It’s 1975, and the District Attorney of a major city is facing fierce opposition in his re-election campaign. Desperate to stay ahead and stay in office, he works with national and international law enforcement agencies to develop a comprehensive database of criminals to help law enforcement around the world.
A 70’s cinema thriller? An episode of Radiolab? A Sci-Fi novel?
No, a subplot in Daredevil issue #124, August 1975. (On newsstands a few months earlier than that.)
This was another comic I read when it came out, and it is a treasure trove of science fiction concepts and social commentary. The mid-seventies was a time of chaos inside the hallowed halls of Marvel Comics, with Stan Lee stepping aside to run licensing efforts for the company on the west coast, and the inmates ran the asylum for a few years. Sometimes this led to some pretty bad books, other times it created gold. This issue was a goldmine, but I’m only going to touch on two. Bear with me, even if you’re not into comics.
Dr. Armstrong Smith explains that he is working on a “reference bank” of “worldwide habitual offenders.”
This idea sounds positively adorable in 2017. While a “worldwide” database might never exist, we know that something pretty close is with us today. Probably several different systems that may or may not share data. Big databases of people and their habits are not flights of fantasy; they are the stuff of nightmares. Not because no one saw the potential abuses coming, but because people failed to see the databases while they cheerfully added their personal information to them. This makes Matt Murdock’s example of murderers with a “penchant for pasta” especially sad-funny.
As you might know from the Netflix series or one of two terrible movies, Matt Murdock is not just Daredevil; he’s a criminal defense attorney. What he might say is, “Hey, Mr. District Attorney and Best Friend, this might be ripe for misuse.”
But he doesn’t.
He’s impressed. He also wants to know why Foggy is so worried about his campaign. We’ll get to that.
Murdock/Daredevil does have qualms about the computer(s) a few issues later, but they’re not what you would expect.
Blind attorneys that work during the day to defend criminals and at night to beat the crap out of them aren’t just ethically-challenged. They’re ethically challenged liberals.
Smith’s word choice ad Murdock’s going along with it are interesting in this conversation; the computers will help with location, not identification. If someone is in the system, it’s just a matter of finding them. They’re already a criminal.
But don’t worry, Dr. Armstrong Smith is killed in Spider-Man #155 after his ethical lapses catch up with him: his computer achieves sentience and becomes a criminal itself. Comic books!
Coming across this old subplot was a treat, but then I saw these panels a few issues later:
What’s this? Did Foggy’s campaign manager go off the rails?
No. It was a fake campaign ad…and the networks can’t tell District Attorney Nelson who ran it. C’mon…that could never happen!
To be continued next week.