What happens if a hero is captured by his foes? Sure, they could just kill him out of hand, or toss him into a Death Trap, but if the villain has a sense of the theatrical, a quirky sense of humour, or is just flat-out crazy, he might decide to put his nemesis on trial. If so, the hero will find himself facing a Joker Jury, often overseen by a Hanging Judge.
The Joker Jury is a mockery of a trial held by a hero's foes, where his enemies make up the judge, the jury, the prosecution and even the defense. The charges are usually ridiculous, such as interfering with the villain's crimes, and the verdict is a foregone conclusion. Sometimes, the hero is actually able to defend himself and even win the trial. In that case, the villain usually just tries to kill him anyway.
The trope title comes from a story in Batman #163 where Batman and Robin are captured by the Joker and put on trial with the Joker as judge and members of his gang, all dressed in Joker costumes and make-up, as the prosecutor and jury.
See also Jury of the Damned. When the heroes are put on trial by someone besides the villains, it's often a Trial Of The Mystical Jury or a Kangaroo Court. Often involves a Villain Team-Up.
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Anime and Manga
In One Piece, Enies Lobby technically serves as a courthouse, even though criminals are only brought through there on their way to the underwater prison Impel Down, or to Marine Headquarters, and has an almost absurd pretense of justice. Criminals are judged by the Just Eleven Jurymen, who are pirates who have been sentenced to death and pronounce any criminal guilty to take as many down with them as they can. Judge Baskerville, actually three people who sit together to form a three-headed man, has a strange way of passing sentences: the left head favors punishing criminals, the right side favors leniency, and the center offers the more extreme "compromise" of execution. As such, no criminal has ever been acquitted. Strangely enough, Nico Robin and Franky don't get this treatment when they are taken through Enies Lobby.
That's actually justified. Spandam used CP9's authority to override that.
In the dub version of Yu-Gi-Oh!'s Virtual World arc, Johnson, whose Deckmaster and appearance is that of Judge Man, claims he is putting Joey on trial for gambling.
Two-Face does it during the "No Man's Land" story arc. In a mild subversion, the "defendant", Commissioner Gordon, got off by naming Harvey Dent as his defense attorney, and turning it more into a battle between the two sides of his personality. Harvey won.
Two-Face puts a judge on trial in the Robin: Year One mini-series.
In an odd inversion, in a storyline that ran in Batman #291-294, Batman was missing and presumed dead, and villains placed themselves on trial before a court of their fellow villains, attempting to prove themselves guilty of Batman's murder.
The pre-made adventure for a Batman RPG from the early 90s had Joker attempting to frame the player characters for murder, then putting them on trial before a "jury of [their] peers" - twelve mannequins dressed in Batman's cape and cowl.
In an All Just a Dream example in Action Comics #286, while in the grip of a Red Kryptonite nightmare, Superman dreams that Luthor, Brainiac and other villains put him on 'trial' for his alleged 'crimes' against them, and sentence him to battle Supergirl to the death in a gigantic arena or else stand by helplessly while they blow up the Earth.
The Lucky Luke story The Gang of Joss Jamon has him put on trial. Judge, prosecutor and defense attorney are members of the titular gang; the jury is made up of Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Calamity Jane (who's shown as simply a villain rather than the Crazy AwesomeBoisterous Bruiser she becomes later on in the series; in the 1991 Animated Adaptation, she's replaced by Ma Dalton) and the Dalton brothers.
It's used in a few other albums too, usually with the Dalton brothers as judge, prosecutor and defense attorney. In one case, Luke is able to talk Averell into successfully defending him.
Also seen in The Judge, said judge being the historical Roy Bean: he charges Lucky Luke with theft in order to confiscate the cattle herd Luke was in charge of, assigns a deaf-mute as the defense attorney, and packs the jury with cronies.
The standard M.O. of the mercenary/vigilante group the Jury in the Marvel Universe.
Judge Dredd was once put on trial by the survivors of East Meg One in the New Kremlin. A part inversion, Sov Judge Orlok, who brought Dredd in, both resisted having the trial and ended up giving the most influential defense testimony, making a conviction impossible AND prevented an assassination attempt on Dredd.
