HUNTRESS: DARK KNIGHT DAUGHTER
Written by PAUL LEVITZ
Art by JOE STATON
Cover by BRIAN BOLLAND
The Huntress is on the prowl...She is unique in comics...the daughter of a hero and a villain: the Earth-Two Batman and Catwoman. Helena Wayne was trained by her parents to become a superb athlete, and studied law with the hope of bringing criminals to justice. But after Catwoman is blackmailed to resume her life of crime, leading to her death, Helena dons a costume and crossbow to become the Huntress to avenge her mother!
Now the Huntress's classic origin and first few years of solo adventures are finally collected, written by Paul Levitz (LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, JUSTICE SOCIETY) with art by Joe Staton (GREEN LANTERN) and others with an introduction by Levitz!
This volume includes stories from DC SUPER STARS #17, BATMAN FAMILY #18-20, and WONDER WOMAN #271-287, #289-290 and #294-295.
DECEMBER 27 | RATED T | $19.99 | PRINT
It's an understatement to say this book means a lot to me, not to mention my most treasured possession in my entire DC trade collection. While it was Justice Society of America Annual #1 by Geoff Johns and Jerry Ordway that catapulted my interest in Helena Wayne, it was actually this book that made me fall in love with the character, as well as her earlier adventures with the Justice Society, collected in other trades (Justice Society Vol. 2 and Crisis on Multiple Earths Vols. 5 and 6 respectively).
I'll always find it funny that Paul Levitz excuses himself in the introduction of this book by informing readers to "keep in mind, I was only 20 when I wrote these stories." It's funny because it is--to this day--still his best work on the character. In the first six years that he wrote Helena Wayne, Levitz provided a strong foundation for the character that helped shape how future writers would write the Huntress. Not just the original Helena Wayne version, but also the post-Crisis Helena Bertinelli, leading to those constant references to Helena Wayne in some capacity.
In current continuity, Helena Bertinelli has been distanced from her foundations as "the rebooted Helena Wayne" character she was post-Crisis while keeping the developments that have always been unique to her. The classic Helena Wayne Huntress, however, has yet to make an appearance in the current DC continuity, preferably with the classic Justice Society and Power Girl. While I'm fully aware that Tom King is looking to marry the Prime Earth versions of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in his Batman run (possibly leading to the birth of a Helena Wayne native to this Earth), the original pre-Crisis character Paul Levitz co-created is, in my opinion, irreplaceable.
The reason the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne Huntress is irreplaceable is mainly due to how original she is as a character. In addition to being the first canonical biological child of Bruce Wayne, she is also the original Huntress who made Helena Bertinelli's existence possible in the same way that Jay Garrick made Barry Allen possible. The pre-Crisis Helena Wayne is also the original second generation World's Finest duo with Power Girl, and a second generation member of the Justice Society. These are the core traits that truly made Helena Wayne stand out as a character. A Prime Earth version of this character will never be any of these things on a world where both Damian Wayne and Helena Bertinelli occupy two of the ideas she originated, not to mention she will be too young to be Power Girl's best friend. She will also be a sixth generation Justice Society member (if she joins at all) rather than second generation.
Because a Prime Earth version of Helena Wayne will never be able to reclaim the very ideas that made her unique in the DC Universe is why I've strongly advocated for DC to treat her return as a course-correction on the Crisis reboot instead of as a new starting point for her character. I'm of the strong opinion that if Geoff Johns could find a way to reinstate the original Wally West on an Earth where a black version of the same character already exists, he can find a way to reinstate the original Helena Wayne in a way that stays true to the core concept of her character. If I was able to do so, surely Johns can work his magic here as well.
Getting back on topic, when it comes to learning the core concept of Helena Wayne as a character, Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter is the absolute go-to book for getting well acquainted with her. It's not just a good resource for new fans who want to know more about her, but also a good resource for DC writers and staff who are not strongly familiar with her character. In just this one book, we learn her classic origin story, we see how she develops into a hero of her own standing, we see the kind of woman she becomes as an adult, and how her lifestyle affects her relationships with the most important people in her life from her own family and friends to her romantic partner. Lets talk about all that!
1. THE CLASSIC ORIGIN STORY OF THE HUNTRESS
As most DC fans know, Bruce and Selina started out as two individuals who--for a long time--made lifestyle choices based on the traumatic experiences they lived through, and both felt like they didn't have bright futures ahead of them. Though it was their shared life experiences that originally brought Bruce and Selina together, it was ultimately the hope they inspired in each other that allowed them to move on from their need of Batman and Catwoman.
