Thursday, 12 October 2017

Helena Wayne 40th Anniversary: Looking Back on Worlds' Finest

WORLDS' FINEST
Written by PAUL LEVITZ
Art by GEORGE PEREZ, KEVIN MAGUIRE
Cover by GEORGE PEREZ, KEVIN MAGUIRE
Legendary creators Paul Levitz and artists George Perez and Kevin Maguire launch a new series featuring Power Girl and Huntress, the WORLDS' FINEST! Stranded on our earth over five years ago, these two heroes from Earth 2 are forced to fight evil in strange new surroundings, all while trying to find their way home. In two separate tales, WORLDS' FINEST flashes back to how Huntress and Power Girl got to our earth and what they've been doing the past five years, and then back to the present where they fight for the fate of millions against the Irradiated Man.
APRIL 16 | RATED T | $14.99 | PRINT | DIGITAL






INTRODUCTION

When Worlds' Finest was first announced in 2012, I was really excited for this series. Ever since reading Justice Society of America Annual #1 (2008) by Geoff Johns and legendary artist Jerry Ordway, I wanted nothing more than an Earth-2 Huntress and Power Girl comic. Luckily, we got one as part of the New 52 launch with Paul Levitz as the writer and DC legends George Perez and Kevin Maguire on art duties. A series fronted by Batman's daughter and Superman's cousin with their original writer from their pre-Crisis days at the helm and two of the best artists in the industry. There could not have been a better match made in heaven. What could go wrong, right? Well...ironically...plenty did go wrong, beginning with the fact that DC didn't actually have any plans for the characters to start with.

It's hard to imagine DC launching a Batman and Superman legacy comic without any real plans for the characters, but that is exactly what happened. Presumably because DC hadn't finished planning their new Justice Society franchise prior to the release of both Mr. Terrific (where Power Girl was originally appearing in) and the Huntress miniseries in 2011, I imagine part of what screwed up plans for both Huntress and Power Girl in the New 52 was tied to the fact that both characters were already appearing on Prime Earth at the start of the new initiative.

Another part of the problem was DC deciding very early on to try and build-up a new Batman (other than Helena Wayne's father) for the new Earth-2 franchise, even though absolutely no Justice Society fan asked for one as we were all expecting Bruce's own daughter to take his place in that narrative. (No one especially wanted Helena's grandfather taking up that role as keeping him alive changed Bruce's origin in a fundamentally stupid way, but that's a discussion for another day.) As a result of poor planning, DC's impromptu plans for Huntress and Power Girl was to keep them on Prime Earth until they decided to bring them back home for the Earth-2: World's End event that also appeared to have been planned and executed on a very last minute basis. (My understanding is that James Robinson had completely different plans for Earth-2 prior to his departure from the main Earth-2 title due to a conflict with editorial.)

Because DC had no plans for Huntress and Power Girl who were stranded on Prime Earth, this limited the kinds of stories Paul Levitz could tell with them. Having them form relationships with the heroes of Prime Earth would've cemented their places on that Earth, but it would've also made it difficult for DC to send them back to Earth-2 because fans would've become attached to their relationships with the Prime Earth heroes. However, in not letting them interact with any of the heroes of Prime Earth outside of their immediate doppelgänger families for one story arc, this gave fans very little to latch on to for emotional investment. This then set the series up to drift for three years with fans' only investment in the series being the heroines themselves, whom they loved.

Aside from the lack of any real plans for both characters, another major problem that worked against this title was that characterisation for both heroines was completely off. This was weird coming from Paul Levitz of all people. It was weird because it was Levitz' work on these two characters in the 1970s and 1980s that defined these characters for writers in the last four decades. Even when the Huntress was Helena Bertinelli for much of that timeframe, his work on the original Helena Wayne Huntress still provided much of the baseline for future Huntress writers to work from in developing the Helena Bertinelli character.

For Paul Levitz to get the characters so completely wrong in 2012 felt wrong in and of itself. I guess part of it was Levitz attempting to "update" the personalities of these two heroines for a modern audience and not really knowing how to execute that well. His attempts at modernisation relied too heavily on 1990s tropes at best and relied on negative stereotypes about women at worst. Power Girl in particular suffered the most on this front, which sucked so much of my enjoyment of the book on that alone. Huntress was given slightly better characterisation, but that's not saying much as her characterisation was mostly one-dimensional. This was a stark contrast to the more layered characterisation Levitz gave the Huntress in the miniseries that preceded this series.

