Monday 12 January 2015

Seven Reasons DC Comics Should Love The Huntress, Day 01: She's Batman and Catwoman's Daughter

Dear DC Comics,

For a publisher that's currently engaged in one of the most overt love affairs with Batman any of us has seen in recent years, it's amazing to me how often you ignore Helena Wayne's existence. It is especially alarming how often you downplay her status as a legacy character, her importance and contribution to Bruce Wayne's mythology, often attributing all that she revolutionised to his son, Damian, a character that appeared in comics only eight years ago. You even went out of your way to deny that the Huntress existed as Helena Wayne for two decades, effectively denying her of her own birthright and legacy. I was even surprised you left her out of your 75 Year Batman Anniversary issue of Detective Comics #27 despite being the daughter of the original Golden Age Batman (a character you clearly acknowledged as the character's first incarnation), and despite having stories that explored the idea of Bruce Wayne as a father and husband. It very much says that even you are selective of your flagship character's history, particularly in ways that exclude important women from his mythology.

Revisiting Batman's history, before Scott Snyder, before Grant Morrison, before Frank Miller, before Denny O'Neal, and before the Silver Age, you had Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Without these two men, you would not have any of the success that their character, Bruce Wayne, has awarded you over your seven decade publishing history. Bob Kane with the help of Bill Finger provided the design of the character, and Finger developed the rich mythology we all became fans of. Appearing for the first time in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, we learnt right away that 'The Bat-Man' was a creature to be feared. Wherever there was a crime being committed, he would appear right there at the scene. Sometimes his appearance signalled the death of a criminal either through an unfortunate happenstance, or through a physical altercation that usually ended with his disappearing from the scene. He was truly the stuff of nightmares!

In the same issue, we met two more characters: 23-year-old billionaire Bruce Wayne and his friend, police commissioner James Gordon. While Jim Gordon was an honourable man fighting the good fight, working his hardest to keep his city safe, Bruce Wayne by contrast appeared to be nothing more than a bored socialite. Sometimes he accompanied Jim on cases, and other times he just did whatever he fancied. In his first appearance, Bruce Wayne did not appear to be anyone interesting. But then, on the last page of his debut issue, we learnt that behind the billionaire playboy was the fearsome creature known as 'The Bat-Man.' An interesting twist, but that wasn't all that was interesting about him.

As his story progressed between 1939 and 1940 alone, we learnt that Bruce Wayne was a man capable of more than just putting on a batsuit, jumping off rooftops, and beating up any criminals he caught in his sonar. He demonstrated on more than one occasion that he was quite capable of taking a human life as a way of getting his point across, and as a way of eliminating the presence of dangerous criminals from his city. We eventually learnt that the reason he did the things he did was in response to a traumatic experience he endured as a child: the murdering of his parents when he was just a ten-year-old boy. Understandable circumstances, but what exactly humanised him? What kept him from going completely off of the deep end in his relentless war against crime? This is where relationships have played a major role in his character development.

The first significant relationship he had was with police commissioner Jim Gordon, whom he worked with regularly as Batman to stop crimes and solve cases. His second significant relationship was with 8-year-old Richard 'Dick' Grayson, whom he took in as his ward and raised like a son. Dick even assisted him in his war against crime as Robin, and with the arrival of this young lad, his tendency to kill criminals decreased and stopped all together. The third most significant relationship he had was with an English butler, Alfred Beagle (later renamed Pennyworth from Silver Age and forward), who aided him on many of his missions as Batman. The fourth most significant relationship he had that had a profound impact on him was the one he had with the 20-year-old Selina Kyle, whom he first met as 'The Cat' on a yacht in Batman #1 and later encountered regularly as Catwoman.

Selina Kyle was a very special woman to Bruce. She was smart, she was clever, and she was one hell of an escape artist. She was a woman who challenged conventions and did as she pleased. She was a woman after his own heart in many ways that it was no surprise he was immediately drawn to her. In fact, he didn't even hide his romantic side following an encounter with her, so much that his young sidekick scoffed at the thought of romance. There was only one problem though: she utilised her special skills to commit crime!

More often than not, the source of his conflict with Selina was the fact that she was a criminal and often wanted her to reform. But Selina would not allow herself to be controlled by any man, not even one that she herself was attracted to. Selina lived for the thrill of the chase, and the excitement of the moment. She loved being able to outsmart the best security systems and rob the privileged of the wealthy possessions they cherished most. She loved being in control of her own life and she loved the power that committing crime granted her.

Bruce's unwavering commitment to justice vs Selina's rebellious nature is what made their relationship so interesting. They challenged each other in ways that none of the other people in their lives could. Bruce had many women go in and out of his life like Julie Madison, Linda Paige, and Vicki Vale, but none of these women understood him the way Selina Kyle did. They also didn't challenge him intellectually the way she did. After 15 years of crossing each other's paths, they more or less established a relationship of sorts and built a working knowledge of one another. All of this happened within the context of the Golden Age continuity alone.

