Halloween is the one day that superheroes can walk around in costume without drawing extra attention. Some heroes have even participated in Halloween activities dressed as their alter-ego, my favorite of which is Peter Parker “dressing up” as Spiderman and going to a school carnival only to have the jocks call him “puny Parker” and say that he’s too small to be a crime fighter.
It appears, however, that in many states wearing a mask, not just on Halloween, represents a misdemeanor or class 6 felony in certain situations. These laws are broken up into two distinct types: one carries a blanket restriction on wearing costumes that fully or partially obstruct your face while in public and the other prohibits a face-obstructing costume in public while engaged in certain activities. For the most part these laws are also limited in their application to individuals over the age of 16, more than likely to account for trick-or-treating. This means tht some heroes (like the Teen Titans) would not have to concern themselves with these laws as they are young enough to be allowed to trick-or-treat and therefore allowed to wear costumes of any type whenever they wish.
For the first class of laws, which have the blanket restriction against masks, there’s really no way around them, superheroes that wear masks are simply in violation of these provisions. Hooded crime fighters should stay out of North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia and be wary of New York1. The anti-mask law in New York is unique in that it requires people wearing masks to congregate (which has been interpreted to mean a group of 3+) before they are in violation of the statute. With seemingly half of the Marvel Comics Universe residing in and around New York this legislation could pose a problem for any team of 3 or more superheroes or any heroes that band together for a particular mission or enemy.
For the laws that attach to certain activities, however, only a certain number of hereos would automatically be violators. One general restriction on mask wearing is the use of a mask to conceal one’s identity during the commission of a public offense or to avoid detection following such a commission2. While most heroes do not regularly commit public offenses these laws could be used to increase the penalties for heroes that are branded vigilantes and hunted by the police.
Another restriction is the use of a mask “[w]ith the intent to intimidate, threaten, abuse, or harass any other person.”3 Many superheroes develop their costumes and personas for this very reason, to use the fear that criminals inflict on their victims against them. This is a theme that is mirrored throughout the Batman comics and movies. Bruce Wayne chooses a bat both because it is terrifying to others and to himself; he seeks to strike fear into the hearts of criminals.
1 – North Carolina Code sections 14-12.7 and 14-12.8, Virginia Code 18.2-422, West Virginia Code 61-6-22, New York Penal Law 240.35 (4).
2 – California Penal Code Section 182-185.
3 – D.C. Code § 22-3312.03.