Thursday 7 December 2017

Helena Wayne 40th Anniversary: America vs the Justice Society

Written by ROY THOMAS
Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Years after his death, Batman’s diary is made public only to accuse his old teammates, the Justice Society of America, of being Nazi collaborators with Hitler himself. Not wanting to fight their own country, the Justice Society surrender themselves to the law and now stand trial for crimes they did not commit. Who is the mastermind behind framing the World’s Greatest Superheroes? And why would they tarnish their pillars of society? Written by the legendary Roy Thomas with illustrations by an all-star team of Jerry Ordway, Rafael Kayanan, and others, this classic tale collects AMERICA VS. THE JUSTICE SOCIETY #1-4.
JULY 12 | RATED T | $14.99 | PRINT | DIGITAL


Here we are! Last trade discussion before we wrap up Helena Wayne's 40th anniversary with my favourite Huntress stories of all time in the next few weeks. It has been a very cathartic experience revisiting the pre-Crisis Huntress because I am truthfully very frightened about seeing Helena integrated into the Prime Earth Batman Family if Tom King's Batman annual is anything to go by. Not because I think it's a bad thing for her to get that kind of exposure. In fact, it'll work in her favour because Batman fans love her just as much. It's more concern over what she will lose in the process, and it's the character's rich history and core mythology that I don't want to see get sacrificed to make her work within the confinements of DC's twice (haphazardly) rebooted main Earth.

I want to have good faith in Geoff Johns making sure Helena Wayne won't lose her roots as a Justice Society legacy character, especially as the last writer who used her well in a story prior to Flashpoint. There's so much about that original history that I love that I strongly feel is worth keeping. It's everything from her close friendship with Power Girl to the Justice Society being her superhero family. It's also the fact that she is specifically the daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman because it is that very detail that makes her membership into the Justice Society that much more significant.

I also love Helena Wayne as the original Huntress because that identity holds a very specific meaning to her character that should not be lost to Helena Bertinelli, her literal post-Crisis successor. Her Huntress identity is both an homage to her parents' Batman and Catwoman identities while also allowing her to craft an identity of her own. When Helena is not wearing her Huntress mask, she is a lawyer by day, and it is her role as an attorney that takes centre stage in America vs the Justice Society. (Another reason I don't want Helena's original history to get jettisoned by DC.)

Much of the story for America vs the Justice Society is centred on two legacies: the legacy and history of the Justice Society itself and the legacy of the Golden Age Batman. At the heart of this story are Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne (both lawyers) who represent the two conflicting sides of Batman's legacy. There is Dick who is staunchly loyal to his mentor to the point of never questioning his authority on anything, and then there is Helena who loves her father, but also won't be pressured into "bending" the law to his favour. (One of many traits Helena inherited from her mother, Selina Kyle.)

It is these conflicting positions between Dick and Helena that drive and provide much of the tension in this story. The plot itself centres on the Justice Society proving their innocence against Batman's accusations of the team enabling Hitler during World War II to the US Supreme Court. (And that's a pretty dangerous accusation at that.) This is also the last major story Helena Wayne appears in before Crisis on Infinite Earths reboots the DC Universe, resulting in her two decade-long erasure.


Throughout America vs the Justice Society, much of the Justice Society's Golden Age history is revisited. From the first time they got together as a team to the time they encountered the Injustice Society (both individually and as a group), to their involvement in World War II, their changing roster in the years that followed, right up to their first disbanding in 1951. They also address their discovery of the multiverse and the Earth-1 Justice League in 1961. They also revisit the various adventures they had with the Justice League during that time frame, leading to their eventual reunion for most of the 1970s and present.

While revising the Justice Society's near five decade history makes it feel a bit like documentary in comic book form, it actually does serve a story purpose and that purpose is very much tied to the reason Batman accused the Justice Society of treason in the first place. Like everything else to do with Batman, nothing he does is ever by accident or happenstance. There is a reason attached to every action he takes and writing a diary accusing Earth-2's greatest superhero team of treason is no exception.

There is a villain Batman is trying to stop posthumously, and he leaves it up to the world, the Justice Society, even his own successors to figure out who that is and why, and it all ties back to the history of the Justice Society. Who could this dangerous villain be and why does the whole world need to be that villain's audience? The Justice Society has encountered all kinds of dangerous villains throughout their history, but there is only one that consistently threatens history itself. The one with a penchant for time travel: the Injustice Society member known as Per Degaton.

