Sunday 17 March 2013

The Best of The Huntress: Batman Family #17 Review

Title: Batman Family #17
Story: Horoscopes of Crime
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Batman, Robin (Dick Grayson), Batgirl, Batwoman (Kathy Kane), Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Madame Zodiac
Creators: Bob Rozakis (writer), Jim Aparo, Don Heck, Bob Wiacek, and Vince Colletta (artists)
Publication Date: April/May 1978
Available In: Print

Summary: The issue opens up with Batman reading about a missing actress in the local newspaper and decides to investigate. Batman notices that she is not the first celebrity to disappear but is the first to be assumed to be a victim of a crime. Along the way, Batman encounters a disfigured woman whom he mistakes for the missing actress he read about in the newspaper. During his interaction with her, he notices that she is remarkably strong and that his hitting her has no effect on her whatsoever. A man with his face concealed eventually shows up to take the woman. Batman wants to see his face to know who he's talking to, but the man declines his request stating that he prefers to conceal is own disfigurement.

Back at Bruce's penthouse, Dick Grayson surprisingly appears when he should be away in college. Bruce suspects that he's experiencing "woman troubles," which Dick confirms is the case, though not in the way Bruce thinks. Instead he complains about his girlfriend's ex returning to her life and is particularly concerned about where this is potentially going. Before Dick is able to dish out all the details, they are interrupted by Alfred who informs the dynamic duo of a potential intruder alert. Bruce and Dick decide to take action and dress up to take on this one intruder who managed to find the secret lift to Bruce's penthouse. On the other side of the lift, Batman and Robin encounter their new foe who turns out to be none other than the Earth-2 Huntress. Dick decides to blow off some steam and charges after Huntress, whom she quickly and effortlessly puts down. Bruce advices Dick against impulsivity and Huntress apologises for the humiliation before revealing herself to be Bruce's "daughter." A bit of news that shocks both Dick and Bruce.

Once again at the penthouse, Bruce deduces that the Huntress is really the daughter of his Earth-2 doppelgänger, which surprises Huntress. Bruce explains that it's the only logical explanation for her "rather extraordinary statement downstairs." At this point Huntress sees no point in going any further with the details since he's probably have it all figured out, but decides tell him about herself anyway. She introduces herself as Helena Wayne and confirms that her parents are the Batman and Catwoman of her native world of Earth-2, and further explains that her father retired the superheroics and that she only became a costumed heroine after her mother died. She then reveals that the real reason she travelled to Earth-1 was to seek Bruce's advice, which puzzles him and asks why she hasn't thought of asking her own father. Helena reveals that she's in no position to do so since he forbade her to follow in his footsteps and would not respond well to the idea of her fighting crime behind his back, especially now that he's police commissioner of her world's Gotham. Bruce doesn't feel like he can really help her, but offers to introduce her to someone who probably can. Helena takes Bruce on the offer and leave together. Dick then wonders if his own Bruce will eventually marry Selina one day and have a daughter with her as well. He also begins to ponder where this would leave him in Bruce's life, and concludes he'd rather not know.

In the Batmobile, Bruce takes Helena to meet with his old friend, Kathy Kane, whom he feels can better help Helena with her dilemma given her past history as Batwoman. At the circus, Kathy suggests there may be a better choice yet, and offers to introduce Helena to Barbara Gordon, who is currently functioning as Batgirl. Helena decides to go with Kathy, but not before she kisses Bruce as a way of thanking him. This startles Bruce at first, but ends up feeling good as he strokes his cheek. Bruce then goes back to investigating the missing actress case, while Dick goes to meet with his girlfriend at the hotel she told him to meet her in.

In another corner of Gotham, Catwoman and Poison Ivy meet up with Madame Zodiac to get their fortunes told. Madame Zodiac confidently tells Poison Ivy that she will be encountering Batgirl who will intervene with her plans and that Catwoman will subsequently encounter "one known as the Huntress" and that it's all in the cards. Ivy and Catwoman feel like they're being ripped off and refuse to pay Madame Zodiac. Zodiac, however, feels very strongly about her abilities to the point of offering a proposition to both women: proceed with their plans without telling her any of the details and if she is proven wrong, they will owe her nothing. But if she turns out to be right, then both Ivy and Catwoman will pay double her original fee. Ivy and Selina accept her wager believing that nothing will come of it.

