Tuesday 30 December 2014

The Best of the Huntress: Batman Family #19 Review

Title: Batman Family #19
Story: Gotham Town Is Burning Down
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne)
Creators: Paul Levitz (writer), Joe Staton (artist)
Publication Date: September 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. Here is Part II of that ongoing discussion!

Summary: Part II picks up where Part I left off, which sees the Huntress return to the scene of the crime late at night to investigate further. She reasons that no one who can afford to pay arsonists would actively choose to live in the poorest part of Gotham, except as a base of operations. Her suspicions are quickly validated when she spots a light coming out of a window at 3:00 in the morning and decides to take a look. She carefully takes a peak through the window and spots a man inside building a new firebomb for the next day. This gives the Huntress the evidence he needs to put the man behind bars. Before she can take further action, however, she is spotted by the man inside and is shot at, which gives him enough time to escape via a getaway car. (Where did the getaway car come from if there were no cars present when Huntress arrived here?)

The next day at her work place, Helena continues her previous conversation with her senior partner, Arthur Cranston, about feeling that she'll be more useful elsewhere, especially since there are just as many good lawyers in Gotham. Arthur, however, dismisses her concerns as nonsense since a woman as passionate about law as she is is exactly the person they need working at the law firm. Her associate, Roger, disagrees with Arthur as he bursts into her office. Helena tells him to leave, but Roger says that he needs to utilise her office television to show Arthur something important. He turns on her telly, and on a talk show, they see councilman Franklin Gresham addressing the arson in South Gotham. Roger proposes that the law firm support Gresham's efforts by developing a legal framework for his objects. Both Helena and Arthur decide to back the endeavour without objection.

For the next couple of weeks, Helena has continued her own personal investigation of the arson in South Gotham during her leisure time, but hasn't been able to find any new leads since she discovered the arsonists original base of operations. Aside from having changed bases on her, she hasn't been able to pick up on any new trails. (Which is weird to me since the fires hadn't stopped. Did she try talking to the kid who was being paid to set the buildings ablaze?)

While working out in her penthouse apartment one night, Helena decides to turn on the telly to catch some of the debate between her associate and the councilman. During the discussion, Gresham reveals some very crucial details about the arson that immediately makes him a prime suspect to Helena. Particularly his comments about how a 'child can play a role in rebuilding Gotham' and the bit about how Gotham has been receiving a lot of federal government money as of late to aid in the rebuilding. The last part was especially the clincher for Helena, enough for her to have a 'duh!' moment and realise that Gresham has been the man staging the fires in order to scam the federal government.

The Huntress decides to pay a visit to Gresham at his home later that night to acquire evidence that would compromise him in court, but is quickly caught by Gresham and knocked unconscious by his accomplice.

Review: It's no surprise that Paul Levitz often misses details and plot points he previously established, sometimes in ways too obvious to miss. He was admittedly not as bad about this in 1978 as he has been in more recent years, but it's still one of those writer errors that easily sucks me out of a story, especially when the protagonist is supposed to be a meticulous detective like Batman or the Huntress.

In this particular case, the story opens up with the Huntress stating that there is no pattern to the fires at all, even though the first chapter of this story very much established that there is one. Observe:

Pattern 01: All the fires are taking place exclusively in South Gotham, which means the problem is localised there.

Pattern 02: Helena established in the same chapter that the same incendiary device was being used in all of the fires, including the one she investigated.

Pattern 03: Pay attention to where the money is going. Surely if arson has been happening in South Gotham for quite sometime, the federal government, insurance companies, and organisations would be pouring out money to assist with the damages. So who's receiving the funds to aid in the effort?

The point is there was plenty of evidence to suggest fraud since the first chapter alone. To a meticulous detective like Helena Wayne, figuring out who's scamming the state would be a no brainer since the perpetrator isn't that smart to start with. He's leaving an obvious trail that even a normal Gotham citizen would easily pick up on. I believe Helena Wayne when she says she likes a good challenge, but there isn't one to be found here, courtesy of her own writer, sadly.

Despite that major flaw in the writing by Paul Levitz, this chapter nonetheless establishes how Helena Wayne operates as the Huntress. (1) She asks important questions during her investigation. Levitz does not always have her ask the right questions in writing, but he does nonetheless establish that Helena does consider all of the possible motives for why someone would commit arson in only one part of Gotham. (2) She keeps her eyes and ears open to any potential clues that may surface during an ongoing investigation and follows up on any one that she finds. (3) She'll sometimes use her job's resources to acquire any useful information on a case she's investigating.

Other interesting feats about this and the previous chapter is that in addition to telling a detective story with a woman, the narrative itself also acknowledges and addresses real world issues like workplace sexism that women experience in male-dominated professions and government fraud. This helped make the story feel a bit more down to Earth and relevant to things that were happening in the real world, which gave it an element of realism. The ironic thing about this is that 'realism' is also what the New 52 is trying to accomplish, but with no success since much of the grisly violence in today's narratives are gratuitous and done for shock value in ways you don't see happen in real life. 

Unfortunately, this is where all of the positives for this chapter ends. The rest of this chapter was largely comprised of too many 'duh!' moments that made Helena Wayne look not too competent as a superhero despite her writer's best intentions. She especially didn't look too bright if her sexist co-worker asked all of the right questions that revealed the most obvious fact about the arson case: that it was fraud to start with.

Now, it could be argued that Helena still being very new to the superhero business at this point in her life simply made some rookie mistakes. Understandable. But if she's going to pride herself with possessing unique skills that no one else has due her unique upbringing alongside her parents--Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle--she owes it to herself to not be sloppy. For that matter, her own writer owes it to her to actually think things through and actually do a better job at presenting Helena as a smarter, more clever heroine than what we got here.


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