Thursday, 19 October 2017

Helena Wayne 40th Anniversary: Looking Back on Convergence

CONVERGENCE: DETECTIVE COMICS
Written by LEN WEIN
Art by DENYS COWAN
Cover by BILL SIENKIEWICZ
Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne—Robin and the Huntress—battle for the Batman’s legacy against Red Son’s Soviet Superman…and each other!
APRIL 29 | RATED T | $3.99 | PRINT | DIGITAL














INTRODUCTION

When Convergence was first announced in 2014, that was the first DC event I felt genuinely excited for in all my years of reading DC. Though it was done to help facilitate DC's move from their New York City headquarters to their new location in Burbank, California, I didn't care. The fact was, by this point, many of us (myself included) were already feeling burnt out by three years of the New 52 rewriting so much of what we loved about our favourite characters and not in a good way.

On the Justice Society corner of fandom, after three years, we ultimately had an Earth-2 that had nothing in common with its pre-Crisis predecessor and was even destroyed in what can be best described as DC's worst event since Countdown with Earth-2: World's End. On top of that, we never saw proper formation of the Justice Society in the New 52, nor did we have versions of these characters that any of us recognised as modern takes on the classic characters. They honestly read like completely new characters.

To add insult to injury, DC couldn't let these characters have the spotlight for very long before deciding to dump a new Batman on us (not once, but twice) in a lead role, even though we already had Helena Wayne to carry on her father's legacy as the Huntress. To make matters worse, they created a new black character to function as Earth-2's new Superman, detrimentally putting a POC character in the position of usurping a woman's place in that legacy, in this case, Power Girl's.

Given the unexpectedly wrongheaded reboot Earth-2 received during the New 52 era (to the frustration of many of us who badly wanted invest in a Justice Society franchise), a revisit of the Classic Earth-2 was the most exciting news any of us could receive. For the most part, DC delivered!

I'm not going to say that Convergence was the best event DC has come up with since the JSA/JLA annual crossovers of old, but it was certainly cathartic for a lot of us who were yearning to see our favourite characters again as we remembered them. The main story itself of pitting multiverse heroes against each other in a fight to the death was uninspiring, but the individual short stories found in the satellite titles detailing the lives of these characters since their timelines ended was what many of us enjoyed most.

For the most part, the books featuring the pre-Crisis Earth-2 characters were well done. Dan Abnett told the most exciting Classic Justice Society story since their pre-Crisis Earth-2 days. Paul Levitz took us on a nostalgia trip to DC's other Golden Age heroes with World's Finest. Jerry Ordway gave us back the Classic Infinity Inc team and still kept some if their post-Crisis developments intact like keeping Obsidian gay. Justin Gray gave us the most entertaining Superman Family story in Action Comics with the Golden Age Superman, his wife Lois Lane, and Power Girl. Gray even remembered that Andrew Vinson existed! But when it came to Detective Comics, I admittedly felt very underwhelmed by the late Len Wein's writing.

Just like Paul Levitz getting Huntress and Power Girl wrong during the New 52, it was equally odd to see Len Wein get both the Classic Earth-2 Helena Wayne and Dick Grayson wrong on the characterisation front. It was weird because he was their editor in the pre-Crisis days and he edited a handful of their stories from their solo adventures to their Justice Society team-ups. If anything, Wein absolutely knew these characters like the back of his hand. While he had Helena acknowledge in story that she behaved out of character during the entire Convergence event, I still didn't understand why she and Dick weren't written in character to start with, especially in the story prior to them fighting the Red Son Superman.

I won't go over again everything that went wrong with the execution of the Detective Comics story for Convergence, but I do want to talk about the retcons Wein made to Dick and Helena's established pre-Crisis history. I want to talk about the retcons in part because they were unexpected changes to continuity, and in part because they got me to think about why they happened. I even found myself trying to rationalise them in my head.

Retcons to established history can be both good and bad depending on the reasons they are done. If a retcon is done to course correct a damaging storyline or to erase a problematic change and/or aspect of a character's history, they are generally seen as good. If a retcon creates an unnecessary and often damaging change to a character's core mythology, history, or the character itself, they are generally seen as bad.

