Superhero Runaways

Today’s post was inspired by a question from Frank, who asks “Cloak and Dagger are teenage runaways. If they could catch them, could the police forcibly separate them, incarcerate them, remand them to their parents and/or institutionalize them as wards of the state?”

Cloak and Dagger aren’t the only examples.  There are several other runaway superheroes, including, naturally, the Runaways.

This is a pretty interesting question.  I didn’t know the first thing about the law of runaway children, so I had to do a bit of research.  I decided to focus on Cloak and Dagger, since the Runaways all fled (and ultimately defeated) parents who were supervillains, whereas Cloak and Dagger were more ordinary disaffected teenagers.  As it happens, Cloak and Dagger both ran away to New York City, so we’ll primarily look at the law of New York.  Cloak is originally from Boston, and Dagger is from Ohio, which is also relevant.

I. What Exactly are Runaways?

In New York a runaway is a “child under the age of eighteen who has run away from home without just cause.”  N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 718(a).  A police officer may return a runaway to the child’s parent or another legally responsible person or may take the child to a state certified facility. N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 718(a), (b).  This requires only the police officer’s reasonable belief that the child is a runaway.  Id.

The cases and commentaries don’t really explain what “just cause” would be, but presumably fleeing abuse, neglect, or a similarly dangerous situation would be acceptable.  Thus, the Runaways might not actually have been runaways, at least under New York law.

Cloak and Dagger don’t seem to have that excuse, however.  Cloak ran away out of guilt over the death of a friend, and Dagger ran away because she felt her mother was too busy for her.  Not great situations, but probably not enough to justify running away from home, either.

II. So Now What?

If Cloak and Dagger were determined to be runaways, they could be returned to their parents or to a state facility.  But their parents don’t live in New York.  A state government generally has no authority outside of its borders, so how could the New York authorities legally transport them back to Massachusetts and Ohio, respectively?  Enter the Interstate Compact for Juveniles.

The Compact allows the child’s home state (called the “requisitioning state”) to request the child’s return from the state the child ran away to (called the “asylum state”).  The requisition includes “the name and age of the juvenile, a determination that the juvenile has run away without consent of a parent or legal guardian, and that it is in the best interest and for the protection of the juvenile to return to the requisitioning state.” 2 Children & the Law: Rights and Obligations § 8:53.

Nearly all states have adopted the Compact, including OhioMassachusetts, and New York.  Note that the current version of the New York law is set to expire in 2013 and will be replaced with the most recent version of the Compact.  See 2011 Sess. Law News of N.Y. Ch. 29.

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, the result is that both Cloak and Dagger could be returned to their home states.  This is separate from the issue of juvenile delinquency, however, and actually involves a different age standard.  Cloak and Dagger have engaged in a fair amount of vigilantism over the years, often involving the deaths of supervillains and more ordinary criminals.  In New York, for purposes of juvenile delinquency, juveniles are generally children over the age of 7 and under the age of 16.  N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 301.2.  When Cloak and Dagger ran away they were 17 and 16, respectively, which means they would likely be tried as adults.  I’m not too familiar with their exploits, but from what I’ve read they could be looking at some serious jail time.

III. Conclusion

As runaways, Cloak and Dagger could either be returned to their parents in Massachusetts and Ohio or placed in a state-certified facility in New York.  But as potential criminal defendants, they would likely be tried as adults.  In any case, they would almost certainly be separated.  The only reason they might not be is that consuming the energy produced by Dagger’s superpower is quite possibly the only legal way for Cloak to stay alive.

13 responses to “Superhero Runaways

  1. Melanie Koleini

    Could legal emancipation help Clock and Dagger? I’ve no clue if it would be possible without parental consent (or at least informing the respective parents of the court preceding).

    Also, I know minors can marry in some circumstances. Is there any way they could marry each other? This wouldn’t help with any criminal charges but it would keep the government from separating them to separate states.

    • In New York, they could only get married if both Cloak and Dagger’s parents consented since they are 17 and 16 respectively. See “who can get married?” on this page.

      If they did get married, then that would have the effect of emancipating them, at least in New York. “Children are emancipated if they become economically independent of their parents through employment, entry into military service, or marriage.” Alice C. v. Bernard G.C., 193 A.D.2d 97, 105 (1993). I don’t know if the relevant state law would be New York or their home state, however.

  2. I know nothing about Cloak and Dagger. But, given what you said about Cloak’s needing Dagger’s power to survive, would it qualify as “murder” if the state separated them, knowing it would result in Cloak starving to death? Would it be in any way negligent manslaughter if they didn’t know for sure and didn’t believe them when the kids said so?