With the establishment of Earth-2 in 1961 as a way of preserving the Golden Age continuity and diverging it from the Silver Age (which became Earth-1) that started in 1955, future writers took advantage of the Earth-2 concept to expand upon the Golden Age history. One of the ways writers in the 1970s through the mid-1980s built upon this rich history was by allowing these characters to age, marry, and have children of their own, who would later take their places. Amongst the heroes that did exactly that were Clark Kent and Lois Lane, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, Diana Prince and Steve Trevor, Jay Garrick and Joan Williams, Alan Scott and Molly Mayne, and this list goes on. Amongst the ones who had children of their own were Bruce and Selina who had Helena Wayne (Huntress), Diana and Steve who had Hippolyta Trevor (Fury), and though not technically their daughter, Clark and Lois functioned as parent figures to his cousin, Kara Zor-L (Power Girl).

Three of the writers who were most influential to the development of the Earth-2 mythology during this era were Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, and Roy Thomas, all of whom developed the legacy of the Justice Society between 1975 and 1985. Out of these three, it was Paul Levitz along with artists Joe Staton and Bob Layton who expanded upon the Golden Age Batman's history through their character, Helena Wayne, who took on the identity of the Huntress.

With the kind of history the Golden Age Batman had (primarily the fact that he started his career by killing criminals), I was very interested in knowing what kind of adult a child of his would become, especially if his child had Catwoman for her mother. Paul Levitz did not disappoint! From the very beginning he established that despite her parents' colourful history, Helena Wayne turned out to be a very well-adjusted adult. In contrast with what we would expect from these versions of Batman and Catwoman, they actually gave their daughter a normal upbringing and actually retired from their costumed identities to ensure that.

In addition to seeing what kind of parents they made (they were pretty emotionally stable), it was also interesting to see how these two characters changed from the time we read them in the Golden Age stories to the time we saw them again in the Bronze Age. In particular we saw that Selina Kyle had settled down from her desire for 'adventure' and found herself in a new place in her life. She realised she wasn't getting any younger and that eventually she wanted to have a family of her own. Bruce Wayne similarly realised that he had been fighting crime as Batman for nearly 15 years and wasn't sure if this was all he wanted to do in life. After reevaluating his life, Bruce acknowledged that what he wanted more than anything was a family, and not spend the rest of his life alone. These epiphanies brought Bruce and Selina closer together and eventually married. Bruce had moved on from his need of Batman, Selina had moved on from her need of Catwoman, and together, they got the one thing they wanted most: a family. How is that not a great story?

With their daughter, Helena, it was interesting to see what she inherited from her parents, and what character traits she possessed that set her apart from them both. From her father, she inherited his unwavering commitment to justice, which influenced her decision to pursue a career in law. From her mother, she inherited her feminist values, her attitude, and her sharp wit. From both of her parents, she inherited her detective skills, her athletic ability, her fighting skills, and her ability to outsmart villains and complex security systems, which ultimately factored into how she operated as the Huntress. All of these character traits made her a compelling successor to her parents' legacy. But what actually made the character 'Helena Wayne,' and not just 'BatCat Baby?'

One of the things that stood out to me right away about Helena Wayne is her idiosyncrasy. She's so comfortable with herself, it doesn't bother her that other people--including her own co-workers--think of her as weird, nor does she concern herself with other people's opinions of her in general. She's the kind of woman who is talented at what she does but is also the type who sleeps in and shows up late to work (as she's done a number of times). She's the kind of woman who bakes a soufflé in her Huntress costume and later sits down with a glass of wine and a box of cookies while investigating her latest case. She's the kind of woman who speeds through traffic and cuts in front of other drivers when she wants to get to where she needs to be and fast.

Aside from having these strange quirks to her, she possessed other qualities as well such as compassion for others and intolerance for prejudice. She valued friendship and pursued close relationships with other people. She was affectionate, supportive, and accepting of the people she loved. She was also committed to her work as both a superhero and as a lawyer. On the flip side, she also had a dark side to her character that was in ways reminiscent of her father when he first fought crime as Batman. For example, she would not mourn the deaths of murderers, least of all if they were responsible for several deaths. She was also not always keen to saving a criminal's life, and would feel no remorse if she left them to die. During a time of crisis, she would even make exceptions to her 'no kill rule' either in exchange for saving an innocent life or in retaliation for a criminal killing someone she loved. She was also not beyond using violent methods to get criminals to talk and spill any important information she needed for a case she was working on. She was a nuanced and flawed human being.

Taken as a whole, Helena Wayne is a great addition to both the Batman and Earth-2 mythologies. She adds on to a great legacy created by her parents, but also creates a legacy of her own. Why do we need Thomas Wayne to occupy his son's place on Earth-2 when we already have a far more compelling character in the form of Helena Wayne as the Huntress? How is the story of a man who abandoned his own son for a life of drug addiction, violence, and revenge a more compelling narrative than a woman succeeding her own father as her city's protector, both as a costumed superhero and as a lawyer? How is it considered 'progress' to marginalise a very prominent female member of the Justice Society for a generic Frank Castle male archetype that brings nothing new or interesting to the table?

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