Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Best of the Huntress: Batman Family #20 Review

Title: Batman Family #20
Story: Trial By Fire
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne)
Creators: Paul Levitz (writer), Joe Staton (artist)
Publication Date: October 1978
Available In: Print

Introduction: Following the death of her mother and her first outing as the Huntress, Helena Wayne continued to operate as a crime-fighter in secret for a year. Her first major case as the Huntress since avenging the death of her mother was the uncovering of a real estate scam, which ended with the death of the man behind the scam. In this three-part narrative, we learn three important things about Helena Wayne: first, we learn why she continued fighting as the Huntress even long after she captured her mother's killer. Second, we learn how she operates as the Huntress, and third, we learn how she deals the deaths of criminals who die during their confrontations with her. It is here where we conclude our discussion!

Summary: Part III begins with the Huntress waking up in a room that's been set ablaze by Franklin Gresham. She additionally finds that she's been tied to a chair and spends a good portion of the time thinking about how she needs to get out fast before she becomes barbecue. With the flames quickly approaching, Huntress settles for doing Black Widow's chair smash manoeuvre which liberates her from the chair and her restraints. Her cape catches on fire, which she then ditches before making way for the barred window. Huntress takes advantage of the fact that the bars are loose on the old brickwork, and uses her steel crossbow as a crowbar to knock them out of place and get herself out.

The next day, Helena Wayne notifies her senior partner about taking a week off from work and decides to 'disappear' for a bit in order to trick Gresham into thinking he had succeeded in killing her. She rationalises that Gresham could've removed her mask while she was unconscious and may know that she is Helena Wayne. She decides not to risk finding that out the hard way and plays along.

From Gresham's end, he too disappears for a week in order to evade the Huntress, and only resurfaces in time to greet the federal authorities about acquiring funds for repairing South Gotham and rebuilding the area. Huntress gets onto the roof of Gresham's car to eavesdrop on his conversation and learns that he thinks he's succeeded in killing the Huntress. This amuses her.

The following day, Gresham takes some reporters and federal authorities with him to South Gotham on a tour, and explains to them the cover story behind the fires that have been happening in this area as of late. Unfortunately for him, however, the Huntress setup a trap of her own. She loosened the wood of the floor in one of the flats he planned to tour with his companions, and fell right through when he stepped on it. 

Inside the basement of the apartment building, the Huntress awaits and captures him. She shows him the firebomb she removed from the building. Gresham pretends that he's never seen the bomb before, but the Huntress isn't fooled. She informs him that she's acquired evidence of his involvement in this scam in the form of photos that explicitly show him planting the firebombs in select buildings in order to acquire funds from the federal government.

The Huntress throws the bomb at Gresham and later throws him into the ground. Why she does this isn't really explained. Either way, the bomb she threw at Gresham goes off when it hits the floor, which traps Gresham in a blaze. He pleads with the Huntress to save him, but she is unable to reach him through the flames, inevitably watching him burn to death.

On the news the next day, a reporter confirms that Gresham's died an accidental death, which prompted the federal government to fund Gresham's project in his name. Helena 'laments' Gresham's death at her workplace but was at least 'pleased' to know it prompted the federal government to act. Arthur comments that as a public interest law firm, it's their job to make the federal government more responsive and that there needs to be less fatal stimuli. Helena comments she hopes that they can accomplish this as well, but also states that sometimes, despite their best interests, 'destiny makes it's own plans.' Her inner thoughts, however, confirm that she does not feel a single shred of remorse for the death of Gresham, which is coupled with an insincere smile of sorts. 

Review: Lots of fun stuff here. Right off the bat (pun intended), we learn something very interesting about Helena and fire, and that is the fact that she is not as immune to it as we thought from Chapter 1. On the first page following the splash, she acknowledged that she can still die from a heatstroke if the fire doesn't burn her alive. She is, however, still immune to carbon monoxide poisoning because she clearly didn't pass out from that, and that should've been the first thing to kill her before hyperthermia and roasting in an open fire. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that one. Tis still the season).

Another cool thing we learn about Helena Wayne in these same pages is that she was able to do Black Widow's chair smashing manoeuvre before Black Widow herself made it look cool in a movie, and she did this using her own human strength. Either the chair she was tied to was flimsy as hell, or these were Helena's BatCat genes in action. Regardless, it was still my favourite panel sequence in this chapter. 

Another thing I enjoyed about this chapter is Helena realising that she can't make careless mistakes, which is something she did consistently throughout the second chapter. Taking note of the possibility Franklin Gresham could've removed her mask and learnt her identity, she laid low in both of her identities as a precaution, and waited for him to make his next move. My only complaint about the way this was handled was on the page where Helena jumped onto the roof of Gresham's car to listen to his conversation, which would not have gone unnoticed by any of the car's passengers. First, they would've felt 120 lb woman landing on their car, second, they would have definitely heard it. It was a careless mistake on the writer's part.  

Of all the things that we learn about Helena Wayne in this final chapter, however, I would say the most important thing we learnt about her is how she responds to criminal deaths. And well...she sends pretty mixed messages here. On the one hand, she didn't actively kill Gresham and did attempt to save him when he got caught in his own fire. She even looked like she felt bad for him when she watched him burn to death. But then, at her work place the next day, she's very casual in the way she talks about his death, pretty much lacking any real concern for the fact that he died. There's also that last panel just before you get to the end where she smiles at the thought of not shedding any tears for a murderer a thousand times over. 

I can understand not having any sympathy for a murderer, but...why did she have mixed reactions about his death? Was her feeling bad for him at the time of death a heat of the moment type thing? Was this maybe a case of her being in disbelief that she was indirectly responsible for the man's death? But then...why the lack of concern the next day? Was she eventually okay with the fact that she accidentally killed him? I don't know. She sure as hell wasn't affected by his death long after, that's for damn sure. I guess she's the type of woman who really doesn't weep for the guilty or feel a shred of remorse if she was in some way responsible. (We'll have more similar conversations about Helena's moral ambiguity surrounding criminals deaths in later reviews).

All in all, this was a great story. It was flawed on the front of story development and keeping ideas consistent, and the dialogue could've certainly been tonnes better. The reader, for example, does not need to be reminded each time that the Huntress is Batman's daughter, nor does the reader need to be told very basic and obvious facts in order to showcase how smart Helena is. Nevertheless, the story did establish some very important developments for Helena Wayne's character that would influence her future characterisation in future narratives. 

★★★★☆

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