Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Best of the Huntress: Wonder Woman #296 Review

Title: Wonder Woman #296
Story: The Huntress is Back in Town
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Harry Sims, Arthur Cranston
Creators: Joey Cavalieri (writer), Joe Staton (artist)
Publication Date: October 1982
Available In: Unavailable :(

Summary: Some time has passed since the Huntress' deadly confrontation with the Crime Lord and has more or less resumed her life. She's back with her boyfriend, Harry Sims, and has decided to take 'time off' from work, presumably to recuperate from that aforementioned confrontation.

Helena Wayne's senior partner, Arthur Cranston, notices that she takes too much 'time off' from work and starts to wonder if she has another job on the side. Helena reassures Arthur that she isn't moonlighting, not even for Ralph Nader who--in the 1970s--did recruit seven law students to evaluate the efficiency of the FTC, known at the time as 'Nader's Raiders.' Arthur nonetheless questions if someone as 'eccentric' as Helena belongs in his law firm, but then recognises that she is in fact a good lawyer.

Earlier in her day, Helena stops a mugging on a train out of costume and later goes on to investigate a drug deal happening in another corner of Gotham as the Huntress. She successfully sabotages the transaction, but realises that without a warrant, she can't really collect the drugs as evidence. She then settles for destroying the drugs (including the drug money) to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. She then proceeds to read a letter she received from the commissioner's office.

In Harry Sims' office, Harry finds himself working late to organise and file paperwork. Commissioner O'Hara pays Harry a visit to his office to tell him about his plans for easing his workload. He also mentions that he noticed his 'girlfriend' returned around the same time that he did. Harry is at first shocked to learn the commissioner even knew Helena Wayne was missing, but is 'relieved' to know that the commissioner only made a joking reference to the Huntress. Nonetheless, Harry feels uneasy about knowing Helena's secret and fears others may eventually discover that secret through him.

Review: This is a pretty significant chapter for two reasons: the first is that it's the start of a new story arc that leads to the introduction of the first POC Batman legacy character in the form of Blackwing as referenced on the final page of this instalment. The second reason this chapter is significant is because it is Joey Cavalieri's first story that he scripted for the Earth-2 Huntress, and Cavalieri would later become famous for his creation of the Helena Bertinelli Huntress post-Crisis.

For a newcomer to the Huntress in 1982, Cavalieri actually had a pretty strong handle on the character. Whether or not this was helped by the fact that the story had already been plotted by the previous writer, Paul Levitz, the truth is you don't really notice there has been a change in writer until you actually look at the credits. For his first issue, Cavalieri does successfully capture the same voice and personality Paul Levitz had already established for the character during his run, effectively maintaining continuity.

Like Levitz' original interpretation, Cavalieri's Helena Wayne is characterised as charming, idiosyncratic, optimistic, witty, and funny. She's still confident in her work as the Huntress and is never too concerned about how her superhero lifestyle affects her day job as an attorney. When it comes to Helena's supporting cast, Cavalieri also successfully captures the voices and personalities of these other characters as well. In the same way that Levitz characterised Helena's senior partner as very permissive of Helena's 'eccentric' behaviour, Cavalieri's Arthur Cranston is written the same way. He acknowledges that Helena's behaviour as an employee is problematic, but at the same time he looks the other way in favour valuing her for her talents as a practitioner of law. Even her boyfriend is characterised as still feeling conflicted about Helena's superhero lifestyle and the repercussions that has for both of them.

Though Cavalieri's unique writing style doesn't begin to surface until after this story, we do start to see glimpses of that here and there with this first issue. One thing that I've come to identify with Cavalieri's writing style is his affinity for making Italian references, possibly because he himself is an Italian-American. His references to Italy can range anywhere from referencing Italian literature, Italian history, and people who are Italian in origin. In this first issue, we get the latter two reference types: the first is in reference to Roman Emperor Nero from one of the police officers in the opening pages, and Emperor Nero is not a fondly remembered ruler by history. The event that is specifically referenced is the Great Fire of Rome, which Emperor Nero was blamed for by citizens in 64 AD. The joke in this case relies on the idea that Nero denied having anything to do with that fire, much in the same way that the two thugs being arrested in this scene are denying any intention to do harm because they only wanted money.

The other Italian reference made on this same page is to American actor Robert De Niro who is a quarter Italian, though the joke in this panel is unfortunately not well thought out. In this case, the De Niro comment is made in response to the Nero comment by the African American thug being arrested, which relies on the racist stereotype that black men are uneducated. The perpetuation of this stereotype is unfortunately not helped by the fact that the character is depicted as a criminal and that there are no other black men present in this story to help diversify African American portrayal.

In addition to Italian references, another thing that is unique to Cavalieri's run on the Earth-2 Huntress that is also present in this first issue, is the explicit depiction of sexism as a real problem that hurts women. This one is kind of meta because the male criminals not taking the Huntress seriously as a threat due to her gender is in many ways reflective of the comic book industry's troubling history with women, including ones who are superheroes. (Look no further than the current Earth-2 of 2016 for an excellent case in point). Though Cavalieri drops sexism hard on its head by writing Helena with agency and as a skilled fighter who successfully takes down the criminals insulting her, she's also written as reacting to the sexist behaviour, and this is going to become a recurring theme in Cavalieri's run.

For the most part, Cavalieri starts his run with a mostly strong first issue that preserves established continuity, but it is not without its flaws. Aside from accidentally perpetuating a racist stereotype earlier in the story, Cavalieri also makes a few illogical creative choices. One of the first ones that immediately stood out to me was in the opening scene where Harry told Helena to let the police do their jobs during the mugging on the train, even though there were no on-duty police officers available on the moving train. The police showed up only after Helena had stopped the mugging. If Helena hadn't stopped the mugging when she did, the old man that was being victimised by the muggers would've been killed. While Cavalieri was clearly trying preserve the development of Harry being conflicted about Helena's superhero lifestyle, the way he chose to depict it didn't really make sense.

Another illogical choice he made in this first chapter was towards the end where Helena out of nowhere just decided to destroy evidence because she didn't have a warrant to either search the house or make an arrest. The first thing that's wrong here is that Helena is not there as a police officer working within the confinements of the law. She's operating as a vigilante, which means that realistically she can't get a warrant because she's operating outside the law. It's also equally stupid to destroy evidence in a crime scene because (a) that evidence is still needed to convict the people she just knocked unconscious of drug dealing, and (b) it makes her legally an accomplice. As a lawyer, she would definitely know this, which means her writers would need to write the character with more awareness of this fact.

The last illogical choice I noticed from Cavalieri in this first issue is really more of a nitpick because of how common place wacky comic book physics tends to be in superhero genre. But it still looked weird to me to see Helena perform a gymnastics uneven bar move that requires a stronger grip, lots of space, and high momentum to achieve on a window sill. It stood out to me because it's literally not achievable given how low the window sill was in relation to the floor, the presence of a wall, and the fact that Helena doesn't have a strong enough grip on the window sill. So unless Earth-2 had no gravity for a split second, Helena would've actually had swing in through the window to make that smashing surprise entrance.

While not a perfect first issue, I honestly felt Joey Cavalieri was off to a good start with Helena Wayne with his first script. His storytelling was largely influenced by Paul Levitz' plotting, but he nonetheless nailed it on the characterisation of both Helena and her supporting cast, which helps the reader transition easily to him as the new writer. As Cavalieri becomes more comfortable with his own writing in the later issues, that's when we start to see his own take on the character surface. While he still preserves the original character developments Levitz had established for Helena, he does eventually take the character on a new direction, both tonally and narratively.

★★★★☆

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