Title: Wonder Woman #307
Story: Side Effects
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Gary Minelli
Creators: Joey Cavalieri (writer), Michael Hernandez (artist)
Publication Date: 07 September 1983
Available In: Digital
Summary: The Huntress has successfully escaped the grasp of sinister researchers Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether. As the Huntress leaves the premises of Arkham Asylum with fellow inmate Gary Minelli, she finds herself succumbing to the side effects of the hallucinogenic drug Professor Fether shot her with. As her internalised fears consume her, the Huntress is made to confront her worst fear of all: the legacy of her parents. Will she forever operate in the shadow of her father? Or will she eventually give in to her own darkness the way her mother once did?
Review: Today is a special day, everyone. Not only was this particular comic published on this day 34 years ago, but today is also Helena Wayne's canonical birthday as established by writer Joey Cavalieri in the back pages of Infinity Inc #7. I therefore had to wait until today to post this review instead of August as originally planned. The idea of talking about Helena's inner thoughts with regards to her parents' legacy on both the year of her 40th anniversary and the day of her canonical birthday was just too good to resist! Even moreso considering the themes this particular story deals with.
I admittedly didn't care much for the Arkham Asylum story that led to this point, but I very much liked this chapter for the way it handled Helena's inner feelings about her parents' legacy despite loving them both. Cavalieri, in my opinion, did more than just show how she felt about both of her parents on the more basic level. He also showed Helena's internalised prejudices along the way. In particular, there's a very gender-coded way she views the legacy of both of her parents that unfortunately matches up with that of the rest of the world. The execution of that is worth talking about.
By the time Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle passed away, Batman and Catwoman had become legends in the minds of people. They were more than just a costumed hero and villain in the collective mindset--they were also their own icons. Despite being a vigilante, Batman unquestionably symbolised justice for a lot of people. While Selina Kyle originally became Catwoman as a way of empowering herself above her abusive first ex-husband (and ultimately patriarchy), her actions were still seen as criminal by society, and she was ultimately remembered as a criminal.
The interesting thing here is that Batman--a symbol of white power and masculinity--is seen as heroic, and no one--not even the Gotham police--ever questioned his actions or considered them criminal despite vigilantism being illegal. They simply viewed his vigilantism as some kind of public service. The fact that he killed a few thugs and henchmen earlier in his vigilante career (in 1939 to be exact) was swept under the rug. The Catwoman on the other hand, embodies men's worst fears in a more unconventional way than Wonder Woman does. Instead, Catwoman shows what a woman is truly capable of being if she decided to defy all the rules entirely, and dismantle socially accepted conventions from the ground up.
While Catwoman was never a murderer, she loved taking power away from people who bathed themselves in it. She was all about reclaiming power for herself and showing those in positions of power how truly vulnerable the are when they lose the things they value most. Because powerful people only value material wealth, stealing from them was the way she took away their power, much to her own satisfaction. That certainly worked on her first ex-husband, and simply got addicted to that feeling soon after. Getting back to the original point, though Batman and Catwoman's actions are both considered criminal in a court of law, in the world of Earth-2, their criminal activities are still viewed and accepted differently on the basis of their gender.
The bulk of this story is Helena confronting that reality about herself. She's more scared of being like her mother than she is of being like her father, she doesn't want to ask herself why. The truth of that makes her so uncomfortable, she literally runs away from having to confront it. The way Joey Cavalieri and artist Michael Hernandez (aka Michael Bair) present Helena's internalised misogyny and how that influenced her worst fear is very well done.
Cavalieri's script starts out with Helena remembering how scared she felt as a child to learn that her parents were Batman and Catwoman because she feared their pasts would eventually get them killed. This is a very basic, primal fear and artist Michael Hernandez conveys this by showing family photographs of Helena's childhood and adolescence, while still showing her "present self" as fully clothed during this sequence, minus the cape. Cavalieri then takes this a step further by peeling back a new layer and having her confront the (literal) shadow of her father.
At first, Helena thinks her greatest fear is that she will always be defined by her father's legacy, and ultimately overshadowed by him. By this point, the gloves and mask of Helena's Huntress costume start to come off as she attempts to run away from this question, but it actually leads her to her biggest fear. By this point, Cavalieri, unveils a deeper layer, resulting in further states of undress for the heroine. Is Helena really scared of staying in her father's shadow? Or is she more scared of fully liberating herself the way her mother did? Why does that scare her so much? Why does she see that aspect of herself as dark?
All of these questions are what the demonic Catwoman symbolise for Helena, who is by this point portrayed completely nude, symbolically conveying the point about exposing her deepest fear. The fact that she runs back to her boyfriend Harry--a man that she knows is abusive and controlling--shortly after this reveal to "save her" is the clincher that sums up just how badly Helena fears this aspect of herself. The thought of her being more like her mother than her father is so disturbing for Helena, it actually continues to have ramifications for her in later chapters, and it's a theme that gets revisited once again just before Crisis on Infinite Earths.
When we start to examine the next story arc that centres on human trafficking and a different villain, we'll begin to see how Helena starts to deal with this "unfortunate" truth about herself. Namely, in the way that she starts becoming more withdrawn and starts adapting more violent methods of crimefighting as a way of getting male criminals to start taking her seriously. The latter is actually both a response to her earlier encounter with the Crimelord and her desire to be "more like her father" than her mother. It's a major turn of events for Helena's character that ironically reinforces her biggest fear.