Sunday, 16 April 2017

Huntress and Power Girl in Rebirth: What Ingredients are Needed to Make a New Worlds' Finest Series Successful?

It's Easter Sunday, and for those who celebrate, Happy Easter! For those who don't, Happy Sunday and I hope you're making the most of your weekend.

I've been thinking about this for a while, and like everyone else waiting to hear anything about Justice Society Rebirth other than "wait and see," I've been doing a lot of speculating on how to bring back the classic Helena Wayne Huntress with Justice Society Rebirth and who would be the character to do it.

I'm almost positive one of the sure comebacks is going to be the classic Power Girl from the pre-Crisis Earth-2, especially since she's already appearing in the Harley Quinn Rebirth series, alongside Atlee (aka Terra) who was her sidekick pre-Flashpoint. Not to mention she's too popular a character for DC to leave out of the classic superhero team that made her. Additionally, if anyone is going to be interested in having Helena Wayne back in her life, it's going to be Power Girl, especially considering what she suffered through just before Flashpoint. So I thought of every possible way the more classic Helena Wayne could be brought back based on what we currently know.

The first thing I speculated a while back was "what if Dr. Manhattan composed this new Earth-0 by collecting the cities that were brought over to Telos for the Convergence event, especially if this event undid Crisis on Infinite Earths?" Well, that would effectively undo the deaths of the original Helena Wayne Huntress, the original Earth-2 Dick Grayson, and former Teen Titan, Kole.

If Dr. Manhattan and/or "Mr. Oz" (possibly Watchmen's Ozymandias?) are still on "cleaning duty" with this new Earth, it is possible Dick and Helena were among the Justice Society members that were erased from the new Earth's history. Or if the events of Crisis still happened as they originally did, but without any involvement from the Anti-Monitor (maybe Mr. Oz and Dr. M were responsible), maybe the lightning that "killed" Dick and Helena was Mr. Oz and/or Dr. M taking them out and bringing them to their dimensional prison. Perhaps the graves in which Dick and Helena are "buried" are in fact empty graves, effectively preserving the original status quo of their bodies never being found.

Either way, by retconning Helena's original death as Mr. Oz/Dr. M taking her out of the new DC Earth, it would preserve both the original aftermath of the Crisis erasing all memory of her, but it would also facilitate her return. Since Power Girl eventually got her original memories of the pre-Crisis Earth-2 back, she may be the key to Helena Wayne's return, especially if the original Helena finds a way out of Mr. Oz's dimensional prison. The Question is where do you go from there?

The classic Helena Wayne's return could easily facilitate a new Huntress/Power Girl Rebirth comic, especially since there is so much story to tell with the classic Helena's revival (and especially her reunion with Power Girl) that couldn't be contained in the Justice Society comic without taking page space away from the Justice Society characters. Since the classic Helena Wayne Huntress is the more popular version of the character anyway, it's very likely an ongoing comic featuring her and the classic Power Girl would be much more successful than the one that featured their New 52 counterparts. However, they will still need help getting launched. So what ingredients are needed for a Huntress/Power Girl Rebirth comic to be successful? Well, I've narrowed it down to three main ones: structural diversity, having an actual story direction, and for DC to market and promote these characters correctly.

1. Structural Diversity 


One of the things that hurt the New 52 Worlds' Finest comic (and Earth-2 in general) was the lack of diverse editors and creators working behind the scenes. While both Paul Levitz and James Robinson were excellent choices for rebooting the Justice Society characters for the New 52 continuity due to their strong knowledge of these characters from decades of working on them, they also didn't bring a diverse perspective to their stories. As such, they didn't always make story and character decisions that would necessarily appeal to their intended diverse audience, and have even driven some of that potential audience away.

Decisions like reducing Power Girl's character to the grossly sexist "dumb blonde" stereotype in order to elevate Huntress into the "brainy brunette" role was one such decision that doomed the original title. Taking away all of the original ideas and character developments that defined Power Girl as a very different character from Supergirl by literally turning her into "alternate universe Supergirl" was another. The constant queer-baiting with Kara and Helena was another issue that put off female readers, and especially queer women. Then there was DC's obsession with trying to establish a new Batman and Superman as marketing tools for Earth-2 that sealed their fate in "doomed to fail" because by having a new Batman and Superman on Earth-2, DC defeated the purpose of Huntress and Power Girl.

