arrive and take them away. When lives are at risk or in the heat of the moment, the hero might have to act brashly. But it's a rare occurrence when the hero actually asks the villain to simply give themselves up. It might happen occasionally but heroes tend to barge in with fists raised. Whoever has the greater power or fighting skills in the victor.


How many traffic violations has Batman racked up with the Batmobile? How many traffic accidents has he caused or nearly caused? The modern Batmobile most likely has computer sensors that can detect and probably even predict traffic patterns. I could see the car taking control, swerving left or right, knowing where cars are likely to appear.

Realistically, car chases are never a good idea. There aren't many heroes that actually use vehicles to get around town. Even Batman doesn't use it all the time these days. The heroes that use motorcycles have more maneuverability but there is still the risk of causing accidents especially since they don't have police sirens.

Tampering With Evidence

Superheroes are often the first to arrive on the scene. Some heroes feel they can better analyze the evidence and could do so in a quicker manner. They're never sure if the entire police force could be trusted. Evidence sometimes has a way of 'disappearing' when it's needed to pin a crime on those responsible. The detective heroes may know better but they may not have all the information. One piece of evidence they remove could have a link to another case in the police's possession. The hero may be able to solve the crime quicker but by removing the evidence in order to do so, that evidence becomes inadmissible in court. Capturing the villain may prevent others getting harmed or killed but if they can't be convicted, they'll be free to cause more mischief afterwards.

Child Endangerment

This is a topic on its own and one that has been brought up before. Superheroes that use sidekicks run the risk of getting these children killed. We all know how things turned out for Jason Todd. He may have been brought back from the dead but it was a pretty brutal killing. Bucky was harmed. How many times did Rick Jones get into trouble? We recently found out that Spider-Man is going to try to teach responsibility to a new sidekick. But it doesn't seem too responsible thinking he can properly train a young hero and ensure they will not be put in harm's way.

Heroes are far from perfect. In order to protect the innocent and save the world, they have to break several laws. Some might say that makes them criminals as well instead of just vigilantes. They are needed since they can accomplish things the regular law enforcement agents can't and are unable to given the restrictions of society.

Tony Guerrero is the Editor-in-Chief of Comic Vine. You can follow him on Twitter @GManFromHeck. He now has "Breaking the Law" as sung by Beavis and Butthead stuck in his head.

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Posted by ZZoMBiE13

Batman isn't the Dark Knight of Law, he is the Dark Knight of Justice. Anything he does in pursuit of that falls within his boundaries. His status of "Above the law" is how he gets things done in a world where due process is a joke that criminals spit in the face of. Gotham's Lady of Justice isn't just blind, she's been defiled and left on a respirator. Hence the need for Bats to step up in the first place.

Posted by InnerVenom123

What a tasteful picture used for dead sidekicks.

Posted by Pokeysteve

I think with characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Thor, Ghost Rider, (just to name a few) should be completely exempt as they are probably the only ones who can take down some of their villains. I don't think Superman would do too well against Ares and not many people know Mephisto like the Rider.

They can't be everywhere at once so you have less powerful characters like Spider-man, Aquaman, Iron Man and so on filling in.

Batman (and the whole Bat family), Punisher, and other low level street levelers break several laws but also get results the police can't because of some laws. As long as no innocents get hurt in any crossfire, and the bad guys get put away (or slaughtered in Frank's case) it's all good to me.

Side Note:::::Never used so many sets of parentheses.

Posted by Wonder Princess

Very thought provoking. :)

Posted by Oedipus_Rex

Avengers. Superheroes who are duly deputized by the authority of the Government. So not technically vigilantes.

Posted by Inverno

@InnerVenom123 said:

What a tasteful picture used for dead sidekicks.