The last thing that hurt this series was the loss of George Perez and Kevin Maguire as the artists for this title. While I absolutely loved seeing Jerry Ordway, Emanuela Lupacchino, and Barry Kitson draw these characters, neither one of them were mainstays following Perez and Maguire's departure. They were all just fill-in artists until DC settled on RB Silva as the new main artist. Admittedly, I'm not sure why Jerry Ordway wasn't invited to take over art duties on this book as he really loves these characters, plus his art style is similar enough to Perez, it would've preserved the original look of the book. (Not to mention I'm a huge fan of Ordway and I would've enjoyed the book for his artwork alone.)

Given all the problems that worked against this title at the outset, there's no sense in doing a proper review of it. All of "the bad" would literally take up the entire conversation, which would make for a pretty joyless write-up and an even more counterproductive discussion. Rather than dissect every single problem I had with this title, I want to instead talk about what I really wanted to get from a comic about Huntress and Power Girl.


1. STORIES SET ON EARTH-2

This one should be a given. Huntress and Power Girl's history and story potential is entirely tied to the narrative of Earth-2. This is the world where Lois Lane and Clark Kent tied the knot and became adoptive parents to a young Kara Zor-L, the latter spouse's cousin. It is also the world where Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle got married and had a daughter of their own--Helena Wayne--whom they raised to succeed them.

From that premise alone, DC had a lot to build from. When you especially consider that Earth-2 is a conceptually more optimistic world than Prime Earth, there was significant opportunity to show how different the Batman and Superman families are from their Prime Earth counterparts (aside from both having female successors). This actually takes me to my next point.





2. MORE DEVELOPMENT OF THEIR NEW HISTORY

While I'll always prefer Helena Wayne and Kara Zor-L starting off as Huntress and Power Girl on their native Earth from the getgo, I also understand why DC wanted to have them start off as Robin and Supergirl. Not only are these iconic monikers, but the Robin identity in particular has always been associated with male sidekicks. Making the original Earth-2 Robin a girl not only changed that status quo in a meaningful way, but it also allowed Batman and Catwoman's daughter to get first hand training from them as well as first hand experience.

Having Helena start off as her parents' sidekick as a child actually made sense because it would give her the tools she would need to become a more successful heroine as the adult Huntress. While Kara isn't as vulnerable to injury and death due to her Kryptonian physiology, she still needed to learn how to control her powers and use them more efficiently in a fight to avoid causing death and injury to others. As such, starting off as her cousin's sidekick actually made sense for teaching her the craft she would need to become a more successful heroine as Power Girl.

There was definitely a lot of story potential in developing Kara and Helena's childhoods alone, and I know a lot of fans would've loved to have seen them interact with their families growing up. When you especially consider how popular the Lois/Clark and Batman/Catwoman pairings are amongst female fans, developing their respective histories alone would've drawn these fans in by the handful.

I know I definitely wanted to see how Bruce and Selina raised their daughter outside of their superhero training and I definitely wanted to see how Lois and Clark raised Kara in their civilian lives. I especially wanted to see how Lois, Clark, Selina, and Bruce all interacted with each other in a way that was both similar and different to their Prime Earth counterparts. I especially wanted to see a better origin story for Kara and Helena's friendship rooted on their parents' friendships instead of tragic circumstances. The former idea would've preserved the idea of Earth-2 being a more optimistic world than the latter idea, which made it too similar to Prime Earth. I know I would have loved to have seen a natural evolution of Kara and Helena's friendship from childhood to adulthood and I would've preferred keeping Bruce, Selina, Lois, and Clark alive so that we could see these two women interact with them as adults as well.

Other things I wanted to see was where Bruce, Clark, Lois, and Selina would be in their advanced ages. I wanted to know if Bruce and Selina would've eventually retired their Batman and Catwoman identities for new endeavours in their advanced ages. I especially wanted to see if Bruce would become police commissioner again like he did on the pre-Crisis Earth-2. I would've also loved to have seen Clark retire his Superman identity to see him advance his career as a journalist, but I do think Lois would've made more sense taking over Perry White's (or George Taylor's?) job at the Daily Planet (I prefer Star). Keeping both power couples alive and ageing would've stayed true to their original pre-Crisis Earth-2 counterparts.