Notice that with a creative braintrust comprised of James Robinson, Paul Levitz, and eventually Tom Taylor, coupled with the leadership of Eddie Berganza, Pat McCullum, Wil Moss, and eventually Michael Cotton as editors in the earlier years of the New 52, there were zero women present to make any important decisions, and the characters' direction was decided entirely by men, most of them white. While editors like Pat McCullum and Wil Moss don't have a track record of being bad editors, and Paul Levitz, James Robinson, and Tom Taylor are all celebrated as progressive and influential storytellers, they also possess a limited idea on the kinds of stories that will attract diverse, and especially female readers. As such, they've all made decisions during their runs that hurt the visibility of Huntress and Power Girl in some capacity during the New 52.

James Robinson accomplished this through a joint decision with DC editorial to temporarily place Huntress and Power Girl on the mainstream Earth. With Helena out of the picture, this left the Batman legacy conveniently vacant on Earth-2 in order to develop Helena's grandfather--Thomas Wayne--in that capacity, with the obvious intention to capitalise on the success of the Flashpoint Batman. Tom Taylor similarly accomplished this by taking advantage of Power Girl's vacancy on Earth-2 in order to create a new Superman to replace her cousin, Kal-L. This effectively erased Power Girl's relevance to the Earth-2 narrative and placed a POC character in the position of inheriting another diverse character's legacy through sexism. Then there was Paul Levitz whose writing was more clichés and stereotypes than any meaningful character development, but he was also very limited in the story decisions he could make with Huntress and Power Girl because much of Earth-2's direction (like the rest of the New 52) was largely decided by DC editorial or upper management.

Having examined the factors that doomed the New 52 versions of Huntress and Power Girl to fail, what needs to be done differently for the classic versions to be successful during Rebirth? Well, for starters, DC could try putting women in charge this time, both at the editorial and creative levels to bring an authentic female perspective to their story. Having a female editor in particular can help avoid problems with representation and story directions that can hurt the characters' longterm success. This sounds like an ideal book for Rebecca Taylor, Jessica Chen, or Kristy Quinn. Having a female writer can also help on those fronts as well, and help develop the kinds of stories that can invite both older fans of these characters, as well as newer--especially female--fans. This sounds like an ideal book for a writer like Gail Simone, who is both an established creator in comics, and has a very strong track record with diverse representation.

2. Have an Actual Story Direction


While the New 52 Earth-2 book didn't suffer from a lack of direction (at least prior Earth-2: World's End), the New 52 World's Finest book did for the aforementioned reasons discussed in the first point. Since Huntress and Power Girl's residence on Earth-0 was only temporary with DC editorial intending to bring them back to Earth-2 at some point (and they did), this limited the kinds of stories Paul Levitz could tell with them, resulting (in many cases) in meandering storylines and unrealised potential. With DC's decision to develop a new Earth-2 Batman and Superman to replace Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent on top of that, this especially took away the one thing Kara and Helena had left to help them succeed: their own family legacies.

With the classic Justice Society set to return on Earth-0 for Rebirth, this should help eliminate both the problem with the lack of direction and DC's temptation to establish a new Batman and Superman on a world that already has the more iconic versions. Since Huntress and Power Girl are the direct legacies of the Golden Age Batman and Superman, they can easily fulfil those roles in the Justice Society team given that Earth-0's Batman and Superman are based directly on their Silver Age/Earth-1 counterparts. With the classic versions of Huntress and Power Girl now taking up permanent residence on this new Earth, more time can actually be spent cementing them to this new Earth's continuity and explore the ways they achieve this.

If Power Girl's entire history from pre-Crisis Earth-2 to pre-Flashpoint Earth-0 is left intact, then this would leave Helena Wayne to figure out how to make her place on this new world now that the one she knows no longer exists as it once did. There's plenty of story potential in that concept alone, beginning by answering the most important question: where was Helena Wayne this whole time that she was erased from Earth-0's history and how did she make her way back? What were her conditions for her return?

