Tuesday 1 January 2013

The Best of Huntress and Power Girl: Justice Society of America Annual #1 Review

Title: Justice Society of America Annual #1
Story: Earth-2: Golden Age/The Hunted
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Power Girl
Creators: Geoff Johns (writer), Jerry Ordway (artist)
Publication Date: July 2008
Available In: Print | Digital

Summary: The first half of the JSA Annual opens up on the parallel world of Earth-2 with a distraught Helena Wayne ruminating over the tragedies she had endured as a consequence of being both the Huntress and her father's daughter. More specifically, she has noticed a consistent pattern in which the Joker and various other villains had been systematically attacking the people in her life in response to their own mortality and out of a strong desire to keep their legacy alive in some way. The more recent of these tragedies was the disfiguring of Helena's boyfriend (fellow DA Harry Sims) by the Joker in an attempt to create a new Two-Face. It is at this point that Helena makes the decision to kill the Earth-2 Joker once and for all before he continues to destroy more lives.

Along the way, Power Girl crash lands on Earth-2's version of Gotham from the main DCU Earth (Earth-0) and is subsequently discovered by the Huntress who is shocked by her return. (We learned earlier in 52 that on the newly established Earth-2 Power Girl and Superman had been missing for quite some time). Power Girl is then taken back to the Justice Society Infinity headquarters where she is attended to by Jade and Doctor Midnight (Beth Chapel). An anxious Helena Wayne waits outside just as Robin (Richard Grayson) arrives equally surprised by Power Girl's return. At this point, it is hinted that Robin is in love with Huntress as he tries to comfort her after learning of the recent tragedy with Harry who had just proposed to her. Helena shuts him out preferring to deal with the problem alone.

Power Girl awakens and is equally shocked to discover the friends she thought she had lost during the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths and has a hard time believing that any of it could be real. She storms out of the operating room and discovers that her world's Justice Society had merged with Infinity Inc. After being surrounded by her old friends and seeing Helena Wayne again in particular, PG decides to accept their presence as real and embraces her old friend again for the first time since the first Crisis. The chapter ends with Power Girl catching up with her old friends and quickly learns how this Earth-2 "survived" the first Crisis and what their experiences have been like since then. The Earth-2 inhabitants subsequently learn that Power Girl had been stranded on a parallel universe this whole time.

The second chapter begins with the Spectre and Doctor Fate investigating the scene where Power Girl has landed and concludes that Earth-2 is not safe with the "arrival of a being from the multiverse." Power Girl unable to sleep decides to look for Huntress, whom she finds spying on some suspicious activity. PG asks her what she's up to and Huntress fills her in on a possible lead on the Joker, whom she states has been systematically attacking her in both her costumed and civilian lives. Huntress thinks PG should get some rest after her sojourn, but PG states that she still feels out of place on this Earth-2 and doesn't especially feel her friendship with Helena as strongly as before. The two women briefly talk about Power Girl's dilemma and Huntress agrees to help her once she accomplishes what she set out to do that night. At this point, Helena catches sight of the guy she's been hunting and decides--along with Power Girl--to attack.

Power Girl crashes through the wall of the Joker's goons hideout commenting on how much she missed doing this. Together with the Huntress, they both take down the Joker's henchmen and go straight to the man himself. Once inside, we see that the Joker is sustained by a life support system on his wheelchair and is declining in health. Huntress moves in to attack the Joker with the intent of killing him which is something that shocks Power Girl. Rather than give the Joker the satisfaction of turning Helena into a murderer while simultaneously killing her, Power Girl intervenes the attack and takes the blow meant to kill Helena, thus causing the Joker to electrocute himself to death.

Power Girl then gets Helena to talk about what prompted her to contemplate killing, and Helena fills her in on all the details that led to her nearly killing the Joker, including the revelation that she herself is in love with Richard Grayson. As a result of the Joker's latest assault, she no longer feels like she can openly leave Harry without feeling bad about it. She embraces Power Girl expressing her contentment at having her back in her life and Power Girl expresses mutual contentment. It is at this point that the Power Girl of this Earth-2 is revealed angry and shocked to see a "copy" of herself embracing her best friend. Both Huntress and the mainstream Power Girl are confused by what's going on until the native Power Girl reminds Huntress of a conversation that only she would remember and one that the mainstream Power Girl doesn't remember having. This is enough to convince Huntress that she had been tricked into revealing her most intimate thoughts to a "fake" which angers her.

Together with her Power Girl, both women assault the mainstream Power Girl not believing that she is the legitimate Kara Zor-L of the Earth-2 universe. This then sends Power Girl on the run with the entire JSI after her.

