Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Best of the Huntress: Wonder Woman #302 Review

Title: Wonder Woman #302
Story: Dying To Take You Away!
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Harry Sims, Pat Pending, Nedra Borrower
Creators: Joey Cavalieri (writer), Mike de Carlo (artist)
Publication Date: April 1983
Available In: Unavailable :(

Summary: There is a new bank robber in town and his name is Pat Pending. Pat is no ordinary bank robber as he comes with some state-of-the-art technology that facilitate his thefts with little resistance. That is until he makes the mistake of hitting six banks in a row and grabs the attention of the Huntress!

During his latest theft, he finds the Huntress waiting for him and engages him in a fight. Despite his arsenal, Pat Pending proves to be no match for the Huntress who knocks him out cold. However, he doesn't go down without pulling one last stunt of his own--one that gets the Huntress to flee in panic!

Did Pat Pending take his own life, or did the Huntress go too far in her use of violence? And what does this disastrous exploit mean for Helena Wayne's relationship with Harry Sims who wants nothing more than for Helena to give up her alter ego? Helena Wayne knows she has a deeper mystery to unravel, but this is only the beginning!

Review: This story arc marks the first fully plotted, fully scripted Joey Cavalieri Huntress story and we start to see more of his own take on the character and less of Paul Levitz' influence. So far, Cavalieri's depiction of Helena Wayne doesn't stray too far from what's already been established as she is still depicted as a meticulous detective, complete with a sharp wit and a proneness for snark. One very visible difference, however, is that Cavalieri's Helena Wayne is more noticeably aggressive in her fighting style than previously established.

From the moment that this story begins, Helena Wayne doesn't ask questions, which is somewhat contrary to how she's previously approached her cases. Instead, she goes straight for the capture, though her "prey" doesn't easily go down without a fight. Feeling humiliated from making the first strike and being easily knocked out, Helena steps up her use of violence, which ends with her captive unconscious, presumably dead.

Though not really the best way to reintroduce the Huntress to readers, at the same time, Cavalieri still seeks to explore one very important theme that was seldom addressed in the comics during the early 1980s. What happens when a superhero does kill? Or, in this particular case, can a superhero go too far in their methods, and if they do, how do they deal with the consequences? Traditionally, these kinds of stories would be done as gimmicks that would eventually get undone through a deus ex machina of sorts at the end of the issue. However, Cavalieri makes it clear in this first instalment that this story is not a gimmick and that he is serious about exploring the consequences of a superhero going too far.

Admittedly, I do wish Cavalieri had better established why Helena suddenly became more aggressive in her fighting style. At best, it can be assumed that after her run-in with the Crime Lord in particular, that made Helena reconsider her methods a bit and it may have even hardened her. But that past experience isn't referenced here. Another possibility for the more aggressive fighting style is that Helena has--by now--been fighting crime for about seven years and is considerably more seasoned at this point.

One of the themes Cavalieri has consistently explored with Helena since taking over writing duties is how differently she is treated as a crimefighter by pretty much every man she encounters on the basis of her gender. That man could be a criminal or even her own boyfriend, they either don't take her seriously, or tell her her lifestyle is "too dangerous." Both the subtle and more overt forms of sexism are explored here, though neither case can be described as benevolent, even when the latter case borders on benevolent sexism.

On the subject of Helena's boyfriend, Cavalieri doesn't try to hide the fact that Helena's boyfriend is pretty abusive. What's particularly interesting about the way Harry is written is that his behaviour is very commonplace to the point where it gets excused in mainstream society as "normal concern." But here's the reason his "concerns" about Helena's actions are not concerns at all, but really a form of abuse.

First, there is the way he talks down to Helena the way a father talks down to a child when they do something wrong. Already, he's not treating her like an adult and is infantilising her, which is a way of establishing control in a relationship. Second, there is the fact that it's already been established very early on that he very much doesn't want Helena participating in her father's superhero lifestyle and uses any error she makes as a way of shaming her, which is yet another form of control. Third, there's the part about Harry telling Helena "not to drag his feelings into this" when she correctly calls him out on the real problem he has with her "actions," which is a form of gaslighting.

Now, I do want to point out that a man freaking out about his girlfriend accidentally killing a criminal is normal, especially when they are both in the legal profession. But when you consider that Harry's reaction here isn't "Oh my god, Helena! What did you do? What are we gonna do? I can't--for a second--believe that you would be capable of something like this!" but very much "I told you so!" and even outright tells her "I think you like violence," you know his concern is less about what actually happened and more about trying to maintain control in a relationship with a woman he can't control. Any man or woman trying to control their partner in any way is very much the crux of an abusive relationship.

Lastly, with this story arc alone, we do start the see the gradual demise of the Bronze Age style of storytelling and the gradual transition into modern day storytelling where comics start to explore more complex issues with a lot more depth than in the past. The fact that Cavalieri's writing specifically addresses Helena's experience with sexism and how that intersects into both her profession and abusive relationship with her boyfriend is one such example of this modern style of storytelling.

★★★★☆

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