In an early issue of Daredevil, the Owl kidnapped the judge who had sentenced him to prison and staged a mock trial using members of his gang as the jury. He also kidnapped Matt Murdock to serve as the defence attorney.
In Captain America, Cap's girlfriend Diamondback was subjected to one of these by her former teammates in the villainous Serpent Society.
Jonah Hex is subjected to one in Weird Western Tales #30. Quentin Turnbull captures him and puts him on 'trail' for "treason and other high crimes against the Confederate States of America". The 'jury' consists of "your former comrades in arms, some of them survivors of the very massacre you perpetrated".
In The Incredible Hercules comic by Marvel, Zeus is put on trial by Pluto using a jury of assorted deceased villains.
Judas Traveller puts Spider-Man on trial in The Clone Saga, charging him with being responsible for supervillains and ruining lives by simply by existing. Judas is the judge, Carnage is the prosecutor, Ravencroft inmates like Shriek and the Chameleon make up the jury, and Kaine is Spider-Man's attorney. Spider-Man is of course found guilty and sentence to death, but after Kaine almost dies to save him Traveller spares them both, deciding that if Peter can inspire such a noble act in "scum" like Kaine, then he deserves to live.
Films — Animation
Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame includes the song "The Court of Miracles", in which the gypsies act in this capacity while functioning as antagonists to the main characters, holding a chirpy trial of Quasimodo and Phoebus. Clopin acts as judge while his hand puppet acts as defense, and the final line runs thus:
Clopin: We find you totally innocent... which is the worst crime of all. So you're going to hang!
Since the gypsies believe the heroes to be minions of Frollo, the whole thing is intended as a parody of him.
And since everyone in the Court of Miracles is guilty of something in Frollo's eyes, being innocent by his standards really is the worst thing they can imagine.
The scene in the original novel functions similarly, except that it's the hapless Gringoire being tried.
Films — Live Action
Peter Lorre's character in the movie M is captured by criminals and put on trial because his crimes are bringing the police down on the heads of every other criminal in the city. Ironically, this court is actually fairer than the one he could expect in the real legal system.
The eponymous hero of the Lone Wolf series gets one such mock-trial in Book 7, Castle Death. The sentence? "The Maze!"
This shows up in the xenofiction novel Watership Down, in one of the legends told of their racial hero, El-ahrairah. Prince Rainbow has determined to put a stop to El-ahrairah's tricks once and for all by planting a mole (that is, a rabbit doing spy stuff). El-ahrairah soon spots the informer and deliberately lays a trail for him. Acting on the info duly received, the Prince tells El-ahrairah he will only consider him innocent if a jury finds him so — a jury chosen by the prince, made up entirely of rabbit predators. At which the trickster bunny pulls off a really clever subversion: he is able to use the predators' contempt for rabbits to his advantage, and get rid of The Mole at the same time.
Older Than Steam: Happens in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, when Christian and Faithful are arrested in Vanity Fair. When the judge's name is "Lord Hategood," you know you're in trouble. And the gentlemen of the jury are named "Mr. Blindman, Mr. No-good, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. Heady, Mr. High-mind, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar, Mr. Cruelty, Mr. Hate-light, and Mr. Implacable." It's just not going to end well.
A Series of Unfortunate Events had one in The Penultimate Peril; somewhat subverted as while accidental, the Baudelaires really did murder someone. None of the proceedings made any sense, but things are never fair in this series.
In the novel Captain America: Liberty's Torch, Cap is captured by a powerful American militia. He is to be put on trial and for his defense, they captured a lawyer based off the popular creator Mark Gruenwald. Both Cap and the lawyer know the whole thing is a sham, but are forced to go through with it anyway.
A classic (though loose) example can be found in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland where the main character participates in a trial with all the previous characters she met serving as witnesses. It's a loose example because it's the Knave of Hearts, not Alice, on trial, and neither jury nor witnesses have it in for the defendant. Unfortunately, the ultimate judge in all this is the Queen of Hearts, who does.