So where do the Convergence retcons fall on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best and 1 being the worst? Let us count the retcons and grade accordingly!


1. YOUNG DICK GRAYSON BACK IN THE BAT-ROBIN HYBRID SUIT

Perhaps the first obvious change in the Convergence: Detective Comics tie-in is that Dick Grayson is noticeably younger than he actually was in 1985 when Crisis on Infinite Earths was first published, which was also the story of his last canonical appearance.

In the original Crisis narrative, Dick was already grey, wrinkly, and 53 years old. He was also no longer still wearing the Bat-Robin hybrid costume he originally debuted with in 1967 when he was canonically 35 years old. In fact, he had abandoned this look entirely by 1976, reverting back to his more classic look and colours that he originally wore as a child. This was also the costume he wore for the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In Convergence, he appears to be 35 years old, and neither he nor Helena appear to have any recollection of the adult version of the Robin costume he wore as a kid. The narrative consistently implies Dick continued to wear this costume well past 1976.

Had this story been written during the actual pre-Crisis era, a change such as this would've been given an in-story explanation. Among the tropes that would've been used would've included time displacement or significant alterations to history brought on by a classic JSA villain like Per Degaton. Both would've actually made for an interesting story in my opinion. "What if Dick Grayson travelled from 1967 to 1985 and met the adult Helena Wayne operating as the Huntress?" or "What if Per Degaton's constant alterations to history via time travel led to residual but permanent changes to the individual characters' timelines despite fixing the alteration?"

Alas, neither story idea is explored here, even though the time displacement trope is used. Both Dick and Helena (along with the rest of the JSA and Earth-2 Metropolis) were taken out of their respective timelines prior to their Earth's destruction in 1985 and placed outside of spacetime. The quantum physics nerd in me would say that because both Dick and Helena were taken out of spacetime, it's highly unlikely that they would continue ageing as they normally would on Earth. However, that point becomes irrelevant when you consider both characters were ageing normally on their respective Earth, not to mention Helena looks exactly as she did in 1985. They were both also taken out at the same time rather than at separate times in the overall Earth-2 time stream. So...

Is young Dick back in the hybrid suit a good retcon? Well...

Young Dick in the hybrid suit within the context of Convergence would've worked for me if the in-story explanation was that he was taken out of Earth-2 in 1967 instead of at the same time as Helena. If he was taken out in 1967, that would cause a significant change to both his and Helena's time streams as that would effectively erase their original conversation about her father's legacy at his funeral in Adventure Comics #464. If he wasn't there for Bruce's death and funeral, neither he nor Helena would've had that conversation. This would've also facilitated both people having this conversation for the first time in this story and Helena possibly changing her tune. It would also explain why Dick and Helena don't seem to recall his second Robin costume and why they think Dick has "always worn" the hybrid suit.

SCORE: 3


2. DICK AND HELENA CHANGE POSITIONS ON HER FATHER'S LEGACY

I kind of touched upon this one already in the first point, but the most significant change here is that Convergence: Detective Comics retcons Dick and Helena's original conversation about her father's legacy at his funeral. I would've been okay with this change if the in-story explanation used the time displacement trope more effectively as described in the first point. But would I have accepted Helena changing her position on whether or not there should be a new Batman?

After thinking about it....no. Because in deciding that Earth-2 needs a new Batman, it eliminates one of the developments that made Earth-2 truly unique: the idea that it's not the man in the batsuit that matters, but the people Bruce Wayne inspires to continue his work. Helena said it perfectly the first time when she posited that "only legends live forever, not the men who make them." She was also very explicit about how she and Dick having different identities didn't take away from the fact of them continuing her father's work, and she's right. I frankly find it more interesting for Huntress and Robin to continue the legacy of Batman far more than I care about seeing a new Batman at all.

At best, I would've enjoyed seeing further exploration of what the Batman legacy means to both Dick and Helena. I would've enjoyed a more in-depth explanation for why it was important for Dick to takeover her father's mantle and why Helena was against the idea of there being a new Batman. For Dick, I can see it being a case of him still feeling indebted to Bruce for taking him in as a child following his own parents' tragic deaths and being a surrogate parent to him. In Dick's case, it's more personal to him than "just feeling entitled." He still feels like he has a debt to pay off to his guardian and mentor, and that's a conversation I can easily see him having with Helena. At the same time, he could also disclose his feelings of inadequacy or why he feels like he doesn't have what it takes to succeed Bruce.