The scene then changes to a group of politicians gathered at a rainforest tower, listening to a prime minister's plan to turn his desert country into a rainforest as well. Among them is Congresswoman Barbara Gordon. Before they are able to do anything else, the group is suddenly attacked by Poison Ivy's vines. The politicians attempt to fight off the vines while Barbara uses the opportunity to change into her Batgirl costume (which she was actually wearing underneath her regular clothes). Batgirl encounters Poison Ivy outside and Ivy herself is surprised to see her considering she was way out side of Batgirl's usual jurisdiction. Batgirl and Ivy fight, and Batgirl almost wins but is quickly taken out by an unknown ally to Ivy.

At Gotham International Airport, Helena Wayne is getting ready to board a flight when she encounter's the Earth-1 version of Catfish Turner who is a famous baseball player for the Gotham Giants. Helena thinks to herself that Earth-1 has some amusing differences to her world and wonders how Catfish Turner would react to knowing that his Earth-2 counterpart was a fourth-rate pitcher that got booed at during baseball games. Just as she's thinking this, the Earth-1 Catwoman arrives at the scene to assault Turner, which shocks Helena. Helena quickly locks herself in the plane's cockpit to change into her Huntress costume and goes out to deal with the situation. Huntress confronts the Earth-1 version of her mother who orders her henchmen to gun her down, but Huntress proves to be a faster shooter with her crossbow than any of her "mother's" henchmen with their guns. Huntress then goes to deal with Catwoman herself but does not feel at ease taking her on, thinking of her own mother in the process, which puzzles the Earth-1 Catwoman. Catwoman decides to attack the Huntress while she's feeling vulnerable, but eventually the Huntress pulls herself together and knocks her "mother" out stating that "maybe one day [she'll] reform like [her] mother did, but until then [she's] just another criminal." At that moment, someone else attacks the Huntress and knocks her unconscious.

Back at Madame Zodiac's place, it is revealed that Zodiac herself rescued Ivy and Catwoman from their encounters with Batgirl and the Huntress respectively, and both women agree to pay double Zodiac's fee for her timely salvation. Madame Zodiac then proposes to Ivy and Catwoman to steal a peace pipe that's made from a rare pipestone, which the two women are not really fond of doing but--a deal's a deal.

At a carnival, the three heroines (Barbara, Helena, and Kathy) meet up and Kathy introduces Barbara to Helena. At first, Barbara pokes fun at Helena thinking it's kind of funny that Batman's daughter (of all people) would need advice on crime-fighting, which Helena does not respond well to. Barbara admits that she's never had anyone come to her for advice, so this was something that was completely new to her. Helena then admits that it's not really advice that she wants but someone to talk to to reassure herself that she isn't crazy for deciding to become the Huntress. Kathy then offers to take the two women to lunch, which Helena offers to pay for, but Kathy insists on taking the tab for all three since she knows a place near the Provincetown Museum (the same museum Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Madame Zodiac are planning on stealing from).

At the museum, Ivy, Catwoman, and Zodiac proceed as planned, but their plan is quickly foiled by Barbara, Helena, and Kathy who happened to be at the museum at the same time as them. After changing into their costumes, the trio of Bat women face off against the three villainesses. Batgirl takes on Poison Ivy once again, while Catwoman decides to confront the Huntress still feeling annoyed about their previous encounter. This leaves Batwoman to encounter Madame Zodiac. The women fight against each other, but only Catwoman and Poison Ivy are captured. Madame Zodiac escapes capture by magically disappearing from the scene, taking the peace pipe she came for with her.

Review: As you can already imagine, this is one of my favourite Huntress stories of all time largely because this is the one issue where the pre-Crisis version of Helena Wayne meets the Earth-1 versions of both of her parents in the same comic. But more than that, it is also an excellent choice comic to review for this day, given that much of this issue deals with luck, which is very much the theme of St. Patrick's day. Obviously, luck isn't so much on either Pamela or Selina's side since they both got their asses handed to them more than once in this issue, but luck is very much on Helena's side because she got to meet all of her extended family members in one multi-part story.

