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Seamus Mulhern, 2023 1st Place Foundations of Ethics and Diversity

Foundations of Ethics and Diversity submissions are open to essays completed for UF 200. Students are encouraged to submit an essay exploring civic, ethical, and/or diversity on a local, regional, national or international topic. If the essay is the product of a team project, all names must be submitted and all team members will share the award. Essays should not exceed 20 pages. Seamus Mulhern wrote the 1st place submission in the Foundations of Ethics and Diversity category for the 2023 President’s Writing Awards.

About Seamus

Seamus Mulhern standing in front of ocean

My name is Seamus, I am a sophomore majoring in History Secondary Education, with a teaching certificate in English. I have lived in Idaho for the past eight years. I am interested in American History, and I would like to teach it at a high school level.

Winning Manuscript – Super Parents: An Analysis of Parent-Child Relationships in DC Comics

The climax of Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill shows an intense battle between the heroes, Bruce and Damian Wayne, and the antagonist, Nobody. Before the scene itself, Damian seemingly betrays Bruce to join Nobody with the promise that he will be offered training better suited to his skills. It is then revealed that Damian’s betrayal was a ruse, and he was actually leading Bruce to Nobody’s location through a hidden tracking device. Once Nobody discovers the plan, he and Damian end up in a fight as Bruce is driving to them at full speed in the Batmobile. Bruce reaches them just in time to save Damian, and the two of them are able to defeat Nobody. After his defeat, Nobody threatens to kill Bruce and Damian as revenge. Enraged by Nobody’s threats, Damian strikes him with a lethal blow. He then looks back at Bruce and says, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.”[1]

The relationship between parents and children is a well explored topic in superhero comics. There are kid superheroes with super parents, kid superheroes with normal parents, superheroes with normal kids, kid sidekicks, and comics that combine these categories. The dynamic duo of Batman and Robin are the most famous by far. Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill focuses on Damian Wayne, who is both Bruce’s sidekick Robin and his son. Damian’s primary conflict throughout the comic is not with the villain Nobody, but with his father Bruce. Another major comic involving kid superheroes is Young Justice which focuses on young superheroes living in the shadow of the Justice League of America. One of its most interesting portrayals of the relationship between parent and child involves Red Tornado, who oversees Young Justice and is a parent to an adoptive daughter Traya. He has to fight a legal and literal battle to keep custody of Traya. In Born to Kill, Bruce’s relationship with Damian is portrayed in a positive light, despite the fact that his approach fails to truly help Damian. Whereas, Red Tornado in Young Justice Book Two has an understanding of his child’s needs, but makes flawed decisions because he is working within an apathetic system.

Damian has violent and disruptive tendencies throughout Born to Kill. He runs away twice: the first time to join Batman on patrol and the second time to join Nobody.[2] He smashes a chess set after he loses a match with Alfred, he crushes one of the bats in the Batcave, and he draws extremely violent imagery while at Wayne Manor.[3] He also engages in extreme violence towards people. In a fight with a group of criminals stealing nuclear fuel rods, he sets their escape vehicle on fire, burning them alive.[4] In a fight with two muggers, he stabs one with a knife and smashes glass in the other’s face while yelling, “I’m sure you didn’t leave your hole tonight thinking you’d get your ass kicked by a ten-year old.”[5] There is also the climactic fight, where Damian kills Nobody in a burst of rage.

Bruce views Damian’s violent tendencies as acts of moral failure. He believes that he needs to fix Damian, “There’s a part of Damian that’s broken, and it’s my job—my responsibility – to fix him.”[6] He relates to Damian by showing him that he is not alone in his desire to kill criminals, “You can’t face lunatics like we do on a daily basis and not have it boil up when they put innocent lives in jeopardy.”[7] Bruce sees Damian’s violent outbursts as mirroring his own internal conflict over killing criminals. He is training Damian to make what he believes are the right choices, though he does not consider the possibility that Damian’s violent outbursts have another cause. Bruce is not thinking about Damian’s individual needs and circumstances.

This means that even though Bruce expresses interest in helping Damian, he cannot develop a clear strategy on how to do so. Damian shows signs of possible psychological disorders. Cruelty towards animals is considered an antisocial behavior that can be a product of a childhood conduct disorder.[8] According to a list from the CDC, Damian’s behavior fits other criteria of childhood conduct disorder, such as:

  • Breaking serious rules, such as running away, staying out at night when told not to, or skipping school
  • Being aggressive in a way that causes harm, such as bullying, fighting, or being cruel to animals
  • Lying, stealing, or damaging other people’s property on purpose[9]

This is not an attempt to diagnose Damian, but Bruce’s ignorance to these behaviors as symptoms of a psychological disorder shows a lack of parental responsibility on his part. Bruce never takes Damian to a mental health professional, which the CDC recommends as one of the first steps when dealing with disruptive behavior disorders.[10] He also shows negligence by continuously bringing Damian on dangerous missions. Repeated exposure to traumatic events involving violence can increase the chance of someone developing PTSD from subsequent trauma.[11] Damian shows clear distress with his own actions. He says, “I don’t want to end up like Ducard… without a moral compass… I don’t want to turn into a Nobody…”[12] Bruce offers support, but his focus on morally fixing Damian prevents him from recognizing a more complicated problem. It also creates an unsatisfying ending as it is unclear if Damian will heal.

