Thursday, 9 November 2017

Helena Wayne 40th Anniversary: Justice Society Vol. 2

JUSTICE SOCIETY VOL. 2
Written by PAUL LEVITZ
Art by JOE STATON
Cover by BRIAN BOLLAND
They were the world's first super-team: the Justice Society of America. Headlining the ALL STAR COMICS title in the 1940s, the JSA eventually faded into obscurity -- until their much-demanded revival in the '70s! Now you can thrill to the continuing adventures of Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Wildcat, and younger heroes Robin, Power Girl, Star-Spangled Kid, and the Huntress!

This second of two volumes features the writing of talents Paul Levitz (JSA, LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES), with art by Joe Staton (GREEN LANTERN, THE HUNTRESS) and others!

This volume collects ALL-STAR COMICS #68-74 and ADVENTURE COMICS #461-466
FEBRUARY 07 | RATED T | $14.99 | PRINT


INTRODUCTION

Having talked about my most prized possession last week, it's now time to talk about my other favourite trade in my collection, Justice Society Vol. 2!

With Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter showing us Helena Wayne's superhero journey--from being the mere daughter of Batman and Catwoman to a heroine of her own standing as the Huntress--Justice Society Vol. 2 continues that journey on broader scale. Whereas Dark Knight Daughter followed Helena's solo adventures as Gotham's newest protector, Justice Society Vol. 2 shows us how she works within a superhero team protecting the world at large. We're now taken out of the streets of Gotham and shown the entire world of Earth-2 and we are subsequently introduced to Helena's other friends, the Justice Society of America!

This volume along with Justice Society Vol. 1 (the volume that introduces Power Girl to the Justice Society) begins the new adventures of the ageing Justice Society heroes that have been active since 1940. By 1967, younger generations of heroes started joining the classic team, such as Dick Grayson as the adult Robin. By 1976, the Justice Society acquired a newer member in the form of Kara Zor-L as Power Girl, and the following year--in late 1977--Helena Wayne joined as the Huntress.

Staying true to form, Justice Society Vol. 2 similarly shows Helena's first adventure with the Justice Society as detailed in All-Star Comics #69-71 (which takes place a year after she became the Huntress), as well as how she formally joined the team. She also meets her more villainous namesake in this volume (Paula Brooks, the Golden Age Huntress), we see more team-ups with Power Girl, and we especially get some Batman family drama. Let's dive right in!


1. FIRST TEAM-UP WITH THE JUSTICE SOCIETY


Before Helena Wayne officially joins the team, the first four chapters in this volume catches the reader up to speed on what life's been like on Earth-2 since the Justice Society officially became active again on this world in the 1960s. Basically, same as before. Many of the same threats the Justice Society battled in their prime during the 1940s find new ways to resurface. Some of them are the same villains as before (just older), and others are younger, new villains replacing their predecessors. Not only do we see how much more experienced the Justice Society has gotten since their earlier adventures, but we also see how they work with younger generations heroes like Robin and Power Girl.

Helena in this volume doesn't apply for membership right away in part because she hasn't felt like she has acquired enough experience to officially join the team (she's only been active for a year), and in part because she's been trying to maintain a low profile in order avoid her father's attention. Since her father is now functioning as police commissioner of Gotham, he will notice if there's a new hero active in his city who isn't Robin, and he'll especially know that it's Helena. By the time Helena decides to assist with a Justice Society mission, she keeps her involvement as secret as possible.

When Helena officially joins the Justice Society, we see more of her detective skills in action. We especially see that she has acquired considerable experience in her first year as the Huntress and that she has definitely gotten better at her work from her earlier cases. Whereas Helena was previously shown to make rookie mistakes in her initial outings, by the time she starts working with the Justice Society, she is noticeably more meticulous in her methods and is shown to be a more skilled fighter than before, easily earning her place with the classic superhero team.

How Helena interacts and gets along with the older Justice Society heroes is another major high point of this book. We already knew from Dark Knight Daughter that Helena is quite confident in her abilities and that she is quite capable of handling things on her own without any assistance. But how does she work as a team member? For the most part, Helena has no trouble getting along with the other Justice Society heroes and the age gap between herself and its veteran members don't prove to be much of an obstacle. The older Justice Society heroes are quite welcoming of Helena and she's very happy to be able to work alongside the same legendary heroes who have worked alongside her dad at one point in their prime.

There are times when Helena does feel like she isn't taken seriously by the older Justice Society heroes, most notably when she's being made to take care of menial tasks that are beneath her skillset. This does upset her when it happens, but it also doesn't happen often enough for her to reconsider her membership with the team. Out of all the JSAers, however, the one member she likes spending the most time with in and out of costume is--you guessed it--Power Girl!


2. MORE ADVENTURES WITH POWER GIRL

While Dark Knight Daughter showed us one team-up with Huntress and Power Girl, it is actually in this volume where Kara and Helena formally meet. The first time Helena encounters Kara is during the episode where father was being controlled by the second Psycho-Pirate, Roger Hayden. In that conflict, Power Girl was accidentally injured by the Gotham police department's newer weapons that are designed to hurt Kryptonians. While Helena didn't contact Kara directly, she did stay vigilant of her in order to monitor her wellbeing.

Sometime after Helena officially joins the Justice Society, Kara and Helena become close friends and start spending more time together. On Justice Society missions they tend to work almost exclusively together when the team splits up into smaller groups. It is also in these particular stories where we witness more of their World's Finest dynamic and we also see how these two really women work together.