Live Action TV
Used in an episode of Hawaii Five-0 when Steve McGarrett is put on "trial" by prisoners in the state pen, many of whom he put there.
The fourth season of 24 had the US Secretary of Defense captured and put on trial by terrorists. The eighth sees other terrorists put the President of Qurac on trial as well. Both times, the trial is a formality and the terrorists plan on executing their victim anyway (its actually closer to a sentencing); the Secretary of Defense was actually going to be decapitated live on the internet before Jack Bauer saved him, while the President was merely going to be shot. And is, long before Jack gets there- the mock trial was pre-taped all along.
Matlock was called upon to act as defense counsel for a prison guard being tried for murder by rioting prisoners.
In the ninth series of Are You Being Served?, Mr. Humphries is investigated for alleged offenses. The hearing rapidly takes on the air of a jury trial, with a hostile judge who openly says that any defense would be a "feeble tissue of lies". In the end, he is found guilty, then proved innocent thirty seconds later.
Q also warns Picard not to try any "lawyer tricks" to get out of it, claiming that this is a "court of facts". Of course, this is also a court where drugged-up guards maintain order by Firing in the Air a Lot, and a guard who is overpowered by an accused is immediately shot by another guard.
In the Stargate Atlantis episode "Inquisition", the Coalition of Planets put the team on trial with two out of three of the judges having ulterior motives. They got off by bribing one of the biased judges.
This happened earlier in an episode of Stargate SG-1note "Cor'rai", Second Season. Teal'c is put on trial for a murder he committed while First Prime of Apophis. The judge, jury, and executioner was son of the guy who Teal'c killed. O'Neill points out how unfair this is, only to be shot down since it's part of their legal system. Daniel even comments that this was a common law practice for many years, to O'Neill's irritation.
Both Daniel and O'Neill try to explain the reasons why Teal'c did that as benevolent and better than the alternative (Apophis threatened to kill all the villagers if Teal'c refused to kill one). A typical Real Life tactic when the facts of the crime are beyond dispute, and the only thing in doubt is the mental state of the accused at that time. In the end, though, the son simply states that Teal'c's reasons don't matter. His father is dead and nothing Teal'c does can bring him back. Then the Goa'uld happen to attack, and Teal'c almost singlehandedly fights them off before giving the son a weapon at noon, when the execution was scheduled. The son finally realizes that the Teal'c who killed his father is no more.
Inverted in the 1960s series Batman. In one episode the Joker is put on trail for his various crimes, and after the presentation of the obviously insurmountable evidence, the jury unanimously declares him Not Guilty. The judge calls them out on this, and it turns out the jury is made up entirely of ex-cons and criminals who are pulling for the Joker anyway.
In an episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, Blackadder is put on trial for shooting General Melchett's beloved carrier pigeon, Speckled Jim, just after this had been made a court-martialable offence. Guess who was the judge? General Melchett.
Tales from the Crypt: "The Third Pig", a bloody retelling of the Three Little Pigs had the third pig tried for the murder of his brothers. The judge and jury are all wolves, who deliberate by going in the room and immediately coming back out.
In Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mike is put on trial for all the times he's blown up planets by some otherworldly judge, with Pearl as the prosecutor, and Professor Bobo as Mike's defense attorney (though that's Mike's fault as he had several competent legendary defense attorneys to choose from and sarcastically chose Bobo when he saw Bobo's name on the list). He may not have gotten Clarence Darrow, but at least he got an attorney with the same mannerisms.
In an episode of Married... with Children, Al's shoe store is taken over by a group of overweight women who put him on 'trial' for all of the fat jokes he has made about them over the years.
The Pink Floyd album The Wall contains an unusual variant of this. During "The Trial", Pink is tried by his own neuroses and inner demons, including monstrous incarnations of all the people who made life difficult for him.
Even more strangely, though it looks as if the whole trial is stacked against him, it's actually the best thing that happens to him, as it made him realize he needed to destroy the wall. A useful Kangaroo Court, as it were.
