Wednesday 14 February 2018
A Game Of Hearts: Who's Had A Better Shot At Love?
It's kind of interesting how this post came to be. Originally, this started out as a thread on the Earth-2 Dick Grayson's love life on my Twitter and it kind of grew a life of its own. In fact, I started to notice recurring patterns between the love lives of the Earth-2 Dick Grayson and that of his costumed partner, Helena Wayne. The main pattern I kept noticing is that they really don't have much in the way of luck in the love department. At best, they've developed crushes on other people, Helena even had a boyfriend, but they weren't really respected by their love interests, which is interesting in a bad way.
When most of us think of Dick Grayson, we can name a long list of people he's either slept with or has had a serious relationship with. Amongst those that can be named off the top of one's head include Betty Kane, Barbara Gordon, Princess Koriand'r, Helena Bertinelli, and more recently Shawn Tsang. But these are, of course, the love interests of the Earth-1 Dick Grayson aka Nightwing. The Earth-2 Dick Grayson, ironically, hasn't had any notable "high profile" love interests outside of his implied romantic attraction to Helena Wayne.
On the side of Helena Wayne, she's had at least two known love interests (one of which is Dick Grayson), but hasn't had quite as many romantic relationships compared to her post-Crisis counterpart, Helena Bertinelli. Whereas Helena Wayne has had one official boyfriend (Harry Sims), Helena Bertinelli has officially been with Dick Grayson, Vic Sage, Roy Harper, and even another fellow member of a crime family, Tony Angelo.
So, why do our Earth-2 Batman legacy heroes suffer so much from matters of the heart? Is it because they've had a poor taste in romantic partners? They've been rejected by their love interests? Or were their relationships simply made complicated by their superhero lifestyles? Let's rate and evaluate each of the people the Earth-2 Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne have had a romantic interest in and why those relationships either didn't blossom, or why they failed.
For the purpose of this post, I'll be primarily focusing on the pre-Flashpoint versions of Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne because those are the versions of the characters that are better developed, complete with decades of established history. Let's start with the Golden Age Boy Wonder himself!
One story that did sort of focus on Dick's school life was in Batman #23 in the story appropriately titled "Damsel in Distress" first published in 1944. In this story, we meet one of Dick's classmates, Marjory Davenport, whom he has a very visible crush on. Marjory is shown to be book smart and is particularly popular with her teachers. Personality-wise, she appears to be sweet and caring, but does not appear to reciprocate Dick's crush on her. At best, she likes him enough to let him carry her books and walk her home, and agreed to go on one date with him.
As the story progresses, Dick's date with Marjory is sabotaged with the kidnapping of her father as well as herself by a mobster, and Dick spends the rest of the story orchestrating a rescue mission with Batman. Dick successfully rescues his date-to-be as Robin, but with unintentional consequences: Marjory now has a crush on Robin. Though Dick as Robin attempts to discourage Marjory's crush on him by elevating his civilian alter ego, Marjory still prefers Robin over Dick. She especially gets her point across by telling Dick (in his civilian identity) to arrange a date between herself and Robin or she'll stop liking him all together.
Now, that last bit about using emotional manipulation to get with a certain boy was cruel on Marjory's part, and certainly a tactic one hopes she unlearns as an adult. However, truth be told, a spark was never really there to start with, and the likelihood that Dick would've gotten together with her after a first date was very much close to zero. So while Dick admired her beauty and intelligence, fact is, she never really noticed him. If anything, he did not really appear to be to her standards if her crush on Robin is any indication.
Final Heart Rate: ♥
During their stay there, Batman and Robin immediately take note of the presence of Nazis in the city, and the Nazis had tricked the Atlanteans into thinking they were on the side of good. Having been deceived by the Nazis, Batman and one other mariner are sentenced to death by Emperor Taro and it is up to Robin to rescue his mentor. He obviously does this by posing as Emperor Taro himself given their strong resemblance, though his ruse obviously doesn't fool Taro's sister, who knows her brother's personality well.