"The Return of Helena Wayne" sounds like a good future story arc for the Justice Society Rebirth book and one that would be directly important to Power Girl. Would the Helena Wayne that suddenly surfaces on Earth-0 have her memories intact or will she have "forgotten" her own history in order to hide from the prying eyes of Mr. Oz in a similar fashion to Mr. Mxyzptlk in Superman Reborn? How will she live her life on this new Earth? Will she still be Helena Wayne, living as an ordinary woman with a normal career as an attorney? Or will she be living under an alias to not draw the attention of Bruce Wayne or anyone else with a strong enough presence who could expose her to Mr. Oz?

How will Power Girl put all of the pieces together to prove to herself and the Justice Society that this Helena Wayne is the one native to the pre-Crisis Earth-2? How will she help Helena get her memories back? Will the Justice Society also regain their memories of Helena Wayne being the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle who worked alongside them as the Huntress? Which Justice Society villains would be targeting Helena and for what purpose?

Could villains like the Wizard, the Psycho-Pirate, or Per Degaton be interested in her as their "key" to "terraforming" this new Earth into the one they lost, kind of similar to what Earth-3's Alexander Luthor and Psycho Pirate tried to do with Power Girl to revive the multiverse in Infinite Crisis? Would she be a target of the Golden Age Joker who remembers Helena as the daughter to his Batman and decide to have her take her father's place in his life, kind of like what Geoff Johns did with an alternate version of her in his Justice Society of America run?

What happens next after "The Return of Helena Wayne" wraps up? I think from there, a new Huntress/Power Girl comic could be launched to not take focus away from the Justice Society characters in their own book. From there, time could be spent re-establishing Power Girl's relationship with Helena Wayne. Re-explore their past together on the pre-Crisis Earth-2 and take their relationship in a new direction for the current continuity. Explore how they get the new Earth to remember them again, and even explore how the Golden Age Batman's history gets remembered by Earth-0 citizens if the events of Infinite Crisis (which brought back the Golden Age versions of Superman and Wonder Woman) are still intact. That storyline could effectively bring back the Golden Age Joker (first teased in Geoff Johns' Rebirth one-shot), as well as address the question of the fate of the original Earth-2 Dick Grayson. Explore how reinstating the Golden Age Batman's history alleviates Helena Wayne of a complicated past like what was originally done with Power Girl.

From there, simply tell new stories with Kara and Helena on their new home. Have them build new relationships with the Batman and Superman families of Earth-0, and create a new rogues gallery for them, or revisit some of their old ones. Even have them visit the new Earth-2 that Earth-2: Society concluded with and have them meet their counterparts there. How will Helena Wayne react to meeting a version of herself who became Earth-2's Batman and female Bruce Wayne? How will Power Girl react to meeting a version of herself who eventually decided to wear the 'S' on her chest when she herself rejected the idea of wearing an insignia? How will this experience change the way Kara and Helena feel about themselves and how will this help reaffirm their own identities as Helena Wayne and Kara Zor-L? Their identities as Huntress and Power Girl? Will briefly visiting this new Earth-2 give them closure they need on the one that they lost? Like I said, there are plenty of stories to tell here.

3. Market and Promote the Characters Correctly


This is admittedly one area where DC hasn't failed Huntress and Power Girl in the earlier years of the New 52, at least prior to Earth-2: World's End. Prior to the event that doomed the entire Earth-2 franchise, Huntress and Power Girl did get a lot of marketing from DC as well as a tonne of press coverage when they were the protagonists of Worlds' Finest. But there were two major problems with the way they were originally promoted: the first was that Helena Wayne was originally marketed as Helena Bertinelli, and the initial part of her marketing revolved around her assuming this identity. The second major problem was that DC promoted them as the former sidekicks of Batman and Superman on Earth-2, and not as their legacies since DC decided to give those legacies to Thomas Wayne, a new Dick Grayson, and Val-Zod respectively.

With Rebirth divorcing DC from all of the things the New 52 did wrong, now is the time to market and promote Helena Wayne and Kara Zor-L correctly. With Helena Bertinelli now back in continuity as the Huntress for the Birds of Prey team, DC can easily market Helena Wayne as the daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman, as well as the Huntress that's unique to the Justice Society team. The same needs to be done with Power Girl as well. In the same way that Helena Wayne carries on the legacy of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman, Kara also carries on the legacy of the Golden Age Superman and Lois Lane as Kal-L's cousin. She is also the Power Girl that is unique to the Justice Society team, which helps to differentiate her from the Tanya Spears Power Girl currently appearing on Deathstroke.