One of the things that is absolutely beautiful about this story is that it is, for the most part, a Batwomen-centred story and the writing of all the characters involved is gracefully handled. I very much enjoyed the fact that all three women were depicted as being exceptionally skilled at what they do and that neither one of them is diminished in the process. Yes, there was a scene were Barbara poked fun at Helena for coming to her for advice and even poked fun at the fact that Bruce is the kind of guy who fights crime in 'long underwear,' but Barbara was also shown acknowledging the fact and for the most part treated Helena with respect. The fact that all three women are shown respecting and admiring each other from the get-go is something that's very refreshing to see given how very rare it is to see it these days in superhero comics. It's enough to say that if this same story were to be told today, it would be developed in a way that would pit Helena against Barbara due to the difference in priorities in crime-fighting, and Barbara in particular would not respond well to the fact that Helena is very much willing to kill her enemies (what a very huge contrast to the pre-Crisis Helena). And then of course, Kate Kane would be the Batwoman who comes in to put these two women in their places and would very much serve as the balancing act between the two. I bet you there's even someone at DC Comics thinking these very thoughts right now. I would, however, be genuinely surprised if a Huntress-Batgirl-Batwoman storyline is actually handled as gracefully as Horoscopes of Crime without the unnecessary heroine rivalry.

Finally, there is the most important development that took place in this story, and that was the first meeting the Earth-1 Batman and his Earth-2 daughter, something that we can very much expect to see happen sometime soon in the New DCU. Again, I don't have any hopes that it'll be handled as gracefully in this newer universe due to the grimdark tone of Batman's narrative in particular (even moreso now with the loss of his ten-year-old son), but that just makes the first meeting in this issue that much more significant by comparison. In huge contrast with the modern Batman who's more of a hardass than his pre-Crisis incarnation, the pre-Crisis version of Bruce was someone who actually embraced new allies and actually inspired hope as a hero. Not only was he an influential figure to many heroes in his own universe, but he especially became an important character to Helena Wayne after she lost her own father in her native world of Earth-2. The fact that he accepted her as his family right away and was there for Helena when she was mourning the loss of her father was especially cathartic for her. Similarly, when Bruce was experiencing an identity crisis of his own, Helena was there to remind him of the real reason he became Batman in the first place and herself reignited the hope Bruce thought that he lost. This was an overall very special relationship that existed between this parallel father and daughter that we'll be lucky (there's that word again) to even get back in this new grimdark DCU.

My only complaint about this issue was the handling of Helena's meeting with the Earth-1 version of her mother. While it was shown that she did initially feel uneasy fighting her own "mother," at the same time she was depicted taking on her Earth-1 "mother" like any other common criminal she herself has fought, which in my opinion was out of character for her. To begin with, Helena in this previous version of the DCU became the Huntress in response to her mother's death. Prior to that, she didn't even think of putting on a costume to fight crime once she became an adult. The fact that her mother's death was a serious, traumatic, and life-changing event for Helena makes me think she would have been much more reluctant to take out her mother as easily as she did in this story. I think that this version of Helena would've instead attempted to reason with her (even if she knew this would be unrealistic at this point in her Earth-1 mother's timeline), she would have at least tried to reach out to her before resorting to taking her out and arresting her. Then again, it's just as probable that given the standards imposed by the Comics Code of Authority at the time, writers were probably not even allowed to write a hero sympathising with their villain.

All in all, this is an excellent story to pick up if you're looking for a Birds of Prey-style team-up between three Bat women, are interested in seeing female heroes depicted gracefully and with respect, and are especially curious to get to know how the Earth-1 Batman and Catwoman met their Earth-2 daughter in the form of Helena Wayne. Given that we can expect to see this meet up happen very soon in the New 52 universe, this is a great story to turn to for comparison.


1 comment:

  1. Can you please describe how Poison Ivy was defeated by Batgirl and please post the strips where Ivy is captured.