Every superhero needs a place to retreat and think about a case, lick their wounds after a fight, or even occassionally bring a date1. Depending on the hero’s means and persona, that place can take many forms: a one-bedroom apartment, a mansion, a cave, a whole building, a satellite, or a base on the moon2. From time to time these sanctums are infiltrated so many crime fighters put measures in place to prevent, and even repel, trespassers. What duty do the owners of these hideouts owe to would-be intruders? For that matter, what right do they have to build these hidden fortresses without permits and without paying taxes?
In a dark alley behind a theater a wealthy couple is walking with their son. Two figures emerge from the shadows; one man with a gun demands money and jewelry while the other stands watch by the street. There’s a struggle; two shots ring out and the couple fall to the ground. Just as the robber is about to pull the trigger on the boy a costumed superhero intervenes deftly subduing the man with the gun. After making sure the boy is alright he gives chase to the lookout and apprehends him a few blocks away. In situations like these there is no question that our hero saved a life but what right did he have to do so? What amount of force was he privileged in using, and can the criminal now bring a lawsuit against him for assault or battery?
Batman plants a tracker on your car as you make your getaway; Superman uses his x-ray vision to find stolen goods in your house; and Professor Xavier telepathically extracts your confession; if you’re a criminal Superheros are constantly invading your privacy in the name of “justice.” What’s worse is that some of the citizens who have their privacy invaded aren’t criminals they’re just caught in the crossfire. Assuming you could serve a subpoena on the Hall of Justice or the Xavier School (and actually enforce a summons) what would your remedy be for these intrusions? If you weren’t able to go after the heroes themselves would there be any legal redress in your impending court case or could you even have a case against the government?
Your course of action in these matters depends on the nature of the crime-fighter as either a government actor or a vigilante. If your captor was a government actor the invasion of your privacy may lead to the exclusion of evidence from your criminal case; if a vigilante was involved your next step is a private tort action against the hero.
Superman stands for truth, justice and the American way, but does that include the protections of the Constitution? Some superheros are treated better by the cities they protect than those hunted as criminals themselves. At what point does acceptance by the government amount to a sanction to engage in quasi-legal behavior? Any discussion of “superhero law” begins with the classification of crime-fighters as vigilantes or government actors. This classification will determine the extent of protection their actions receive under the law as well as the standard by which those actions are judged.