From his first appearance in All-Star Comics #35 in 1946, Per Degaton has always had an obsession with power and always felt he deserved a better place in the world. Specifically, he felt he should be its ruler. Originally the lab assistant of Professor Malachi Zee of the Time Trust, Per Degaton was known to steal his supervisor's research and technology to travel back in time and alter history in his favour. In changing fixed points in time, Per Degaton would often leave a trail of destruction that would destabilise the timespace continuum, even cause damage to the fabric of multiverse itself. This often resulted in massive changes to Earth-2's timeline in particular, but he was also known to hurt the timelines of other Earths in the infinite multiverse as well. (Remember that time his actions destroyed Earth-Prime?)

Given the risks involved and the frequency with which Per Degaton travels back in time to change history in his favour, Bruce Wayne in his final years had to devise a clever way to put a permanent end to the dangerous time traveller's antics: by exposing him to the world at large. By having the US Supreme Court investigate the Justice Society's history, Bruce afforded the classic team the largest stage they could've been put on to forever clear them of any wrong-doing, but with an additional catch: by zeroing in on Per Degaton himself, the world would become aware of his agenda, effectively preventing him from achieving it in the first place. By putting Degaton in a corner, the deceased Bruce left him with only two options: go back to prison or make his own exit. Degaton chose the latter by ending his own life rather than go back to prison.

Though Earth-2 and the Justice Society's integrity had been saved, it also came at a price: the successors of Bruce Wayne himself. What did Bruce's very thorough plan to expose Per Degaton do to his own daughter and ward? How did his actions hurt their relationship to each other in particular?


In addition to the main plot, a major subplot in America vs the Justice Society focuses on the legacy of Bruce Wayne himself, and it is a turbulent one. Though Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne have a profound love and respect for Bruce, his actions against the Justice Society also brought out additional feelings they both have about him. It especially unveiled Helena's longstanding issues with her father's lack of trust in other people and especially the depths he was willing to go to achieve his own goals. Dick on the other hand cowered under pressure and showed that he was willing to sacrifice his relationships with the other most important people in his life--including Helena--in order to not feel like a traitor to the man who raised him.

A lot of Dick and Helena's feelings toward Bruce came out very early on in the story when they confronted each other just shortly after the Justice Society were taken into custody by the US government. Dick did not want to be caught in the middle of a conflict involving his mentor and friends while Helena was very headstrong about proving the Justice Society's innocence and that everything written in her father's diary was slander. The moment Dick contemplated the possibility that Bruce's accusations might be true based on the fact that the diary was written in Bruce's handwriting and not a forgery, that moment Helena realised she was alone in her fight.

The rest of the Batman subplot plays out exactly as one might expect. Dick ultimately chooses to defend Bruce's integrity behind Helena's back, while Helena stands by the Justice Society and defends their innocence against her father's slander. Dick and Helena are rarely on speaking terms except to confront each other about their positions in public court. Helena about Dick's cowardice and Dick about Helena's betrayal of her own father. When it came down to the last piece of evidence needed to forever prove the accusations written in Batman's diary were a lie, Helena had one option left to her, and that was to reveal her father's identity.

Revealing her father's identity was not a risk Helena took lightly. In addition to forever discrediting her father's reputation to the world at large, she would also effectively compromise her own position as the Justice Society's attorney. Not only would it be known that she is the Batman's daughter, but she would so reveal that she is the Huntress (and therefore a member of the Justice Society), effectively revealing her own personal stake in this whole debacle. The first thing that would've immediately come into question upon making that kind of revelation is why Helena didn't reveal that she was the Huntress from the get-go and how her deliberate deception in public court now corrupts all the work that she put into defending the Justice Society.

Having calculated all of those risks, Helena ultimately chose not to reveal her father's identity, but the whole situation still made her uneasy. When Dick finally put all the pieces together himself and realised what Bruce was really getting at, he ultimately felt ashamed for not believing Helena or the Justice Society before the court hearings began. Though Helena ended up forgiving Dick for his role in this debacle, it still begged the question of whether or not Bruce actually knew how things would play out between his daughter and ward for him to risk the Justice Society's reputation the way that he did?

Contrary to what everyone else believed, did Bruce actually know that his daughter was the Huntress all along, and knew how she would react to the wild accusation of her own team being Nazis, effectively manipulating her into her role posthumously? Did he similarly use his own ward's unwavering loyalty toward him to manipulate him into serving "the other side" to Helena's defence to distract the court of any suspicions into the secret identities of all three people? Bruce had to have known all of those details for him to make the calculated risk that he made or he would have left the Justice Society's fate and reputation entirely in the hands of an enraged public. To control for that, he had to put his own successors in charge of the investigation because they would know to ask the right questions.

1 comment:

  1. Great summation. One clarification if I may, it was a congressional hearing rather than a Supreme Court judicial hearing where the Justice Society was called to testify before.