Bruce and Selina learned to find happiness after self reflecting and realising what it was they truly wanted more than anything: a family and a sense of belonging. This was the conclusion both people reached on their own and decided this was how they wanted to move on (as detailed in Brave and the Bold #197). Helena embodies the happiness Bruce and Selina achieved because a combination of their marriage and their shared responsibility in raising her caused both people to make meaningful lifestyle changes. Bruce and Selina no longer needed Batman and Catwoman, so they abandoned those identities and committed to leading normal lives. Bruce even found a new way of continuing his passion of fighting crime by taking over his old friend's job as police commissioner. These developments felt like a natural progression for Bruce and Selina that made them feel more human and it was definitely something I wanted to see more of.
The rest of the story centres on how Helena Wayne becomes the Huntress and why, and it very much centres on the fate of her mother. Admittedly, this detail has become my least favourite aspect of Helena's origin. Part of the reason is because killing a woman as a tool for progressing another character's story (a trope known as fridging) is not an original idea, and is conceptually sexist since it robs women of their own agency. While Selina had some agency at the time of her death, her demise was ultimately not about her heroic sacrifice to protect her family (though the story bordered on that idea) and more about being the catalyst that speeds up the process of Helena becoming the Huntress.
The other reason I've come to dislike this aspect of Helena's origin is because I don't feel that her mother's death was necessary to catapult her into her superhero identity. I think Helena would've eventually made this choice on her own once she realised the limitations of her power as an attorney (the career she went with) and would've wanted to uphold her father's legacy anyway. This is definitely one thing I would like to see done differently in Rebirth, especially if the pre-Crisis Helena's history gets merged with that of the Prime Earth Bruce and Selina. It would be a significant improvement on her original reason for becoming the Huntress while still preserving everything else that makes her unique. (She still needs to be the original Huntress and the original Bat child, in my opinion.)
2. HELENA IS THE HERO OF HER OWN STORY.
Helena was trained by both of her parents to be a superb athlete and benefitted from a very thorough education. It's easily established that Helena is highly intelligent and a skilled martial artist, but she isn't written as an expert at being a superhero on her first try. In fact, she makes a lot of mistakes, which is believable for someone starting something new. Helena has all the tools that she needs to become the legacy hero she wants to be, but hasn't figured out how to use those tools in way that's efficient and won't cause accidental deaths.
A big part of Helena's journey in this book is learning what she is good at, what her weaknesses are, and figuring out what kind of hero she wants to be as the Huntress. A big part of what influences Helena's identity as the Huntress is a desire to carry on her parents' legacy without basking in their shadows. She wants to stand apart from her parents and wants people to recognise her on her own merits, not on her heritage. Another part of what influences her investment in her Huntress identity is her own frustration with her actual career as a lawyer.
Helena knows that when it comes to prosecuting criminals in a court of law, she is good at her job, but it doesn't give her the same kind of job satisfaction that her work as the Huntress affords her. As a lawyer, she's competing against other equally talented lawyers who can do her job just as well as she can. As the Huntress, however, she gets to utilise a different set of skills none of her peers possess, allowing her to step up her game in a way none of them can. Her peers may be equally skilled at putting criminals behind bars with the law tucked under their arm, but it takes a superhero to capture them in the first place, and close any loopholes they can exploit to cheat the court system.
In addition to the Huntress identity, the Helena Wayne side of the character is given equal attention in this book. Who is Helena Wayne when she's not wearing a cape and a mask? Well, Helena Wayne the civilian is still just as complex. She enjoys a lot of the same things that a normal person enjoys such as interpersonal relationships and simple pleasures like going out for coffee with a friend, but she also finds these simple things hard to obtain. Not because she's socially awkward, but because dividing her time between her actual job and her Huntress exploits make it difficult to obtain these things. She can't get too close to other people or she risks exposing her other identity to them, which can have the additional consequence of endangering their lives. She also has trouble making time for simple things like dating and socialising because she's too invested in her activities as the Huntress. These are the kinds of challenges that the character faces out of costume.
Personality-wise, Helena Wayne embodies the best of her parents, but she also possesses traits of her own. Like both of her parents, she's very cunning and confident in her abilities (sometimes to the point of arrogance), she's snarky, compassionate, has a sense of humour, and is a tad bit obsessive. But unlike her parents, she doesn't dwell on her personal tragedies (at least not by much), and is idiosyncratic in a way that differs from both of them. Bruce and Selina's brand of idiosyncrasy involved dressing up as a bat an a cat--complete with bat and cat-themed gadgets and vehicles--to do their activities. Helena's is more along the lines of strange behaviours like eating chocolate chip cookies with a glass of wine and baking a soufflé while still in her Huntress costume (though, this is shown in a different book--Justice Society Vol. 2). All in all, Paul Levitz crafted a well-rounded character the first time.
3. HELENA GETS HER OWN LOVE INTERESTS
a different post three weeks ago, no superhero story is ever complete without romance, and Paul Levitz does stay true to that tradition in this volume. However, Helena Wayne's love life as presented is a bit awkward and strange.