At least they grew a bone when they returned to life XD

Posted by HexThis

Child endangerment is the only one that really irks me. I don't understand at all, whatsoever why someone who chases after criminals for a living and racks up a bazillion resentful, murderous enemies would involve a kid in the picture. I'm sure it'll seem a bit loaded but this is precisely why I have a huge issue with Damian Wayne being Robin. Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered when he was a child and there's a good chance someone could murder him before the eyes of his child in these circumstances or worse...Damian could get killed. And Damian has no superpowers, it bothers me so much!

Also, Dick Grayson wasn't necessarily a kid in the early Batman comics, I think he was meant to be more childlike so readers related to Batman as a fatherly, moral authority....well, either that or Batman needed a purely sub-textual boyfriend.

Edited by dewboy01

So what? Beuracracy's just as corrupted as ever. Dirty cops, and what not. Cops can't do "protect and serve" shit. They beat your sorry ass to the ground, wasting time playing 20 questions at you, lying around eating donuts, and drink coffee, they even set you up, for crimes you didn't do. They don't deserve those badges. POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!!!

Posted by ThreadedPanda8

whenever i get pulled over for speeding and the officer taps on the glass I slowly roll down the window, readjust my cowl, and say, "I'm Batman!!!!"..... :D

Posted by thechessclub

I'm surprised you didn't note how many 'trial of' comics there have been over the the top of my head there's at least one (modern) Superman, a Barry Allen one, a Peter Parker one, and I believe a separate Spiderman one...I'm sure there are dooooooooooooooozens more. They're kind of cliche at this point. Not that I think that's necessarily a bad story concept=]

Posted by lifeboy
If you all have a problem with batman endangering a child, then go tell him to his face. He'll probably just slap the $h!t out of you.
Posted by Teerack

Laws are for people that aren't super heroes.

Posted by DATNIGGA

@dewboy01: Amen

Posted by JonSmith

I prefer to think of them as REALLY dedicated, REALLY good samaritans.

Posted by Rumble Man

What can the government actually do to stop them?

If we go by that line of argument them most of the heroes would be imprisoned and punisher will face death penalty

Posted by pstkondeti

@Teerack: soo true :D

Posted by ltbrd

I think it would have been an interesting concept for the new 52 to have Superman become deputized by the city of Metropolis. Not directly working for them, but having the authority to carry out his actions. We don't need to see the after effects of his arrests or appearances in court (that would just be boring as hell), but it would make an interesting character comparision of him to other heroes.....a modern take on the "big, blue boyscout" theme that he willingly works with the police of his city while someone like Batman shuns them.

But if I'm not mistaken the Young Justice tv series seems to lean towards the fact that the Justice League is a UN Sactioned team and therefore are in a way legitimized and work within the law (which is why they use the Young Justice team for "off the books" missions).

I'm not saying something like deputization would work for every superhero. It really wouldn't make sense with Wonder Woman or Aquaman, who have diplomatic immunity as ambassadors anyways, Green Lanterns are intergalatic police and tied to the laws of Oa (one of the reasons why I don't like Hal Jordan or any Green Lantern being in the Justice League as a full time member since they have far more area to cover than just Earth and should only be in JL stories that involve an alien invasion or something intergalatic), and it would ruin the character and feel of Batman for him to be officially recognized even if the police aren't actively pursuing him. So really the only other character that makes sense is the Flash (I don't count Cyborg as he doesn't have his own city to be deputized in), which would just be an extension of his job anyways. So it could work that some heroes are a bit more tied to the law while some aren't and there spirit of superheroes still be perserved (and there wouldn't really be conflict of interest in a team like the Justice League because a deputized superhero could only arrest someone in their own city for breaking a crime, so unless Batman suddenly moves to Metropolis and set-up shop Superman isn't going to go up to the JL satellite and arrest him as it would be out of his jurisdiction).

Posted by Novemberx2

Superhero and the people they beat up: they are Guilty to proven innocent!