Robin succeeds at rescuing his mentor of course, and both Batman and Robin eventually get the Atlanteans to realise the Nazis are the bad guys. Batman and Robin are pardoned, but Dick also takes a strong liking to Empress Lanya. Though Lanya had always known that Batman and Robin were innocent of any wrongdoing and even tried to dissuade her own brother from killing them, she also didn't reciprocate Dick's crush on her.
Unlike with Marjory Davenport, however, who didn't show any interest in Dick at all, Lanya was at least interested in being his friend. Aside from the obvious fact that Lanya wasn't romantically interested in a boy who looked exactly like her brother, she was also being realistic about the fact that they would always be kept apart by a body of water, and the Atleanteans preferred to remain unknown the outside world. This effectively made communication impossible to achieve, even if Lanya did in fact like Dick. As such, this too was a no-go for Dick.
Final Heart Rate: ♥♥
What we do know, however, is that he never married during that time, having chosen to devote all of his time and energy to his career in law, and later as a diplomat. By the time the Golden Age Dick Grayson started appearing regularly in the Justice League family of books (namely in All-Star Comics, Adventure Comics, and in Justice League of America), he once again didn't have an established love interest despite being a man in his mid-30s to early 40s. That was until Helena Wayne made her debut in 1977 as the daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman and as the newest member of the Justice Society.
Romantic attraction between Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne was not established right away with writers at the time making it clear that these two people saw each other as siblings given that they were both raised by Bruce Wayne. It was not until Dick had invited Helena to accompany him on a case he was working on (involving their boss, Arthur Cranston, no less) that he started to see his sister-in-practise under a very different light. Though it was implied Helena reciprocated Dick's feelings, only Dick openly admitted his attraction and decided to part ways before pursuing those feelings further. Despite neither he nor Helena ever bringing it up again, it was still clear Dick maintained a special attachment to Helena in America vs the Justice Society, and feared losing that relationship if things went down the way he thought they would.
Dick's romantic attraction to Helena would not be brought up again until Justice Society of America Annual #1 from 2008, and by post-Crisis canon, the romantic attraction was explicitly acknowledged. Though Dick very clearly wanted to pursue things with Helena this time around, Helena, however, kept rejecting his advances. Not because she still thought of him as her brother, but because she wanted to spare herself further pain after the Joker had disfigured her previous boyfriend, Harry Sims. Though Helena also somewhat admitted to Power Girl she was in love with Dick, she was not emotionally available to reciprocate. So either way--through complicated circumstances--Dick still didn't get the girl.
Final Heart Rate: ♥♥♥
I have to admit, it seems Helena Wayne has had way better luck in the love department. Whereas the Golden Age Dick Grayson never even got as far as getting into a relationship with a girl or a woman he likes, Helena at least had one canon relationship with another lawyer, Harry Sims. Whether or not it was a healthy relationship, on the other hand, is another story.
At face value, it seemed like Harry was on okay, ordinary bloke. He had a career and knew what he wanted in life. His initial attraction to Helena was mostly based on the fact that she is good-looking, intelligent, and incredibly passionate about justice. At least he liked her on those qualities and not on the fact that she was wealthy. It seemed, at first, as though he was genuinely interested in her as a person. That was until he learned her secret...the fact that she moonlights as the Huntress by night. Needless to say his true colours came out.
It wasn't obvious right away the extent with which Helena's activities as the Huntress bothered Harry, but one thing was clear from the get-go: it was too much for him to handle. You see, Helena wasn't just passionate about justice in a court room. She also took matters into her own hands, which Harry saw as needlessly endangering her own life. In the beginning he tried to wrap his mind around the idea, but as time went on, he started to feel less and less in control of Helena, which led to an increase in controlling behaviour. First by limiting her access to criminal cases in his office to keep her from pursuing them as the Huntress, and later by shaming her for every mistake she made as the Huntress.
