Sunday 6 December 2015

The Best of the Huntress: Wonder Woman #284 Review

Title: Wonder Woman #284
Story: Together Again...For the First Time
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Robin (Dick Grayson), Arthur Cranston, Edgar Stenville
Creators: Paul Levitz (writer), Joe Staton (artist)
Publication Date: October 1981
Available In: Print

Summary: After the events with both Lionmane and the Joker, it's been a pretty busy couple of nights for the Huntress. Even moreso with the arrival of a new Batman whom she knows isn't her father! Having exhausted herself for one evening, Helena Wayne decides to relax with an early morning shower, only to be greeted by Dick Grayson who's been waiting for her in her bathroom. (Weird place to wait for someone, I might add).

Dick greets Helena and confirms to her that he is the Batman she saw fooling the Joker earlier. He rationalised it made more sense for him to pose as Bruce since his build is closer to her father's than hers is. (It was originally Helena's plan to put on her father's costume to fool the Joker into thinking Batman was still around in order to capture him). Despite assisting Helena with the Joker earlier, Dick actually came to see her for a completely different reason: their boss, Arthur Cranston, is in trouble.

Together, Dick and Helena swing through the streets of Gotham in their Robin and Huntress costumes to their offices at Cranston, Grayson, and Wayne. Dick comments to Helena that they've never actually worked together before and that the JSA has been asking him to return to Gotham. Helena tells him the team misses him a lot, especially her. They change back to their civilian clothes on the rooftop of their law firm, though both face opposite directions thinking it isn't appropriate to see each other nude. Helena doesn't think it's a problem since they're both adults and don't have anything they haven't seen before, but Dick still thinks its weird to see her nude since he thinks of her as his 'baby sister' even if they're not blood related.

Inside the building, Arthur Cranston is freaking out about a legal charge that's been made against the law firm for falsifying data on a market research study that was done--something he would never allow. Despite the serious charges, his firm's associates and partners (Dick and Helena) decide to stand by his side and put up a fight. For Dick and Helena, that means finding out who falsified the data and having that person rectify the situation if they don't want any more future encounters with Robin and the Huntress.

Helena pays a visit to the lab that conducted the study for Cranston, Grayson, and Wayne as the Huntress later that night. She puts out the security guard and breaks into the head researcher's office to look through his files and find out why the data for her law firm was falsified and how it was done. Once she learns the details of the false data, she reports her findings to Dick Grayson at her apartment. Helena says the data was deliberately falsified on a separate typewriter to make a product appear safe when it actually wasn't. The altered report was what was submitted to the company releasing the potentially dangerous product. Dick found out in his investigation that the party responsible for falsifying the data was Stenville Enterprises, which owns the manufacturer that produced the product.

Dick and Helena (as Robin and Huntress) decide to pay a visit to the company's CEO, Edgar Stenville, who is also a powerful crime boss in Gotham. Together, Dick and Helena systematically disable Stenville's complicated security system and greet him in his own bedroom. Upon waking, Helena demands Edgar to clear Arthur Cranston of the charges that were falsely made against him, or risk another visit from both herself and Robin. She also promises to do more than 'just part his hair' with her dagger if he fails to comply. In his moment of fright, Edgar does exactly as he is told, and calls a guy named Sammy to clear the charges against Arthur. He also makes it known that he doesn't care who has to take the fall to make it happen, just as long as Arthur is cleared and he no longer has to encounter Robin or the Huntress. He also arranges with Sammy to relocate now that Huntress and Robin know where he lives.

Review: So, right off the bat, it's clear in this first chapter that Dick Grayson is being setup as a potential love interest for Helena Wayne, in addition to Harry Sims. Most days, I would be all up for this development since it's incredibly rare to see female characters given the same 'rolodex of love interests' that is often given to men in narratives. Whereas male protagonists are always supplied with various love interests, women are at best, usually given one that we're supposed to care about.

The fact that it's Dick Grayson (the second top cock of the DC Universe right after Bruce Wayne) being setup as a love interest for a female character in a DC Multiverse where his Earth-1 counterpart gets together with a lot of women is especially refreshing. What doesn't work in this case is the fact that both Dick and Helena were raised by Bruce Wayne, which makes their relationship more similar to that of siblings than that of two kids who just knew each other growing up. Even Paul Levitz acknowledges this fact in both this story and a previous issue of Adventure Comics where Dick discovered Helena's identity as the Huntress. Given that reality, a lot of the sexual tension between Dick and Helena tends to reach Wanda and Pietro Maximoff levels of weird for the reader.

