Shattering Conventions

April 2017

Shattering Conventions: Mutants on Trial at S.D. Comic Fest

by Bob Calhoun

Mutants. In so many Marvel Comics and summer blockbusters they can read minds, walk through walls and harness the forces of magnetism to destroy the Golden Gate Bridge. But even considering the danger posed by their retractable claws and sonic screams, should mutants be forced to register their superpowers with the government when they were—to quote Lady Gaga—born this way?

These burning issues were debated during a mock hearing on mutant civil rights at the San Diego Comic Fest, a smaller, more intimate con for fans tired of the hassle of San Diego’s sprawling Comic-Con in July.

This bit of legal larping was organized by a group called The Legal Geeks and staged in the Montgomery Theater at the Four Points by Sheraton. In their scenario, a President William Stryker (who looks eerily like Vice President Michael Pence in the comics) has signed an executive order authorizing the use of giant robot Sentinels to capture and intern mutants if they refuse to register with the government. It’s a storyline based on at least 30 years of X-Men comics, but it feels like it’s ripped from today’s headlines with President Trump’s travel bans and immigration orders.

“We came up with the idea in September,” Joshua Gilliland of The Legal Geeks said. “This was pre-real world with real executive orders coming down, so it’s a complete coincidence.”

The case for and against turning lose sentinels and locking up mutants was argued by two-person teams of law students from McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Calif., and California Western School of Law in San Diego. Judge Mitch Dembin, a very real magistrate judge for the U.S. District of Southern California, presided over the case, and even wore his judge’s robes for the occasion. Throughout the hearing, Dembin, a former U.S. attorney and cybercrimes coordinator, showed his depth of nerdy knowledge by musing on the Sokovia Accords from Marvel’s Civil War series and the real internment of Star Trek’s George Takei during World War II.

Near the end of the event’s 90-minute trial time, Dembin even opened up the floor to comments from the public. A man with a thick accent said that he was fine with mutant registration as it was voluntary. An older woman in the back of the theater was concerned about the rights of children with mutant powers. By the time the group conversation turned to registering Thor or any of the other ancient gods zipping around the Marvel Universe, Gilliland gave the sign to the judge that it was time to wrap things up.

“The beauty of being a federal judge is you always end up with a 50 percent approval rating,” Dembin said, before issuing a decision allowing for the registration of mutants, but against the use of sentinels.

It’s a decision that pleased everyone and no one at the same time, but assured that there will be more mock mutant rights hearings at future comic fests. 

Every month in “Shattering Conventions,” author Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference looking for a way to fit ineven when he doesn't always belong. Calhoun is the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor." You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.

Check out additional Shattering Conventions columns at www.meetingstoday.com/shattering.

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