Monday 29 December 2014

The Best of the Huntress: Batman Family #18 Review

Title: Batman Family #18
Story: A Choice of Destinies
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne)
Creators: Paul Levitz (writer), Joe Staton (artist)
Publication Date: July 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. In short? Let's just say she's not too concerned... 

Summary: The first chapter begins with Helena Wayne thinking about her life as the Huntress while a meeting is going on at her law firm. This bothers her associate, Roger Demarest, who is openly resentful of her position at the law firm and is overtly sexist towards her. Helena is not too concerned about her mind wandering off during the meeting as she was already familiar with the details of the discussion, but she is bothered by her associate's sexist remarks towards her. Her partner, Arthur Cranston, does his best to comfort her and assumes the reason she's all riled up is because of a series of fires that have been taking place in the southern part of Gotham, leaving lots of poor families homeless. He also assumes that she probably feels like she's not doing enough to help the people of her city.

Helena gets back into her office and thinks about the fact that she could do so much more for her city since there are just as many good lawyers as herself working as hard to make Gotham a better city to live in. She especially makes note of the fact that she is the biological daughter of a man who devoted his life to fighting crime, and therefore possesses a unique set of skills that few others possess in her city. She rationalises that with her knowledge of the law coupled with her skills she acquired from her mother and father growing up, she can make a stronger contribution to her city by continuing her father's work as the Huntress. She enters a lift in her building where she changes into her Huntress costume and exits through a hatch door on the roof of the lift.

In South Gotham, a boy is seen notifying the people on the street that there's a fire nearby. Huntress investigates the scene and notices some things that are off like the fact that the fires are happening more frequently and at random. She additionally notices the firefighters treating their work in this part of Gotham as a routine job for them. She thinks about whether or not insurance fraud is involved since the same incendiary device is being used each time to ignite the fires. (Incidentally, how does she know the same incendiary device is being used each time? Does it say so in the papers? And if so, isn't that more than enough to suspect fraud?)

On the top floor of the burning building, she hears some people screaming for help and the firefighters decide it's to dangerous for them to go inside. (I guess Gotham firefighters are not that good at their jobs). Huntress decides to take the risk and go inside the burning building herself and do what the firefighters won't do: rescue people. She discovers three elderly people trapped inside the building and manages to get them to the rooftop where she quickly assists all three into a fire safety net. The roof caves in before the Huntress has a chance to save herself and falls onto the debris down below. She was lucky not to have landed into the fire itself, but wastes no time in getting herself out before it does. 

Once outside, Helena changes back into her civilian clothes and further investigates the scene as a civilian. (But didn't she leave her clothes inside the lift at her work place? On that note, does she in fact leave her clothes inside lifts when she takes them off to reveal her Huntress costume underneath?). From the ground level, Helena asks about the three people she just rescued and the fire rescue team tells her they hallucinated a woman in a halloween costume rescuing them, but were otherwise fine. As a man starts complaining about the seeming apathy of the firefighters, Helena notices some whispering going on in an alleyway and decides to take a look. From a distance, she spots a young boy being paid by an obscure man to set fire to these buildings via a firebomb--the same boy she spotted earlier alerting people of the earlier fire--which gives her her first break in her case. Helena tries to catch up to them both, but they are no longer standing in the alleyway by the time she gets there.

Review: This is admittedly one of those comic stories where you have to really suspend your disbelief in order to follow the story. You have to do that with superhero comics anyway, but that gets a bit hard to do when the characters in question are normal human beings doing the impossible with their own human strength, rather than by a superpower of any kind. But I suppose if Batman can get away with falling off of tall skyscrapers with his entire body intact, can be paralysed one minute and running the next, and can even be smarter and more efficient than Superman and Wonder Woman, then I suppose even his daughter can get away with a lot of the same as well.

