Thursday 7 September 2017

Helena Wayne 40th Anniversary: Wonder Woman #307 Review

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.

Picking up where the last chapter left off, Helena is now lost to the depths of her mind. She starts hallucinating everything from vines taking a hold of her, to different dimensions, and surreal, dream-like images. But the thing that haunts her mind the most is the legacy of her parents, presented here in demonic form. I feel that imagery here is very significant because it helps convey the lasting impact her parents' legacy has had on the world, and ultimately, on Helena herself.

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.

In a society that values male power and discourages female liberation, it's not hard to see why Batman and Catwoman are remembered differently by the people of Earth-2, including their own daughter, Helena. This conflicting internalisation of her parents' legacy is not so much a reflection of Helena's own feelings for parents as much as an internalisation of this imbalance of power men and women hold in society. The fact that she views her father as "the light" despite his equally questionable past and her mother as "the dark" doesn't get any more clearer than that.

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.



  1. (This is an altered version of my earlier post! I hope you won't mind my submitting it again!)

    What's interesting about the stories leading up to this point is that they've all been about people who want to take Helena's power away from her.

    When the whole city is convinced that The Huntress accidentally killed Pat Pending during their tussle at the bank, Harry jumps at the chance to try and make Helena feel incompetent and foolish for having tried to be a crimefighter, insisting she can't possibly go on with her vigilante career now. Then she later falls into the hands of a corrupt doctor who uses his authority to have her put in a straitjacket and drugged, declaring ominously that she'll soon learn to be obedient while under his care. Of course, Harry and Professor Tarr's actions towards our masked hero throughout this twisting and turning sequence of events* are born from different motivations...but they ultimately amount to the same thing. They both want to put a stop to The Huntress as a force for good, take away her agency and erase her from the face of Gotham. It truly feels like Helena Wayne vs the world.

    Which makes it all the more awesome that she never stops fighting against her oppressors, not even when her arms are tied behind her back and there's a drug coursing through her veins. When she's in her darkest corner, she shows us that she's a true hero. A hero who never backs down in the face of danger or surrenders to the straitjacket society would impose on her due to her gender.

    Helena Wayne forever!

    * Seriously, is there a longer-running storyline than this at any point during Helena's tenure in comics? What a long night this has been for her! So many things have happened since she made the decision to find out the truth about Pat Pending's supposed death at her hands!

    1. I do not mind the repost at all, and that is a very astute observation! You are absolutely right. A lot of Joey Cavalieri's run on the Huntress (both Wayne and Bertinelli) has consistently centred on power struggle. For Wayne, this was more internal, whereas for Bertinelli, it was both internal and external.

      There was a little bit of this theme as well during Paul Levitz' original run of the character (most notably towards the end of his run), but Cavalieri was certainly more in-depth in his execution. I think this is a very fundamental difference between their respective writing styles. Levitz is more fun and adventure, whereas Cavalieri is very cerebral in his writing.

    2. The stories do indeed take on a darker and more introspective tone when Helena returns to Gotham, having saved Alfred's life, don't they? She seems much more concerned with how being the daughter of Batman and Catwoman has shaped her personality and whether she can stand on her own or is doomed to remain in their shadows forever.

      You're so right about the struggle for power between men and woman playing a huge part in these stories. Helena has to fight not only the criminals of Gotham City but the authorities for her own place there. This really comes across when she tries to forge her own defender of Gotham/Commissioner Gordon relationship with Harry. One can't shake the feeling that if it was Robin approaching Harry with the idea of that partnership, the DA would be much more willing to consider it. But because Helena is not only a woman but his girlfriend, he can't even tolerate the thought of telling her which crooks to go and capture while he stays in his office.

      See what I mean? Helena is forced to deal with an obstacle that wouldn't exist for her if she was a man. Maybe the real reason Harry proposed to outlaw vigilantes in Gotham earlier in the stories is because The Huntress and Powergirl were the most prominent examples and he felt that women lack the discipline needed to tackle crime? I mean, the police gladly worked alongside Batman (a man) for years but Harry claimed that it was only a matter of time before The Huntress (a woman) crossed a line and appointed herself judge, jury and executioner. Hardly seems fair, does it?

      Like you say, this aspect of Helena's journey becomes much more pronounced in Cavalieri's run but there are elements of it early on too. Such as the sexist lawyer who was trying to drive her out of the law firm she works for. Did he ever return? I'm trying to remember if he ever bothered Helena again but I'm drawing a blank...

  2. How did you get those clean scans?

    1. I capped them from the digital version of Wonder Woman #307, also linked at the top of this post. Would be nice to see these stories collected in a new trade, though!