For Helena, I can see it being more a case of not wanting to be reminded of her father's tragic death by seeing someone else wearing his suit, even if that "someone" happens to be a member of her own family. From her point of view, Batman is too synonymous with her father and possibly can't picture anyone else using that mantle. She would probably also feel that having a new Batman in town would cause criminals to stop taking her seriously because "The Huntress" for male criminals wouldn't be as intimidating as "The Batman." As such, some part her would probably feel that another Batman would steal her spotlight. Being in competition with her own father's legacy in top of that would also defeat the purpose of her starting her own legacy.

On the whole, I do think more elaboration on Dick and Helena's feelings about her father's legacy would've added more depth to their characters. But ultimately, I feel that both characters should reach the same conclusion: it isn't the literal man in the batsuit that matters, it's the people he inspires to continue his work. Both Dick and Helena are part of Bruce Wayne's legacy, but it should be up to them to carry that legacy on their own terms.

For Helena, it was probably easier for her to redefine that legacy as the Huntress because she never started out as her father's sidekick and because she is also Selina's daughter. For Helena, her family legacy isn't just her father's part in it but also her mother's. She therefore chose an identity that reflected that. For Dick, it very much just needed to be a case of him coming to terms with his life's tragic circumstances and having him figure out what he wants to do with the tools Bruce provided him with growing up. In my opinion, that doesn't mean needing to become Batman. He just needed to decide if he wanted to redefine what Robin means to him (which the Bat-Robin hybrid suit kind of reflects already) or deciding on a new identity if he felt it was time to "graduate" from the sidekick identity.

SCORE: 2


3. DICK AND HELENA ACT MORE CHILDISH THAN PRE-CRISIS

Of the changes made to Dick and Helena in Convergence: Detective Comics, having them behave in a more childlike manner as adults was, in my opinion, the most unnecessary of changes and one that didn't fit either character.

One thing I always loved about the pre-Crisis versions of Dick and Helena was that there was a profound love and respect between them. When it came to her father's legacy, Helena at no point felt in competition with Dick for being her father's protégé, and Dick never felt in competition with Helena for being Bruce's biological child. They very much saw each other as family and felt they each contributed something unique to that legacy.

The one time they fought each other over that legacy was during the events of America vs the Justice Society when both found themselves questioning their loyalty to Bruce following his wild accusations that the the Justice Society were complicit in Hitler's terrorism in Nazi Germany during World War II.

In this particular scenario, their conflict with each other made sense. Dick was coming from the perspective of a former ward feeling indebted to a former guardian, whereas Helena was coming from the perspective of being the biological child. She therefore didn't feel the same level of indebtedness to her own father the way Dick did, even if he contributed the other half of her genetic makeup.

Both felt that Bruce had a motive for accusing the Justice Society of treason the way he did, but both had very different ideas about what that motive was. Helena felt from the very beginning that her father was trying to unearth an unrelated villainous plot and this was his way of pushing the investigation in that direction. Dick by contrast felt Bruce wouldn't lie about something like this and was ready to contemplate parting ways with the Justice Society if proven guilty of treason.

The way the conflict played out felt very natural for two adults. There was believable tension between the two people. There was serious disagreement and believable anger from both. It was understandable why they weren't on speaking terms for most of the Nazi JSA debacle. There was equally believable shame and regret on Dick's part when he realised how easily (and stupidly) he bought into the lies because he was afraid to challenge the man who looked after him as a child, even for one second. There were believable feelings of regret from Helena as well when she failed to see things from Dick's point of view.

These two characters were established as very adult human beings not only in their age but also in their conduct. They handled conflict like adults and even responded to anger and disagreements like adults. It therefore made no sense for Wein to depict them as petulant and daft in his Convergence story as this seriously contradicted 08 years of established Bronze Age continuity. At best, it looked like he was trying to preserve the fact that they were snarky and possessed a sense of humour (which was true of them in the Bronze Age), but didn't execute it well. Instead they came off as needlessly mean and incredibly immature for their ages.

SCORE: 1

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