3. CLOSER DEVELOPMENT TO THEIR PRE-CRISIS COUNTERPARTS

One of the things I loved about the pre-Crisis Huntress and Power Girl is that they both chose very different careers in their adulthood from their parents and cousin. Helena Wayne was a Harvard University graduate who had a successful career in law. Kara started out as a computer programmer, then became an entrepreneur, then later became the CEO of her own company, StarrWare. I wanted to see more of that, especially with a more modern take on Earth-2.

One thing I definitely wanted to see happen was Helena's journey from being her parents' daughter to becoming her own woman. I especially wanted to see what made her pursue a career in law. What got her interested in law and what life experiences shaped her decision? Did she try other endeavours before deciding that becoming a lawyer was the right path for her?

I additionally wanted to see Helena's university years. What kind of student was she? In the past, we were told she was a straight A student, attended Harvard University, and graduated valedictorian. She also spent three years in law school and acquired a junior position at an established law firm in Gotham. We were also told that she was into gymnastics, joined sports clubs, and even joined a fraternity, but beyond that, she wasn't much of a "joiner." However, it would've been better to see all of this in a story arc. I additionally wanted to see what else she did as a student. Did she attend college parties? Did she also get drunk at these parties? What about going to nightclubs with friends? Did she even hook up with anyone while she was in uni like so many of us do?

With Kara having spent most of her childhood on Earth instead of in a spaceship like in the pre-Crisis continuity, this was the perfect opportunity to better flesh out her history. What made her decide that a career in computer technology was the right choice for her? What life experiences did she have that made her decide this was the one career she wanted to pursue over everything else? Has she always been good with computers? Was she always into science as a kid? Did her Kryptonian background have something to do with that decision, especially with her biological parents having been scientists themselves? Did she pursue this path as a way of honouring their memory? What steps did she take to climb her way up to becoming a successful business owner and technology mogul? What university would she have gone to? Would she have also attended Harvard with Helena, or a different school?

Lastly, I wanted to see what led Helena and Kara to abandon their Robin and Supergirl identities for Huntress and Power Girl as their adult identities. I wanted to see what made them grow out of those former identities and what the names "Huntress" and "Power Girl" mean to them. I strongly don't believe either of these women need dead parents for them to decide on these identities because they were already functioning as superheroes as children.

In Helena's case, I can see her parents retiring and her coming up with the name of "the Huntress" as a way of honouring Batman and Catwoman while allowing her to create a superhero legacy of her own. In Kara's case, I can still see her deciding on the Power Girl name as a way of establishing her own separate identity from her cousin and so that people can stop seeing her as his "carbon copy." Both would still honour the original concept of their characters from their pre-Crisis days.


4. FORM RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER DC HEROES

This is another given considering that Earth-2 is also home of the Justice Society of America. In a better world where DC's own editorial office didn't sabotage the Earth-2 franchise in an incredibly stupid way for entirely stupid reasons, there would've always been a Justice Society team as old as the Earth-2 Trinity itself.

Since Wonder Woman was established as this world's first superhero in the New 52 continuity, it would've made sense for her to be the team leader and co-founder, which would've been a clever callback to her membership into the Justice Society during DC's actual Golden Age in the 1940s. It would've also been cool to see Batman and Superman be members of the original team along with Jay Garrick as the Flash, Alan Scott as the Green Lantern, Kent Nelson as Doctor Fate, Al Pratt as the Atom, Hawkman, Sandman, Wildcat, even Johnny Thunder.

For the second generation team, It would've been cool to see Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, and Wesley Dodds to stick around, but see characters like Khalid Ben-Hassin, Kendra Muñoz-Saunders, and Yolanda Montez become the second generation Doctor Fate, Hawkgirl, and Wildcat respectively. It would've also been great to see Jakeem Thunder take Johnny's place on the team like he originally did post-Crisis. Lastly, I would've loved to have seen a more natural inclusion of Huntress and Power Girl to the Justice Society, taking the seats of their father and cousin respectively upon their retirement just like in the pre-Crisis days.

