The Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale University is one of the most storied (no pun intended) in the world, with a prodigious collection of law books that includes everything from recent work by today's most eminent lawyers and judges to the most arcane legal texts of centuries past. Such a reservoir of legal knowledge could only be enhanced by one thing: loads of old comic books.

"Superheroes in Court! Lawyers, Law and Comic Books" is a new exhibition at the Lillian Goldman Law Library that features comics depicting superheroes interacting with the legal system. The show is curated by Mark S. Zaid, a Washington-based attorney and comic book expert. In a genuinely excellent piece by New York Times writer John Schwartz, Zaid said he selected work that demonstrates "the heavy influence of law, and lawyers, in creating one of the greatest pop culture industries the world has ever seen."Most of the comics in the collection appear to be from the mid-to-late 20th century, and the artwork and stories very plainly reflecting what was going on at the time, a quality that modern superhero comics may have left behind. Indeed, Zaid notes that such comics inspired him to become a lawyer and launch his own legal practice, where he very awesomely defends spies.

The show also presents material relating to real-life legal matters within the comic book industry, such as a copyright infringement suit over Wonder Man:

Wonder Man might have been faster than a locomotive, but he was no match for a speeding gavel: he appeared in only one issue, in 1939, before the lawsuit by the company that would later be known as DC Comics killed him off. The artist who was a creator of Superman, Jerome Siegel, known as Jerry, and his heirs would also engage in rounds of litigation against DC over the true ownership of Superman and Superboy; the Yale exhibition contains correspondence from that fight.


And, as with all works of literature, the comics have spawned First Amendment disputes, in this case pitting free speech against the dangers of harming young psyches with depictions of things like crime and horror. The show displays a report to the United States Senate, "Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency," from 1955, and an American Civil Liberties Union report from the same year, "Censorship of Comic Books."

"Superheroes in Court! Lawyers, Law and Comic Books", which incidentally, displays some comics worth up to $25,000, runs through December 16 at the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

[Via the New York Times]

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