"Fuck the Police" by NWA has a cop being tried by MC Ren, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E for being "a redneck, white trash, chicken-shit motherfucker".
In the new musical adaptation of Mary Poppins, Act One ends with a new number called "Temper Temper", in which Jane and Michael's toys come to life, grow to be bigger than the children, and promptly hold the children trial for having lost their tempers and broken the toys — singing all the time.
In Nodwick, Yeager is put on trial by the "Council of Three-And-A-Half" which is later revealed to consist entirely of people he bullied as a child.
Van Von Hunter begins with Van on trial for the crime of "re-murder", i.e. the "murder" of an undead vampire. The event took place in a land seemingly populated entirely by the undead, so the judge, jury, and lawyers are all undead.
The Red Panda Adventures episode "Trial by Terror" had the Red Panda undergoing a commitment hearing by the inmates of the asylum many of his foes had been sent to.
True to its roots, in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Trial", Batman is captured and placed on trial by the inmates of Arkham Asylum — and just to stack the deck further, his defending attorney was an outspoken critic of the vigilante who earlier blamed him for ostensibly provoking the mentally unstable into becoming criminals. Explaining the trial bit, Two-Face says, "Personally, I suggested a quick slug between the eyes... but I lost the coin toss." (Anyone who knows how Two-Face operates knows that he likely made up his mind on his own, using a coin toss. True, this was a clear case of Bond Villain Stupidity, but what do you expect from the guys Batman deals with?
This trope is subverted when the attorney becomes a female Perry Mason / Matlock and proves Batman innocent by pointing out that the supervillains themselves are responsible for what's happened to them. Double Subverted when the villains end up finding Batman innocent and that they were all terrible people who screwed up their own lives, but decide that since they're such terrible people they'll kill him and his attorney anyway. Now that Batman's attorney has done her job, it's time for Batman to do his...
1973/74 episode "The Menace Of The White Dwarf". The Raven puts Superman through a trial with himself as judge and prosecutor and a jury consisting of his android doubles. Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog act as Superman's defense attorneys.
The Challenge episode "The Trial of the Superfriends." You'd think that after being stripped of their power sources, captured by the Legion of Doom, and put on display in Legion Headquarters, the "justice" of an obviously mock trial would be the least of the Justice Leaguers' concerns — but it's the only thing they protest. The Four Leaguers', Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern, are sentenced to battle Brainiac's androids of them who have their power items, the Utility Belts, Magic Lasso, and Power Ring.
Luthor: Grodd, swear them in.
Gorilla Grodd: Do you swear to tell untruths, untruths, and nothing but untruths, so help you Grodd?
In a Jimmy Neutron movie, King Goobot tells Jimmy about how they have to "do this sham trial by the book".
There's an old and rather scary Disney short, Pluto's Judgement Day, in which Mickey's dog is lured to some sort of "dog Hell" and judged for the crime of tormenting cats. Everyone in the courtroom besides Pluto is a cat — the judge, the bailiff, the prosecution, and the jury — which obviously leads to him being declared ♫"G-U-I! L-T-Y! Guilty Guilty Guilty!"♫. Lucky for Pluto, it was All Just a Dream.
The jury "deliberation" consists of the cats in the jury marching out single file through a revolving door... and right back in again; the last ones in line haven't gotten to the door yet when the first ones start coming back in.
The Quintessons of Transformers: The Movie set up a Joker Jury for everyone. Those found innocent are fed to the Sharkticons. What a guilty verdict entails is open to speculation, but is probably one of those "you don't wanna know" things.
One "official" book stated that the Quintessons did the judge thing for fun, and dumped the accused in the pit no matter the verdict.
In an episode of Yin Yang Yo, Carl The Evil Cockroach Wizard stages injury received from Yin and Yang while the two were in the midst of training which leads to a kangaroo court case. Naturally, the jury, witnesses and judge are all their past villains.