In addition to seeing Huntress and Power Girl formerly taking their places in the Justice Society, it would've been great to see them be a part of the formation of Infinity Inc with Lyta Trevor as the team leader as Fury. On the subject of Fury, I would've also kept her original origin of being the daughter of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor, and I would've also kept her original romantic relationship with Hector Hall, the Silver Scarab. (I absolutely LOATHED the unnecessary changes that were made to Fury's origin in the New 52, but again, story for another day.)

Other characters I would've loved to have seen forming the Infinity Inc team include classic members Jade and Obsidian, Nuklon, Northwind, and even Beth Chapel as Doctor Mid-Nite.


5. ROMANCE

I'm of the opinion that when it comes to superhero stories, it is never complete without some romance mixed in there. After all, romance is what got me invested in characters like Batman and Catwoman in the first place, not to mention Lois and Clark. Without those romances, I would've never gotten invested in their families. So naturally, of course, it only makes sense that Huntress and Power Girl should carry on that tradition by having romances of their own. But whom should they get together with and why? Well, like every good romance, you build towards it! Sometimes, you have to go through a bad romance or two to get to the best romance! Let's start with Helena.

Historically, Helena had one canonical boyfriend, but that guy was kind of a douche. Even when you met Gotham District Attorney Harry Sims for the first time in the pre-Crisis continuity, he didn't have much chemistry with Helena. True, he was that guy who showed up at her flat at 03:00 in the morning (and that was played for laughs), but his crush on Helena still failed to blossom into actual chemistry.

Aside from working in the same profession, Harry and Helena literally had nothing in common. Helena is more the egalitarian relationship type (cause that's the kind of marriage her parents had), whereas Harry has more conservative views of romantic relationships. Helena sees herself as equal to Harry, whereas Harry only sees the fact that she is a woman doing a man's job. (By that he means her functioning as a superhero because he seemed alright with her being lawyer.) Helena is also perfectly confident in her dual life as both a lawyer and as the Huntress, whereas Harry thinks she lives a very dangerous lifestyle, which led to the surfacing of his controlling behaviour.

A modern take on the Harry and Helena relationship wouldn't play out any differently in a modern context, I don't think. Even if a modern writer decided to depict Harry as a better gentleman than the controlling, sexist bloke he was depicted as pre-Crisis, he still wouldn't have had any real chemistry with Helena. In part because they don't have any common interests, and in part because he has very different ideas about romantic relationships that aren't really compatible with Helena's ideas of a romantic relationship. Not necessarily a bad romance if you softened Harry, but he would still be the square peg in the round hole.

The next person in line as an historical love interest for Helena is Dick Grayson, her father's ward. As much as I disliked the changes that were made to the Earth-2 Dick Grayson in the New 52 (namely by retconning all of his original history and turning him into someone else), at least by him not being the original Robin in this continuity eliminated the weird incestuous vibes that we got from the pre-Crisis versions of the characters. While I still feel that some meaningful history still needs to be established between Dick Grayson and the Wayne family in a way that feels organic, if Dick had at least kept his original career as a lawyer, he would've been an excellent contrast to Harry as a love interest to Helena.

Whereas Harry rejects the idea of Helena "risking her life" to be a superhero, Dick actually embraces it and loves Helena for it. Whereas Harry has more conservative views of relationships, Dick actually shares Helena's egalitarian views of relationships. Whereas Harry has a more inflexible personality, Dick is by contrast more fluid, which is a great match for Helena's more outgoing personality. If Dick started off as the average Joe he was reimagined as in the New 52 but still kept his circus acrobat background, I think he would've easily become inspired by Helena to take up the superhero lifestyle.

Whether or not Dick would've taken over the Robin or Batman identity (or developed one of his own) would've depended heavily on his relationship with Helena and her family. As a dynamic duo, however, Dick and Helena protecting Gotham together as superheroes and lawyers would've been fun to see. Since both characters have better chemistry (both in and out of costume), if their partnership blossomed into a romantic one, it would've been the closest thing to having a second generation Batman and Catwoman relationship, and it would've had a stronger chance to succeed than Harry and Helena.