Red Tornado in Young Justice Book Two takes more responsibility for his child’s needs. After an incident leaving Red Tornado’s wife in a coma, he is involved in a court case determining the custody of his adopted daughter Traya. During the case, the judge argues that Red Tornado’s claim to custody over his child is invalid because he is an android. The court’s decision angers Red Tornado, and he gets into a fight with the security and DEO officials. With help from the Young Justice crew, Red Tornado escapes to the Young Justice hideout. He then has doubts about his decision, realizing he has turned his daughter and himself into fugitives. He decides to make an agreement with the DEO in which Traya is returned to his wife. Although they come to an agreement, Red Tornado is arrested for his actions at the courthouse and willingly goes into custody.[13]

The court is blatantly discriminatory towards Red Tornado. The court does not consider Red Tornado’s sentience, instead comparing him to inanimate objects. The Judge says, “You are demanding human rights, but as near as I can tell you’re as entitled to those as to my father’s ‘63 Chevy.”[14] The Judge also compares him to a lawnmower and a Gameboy.[15] The prosecutor completely misrepresents a situation where Red Tornado was taken over by the villain Harm, and when Tornado protests, she says: “’Take Over.’ No different from someone stealing a car, perhaps?”[16] The court completely ignores his position overseeing Young Justice, which is evidence that he is a good caretaker. The choice to solely focus on Red Tornado’s status as an android shows the discriminatory nature of the court.

Although Red Tornado’s anger towards the court is completely justified because of how they treat him, his decision to run away with his daughter is still reckless. He puts his child into danger and does not consider the long term implications of his impulsive actions. He knew that the DEO would be watching the trial and would be prepared to take action if a fight occurred.[17] The DEO was able to trap him in the court building using a null field. The dangerous nature of his situation compelled the Young Justice crew to respond. They broke into the building, took down the null shield, and distracted the DEO agents.[18] The situation Red Tornado caused put both the Young Justice crew and his daughter at risk of harm. He also causes further problems through his illegal actions. Once he returns to the Young Justice headquarters, he realizes that he has no long term plan. He says, “Traya… we don’t know what’s going to happen with your mother. And I can’t keep you hidden here in the Justice Cave forever. I can’t keep you out of school, away from other commitments. You’d be a fugitive. It’s not appropriate…”[19] Though his actions kept his daughter out of foster care, they led to his arrest and separated the family even further. Even though he had good intentions, his actions do little to improve either his or his daughter’s situation.

However, Red Tornado’s good intentions are important. Even though he acts impulsively, he is still clearly acting with the best interest of his child in mind. Traya is clearly distressed throughout the entire ordeal, yelling out for her father and physically attacking the social worker she is with.[20] Her mother is in a coma. She is being taken away from her father, who is the best person to help her through a traumatic situation. The court also showed no interest in Traya’s well being, as they ignored Traya’s and Red Tornado’s protests. Red Tornado’s decisions were driven by a sense of hopelessness and a desire to protect his daughter.

Red Tornado’s situation, though a fictitious court case involving an android, parallels the serious issue of discrimination in child custody cases in the United States. African Americans and Native Americans are much more likely to have their parental rights terminated. In 2016, African Americans faced a 1.7-1.8% risk of full parental rights termination, and Native Americans faced a 2.7-2.9% risk. This is much higher than the 1.0-1.1% risk for Whites. Additionally, the likelihood of full termination of parental rights is much higher for younger children.[21] Though Red Tornado is not facing racial discrimination, the idea of discrimination in a child custody case is incredibly realistic. The story’s conclusion reinforces this. Red Tornado’s arrest shows how relentless discriminatory systems can be and the damage they can do to a family.

Both Young Justice Book Two and Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill explore how the unique circumstances of superheroes affect parent-child relationships. Born to Kill focuses on the relationship between Bruce and Damian, though the relationship that is portrayed is flawed. Bruce does not adequately help Damian, and this creates a story that feels unresolved. Young Justice Book Two is a much more fantastical, less serious comic, though it manages to portray a complex issue in an interesting way. It shows the different ways a discriminatory system can tear a family apart, and the effect it can have on individuals. Even though Red Tornado’s actions are reckless, they are understandable, and his goal of a unified family is commendable. Both Red Tornado and Bruce Wayne grapple with the unique experience of developing a relationship with their child as both a father and a superhero.


[1] Tomasi, Peter J. and Patrick Gleason. Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill. DC Comics, 2012.

[2]    Tomasi, Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill, 54, 92

[3]    Tomasi, Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill, 41-42, 52, 93-94

[4]    Tomasi, Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill, 21

[5]    Tomasi, Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill, 58

[6]    Tomasi, Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill, 28

[7]    Tomasi, Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill, 166

[8]    Gleyzer, Roman et al. “Animal cruelty and psychiatric disorders.” The journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law vol. 30,2 (2002): 257-65.

[9]    “Behavior or Conduct Problems in Children.” Children’s Mental Health. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 April 2022, Accessed 17 November 2022.

[10]  “Behavior or Conduct Problems in Children”

[11]  Breslau, N et al. “Previous exposure to trauma and PTSD effects of subsequent trauma: results from the Detroit Area Survey of Trauma.” The American journal of psychiatry vol. 156,6 (1999): 902-7. doi:10.1176/ajp.156.6.902

[12]  Tomasi, Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill, 167

[13]  David, Peter, et al. Young Justice Book Two. DC Comics, 1998.

[14]  David, Young Justice Book Two. 84-85

[15]  David, Young Justice Book Two. 85

[16]  David, Young Justice Book Two. 85

[17]  David, Young Justice Book Two. 81

[18]  David, Young Justice Book Two, 91-99

[19]  David, Young Justice Book Two, 118

[20]  David, Young Justice Book Two, 87

[21]  Wildeman, C., et al. “The Cumulative Prevalence of Termination of Parental Rights for U.S. Children, 2000-2016.” Child Maltreatment, vol. 25, no. 1, 2020, 32-42.