Review: Given how Huntress and Power Girl were rebooted for the New 52 continuity (which in my opinion has been a huge step backwards for both women), the story presented in this JSA Annual is a refreshing modern take on this classic friendship, and it is also--in my opinion--Huntress and Power Girl done right.

My experience with Geoff Johns' writing is usually hit and miss with me, but for this particular story, it's a solid hit. Johns is able to quickly establish who Helena Wayne is on Earth-2, but more importantly is able to successfully find her voice without needing to do a complete overview of her history.

For anyone who grew up with the pre-Crisis continuity or spent time reading any of the stories from that era would've seen how Helena matured into the role of the Huntress, and more specifically, the kind of toll it was starting to take on her personal well-being. Under Paul Levitz, Helena was written as a young, inexperienced heroine who entered the superhero gig with some very strong values and a passionate will to do good. By the time Joey Cavalieri took over as writer, Helena had gained half a decade of experience as the Huntress (in real time), and it started to show in the second half of her career leading up to her death in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Under Cavalieri, Helena was written as a more complex heroine who has since taken a much harsher stance on crime. We saw the gradual hardening of her personality and had even started to address issues like sexism and misogynist attitudes during her fights with criminals. It was also during this time that she started to feel the need to assert her strength and independence as a female costumed hero to the point of distancing herself from the people in her life, including her then boyfriend, Harry Sims.

Within the context of the JSA Annual story, Johns continues many of the developments that had been previously established by Levitz and Cavalieri and brings them full circle with a few distinct differences. Among these differences are the establishment that the Joker had been systematically attacking the people in her life (both as Helena Wayne and the Huntress) and it is even implied that the Joker had been responsible for the deaths of her father and Alfred. With the more recent attack on her boyfriend (whom she later admitted to not really love), she came to the conclusion that there are times when it is necessary to cross the line and makes the decision to kill the Joker.

For the most part, Helena Wayne does not strike me as the killing type and I do not feel that she should ever be depicted as such unless she's given a very good reason for it like in the case with the Joker in this story. As such, I do feel that Johns was able to successfully bring Helena to this point without making her feel out of character.

From Power Girl's side of the story, I also felt that Johns did an excellent job at getting into her mind and really capturing her thoughts and actions in a way that is believable for her character. Ever since Power Girl got her pre-Crisis Earth-2 memories back, she wanted nothing more than to be able to return to her world of origin, and especially to the people who had once been a huge part of her life. It has also been her personal experience that villains would taunt her with these desires as a way of manipulating her into actions that would benefit them. This was especially true in the JSA Classified story 'Power Trip' where Psycho-Pirate attacked her with images of Helena Wayne and the Earth-2 Robin in order to get her to assist himself and Alexander Luthor in their plans to revive the multiverse. It is therefore not surprising that she found it hard to believe at first that she was really back on Earth-2 after having been tricked before. But once she came to accept that this new Earth-2 was real, she set off to resume her life where she left off, but more importantly she looked to rekindle the special friendship she once shared with Helena Wayne. This is where I feel the strength of the story really lies.

Throughout the story, both Huntress and Power Girl play a very important role to each other, even after it is later revealed to Power Girl that the Helena Wayne she tried to bond with was not the one she knew on the pre-Crisis Earth-2. Given the personal tragedies both of these women experienced, "getting each other back" proved to be a very cathartic and emotionally charged experience for them both. Power Girl not only felt for a moment that she got her best friend back, but she also felt that she finally got a huge part of her own life back as well. From Helena Wayne's point of view, she also felt that she finally got back the one person she confided in the most and started to regain some part of her humanity again after having withdrawn herself from it for so long.

The only things I didn't enjoy too much with this issue was the handling of Helena Wayne's relationship with Richard Grayson, and especially the establishment that they were both in love with each other since I felt it completely misrepresented what their relationship was about. I also felt that it diminished Helena's character a bit since she was depicted rather pathetically in her scenes with Richard, but that's a discussion for another day. The other thing I felt was over the top was the way Johns depicted the other Earth-2 Power Girl that was friends with that world's Helena Wayne. While I get that the pre-Crisis Power Girl was very brash and impulsive and that Johns was trying to stay true to that, she also came off as an irrational mad woman, especially towards the end chapter when she decided to hunt down the real Power Girl. Despite these minor flaws, however, this is still a very excellent stand-alone story to read if you really want to get know Huntress and Power Girl as best friends. It's a very emotionally-driven story where both women are depicted with a lot depth and sincerity, but most importantly it established how important this relationship is to these two women.

If it wasn't for the fact that the New 52 is a brand new continuity that's giving many writers free reign with DC characters, I think Geoff Johns writing a Worlds' Finest book fronted by Helena Wayne and Kara Zor-L in the post-Crisis continuity would've been a much more compelling read than the current book that we're getting right now. But alas, we can't have nice things. :(


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