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Would Superman Pass the Birther Test?

Blawgers discuss Clark Kent's citizenship, Wolverine's health insurance, and why Bruce Wayne needs a good lawyer.

| Wed Mar. 2, 2011 7:00 AM EST

MJ: Superheroes age at a much slower rate than the rest of the population. Should they be eligible for Social Security at the same age as everyone else? Would it be constitutional for the state to step in and say, "it sets in for these folks at 185."

RD: Or maybe it cuts off at a certain point. Like, "Look, you got your thirty years; you're done."

JD: The Supreme Court has held that it's ok to discriminate on the basis of age in most cases. The reasoning is that absent unusual circumstances like disease or whatever, people will all live roughly the same life. That kind of goes out the window when you're talking about extremely long-lived or even apparently immortal superheroes. But I think Ryan gives a good way out, in the case of something like Social Security, where you can say, "well, you get your benefits, but only for maybe 100 years." On the other hand, I'm not so sure that it's that much of a problem, because I'm not sure there are that many long-lived superheroes retiring or going on Social Security.

RD: And many of them would really not prefer to have those kinds of entanglements with the state. They'd much rather lie low and not have that kind of official notice taken of them.

MJ: Prior to the Affordable Care Act, would health insurers have been permitted to discriminate against mutants? Is that the ultimate pre-existing condition?

JD: Most mutant conditions don't seem to involve a lot of special health care needs.

RD: Quite the opposite.

JD: Wolverine for example would be a health insurer's dream.

RD: They'd sign him up any day of the week.

JD: Now, separate from the issue of whether or not they have a mutation, is being a superhero. That does seem to be fairly dangerous and does land folks in the hospital on a fairly regular basis. They always seem to make a miraculous recovery, but still, they do need medical attention quite frequently. So listing "superhero" as your occupation might make your health insurance premiums pretty high.

RD: Life insurance premiums would also be pretty bad—particularly as some of those people might die more than once.

MJ: We've done a lot of reporting on the impact of the Citizens United decision. Did that have any impact on the Multiverse?

JD: Well I don't think the comics have yet taken up that possibility, but I think there are certainly some individuals in the comic books that if they wanted to could have a pretty huge influence on politics. Both Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne, for example, are extremely wealthy influential people and their money comes from—

RD: In the Frank Miller story, Lex Luthor is president basically for life.

JD: And obviously he came from money earned from business. There's certainly a possibility that they could influence politics if they wanted to, but in the case of Bruce Wayne, I think he probably would refrain from being too involved in politics, because the more he gets involved in politics the harder it's going to be for him to claim any kind of grievance if somebody reveals that he is Batman.

MJ: When I was thinking about this interview, my editor mentioned The Men Who Stare at Goats—which was basically the army's attempt to teach superhero skills. Do you think that at some point down the road, some of the topics that you're discussing might actually be applicable?

JD: There are two areas that I think might come up. One is we've kind of talked a little bit about whether intelligent computers would be accorded rights, or what rights they might be accorded. While that might be a ways off if it ever happens, there are many intelligent people working very hard on that problem, and a lot of people would like to see it happen, and it seems vaguely possible.

RD: Certainly more plausible than some of the other stuff we write about.

JD: For instance: Watson beating the folks on Jeopardy! The other issue that might arise are when people live a very long time. If some day people start living, say, 200, 300 years, given the right medical care, well if you have maybe a white-collar criminal who's got the money to keep up the life-extending medical treatment even while they're in prison. Is it ok to sentence somebody to life when they're going to potentially spend two to three hundred years behind bars?

RD: Right now a life sentence means 50 years, give or take. But 300? You're gonna outlive the prison.

JD: I don't know what the current record is, but I would be shocked if anybody's ever spent more than like 75 years in prison. So that almost seems like it would be testing the bounds of constitutionality. If somebody potentially lives to two, three hundred, that gives one pause.

MJ: Meanwhile, if somebody's convicted for three murders, back-to-back-to-back life sentences, and they have the ability to die and come back to life, they could conceivably walk free.

JD: When we've talked about that, one of the solutions we came to was if you do that kind of "die and resurrect yourself" trick with the intention of pulling an end-run around something, that probably doesn't count. If you're a healthy 20-year-old and you take down a $20 million life insurance policy for yourself for pennies, and then you die and come back the next day intentionally, the law is probably going to say "No, you don't get to collect." The same thing is probably going to happen in terms of criminal sentencing.

MJ: Do you have a favorite case that you've looked at so far?

JD: The case I think is pretty interesting goes back a ways, about whether or not cannibalism would be legal in a zombie apocalypse scenario. The government has fallen apart and you have a group of people who are starving and they kill and eat somebody who was still alive—would that be allowed, and could they be charged with murder if the government comes back? And there's a case that's surprisingly on point: It's an English case, R. v. Dudley and Stephens, about cannibalism on the high seas. It doesn't get much more gripping than that.

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