In addition to DC needing to market Huntress and Power Girl as the Batman and Superman legacy characters they truly are, DC also needs to promote them continuously like they do the Earth-0 Batman and Superman families. This is important not only for maintaining mainstream visibility, but also to show both the current and potential readership that the company is behind both characters, which helps to build fan confidence that they are here to stay. To build a stronger fanbase that will help the characters sustain their own books, they also need to start having a stronger media presence outside of the comics. They need to start appearing in video games, television shows, and movies, and like the comics, their stories also need to be told correctly. Good media representation outside of the comics is how many new fans become aware of these characters and starts bringing them to the comic shops. (I can safely tell you the Suicide Squad movie brought in more women to my LCS because they loved Harley Quinn in the film.)

Of course, DC being a business working under the larger corporate umbrella of Warner Bros., there are a lot more things that factor into the success and failure of DC Comics characters and properties. But tackling those three main ones I just talked about (structural diversity, strong story direction, and effective marketing) is a start. More often than not, it is a combination of those three things that make or break new comics featuring newer or lesser known characters, at least as they relate to my experiences as a consumer.

3 comments:

  1. A Huntress/Power Girl title? I don't think the fanbase is big enough to support it.💰 I always felt that out of respect for Paul Levitz, Dan Didio allowed him to do a New 52 World's Finest book, for a pretty long time, regardless of the sales numbers. Which without looking at the numbers, I'll assume they weren't that great.

    Power Girl is apparently well-liked by the Harley Quinn writers, and really well-known to DC fans. However, with Helena Wayne, she's kinda hurt by both the Helena Bertinelli and Damian Wayne characters. Both steal her thunder in obvious ways, and make her harder to market.

    IF Helena Wayne is eventually Rebirthed, and made to be the bad@$$ alpha leader of the JSA, like Batman always is with the Justice League, then that would be a huge win for fans of the "OG" Huntress.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In terms of sales, Worlds' Finest was the Paul Levitz book in recent years that did the best in sales. It outsold both his New 52 Legion of Superheroes run (which also has a passionate fanbase) and his DCYou run of Doctor Fate.

      In total, the book sold an average of 28K units in direct market sales after 32 issues, not including annuals and one-shots. If we look at how the book did when Huntress and Power Girl were the protagonists vs Batman and Superman, the book sold at an approximate average of 30K unit sales when the book was fronted by Huntress and Power Girl, and the book sold at approximately 20K unit sales when it was Batman and Superman. There's about a 10K unit sales difference.

      On the whole, I would say Worlds Finest did pretty decently in sales, which shows that the characters do have very interested fans at least. Could it have done better in sales? Absolutely! But this goes back to what I said about DC needing to market their characters correctly, tell their stories correctly with proper character development, and relationship build-up with their respective families in the DCU. Those were the things readers were expecting with the New 52 series.

      If we look at other sales as well, during Convergence, the Detective Comics mini fronted by the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne and Dick Grayson sold an average of 52K units between the two issues, and it was the pre-Crisis Earth-2 title that did the best in sales of the entire group. If we look at pre-Flashpoint, Geoff Johns' JSA Annual #1 from 2008 starring Huntress and Power Girl sold at 65K units, which is pretty good for an annual. I think this at least supports my thoughts on having the right creative team involved. (Though anything written by Johns would sell by default).

      On marketing, I really don't think Helena Wayne is that tough a sell. Helena Bertinelli is an interesting character of her own standing, but she has nothing in common with Helena Wayne other than sharing the Huntress name. She's a very different character with a different origin story all together, much like Supergirl and Power Girl, all the Flashes, Green Lanterns, and Robins, and DC still found a place for all of them on their main DC Earth, including the two Wally Wests. I don't think Helena Bertinelli poses much of a problem to Helena Wayne returning as the Huntress.

      On Damian, his main selling point is that he is the son of Batman and is rarely acknowledged as the son of Talia. Helena Wayne's major selling points is that she is the daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman (who have a very huge fanbase right after Lois and Clark), a member of the Justice Society, and she's best friends with Power Girl. I think Helena Wayne is a highly profitable character for DC on those three things alone. DC just needs to not be lazy.

      Delete