On Kara's court, she admittedly had better luck in the relationship department than Helena did. The first guy she got together with pre-Crisis--Andrew Vinson--actually respected Kara and loved her as she was. Andrew didn't try to control her the way Harry did Helena, nor was he intimidated by the fact that Kara was physically stronger than him. He actually loved being with her. On all of those accounts, Andrew turned out to be a good partner for Kara. But is he endgame? Well...in truth...I don't really see Kara getting married to him for one reason: he has the same profession as her adoptive mother, Lois: journalism. Kara could therefore see this relationship as her essentially repeating her own cousin's romance, which goes against her desire to lead a different life from him. (Again, she doesn't want to be his carbon copy.) At best, I could see her hold down a relationship with him for a while, but may ultimately break up with him.

What about Val-Zod as a more recent love interest? Well, assuming that he wasn't created by Tom Taylor as compensation for writing yet another evil Superman story for DC, I can see Kara being easily drawn to Val's gentle personality. In contrast with many native Kryptonians who weren't necessarily nice people and were even war-mongers (especially on his dad's side), Val is a pacifist who prefers to seek peaceful solutions to problems rather than punch his way through them. While Kara is very much the opposite on that front (she does like to punch things), she would find this quality about him admirable and would respect him for it. But would a romance with him work out? It depends.

If Kara isn't the person who discovers Val's existence and mentors him (like Lois originally did in the actual Earth-2 series), I can see her easily establishing a friendship with him and fighting alongside him as an equal partner while her cousin enjoys actual retirement alongside his wife. Over time, I can also see Kara wanting to take things to the next level with him since he would actually respect her as a person--a quality she would like in a romantic partner. Since this would be a relationship founded on mutual love and respect, I can see it working out in the longterm. But if Kara ends up mentoring Val or if Val does end up taking up the Superman mantle from her cousin, she may decide to stay friends to once again avoid people seeing her as an extension of Superman.

And now we get to the one pairing that actually drove the original Worlds' Finest series in the New 52: Kara and Helena. Can it happen and can it work out? To answer both questions: yes. Here's why:

Within the established New 52 continuity, Kara and Helena have the longest history together. They've known each other since they were children and therefore have a very intimate knowledge of one another. They've also had plenty of time to grow, change, and evolve as individuals and continued to remain friends as adults. They also have a mutual love and respect for one another that--in many cases--is very visibly reminiscent of a romantic friendship. And therein lies the key: they have a romantic friendship.

While friendships don't always evolve into romantic relationships and it is possible for two people to remain best friends for life without it ever becoming sexual, that doesn't necessarily seem to ring true for Kara and Helena. To start with, Helena Wayne is known to engage in bisexual behaviour, even if this isn't always (or usually) obvious to Kara. Helena's bisexual behaviour is especially prominent throughout the New 52 as strongly evidenced by her tendency to flirt with both men and women.

Out of everyone that Helena forms meaningful relationships with in the New 52 (including Dick Grayson), Kara is the person Helena is closest to and loves the most. This is also true on Kara's end as well. There are even moments in the original Worlds' Finest series that hint at Helena being attracted to Kara in a romantic way and Kara each time appears to be perfectly okay with this. This is most obvious in the birthday scene of Earth-2 #27 (scripted by Marguerite Bennett) where Kara asks Helena what she wished for on her birthday. Helena responds with "I already got it" not hiding the fact that she's talking about Kara. If that scene alone doesn't confirm Helena's queerness in the New 52, I don't know what does.

Either way, out of all the pairings mentioned, if there is one that is sure to be endgame, its' definitely Kara and Helena. Had their friendship been allowed to evolve into an actual romance, I have a feeling that alone would've saved the series from cancellation. Helena being the daughter of Bruce and Selina is a major selling point, as is Kara being the adoptive daughter of Lois and Clark. But if anything would've 100% sold women on this comic, it definitely would've been a Huntress and Power Girl romance.

1 comment:

  1. I have a question about the book...Was I really the only person who didn't have a problem with Power Girl's initial costume's design? Granted, I prefer her classic look, and am glad she went back to it, but it seemed like everybody REALLY hated her first costume in this book, and honestly, I don't get why.

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