I would say the one story that best shows these two women working as a pair is the "Countdown to Disaster" story where the Justice Society only has a few hours to find a bomb that's set to detonate and destroy an entire city. We especially see the very different approaches these two women have as crime-fighters, with Helena being the more patient detective and Kara being more of an action girl. The tasks that require thorough investigation are more up Helena's speed whereas tasks that require immediate action are more inline with Power Girl.

Tasks that require Power Girl to function in a "detective role" usually tend to bore her quickly and she tends to find herself wanting to move on to something new, preferably exciting. Helena is a bit more flexible in that she can both fulfil the "action girl" and "detective" roles, but she does have a stronger preference for the latter since she feels this is the skillset she best contributes to the team. When they work together with these significant differences in fighting style, they tend to harmonise each other quite well. Helena has the patience to work with Kara's impulsiveness and impatience whereas Kara values the fact that Helena sees her as her equal and harbours a tonne of respect for her.

The best stories that focus on Kara and Helena having some "down time" are the Master Summoner story and the one titled "The Defeat of the Justice Society." Although their "down time" moments in these stories are very brief, they are still my favourite moments because they still show how profound this relationship is. The Master Summoner story is the one that features that very famous lunch scene that I keep posting and it is also the story where the two women talk about Kara's problem with not being able to hold two separate identities, with Power Girl being her more dominant identity.

The second story just mostly shows Kara and Helena sitting together at Justice Society headquarters while the rest of the team is attending Terry Sloane's funeral following the events of a Justice League/Justice Society crossover. Though the two women don't really talk about anything important, we do get a really cute Power Girl moment when she asks Helena why people only get together during funerals. It's a brief moment of innocence from Kara that Helena finds endearing, which I think also shows one thing Helena loves about her. Aside from the fact that Kara is very opinionated and speaks her mind freely, I think Helena tends to enjoy her moments of vulnerability for the fact that it shows more aspects of her personality that she doesn't like to show to anyone else.

The rest of the story centres on Helena recounting what led to the original disbanding of the Justice Society in 1951.


3. MORE STORIES WITH DICK GRAYSON

In addition to seeing more of Helena's relationship with Kara in this volume, another major selling point for me is seeing more of Helena's relationship with Dick Grayson and it is actually in this volume that we see stronger confirmation of their sibling-like relationship. Definitely my favourite moment is the one where Dick catches Helena off guard while she's baking a soufflé in her Huntress costume.

I love this scene in part because its' a really quirky thing for Helena to decide to bake in her "work clothes" which I think would be really uncomfortable in a kitchen, but she's really cool with it. Another reason I love this scene is because it shows how heavily guarded Helena is with regards to her Huntress life. She is--by this point--still hiding this aspect of herself from the public to avoid drawing her father's attention. Dick was already aware of the fact that Helena is the Huntress (it literally couldn't have been anyone else in Gotham) but decides to keep her secret out of respect for her.

I would say the one story in this volume that's very heavily Dick and Helena-centric is the "Death of Batman" storyline, which deals with two things: the impact Batman has had on both Bruce Wayne and the citizens of Gotham, and how his legacy in particular affects the two people he raised: Dick and Helena themselves.

I honestly felt the death of Bruce itself could've been better handled (preferably with one of his more iconic villains like the Joker as I felt that would've packed a stronger punch), but the character beats in this story arc are very profound. We see a Bruce Wayne who has reached the end of his rope and a Helena Wayne who is not ready to lose her other parent somewhat still too soon after her mother. She's still emotionally recovering from that earlier loss that the second one causes her to double down in sorrow.

The epilogue is the part that deals with the legacy of Batman itself, which leads to another iconic scene in this volume: the scene where Dick talks about taking over the mantle of his former mentor as a way of honouring him and Helena being against the idea. It's a very powerful scene that shows what Bruce's legacy means to both characters. Dick is very much a case of feeling indebted to Bruce whereas Helena is now mourning the loss of both parents.

Bruce's legacy is important to them both, but for very different reasons. Dick comes from a place of having been orphaned as a child and Bruce filling a void in his life, whereas Helena comes from a place of being Bruce's biological child, complete with a normal upbringing. Dick wants to continue what Bruce started on Bruce's terms, whereas Helena wants to continue that legacy on her own terms.

In addition to Helena losing both parents and having a legacy to uphold, the second part of the "Death of Batman" story deals with the aftermath of his death, particularly how it hurts his two successors. With the identities of Batman, Robin, and Huntress known to the public following Bruce's demise, Dick and Helena are forced to hunt down the villain responsible for his death under these dangerous circumstances.

Not only do Dick and Helena have to worry about finding the villain as soon as possible, but they have to do so with the knowledge that their loved ones are now in danger as a consequence of their identities being public. On top of needing to stop the villain from carrying out the rest of their plan, they also have to find a way to reverse the damage of their identities being public in that same short timeframe.

On the whole, Justice Society Vol. 2 is a very solid read from start to finish. Not only does the book preserve much of DC's original Golden Age history and tone, but it's especially filled with stories that are heartfelt and loaded with character-centric arcs that lead to meaningful growth for the affected characters. We witness a whole new chapter in Helena Wayne's journey as the Huntress and we particularly see how her membership into the Justice Society helps her carve legacy she wants to build for herself. We especially see more of her relationships with Dick Grayson and Kara Zor-L, which are her more significant relationships.

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