Monday 15 January 2018

The Best of the Huntress: Wonder Woman #308 Review

Title: Wonder Woman #308
Story: Pressure
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Gary Minelli, Nedra Borrower
Creators: Joey Cavalieri (writer), Michael Hernandez (artist)
Publication Date: 05 October 1983
Available In: Digital

Summary: It has been a wild ride for the Huntress. From the moment she took on the cases of the Mechanic, Pat Pending, and the Undertaker, all of which led her to Arkham Asylum where she was shot with a potent cocktail of hallucinogens, Helena Wayne is more than happy to get back to her normal routine of being a lawyer by day and the Huntress by night. But are things really back to normal for the Huntress, or are things just getting started? As the downward spiral of Helena Wayne's life continues, she is met with a new set of friends and foes, one of which is the ambitious reporter, Nedra Borrower, who is out for the Huntress' blood!

Review: Last we left off before spending the last four months of 2017 celebrating Helena Wayne's 40th anniversary was the conclusion of the Arkham Asylum story arc. In the last chapter of this story, Helena Wayne was made to confront her worst fears after being shot with a very potent hallucinogenic. In this chapter, she seeks to get her life back on track, but it does not appear as though there is any going back to the way things were following those recent events.

After her hallucinogenic trip through the depths of her mind, Helena finds herself waking up inside a strange man's flat, the same one she escaped Arkham Asylum with the night before. She finds herself nude and unmasked, and somehow she is not concerned about that at all. She's not concerned about the fact that a man she had only met a few hours early had undressed her while she was unconscious and the troubling implications of that (aka sexual assault). She equally doesn't seem concerned about the fact that he has seen her face. Instead, Helena is written as being more concerned about the fact that her new acquaintance, Gary Minelli, is not intimidated by her at all, especially as evidenced by the fact that he is clearly hitting on her.

This is admittedly a very strange way to start a new chapter. Aside from the fact that Helena is not reacting appropriately to a situation most women would identify as a sure sign that sexual assault took place, it's also hard to know for certain where Joey Cavalieri is trying to go with the Gary Minelli character. On the one hand, he doesn't hide the fact that he is very much attracted to her despite her lifestyle, and is even turned on by it. This is a significant difference from Helena's romantic partner, Harry Sims, who very strongly rejects this aspect of Helena's life.

The fact that Cavalieri named this new character "Gary" to rhyme with "Harry" and like Harry also serves the law in some capacity (he is established as a detective here), you can start to see that he is clearly juxtaposing this new man in Helena's life with her romantic partner. The question is, is Cavalieri trying to give Helena a new love interest who actually respects her as a person? Well...that's the part that's not really clear because the same chapter also establishes that he is something of a black sheep in Gotham's police department, and not in a good way. The fact that Gary undressed a woman he is attracted to while she was unconscious also doesn't paint him in a positive light, and instead places him in the category of being a creep.

Another character that is introduced in this chapter as an antagonist for Helena Wayne is a female reporter named Nedra Borrower who was only previously mentioned in the earlier chapters. Now, Nedra as an antagonist is quite interesting because in contrast with all the previous antagonists Helena has faced since her comic debut, Nedra is the first who isn't a criminal in any capacity. Nedra is in fact a law abiding citizen who is also an ambitious career woman. So where does the "antagonist" part come in? Well, that's the part that's interesting: She hates the Huntress for pursuing her goals in life. Huh? What? Yeah. Let's talk about that.

When we first meet Nedra in this chapter, she looks like a Lois Lane-type reporter who has latched on to a big story that she feels will get her noticed, in this case, the debacle surrounding the Mechanic, the Undertaker, Pat Pending, and Arkham Asylum. So far, nothing's out of the ordinary...yet. When Nedra learns from the suspects the police took into custody that the Huntress was not responsible for any of the deaths she was originally blamed for, Nedra was immediately disappointed and no longer felt like she had a story. It turns out the criminal ring that was responsible for the events of Arkham Asylum and the deaths of the aforementioned individuals was not the story she wanted to cover. Instead, she wanted to cover the Huntress' involvement in those deaths. So why is Nedra obsessed with painting the Huntress as a murderer?

From the backstory we are provided with from Joey Cavalieri, Nedra started out with ambitious goals as a child, but was frequently discouraged from pursuing them due to her gender. She had a strong desire to compete in male dominated spaces, but was frequently told her pursuits were not "lady-like" and even made people assume she was a lesbian. Feeling trapped, limited, and isolated in a bubble intoxicated with internalised misogyny and homophobia, the Huntress represents to Nedra the person she wants to be: free. But that is also the problem Nedra has with the Huntress.

Given Nedra's reasoning for hating the Huntress, her problem is less about the Huntress actually existing and more about the fact that another woman who isn't herself got to do exactly what she wanted to do. I guess you could say the Huntress is something of a black mirror to Nedra that presents to her the person she sees herself as on the inside, but the face she sees on the outside is that of someone else. Being met with that reality hurts her.

The existence of the Huntress makes Nedra feel as though she has failed herself in a very big way. Nedra has surrendered to her own insecurities, internalised misogyny, and homophobia by doing exactly what other people wanted her to do. She became the person other people wanted her to be and she doesn't feel like she is living an authentic life. The Huntress by contrast symbolises for Nedra the woman who didn't bend to the will of other people and got to pursue the goals she wanted to pursue in life against all odds. She got to be her authentic self. So Nedra thinks.