Throughout this first chapter, you noticed I took note of a few details writer Paul Levitz overlooked when he originally wrote this story--errors that could've been easily avoided through attention to detail and more careful planning. However, that's not what this discussion will be about. Instead, we'll be discussing the extraordinary things Helena can do as a human being existing in a DC Universe that would be impossible for a real human being to accomplish in the real world.

The first thing I noticed right away throughout this story is how Helena seems to be completely immune to the effects of fire and smoke. When she first entered the burning building, she didn't have a mask on to keep herself from inhaling carbon monoxide, which would've taken her out a lot faster than the fire itself. It's also worth mentioning that elderly people in this portion of the narrative also didn't pass out from carbon monoxide poisoning, and apparently there was enough oxygen in the air to allow them to scream and not cough. So either the fire just started and wasn't big enough to start causing serious problems yet (which is possible considering there was a boy drawing attention to it earlier in the story), or this was a case of the writer not paying attention to detail. There's evidence of both throughout this chapter.

The second extraordinary thing I noticed right away is how in addition to the fire retardant rope, the people Helena was sending down the side of the building to safety were apparently fire retardant themselves. It was very clear by the time they got to the roof of the building that the fire had escalated into a full blown conflagration, with massive flames coming out of the windows of this building. Exactly how those people didn't catch on fire on the way down must've been owed to some special DCU genes. But then, why couldn't they get themselves out? 

Lastly, Helena herself appears to be fire proof as well, in addition to having a body of steel. When the roof caved in, she not only not get burnt when she fell through the flames, but she didn't go splat like a tomato either when she fell a good several stories to some debris and concrete below. It's worth noting she had nothing to slow down her fall or anything soft to land on. She literally just went from falling through the roof down to the concrete below, and still managed to get up with her entire body intact. Those are some amazing BatCat genes right there! Even moreso if the hot concrete still didn't burn her as she climbed up those hot walls to safety, plus no carbon monoxide poisoning! Also no heat stroke from being exposed to above 100ÂșC temperature. She's one amazing woman!

Aside from those extraordinary abilities that human beings possess in the DC Multiverse, in all seriousness, this is actually not a bad story. This first chapter--though flawed--does establish one very important detail about Helena's character: the reason she continued fighting as the Huntress despite having already accomplished her goal of avenging her mother's death a year ago. Part of the problem for Helena was acknowledging that she was quite limited in what she could do as a public interest lawyer, especially since her job entailed waiting for an injustice to be committed before she could be solicited. I don't know how informed Paul Levitz was on public interest law as a profession, but a quick search through Harvard University's website (the uni Helena graduated from with her JD) seems to confirm that he wasn't too far off the mark. Helena's other reason for deciding to continue her work as the Huntress was the fact that she possessed an additional set of skills that really set her apart from other lawyers: the ones taught to her by her parents, Batman and Catwoman.

While both factors were enough to convince Helena to continue operating as the Huntress well beyond her mother's death, another potential motivating factor implied in this first chapter was Helena's interest in the well-being of the people living in her city. It was implied by her senior partner, Arthur Cranston, that she frequently got angry with the injustices she read in the paper every morning, enough to make her feel like she wasn't doing enough as a lawyer to help. Enough to make her feel that the Huntress was still needed, even if only to enforce the law.

These are all developments I enjoyed about the original Helena Wayne character that I wish had carried over to the New 52 version of her, instead of the underdeveloped character that we got. These developments not only helped establish who Helena Wayne was as an individual, but they helped solidify one very important aspect of her character: the fact that she was a woman with a strong passion for justice, and a huge compassion for humanity. There was certainly more to her character than just being the offspring of Batman and Catwoman, and she definitely had a bigger reason for existing than just continuing her parents' work. She was a character who represented career women working in male-dominated professions (something Lois Lane revolutionised decades earlier), and she embodied many of the values of second wave feminism. Particularly the idea of women as equal to men to the point of excelling in traditionally male occupations, while at the same time celebrating femininity as a positive thing. (An idea that's no longer upheld with the New 52).


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