Her primary love interest in this book is Gotham district attorney, Harry Sims. While sharing the same profession affords the couple some common ground, it becomes clear right away that they really don't have common interests. There is a mutual fondness for one another, but both people want completely different things in a relationship. Helena simply wants to be with someone she can share her life and be happy with, whereas Harry wants both of those things as well, but on his terms. The latter especially becomes evident when he ends up calling all the shots in their relationship without giving Helena much of a say.
Another character who is presented as a potential love interest for Helena in this volume is Dick Grayson, her father's ward and the superhero known as Robin. From a strictly narrative standpoint, Dick Grayson as a potential love interest for Helena Wayne does actually make sense. They both share the background of being trained by her father, Bruce Wayne, even if Bruce never intended for his daughter to follow in his footsteps. With that shared background comes their superhero lifestyles, and with that shared superhero lifestyle, comes mutual love and respect for each other that puts them on the path to mutual understanding.
In concept, Dick and Helena possess many of the key ingredients needed for a relationship to work that offers a very different dynamic from Harry and Helena. The only thing that works against this pair is the fact that Bruce raised both people like his own children. While Bruce was never able to legally adopt Dick because the latter still had living relatives (mainly his uncle George and his wife Clara in the pre-Crisis continuity), Bruce still raised him like a son and possessed a very fatherly love towards Dick. As such, blood relation is completely irrelevant because Bruce still made Dick a part of his family, and having a biological daughter in the form of Helena never changed that.
If circumstances were slightly different and if Dick was closer to Helena's age (as opposed to 25 years her senior, chronologically speaking), the idea of Helena being romantically interested in a man who shares her background as well as a meaningful history with her family would've been worth exploring. Unfortunately, though, Dick and Helena are closer to siblings in the pre-Crisis continuity, and Dick is literally old enough to be her dad, which is the other part that makes this weird.
4. HUNTRESS AND POWER GIRL FRIENDSHIP
One of the story arcs in this volume is devoted to a team-up between Huntress and Power Girl that sees the duo come to blows with the Thinker (a classic Justice Society villain), and there's even a dude in distress. Though the premise for this story is very much that, the heart of this story is mainly centred on the two lead heroines of Kara and Helena, and especially their friendship. Specifically how they relate to each other and how they differ. Because the dude in distress in this story also happens to be Helena's boyfriend, there's some talk about relationships as well, specifically in relation to Helena's poor taste in men.
Throughout this story arc, there are opportunities for both women to shine at different times. In the first half of the story, we learn a lot about who Power Girl is as a character. We specifically learn that she's a very passionate young woman who also doesn't respond well to human stupidity or bad, harmful decisions from people. She's very assertive and has no problem speaking her mind when something upsets her. Interestingly, we also learn a lot about Harry as a character in the scenes where he has to deal with Power Girl. We specifically see that he doesn't like to deal with the "Power Girl types," or to put it in layman's terms, vocal feminists.
Harry in the scenes with Power Girl ends up embodying many common attitudes a lot of men possess towards women they can't control. Harry's interactions with Power Girl show that he has considerable disdain for her and condescends her at every turn. Kara similarly shows that she has a very strong dislike of Harry and similarly crushes his sexist behaviour in turn. Helena tries to diffuse the situation, even tries to help Kara warm up to him, but Kara isn't easily persuaded based on her own interactions with him. She very much draws her attention to the fact Harry is a jerk, with the implication that Helena can do way better than him.
Helena's chance to shine in this story doesn't come until the third act of the story when she is made to deal with three stressful situations at once. In this case, the reality of her boyfriend knowing her secret identity (much to her shock), figuring out how to release Power Girl from the Thinker's control without getting killed or mind-controlled herself, and how to foil the Thinker's destructive plans for Gotham at large with all of those thoughts on parade in her mind. But the main selling point of this story isn't how these women contrast each other, but how they work together.
The best scenes in this story arc are the ones that show Huntress and Power Girl working together to deal with an emergency situation in Gotham that happened seemingly out of nowhere. They're both able to respond quickly to a problem almost instinctively as neither one is seen giving the other instructions. They're good at quickly coordinating their moves as their situation changes with the only disagreements occurring when one of them decides what they want to take care of. When the two heroines aren't busy dealing with emergencies that require their superhero expertise, their downtime moments are equally enjoyable to watch as they actually focus on catching up on their lives.
While the one Huntress and Power Girl-centric story arc gives you a good taste of how they work together as their Earth's second generation World's Finest duo, it is in fact only a taste. For stories that more profoundly show Huntress and Power Girl as friends as well as a team, this is where we start talking about Justice Society Vol. 2 next week!