Another way Levitz attempts to establish Dick as a potential love interest for Helena is by deaging him, but again, it doesn't quite work. In the actual Earth-2 timeline, Dick is in fact 25 years older than Helena, which makes him closer to 49 and Helena closer to 24 in age. That is a significant age difference that later writers acknowledge in future narratives. So rather than coming off as two young people who are mutually attracted to each other, Dick instead comes off as bit creepy for being attracted to a woman who is (literally) young enough to be his daughter. The added incestuous vibes on top of that doesn't help on that front either.

Despite those really weird developments between Dick and Helena by Levitz in this first chapter, the overall interaction between the two characters isn't actually bad and it is fun to see how both of Bruce Wayne's children work together as a team. There is no 'sibling rivalry' between them, and Helena does not devalue Dick's place within her family for not being a blood relative. She loves him equally as a member of her family and considers him a very important person in her life. It is also interesting to see how both individuals utilise the same skills that were taught to them by Bruce Wayne.

When juxtaposed, both heirs are shown to be very efficient investigators and both coordinate with each other very well when passing through Edgar Stenville's state-of-the-art security systems. Dick is never written as a mentor for Helena, and Helena is never cut down at any point to make Dick look better. Despite the different years of experience, both are written as equal partners, which is incredibly rare to see in a DC narrative these days. (Even moreso in the current continuity where Helena's narrative was literally usurped by a version of 'Dick Grayson' who has no history with her family and is a far less experienced superhero than she is).

One major nitpick that I have with this story, though, is the conflict that is established for this particular narrative. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I do have experience working in research (both as an experimenter and as a transcriber of data for a government organisation) and I know the laws that are in place for protecting both the researcher and especially the participants in the US and in other parts of the world. While the laws and practise constantly change to address problems with ethics in research (and the laws also vary depending on the type of research), I do know which ones were definitely in place in the US by 1981. I also know how research facilities can be held legally accountable for falsifying data, which leads me to the problem I had with the way the latter was used as a conflict for this story: the writer at the time clearly did not understand how research (including market research) actually works.

In the story, Cranston, Grayson, and Wayne was sued for falsifying data on a market research study that was conducted by an independent organisation for consumer law for a toxic product that was sold to the general public. There are several things wrong here. The first is, as a law firm, the only 'product' Cranston, Grayson, and Wayne is selling is the ability to practise law. The job of all of the partners at this firm is to legally represent clients and any research that they conduct will be relevant to their actual practise. This means that they will not actually conduct any studies that involve selling a product to the general public such as a new drink or a new shampoo that was made. That is not their job, nor their area of interest for conducting research.

More than anything, a public interest law firm would be far more interested in studying the effectiveness of their practise in the various areas of law that they cover, find out where they are deficient, and test new ways to improve their practise. They don't actually need a traditional lab to conduct that type of study and would instead hire a consulting firm that specialises in their industry. Other things a public interest law firm may be interested in research-wise may be analysing the types of cases they get, how often they get them, and what types of clients they often represent in order to sell themselves better.

Given that law firms would be interested in research that is actually relevant to their industry, I really don't get why a public interest law firm would be getting sued for a study they wouldn't even conduct. It's one thing if the law firm was representing a client (in this case, a research facility) that falsified data during a study they conducted, and the firm itself actually played a role in falsifying that data in order to legally defend that client. In that scenario, I can see why the law firm would be held legally accountable, especially if there is evidence to link them to that falsifying of data. However, that is clearly not the story that's being told here as Levitz established that Helena's law firm is being sued for falsifying data an independent organisation collected for them. In this particular case, it would actually be the law firm that should be suing that organisation for the false data as the firm didn't actually collect the data themselves.

Despite those major errors in representation for research in this narrative (including one as thoroughly flawed as market research--academic research is much more rigid in practise), some weird developments between Dick and Helena, the overall point of the story isn't lost. Dick and Helena aren't just two people Bruce Wayne raised, they are the legacy of Bruce Wayne. Forty-two years ago, Bruce put on a bat suit to wage a personal war against the criminal underworld that lasted for 15 years before he decided he no longer needed the Batman. Instead, he realised the thing he wanted more than anything was a family--the thing that he lost all those years ago.

While Bruce's crusade against crime was deeply personal and rooted in tragedy, for Dick and Helena--despite getting their starts through tragedy--the legacy of Batman meant something more to them than just finding an outlet for their pain. For them, it became a mission statement to continue to pursue justice for those who are powerless to obtain it. That idea is reflected not only in their superhero identities, but in their professions as well. Additionally, the story makes a point of emphasising that they value the people in their lives and will always take a stand for them when they find themselves in a dark place.


1 comment:

  1. i never got the issue in which Dick and Helena investigate this case. I have the joker issue. For me it's very poignant and nostalgic. The earth two Batman was held in great reverence by Helena which made his myth that much bigger. I loved it and i still do. I am glad to have found someone shares this unique interest.