To be honest im trying to think of a time any marvel hero in recent years has broken the law (other then the superhero registration act), pretty sure all the marvel character have done for the last 5 years is beat each up rather then fighting crime

Posted by tcglkn

I think Spider-Man training Alpha is the most responsible thing Spider-Man could do. When a person has super powers they hardly go on living a quiet life so Alpha would either turn criminal or be an amateur hero. Both of which are more dangerous to him and others. With Spider-Man training him he'll learn that "with great power comes great responsibilty". Plus he'll have Spider-Man there to help him out of sticky situations.

Posted by BlueLantern1995

Difference between a superhero and a vigilante was explained in Amazing Spider-Man... the difference is a vigilante hunts the guilty, a superhero protects the innocent.

Posted by Dark_Vengeance_

what? are you kidding me? Child Endangerment? but you think it was better to leave Jason in crime alley right? and let him be a criminal right? and what about Damian, you think it would have been better if he lived with his mother and eventually become the leader of the league of assassins. and what about Dick, it was fine to leave him in there without closure about his parents's death, and Tim takes the cake because he chose to be Robin, without because he wanted to help Bruce.

Posted by Funrush

Isn't vigilantism illegal in most states anyway?

Edited by Frobin

Superheroes are some sort of vigilantes ... they fight for justice and not necessarily for the law. If they would fight for the law, they would be police men, if they would fight for the government they would be soldiers (therefore Marvel's registration act has been such a bad idea). A hero fights for a higher goal, for values shared by the people, for justice ...

An anti-hero even takes the burden to do some illegal or even immoral things to serve justice ... and therefore he walks a thin line between hero and villain.

Posted by primepower53

Off My Mind.....I thought it was gone forever....

Posted by CrimsonCake

And every time batman captures a criminal,he'll have to be in court to testify against him/her.He did that during the silver age but now?

Posted by PhoenixoftheTides

Absolutely not. If they ignore the laws of the society they are naming themselves the unwanted protectors of, they become no better than super villains or a benign overlord deciding on a whim when to live by the laws that everyone else has to follow. In fact, there is much more defense for Wonder Woman inflicting killing Max Lord than there is for Batman's behavior. Avoiding killing at all costs seems to be a defense mechanism for the super heroes to justify their vigilante existence. The fact is, while policemen try to incapacitate a criminal, it sometimes becomes necessary to kill people in order to protect innocents. Few superheroes dealing with these types of enemies have the power to make killing completely unnecessary - a telepath still places their life in danger when they get in the middle of a battle and try to intercept an enemy, whereas for a being like Thor, killing any one when he could easily overpower them is not necessary.

The problem is compounded when the vigilante in question is really not needed, but they decide to pursue this behavior to satisfy an inner desire on their part. How many street level heroes do you really need? Wouldn't they be better served living a normal life and acting as a member of the Community Watch with the ability to incapacitate or defeat a criminal?

Posted by Ijan092

the law doesnt have the balls to do things how they should be done....

Posted by Lonestar9

Ehh.....I just don't think about things like these too often, these are fantasy stories for the most part, why complicate things with all these what if's? To me, they are above the law, they shouldn't have to worry about breaking some sort of manmade law when they put their lives on the line to help out people. Applying the real world that we are to comic books just kinda take s the fun out of them, IMHO.

Posted by Webjaker

A similar point it whether or not "heroes" should be responsible for property damage, yes its usually the fault of the villains but other than Flash, heroes just leave after big fights and dont typically help repair/clean the damage caused.

Posted by djotaku

Well, basically this is the premise of many comics since the 1980s from Watchmen to the Civil War storyline in Marvel to Irredeemable. In the days before Nixon it wasn't laughable to just trust that supers would do the right thing. Since then we question authority - including why we should trust these masked vigilantes. Interestingly, it's been a part of Spider-Man since the beginning with J. Jonah Jameson - looks like that comic was like 20 years ahead of its time.

Posted by Madame_Mist

Superheroes are more about doing what's good rather than doing what's good for the law.