    • It would depend on whether the officials involved in the decision actually knew that it would result in Cloak’s death. It’s a pretty extraordinary claim, even in the Marvel universe, since most mutants don’t develop unusual dependencies.

      But supposing they did know, then I think it would be akin to denying access to adequate healthcare. In the prison context, that would be an Eighth Amendment violation, for example. But I don’t know how it would work in other contexts.

      Relatedly, saving Cloak’s life could qualify as a “just cause” for Dagger to run away again.

      • James Pollock

        Not only is Cloak dependent on Dagger, but Dagger is dependent on Cloak, and physically separating them is physically painful to them. (or it was, circa 1986, the last time I read a Cloak and Dagger story). If Dagger doesn’t “feed” him, Cloak will feed off of the lifeforce of a person or persons consumed by him… when rational, he limits this to taking only some lifeforce from people who have punishment coming to them; deprived of Dagger’s presence, he loses rational control and will consume anyone. He nearly killed Spider-Man; only Spider-Man’s unusually strong constitution allowed him to survive being trapped within Cloak’s body.

        Since it is physically impossible to restrain Cloak, any separation the state attempts to impose would be temporary; since Cloak can carry passengers within his body, Dagger likewise will not be held by the state for very long (this paragraph assumes that Prison 23 has been entirely abandoned). If I recall correctly, Cloak and Dagger took Captain America’s side in the Marvel Civil War, but I don’t believe either were captured by Iron Man’s pro-registration forces.

        I believe that holding them separately would be unconstitutionally cruel and inhumane.

        Many characters in the Marvel universe received their superpowers while they were minors, and use them without parental authority, raising at least the specter of a chance that they could be considered “runaways” if captured in costume… from Spider-Man to Rocket Racer, to nearly every single mutant, to the Power Pack, it seems unusual for Marvel characters to receive powers later in life… sure, Dr. Banner, Dr. Richards, and Dr. Strange all had time to earn advanced degrees before they became super-powered, but they’re outnumbered.

  3. I like Cloak and Dagger, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on any comics they were actually in.

    Here’s another thought: Cloak and Dagger were briefly employed as a part of Norman Osborn’s Dark X-Men, apparently a sort of government agency, in exchange for their records being cleared. What kind of legal implications might this have for, say, child labor laws, not to mention this entire “boxed crook” scenario?

    • Cloak and Dagger made their earliest appearances in issues of “Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man”. You can get reprints (albeit in black & white only) in the “Essential” series of books (available from
      “Essential Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol.3” contains the first appearance of Cloak and Dagger, and they appear in “Essential Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol.4”

      • James Pollock

        There was a very early mini-series of Cloak & Dagger, as well… it was one of the first of Marvel’s experiments with the format. I don’t know if it was collected into a single volume.

      • Yes, thank you very much Mr. Pullock, but what about my questions related to legal stuff?

      • That is, do you have any insight on the matter?

      • James Pollock

        Alas, at the time I stopped reading comics regularly, Norman Osborn was dead, and Cloak and Dagger were not employ(ed)(able), so I have no specific commentary.
        As a general rule, minors CAN be employed, though not in a fairly long list of hazardous occupations. The restrictions vary depending on age; younger children are prohibited from doing more different jobs than older kids are. Cloak’s power of teleportation might allow him to be carried on the books as a provider of transportation, like a courier or a driver, but anything like fighting evil mutants (or good ones, for that matter) is probably covered under child labor laws. (I didn’t even take employment law, much less child labor law, so I can’t be more helpful.)
        I doubt seriously that C&D HAVE any actual record to clear, as the difficulties in holding them for trial are numerous and the benefits in doing so are few. Then there’s the problem that the crimes C&D have been documented for us are assault, battery, and manslaughter, which are state crimes and thus not directly under the purview of any federal agency. On the other hand, Dagger’s gotta eat, and if Osborn’s offering a paycheck, well, they’re probably not going to be hired to work the drive-through window at the the local fast-food place.

  4. So what about the Runaways, then? Presumably California law doesn’t have a provision for

  5. Gaah, last comment went up before I was done editing it. What I was going to say is, even if the Runaways were held to have just cause for leaving their parents, presumably California law frowns on a bunch of orphaned teenagers setting up house together with no adult supervision. It’s been awhile since I read the comics, but wasn’t there a group of former teenage superheroes that was trying to “save” them? (Although they were probably overstepping the law a bit, too.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *