Thursday, 14 December 2017

Helena Wayne 40th Anniversary: Justice Society of America Annual #1

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Cover by ALEX ROSS
With the arrival of Gog, many JSA members were granted their heart's desire—and now Power Girl's wish has come true as she's transported to her home reality on Earth-2 where the JSA were the only heroes and her best friend was Helena Wayne, the daughter of Batman!


Having spent the last three months discussing Helena Wayne's publication history (from pre-Crisis to post-Flashpoint), we now get to talk about the Huntress story that started it all for me: Justice Society of America Annual #1 by Geoff Johns and Jerry Ordway.

This annual and I have an interesting history together. I originally picked up this comic knowing absolutely nothing about the Justice Society, but the epic Alex Ross cover spoke to me. It was everything from the way the characters were positioned on the cover that guided your eye towards Huntress, Power Girl, and Robin as the focal point. It was the use of colour to invoke feelings of heaven. It was the fact that the cover was clearly painted on a real canvas and not in Photoshop. It was an absolute must buy for the artwork alone. When I read the contents of the comic itself, though? It was love at first sight, which resulted in new and unchartered territory for me. Let's talk background for a bit.

When I first started reading DC Comics circa 2006, I was not particularly invested in the whole universe. I came onboard around the time Infinite Crisis was being published, resulting in yet another major cosmic reshuffling of the DC Universe, so I started small. I started with characters I already knew from other media, which for me at the time were Catwoman and Harley Quinn.

At the time, I enjoyed reading back issues of Catwoman (1993) and Harley Quinn (2000) because they embodied for me what superhero comics were about: fun, adventurous, but also had depth and meaningful character development. Prior to Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke's run, the first volume of Catwoman showed that the character had a tragic backstory, but she was ultimately not defined by that history since she set out to carve her own present. I found that empowering. Selina Kyle did exactly what made her happy, but never at the expense of vulnerable people. More often than not, she did go out of her way to help others even when she was there for entirely different reasons. She was also allowed to be romantic without losing her agency.

Harley Quinn was the polar opposite. The character's backstory wasn't tragic but her own ambitions led to her tragic downfall, forever destroying her future as a successful psychiatrist. Still, she was a compelling character. Like Catwoman, the first volume of Harley Quinn centred on the character declaring independence from the Joker and forging her own destiny, living life on her own terms. She did whatever was fun for her, but she would also (in her own twisted way) help other people as well. At one point, she even shared that life with Poison Ivy, resulting in some of my favourite stories with the character.

At the time, I felt like I only needed to follow whatever books Harley, Ivy, and Selina appeared in. For the most part, their stories were self-contained and didn't involve the rest of the DC Universe, or even Batman. I ignored DC's major events, I didn't care for other DC characters, and therefore didn't feel compelled to check out anything else. On that front, me deciding to buy a Justice Society comic just for the cover was something of a fluke, but a very fortunate one. When I actually read the contents of the comic, it gave me a completely different perspective on the DC Universe. There was clearly a whole other world to explore and there were a lot of other interesting characters worth paying attention to. 

What is it about this particular story that turned me into a huge fan of Helena Wayne, Power Girl, the Justice Society, and Earth-2 for life? Let me count the ways.


I would say the first thing that appealed to me about the story when I first read it was revisiting DC's long forgotten Golden Age. Despite not being the pre-Crisis original, I still felt the post-Crisis Earth-2 preserved much of the original tone and feel of its predecessor because it felt nothing like the overtly "dark and edgy" mainstream DC Earth. The story itself was still dark, but it wasn't over-the-top nor was it seeking to shock the reader. 

Though the story itself centred on Helena Wayne's conflicted feelings about upholding her father's legacy and whether or not she should cross the line to end the Joker's terror, it was ultimately a story about Earth-2 and what this world meant to its other protagonist, Kara Zor-L (Power Girl).

Aesthetically, Earth-2 looked like it was still set in the 1980s given the technology available and the fact that the main Justice Society headquarters looked exactly as it did last time it was seen in 1985. The interiors of the building itself conveyed a feeling of Bronze Age nostalgia, complete with portraits of the Golden Age heroes looking brighter and happier than the mainstream DC heroes. (Batman even smiles in the photo!)

To fully convey the idea of legacy, Earth-2 was entirely populated by its younger legacy heroes with most of its original heroes retired or deceased. Most of the characters (with the exception of Helena Wayne's Huntress) already had counterparts on the main DC Earth, most of whom were members of the Justice Society at one point. It was therefore not hard to identify who was who.

