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Can Superman sue if Lex Luther reveals his alter-ego?

January 5, 2011

Does a superhero have a right to sue if a villain exposes his secret identity ?  A  new blog post in Law and the  Multiverse, asks this question.


Clark Kent
Superman 296.jpg
Superman (vol. 1) #296 (February 1976).
Art by Curt Swan

After reading the bloggers’ analysis, I imagined this scenerio. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen were talking to Clark Kent by the water cooler.  Then, with kryptonite in one hand, Luther creeps up on the Man of Steel, and reveals Superman’s identity before his stunned friends and associates. Superman, unable to respond, paralyzed by the krytonite, helplessly watches as Luther ripped off the superhero’s  jacket and shirt to reveal the blue uniform with the “S” emblazoned on the front.

Does Superman have a tort suit?

Yes.  Following the legal reasoning of the Law and Multiverse bloggers, I believe Superman could sue Lex Luther for intrusion.  I also see a  tort case for assault and battery. 

I: The Tort of Intrusion

 The tort of intrusion requires the following three elements are met:

(1) An intentional intrusion physical or otherwise.  

Here, Lex Luther has entered the Daily Planet offices and took off Superman’s jacket and shirt to reveal the “S.” 

(2) upon the plaintiff’s solitude or seclusion or private affairs or concerns;

Here, Superman’s private affair is his carefully kept secret that he is Superman.  Without his secret identity, Superman would no longer have ordinary life as Clark Kent.  He would no longer able to  enter the Daily Planet  unnoticed, no  longer a chance to take part in the casual banter at the water cooler of the Daily Planet, no chance for friendships borne of common interests for his fame would follow him everywhere.  Without a private identity, his private affairs would no longer be private as his life would be led in the glare of the public light.  Thus, his secret identity was his private concern; hence, this element of intrusion is satisfied.   

(3) The intrusion must be wrongful, as well as done in a manner as to outrage or cause mental suffering, shame or humiliation to a person of ordinary sensibilities. 

Here, the manner of the intrusion was done in a shocking manner.  Lex Luther creeped up on Superman at his office,  kryptonite in hand,  and placing the superhero into a position where he could not defend himself for he is always weakened by kryptonite, took  off the paralyzed superhero’s jacket and shirt to reveal the “S” insignia.  Certainly a man of ordinarily sensibilities would have been humiliated as he looked helplessly at Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and the office workers all around him.  What if Superman has a temperament  that does not allow for humiliation or anguish? The legal standard asks only that we consider a  man of “ordinary sensibilities,” not a Man of Steel. 

 II.  Assault and Battery

From the 1300’s in England, the common law has recognized assault and battery.  Assault is the apprehension of  the coming unwanted contact: “a touching of the mind and not the body.”   Battery requires that the blow be struck, or the offensive contact made with the victim.  The unwanted contact can be by an object or substance put into motion by the victimizer.   There need not be injury for any unwanted contact, even spitting, has been found to  be a battery. 

Can there be any question that Superman has a cause of action for assault and battery?

At the moment Superman saw the green rock,the kryptonite,  he felt the apprehension of knowing the coming weakness, the inability to fight back, the possibility of an imminent death.  And this was intentional. Lex Luther intended to hurt Superman.   As for the battery, as soon as Lex Luther approached Superman with kryptonite in hand, no different than a poison gas canister or even a gun, he committed battery.  Again, there was another assault and battery when Lex Luther, without consent, removed Superman’s jacket and shirt to reveal the “S.” Imagine the fear and apprehension that Superman must have felt when his identity was to be revealed against his consent and by a clearly unwanted contact.

In conclusion, Superman would have a tort case against Lex Luther.   

Thanks to Law and the Multiverse blog for inspiring this post.

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