This showed up in a Halloween special on The Simpsons, in the case of The Devil v. Homer, wherein The Devil (Flanders) contests that Homer sold his soul for a donut, which Homer finished. Due to the sheer incompetence of his attorney Lionel Hutz, Devil Flanders gets to fill the jury with some of Hell's most notorious residents, including John Wilkes Booth, Richard Nixonnote (who wasn't even dead at the time the episode originally aired), and the starting lineup of the notorious 1976 Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.
Nixon protests about being on the jury (since at the time the episode aired, he wasn't dead yet), but acquiesces when he is reminded by the Devil "I did a favour for you".
FWIW, the jury acquitted him, as Homer had already promised his soul to Marge.
In the episode where Bart kills a bird with Nelson's BB gun, he imagines being put on trial by a tribunal of birds that sentence him to be pecked to death.
The birds originally just called him there to put down newspaper, but then Bart just had to open his big mouth...
Another dream sequence had Homer being put on trial by living donuts. He takes a bite out of his lawyer and is sentenced to be eaten by a giant donut.
An episode of Duckman has him find himself in a town where everyone is related to Duckman's arch-nemesis, King Chicken, and they put him on trial for giving the wrong answer to the "chicken-egg" question.
Although the actual jury was made up of a random collection of inbred idiots who accidentally sat in the jury box instead of the audience.
Rocko's Modern Life had a story where a fly fakes physical injuries to file a lawsuit against Rocko. The entire jury is made up of insects.
One of the "Slappy Squirrel" segments in Animaniacs has Genre Savvy Slappy put on trial where the judge is a wolf, the jury are all wolves, and the prosecuting attorney is the grandson of the plaintiff, Slappy's longtime nemesis Walter Wolf. Slappy wins because she has a "dynamite case" — literally. That is to say, she put cases of dynamite underneath the jurors' seats, so even though she more or less confessed to the crime she was accused of plus blowing Walter up afterwards, the jury found her Not Guilty.
In one episode of Peter Pan & the Pirates, Peter Pan is put on trial by Captain Hook, with his pirates as the jury and Wendy as a defense lawyer. Surprisingly, she wins the case.
Near the end of Beast Wars, Megatron finally gets tired of his backstabbing underlings and decides to get rid of them. Quickstrike is put on trial with Megatron serving as judge (complete with powdered wig), Inferno as a stenographer, Waspinator as the defense, and the remaining Predacons as jury. He only survives because of a sudden attack on the base.
The Garfield and Friends episode "Wanted: Wade!", where Wade the Duck actually starts thinking that he was a criminal after removing a tag on Orson Pig's chair. He then starts to have a nightmare where he is actually put on trial where Orson is the judge presiding over said trial and sentencing him to 9999 years in prison after declaring him guilty.
One episode of Arthur was about Buster Baxter stealing an action figure from a toy store, causing him to think that he is a criminal. About halfway through the episode Buster has a nightmare where he is arrested by the police and is taken to court where the judge is none other than Mr. Ratburn and the jury his other classmates (including his best friend Arthur Read).
A book of legal anecdotes is titled Dracula was a Lawyer, because of Vlad the Impaler's practice of serving as prosecution and defense for his enemies.
The gangster Charlie Richardson used to hold "trials" of any henchmen who had disappointed him, and would wear full judicial robes for the occasion.
Ayn Rand is also reported to have held "trials" for people in her inner circle who she thought had slighted her.
Up until recently, any black person in the Southern United States effectively had one of these.
The Riom Trial. Vichy Regime reactionaries wanted scapegoats for France's defeat by Nazi Germany and found it convenient to indict some ministers and government officials who were from the left or the center-right wings of the old Third Republic (some, like Leon Blum, were incidentally Jews). To speed up the process, Marshal Philippe Petain decided that the defendants would be sentenced to life imprisonment in a fortress before the trial even began, while the judges said that this is nota show trial. Subverted, because despite being carefully chosen by the Vichy authorities the judges involved were too high in the hierarchy to fear for their careers, so the trial was relatively fair. It actually had an abrupt end, as the deliberations proved that those responsible of the 1940 defeat were... the future Vichy leaders.