The fundamental difference between this Earth and the main Earth was that Earth-2 was only populated by the Golden Age heroes and their successors, which meant none of the Justice League heroes were present, nor were there doppelgängers of any of DC's other mainstream heroes. This honestly appealed to me more because it made Earth-2 feel less convoluted and kept it focused to a single continuity. I liked the overall simplicity of Earth-2, which also helped spark my interest in checking out DC's Bronze Age and Golden Age comics.


In addition to the overall simplicity of Earth-2, I liked the fact that the legacies of Batman and Superman were being carried out entirely by women on this Earth. One of the things that turned me off about the Batman Family of the main DC Earth was how sausage-heavy it was. Whereas Earth-2 only had Dick Grayson as Robin, the main DC Earth had--by 2008--FOUR identical-looking male Robins: the original Dick Grayson Robin, followed by Jason Todd, followed by Tim Drake, followed by Damian Wayne who was a newcomer at the time.

With so many young lads occupying the same space of being Bruce's son and Robin, it's probably not hard to understand why I stuck to the women in Batman's life (Harley, Ivy, and Selina in this case) when it came to reading books set in the main DC Earth. I was interested in stories about women where the women actually served as protagonists, complete with their own supporting casts and meaningful character development. Imagine how excited I felt to learn there was an Earth where Batman and Catwoman had a daughter who had that legacy mostly to herself? When it came to reading a story with this particular young lady, writer Geoff Johns did not disappoint on any of those fronts!

The Helena Wayne that we meet in this story has reached the rock-bottom point of her life, but Johns actually affords her complex emotions and nuanced characterisation. We learn right away that she is having a moral dilemma regarding the use of lethal force on a villain as dangerous as the Joker. On the one hand, given the Joker's obsession with her father and his penchant for hurting her loved ones as a way of "breaking" her, Helena's contemplation is entirely understandable. She's coming from a place of wanting to end the Joker's terrorism the only way he'll truly stop: by killing him. On the other hand, if she actually does cross the line the Joker is double daring her to cross, she'll end up proving the Joker's point that she can in fact be "broken" and that she can be made just like him. In this regard, Helena parallels her father.

On the other side of this conflict is Kara Zor-L who has seen her fair share of tragedy in her life, with her most recent one being the death of her cousin in the events of Infinite Crisis. Given how much Power Girl had lost between the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis (also written by Johns), she was also at the rock-bottom point of her life. Though she had gained back her original memories of being the cousin of the Golden Age Superman and upholding his legacy on Earth-2, she still got nothing of her original life back. For her to be reunited with her best friend for the first time in two decades was both shocking and cathartic for her. She was finally back to being the second generation World's Finest team with Batman's daughter again, and she could finally go back to upholding her cousin's legacy like originally intended. But...there was still something else about her and Huntress that got my attention. 


Aside from Kara and Helena being the second generation Superman and Batman of Earth-2, the one thing that 100% sold me on these two characters was the genuine friendship that existed between them. To both women, they were more than just each other's superhero partners. There was real love and affection between them that was really the centre piece of Geoff Johns' story, making this one of his best works.

More than Helena wanted her Justice Society partner back, she really wanted her best friend back. She wanted the presence of someone she could connect with on an emotional level and confide her thoughts and feelings to. She didn't feel this level of connection with anyone else, not even with Dick Grayson, her romantic interest in this story.

Kara also felt the same way. Like Helena, she also wanted her best friend back and didn't feel the same level of connection with anyone else in the Justice Society the way she felt with Helena. For just one brief moment, both women were happy. Imagine the heartbreak I felt when it turned that these two women were not each other's best friend? That they were in fact a different Kara and a different Helena? Even more heartbreaking was Kara telling the doppelgänger Helena that she didn't mean to "invade" her life, but simply wanted to be a part of it again?

I have never felt so sad for Power Girl until this story, and the conclusion of her story arc in "Thy Kingdom Come" was so heart-wrenching. I remember thinking "she deserves a better happy ending than this." Prior to Flashpoint and the New 52, that's all I wanted for Kara was to simply reunite with her best friend--the Helena Wayne that's native to her world. I kept waiting for someone (preferably Geoff Johns) to tell that story. I still want someone to tell that story (preferably Geoff Johns...or heck, I'll write it for DC if his hands are full). There is literally still a story to tell here that simply cannot end with Kara never getting one single important relationship back in her life. That just makes her story too unbearably tragic. A real, actual reunion with her Helena would still be a heart-wrenching story, but at least it would be a heart-wrenching story with a more optimistic future.

If Rebirth is all about putting all the pieces back on the table, I would really love it if DC brings back the classic Helena Wayne Huntress with Power Girl and the classic Justice Society. I would seriously make cry tears of joy if that happened because it would be a very emotional reunion. 

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