Posted by danhimself

I think public transportation is the one really taking the hit many times have we seen Spider-man ride on the top of a train? God protect the people if he actually gets in one cause chances are that train's getting destroyed. And what about all the buses and cabs that are destroyed by Superman on what seems like a daily basis? I'm sure that's left out of his key to the city speeches

Posted by Suprman

Law enforcement in cities such as Gotham need an asset like Batman because he can go places that the law cannot. A good example of this was in Dark Knight, Lao went back to Hong Kong, out of reach of GPD, so they needed Batman to get Lao and bring him back to Gotham. He was able to do it because he wasn't constrained by the law. Training sidekicks is another matter and in my opinion it really depends on the sidekick. As Robin, Jason Todd was impulsive and unnecessarily aggressive, despite whatever training Batman gave him. Tim Drake took training more seriously in his run as Robin and he was more cautious. When you do train a sidekick, especially a minor, there are things you have to be prepared for, one of those things is the ability to recognize when a situation is too dangerous for the partner to handle.

Posted by Ms. Omega

Sometimes Justice Is Above The Law!!!

Posted by Phantim555

I just want to say great article but now I too have "breaking the law" stuck in my head. "Breakin the law, breaking the law, breaking the law."

Posted by JonesDeini

When the law doesn't work, it ceases to matter!!! I am the LAWWWWW!!!!!

Posted by KMART4455

I love how it was Batman every time lol. He doesnt care.

Posted by Wolverine0628
You're right.  lol
Posted by Urthiln

This reminds me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character in the Dark Knight Rises.

In the Dark Knight Rises John Blake realized that sometimes to do the right thing you can't just follow orders, you have to take things into your own hands and that's why Batman is able to do the things the police can't. So he leaves the police force after the incident with the bridge.
Posted by TheNephilim

@ZZoMBiE13: Well put.

Posted by hyperman

@ZZoMBiE13: I totally agree with you. I wish there were a whole Bat-family in my country, in the real world , breaking the useless law.

Posted by dcboycm

I just can't stop laughing at how all of these cases Batman is the main picture! Classic!

Posted by Necrotic_Lycanthrope

These heroes are standing pretty most of the time, but if Judge Dredd gets a hold of them, not even Chuck Norris can plead them out.

Posted by GR2Blackout

Heh, speeding....

Posted by Darkmount1

Oy vey....

Posted by Question28

I remember comic from the 90s that touched up on this point. Two Supervillains were talking one had retired and decided to be a regular mobster or something, the other was a new guy. The retired one made a comment like "First thing I learned as a villain, the costumed heroes aren't law and when they catch you it makes it easier to get out thanks to loopholes.' So yeah they stop the criminal in the comics, but make it easier for him to go out and do it again.

Posted by Suprman

@Urthiln: I totally agree with you, the law is flawed and cops in cities like Gotham need heroes like Batman and Blake to go places and do things the can't.

Posted by Jnr6Lil

They're already breaking the law by being a superhero.

Edited by Grimoire

I believe that all real heroes have to break the law because there is one truth in life and that is the law is so far from perfect it would be like saying the devil's hooves look a saintly white color.

This works in comic logic because rules can be bent or broken for the greater good which the real world is not known for which is much better for those like myself who read comics at least to dream that things will turn out well in the end.

If real world terminology happened then everyone knows all governments would not allow anyone not under their explicit control even when doing good to go uncontrolled by them.

Posted by Malonius

@G-Man: It's great when these sorts of questions come up in the comics themselves such as Kingdom Come, Ultimates Vol. 2, Watchmen, or Civil War. To me it represents a question of maturity within the superhero genre...are we as audience ready to grow out of our childish power fantasies/simplistic black-and-white moral views and embrace the responsibility and accountability that come with a role in adult society.

No society can truly allow people with crazy powers to just use them in public according to their personal judgement. If the government is corrupt or evil, then the superheroes need to go beyond vigilantism and enter the world of insurrection and revolution, empowering the people to put in place a more legitimate government.

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