Truth be told, Nedra does not know the woman who is the Huntress, let alone the reasons that drove that woman to become the Huntress. She doesn't know Helena Wayne's insecurities and other internal struggles, nor does she really care because none of that is relevant to her. She sees the Huntress as the hero the rest of the world sees. So while Nedra has set out to "destroy the hero" and the public's perception of her as her "new goal," in reality, she wants to the destroy the metaphorical black mirror that represents her own failures as a person, not Helena Wayne. The Huntress just happens to be the entity she is projecting all of her anger towards.

With self-loathing driving Nedra Borrower to destroy another woman she doesn't know, this brings us to the last topic of conversation for this chapter: is she succeeding?

One recurring theme that's been prominent since the start of Joey Cavalieri's run that is present here is growing public distrust in the Huntress, leading to public pressure on Gotham's authorities to put an end to her activities. This is probably starting to sound like the plot of the 1986 maxiseries Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. While Cavalieri's story does explore this same theme, he doesn't do it for the same reason Moore and Gibbons do in their own story.

Within the context of Watchmen (written three years after this Huntress story was published), trust in superheroes was present from the moment the first costumed vigilante appeared in that universe as "Hooded Justice" in 1938. Since one of the themes of Watchmen was to explore the natural consequences of costumed vigilantes existing in the real world, public distrust in superheroes culminating in their public banning in 1977 was handled as a natural consequence of that decades-old distrust.

Within the context of Joey Cavalieri's Huntress story, growing distrust in the Huntress is being explored as a consequence of mass media, specifically the power that media has in shaping public opinion and ultimately human behaviour. This is something that gets explored more in-depth in a future chapter, but it does nonetheless show that Nedra has been manipulating public perception of the Huntress since the beginning of Cavalieri's run. We're just now seeing a face being put to the name.



  1. (Repost!)

    Did Gary really undress Helena while she was tripping? Given that she has a towel wrapped around her while she's at the apartment, my own impression was always that she'd been in the shower. I might be wrong though. And if you're right then really is crazy she's not more freaked out by that...

    After the tirade he put through, I was bitterly disappointed that we weren't treated to a well-deserved scene where Helena marches up to Harry and asks what he has to say for himself now that she's been dramatically vindicated in the matter of Pat Pending's death. Followed by her breaking up with him for good.

    You have crystallized everything that I thought about Nedra Borrower. Remember the straitjacket I mentioned in my thoughts on the previous story? Not the physical one Helena is bound in when she's committed to the asylum, the metaphorical one that society would impose on her because she's a woman. Unlike Helena, Nedra Borrower is a woman who DID surrender to it. She's as much of a black mirror for Helena is Helena is for her. Helena has seen what's wrong with society and vowed to everything in her power to ensure that the people of Gotham are safe from those who would prey upon them. Therefore she's a huntress of predators. Then you have Nedra who discovers that a mental hospital has been turned into a dungeon for enemies of the mob but decides not to cover the story because it doesn't satisfy her selfish interests. For all her talk, she doesn't give a damn about the city as long as she gets what she wants. Unfortunately for Helena, Nedra has a potent weapon she can bring to bear in their struggle. Where foes like Solomon Grundy and even The Joker failed, the power of the media might just prove to be what finally destroys The Huntress.

    That panel of Helena swooping in to bust up (what she believes to be) a drug deal is so beautiful. It could have been the perfect cover illustration for issue #1 of a Helena Wayne comic-book. Which sadly is something that never came to be...

    1. In the same panel where she is wearing the towel, she asks Gary if he brought her to his apartment, making it known that she had just woken up. It would be unusual for her to say something like that after showering since the latter would imply she knew she was staying in his flat.

      That splash page of her swooping in to bust a drug deal (that didn't turn out to be a drug deal) is pretty fantastic though. Amazing work there by Michael Hernandez!

    2. (Sorry for all the reposts!)

      Do you think the creep factor of Gary's actions toward Helena was deliberate on the writer's part? Later events might suggests that it was. But part of me wonders whether the writer realized how it comes off for him to have undressed and unmasked her (two violations for the price of one as she's a crime-fighter) while she was under the influence of drugs. Since Helena herself doesn't seem weirded out to discover herself naked in a strange man's apartment, I can't help wondering if the skeeviness was an unintentional side-effect of her being written by a male writer.

      I've been mulling over the relevance of the Arkham Asylum story. One of the things you mentioned was that its connection with the Undertaker story was unclear. I agree that it seems to have been placed quite oddly for a new story. Why does one story lead directly into another like that? Why aren't they separate? Why didn't Helena discover what was going on behind the closed doors of Arkham as a result of another investigation after wrapping up the Undertaker case? I think it makes a lot more sense when you think of the Arkham story not as the sequel to the Undertaker story but as the midway point of the Helena VS Nedra Borrower story. Think about it: Helena is framed for a criminal's death in the Undertaker story. We then see the press using this apparent evidence of wrongdoing to set the gears of the law moving against her while she's imprisoned at the asylum. And now the storm which has been brewing will finally be unleashed in the arc which has just begun. It's a three-act story and now we've reached the final act where everything will come to a head. Nedra may not be a criminal but she's definitely been behind the scenes all along, stirring up trouble for Helena.

      There is so much beautiful art throughout these stories just waiting to take your breath away. I always loved the fight with Nightingale which is coming up in the future...