Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Trial of the Watcher: A WGTB Retrospective

Uatu, commonly known as 'The Watcher', is one of those great Marvel characters who always seems to pop up during the big events. He's long been a favourite of mine because I just love the idea of a race of space historians flying around recording important events in galactic history. As an aspiring lawyer, I'm also interested to see how legal trials are portrayed in comics, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that I'd be drawn to a story where Uatu is put on trial. This story happened during the mid 1970s run (numbers 37, 38 & 39) of Captain Marvel and I thought I'd post some images, as well as use it as a little teaching moment about one of the first things one learns in a criminal law class. 

Marvel's Captain Marvel #39 (July 1975) Written by Steve Englehart, Al Milgrom & Tony Isabella. Pencils by Al Milgrom, inks by Klaus Janson, colours by Phil Rachelson, letters by June Braverman. Edited by Len Wein.
Co-written by Steve Englehart, Al Milgrom and Tony Isabella, the story has the Watchers finally calling Uatu to account for his consistent interference in events of the universe, one of the most serious crimes any Watcher can commit. When the indictment is read, the readers are treated to a nice little history of Marvel in the Silver and early Bronze ages which was pretty fun in itself. Have a look: 

All images from Captain Marvel #39 (July 1975)

But the story also offers a lesson into one of the first things a student learns in criminal law: the mens rea and the actus reus. Mens rea is Latin for 'guilty mind' and this is basically the malice that a prosecutor must prove for a crime to have been committed. For example, if I am cutting veggies in a kitchen and suddenly have a seizure and stab my friend in the process, I would not be convicted because I did not have the mens rea for that offence due to the medical condition. The actus reus or 'guilty act' is the criminal act but, again, I can be very angry after a heated argument, but until I decide to act upon that anger and commit a crime, the state cannot prosecute me.* In common law jurisdictions such as the United States, England and Canada, the combination of the two must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the trier of fact (be it judge or jury) before there is a conviction. In Uatu's case, it was a large jury of his peers (seen below) that did indeed determine he had both the mens rea and actus reus for what he was accused, and he was found guilty. His punishment, however, was very light because his colleagues are always able to 'watch' him and make sure he didn't do it again. Which he did, of course!   

It is a fun comic arch but also a little dated in places. There is a secondary story which was rather difficult to follow, but for being almost forty years old, I did enjoy it. I'm not sure if it's available in trade, but I know there are copies in your local store now and you'd certainly be able to find it at a convention. It'd probably be pretty cheap too. Thanks again for reading WGTB and please look our for the new reviews I've been working on.

*Obviously, this is a very simple way of talking about the mens rea and actus reus as there are things such as inchoate offences, recklessness offences, etc. which also find their way into criminal law too. 

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