By this point, Helena was starting to acknowledge that the man she was with wasn't in fact good for her, and was the kind of man her mother warned her about growing up. It was by this point Helena should've left this relationship. Seeing as she was not financially dependent on Harry, meant she could've easily walked away with minimal consequences. Whether or not she would've left this relationship, we'll never know, but if her behaviour in Justice Society of America Annual #1 two decades later is any indication, I think one can at least conclude she was on the brink.
Final Heart Rate: ♥
It started with a conversation on Helena's deteriorating relationship with Harry, and Dick told her that she needed to be with man who could understand her the way her mother understood her father, Bruce Wayne. Bruce's life as Batman meant he was never going to have a normal relationship with any ordinary woman, because an ordinary woman would not be able to understand him the way Selina Kyle did. At best, an ordinary woman would find his lifestyle too dangerous for her liking, and at worst, she would question his sanity as a person. Selina, however, understood coming from a similarly traumatising background as Bruce, leading her to pursue a life as Catwoman in the first place.
It was at that moment both Dick and Helena had an epiphany: maybe they couldn't succeed in relationships with people who didn't share their lifestyle, but they could get together with other costumed adventurers like themselves. Only thing is...they saw each other as those costumed adventurers who could have that successful relationship. After all, they knew each other quite intimately already...just not that intimately. Problem was...they were both raised by Bruce Wayne, effectively being both his children.
This was admittedly more of a problem for Dick than it was for Helena. Dick grew up thinking of Bruce as his second father following the deaths of his own parents. Seeing as he was 8 years old at the time that Bruce took him in as his ward, this relationship was very important to him. As such, he saw himself as a natural member of Bruce's family, which made Helena his little sister in practise.
Helena by contrast didn't actually grow up alongside Dick since he was already an adult by the time she was born and living on his own. So while she may have initially thought of him as an older brother given his relationship to her father, fact is he wasn't around all that much while she was growing up and didn't really have that experience of having a sibling. As such, it was probably easier for her not to see him too strongly in that light, even though he as 25 years her senior. This was also a detail that was explored further in depth in Justice Society of America Annual #1.
Could it have worked out? Maybe...but under very different circumstances. Admittedly, this is one major advantage the New 52 Earth-2 Dick Grayson could've had over his pre-Flashpoint counterpart had DC not brought him back in an incredibly stupid way. Since the New 52 went out of its way to retcon Dick as Bruce's original Robin by giving that role to his daughter Helena, making Dick her childhood best friend or even her high school boyfriend would've given him more legitimacy as a Batman family character. It certainly would've established a more meaningful relationship to Helena than random bloke who appeared out of nowhere to usurp her family legacy because other people he shares that name with have a place in that legacy.
If DC had been wanting to pair off Bruce Wayne's original Robin with Bruce's daughter in a non-icky way, and as someone closer to her age like they've been hinting at for years, the New 52 was the perfect opportunity to explore that idea. And they missed it...very stupidly. (We'll see what happens post-Rebirth.)
Final Heart Rate: ♥♥♥
The Earth-2 Power Girl is a very fascinating character in every respect. In stark contrast with her Earth-1 counterpart who goes by Supergirl, the Earth-2 Kara is very much her own woman and she wants to you to know it! After all, she chose her own name and costume to keep people from treating her as her cousin's "carbon copy" (aka Superman's cousin). She also never keeps her opinions to herself and says exactly what's on her mind without a filter, not to mention she loves to smash her way into things when she finds herself in a fight! The Earth-2 Kara is very much a woman of her word and a woman of action! At least in the presence of men. In Helena's presence, however, she's soft as a kitten! Why is that?
One of Kara's major character flaws is her difficulty to form and maintain longterm relationships with other people. This was especially true of the character post-Crisis. With Crisis on Infinite Earths erasing much of her original world, history, and especially her relationships, Kara had very little to hold on to and became something of a tragic loner. But around Helena, she's always felt quite at home. Whether that'd be her original best friend (the original pre-Crisis Helena), her post-Crisis Earth-2 doppelgänger, or even the current New 52 incarnation of the Earth-2 Helena, the fact is, Kara is quite fond of her and wants to be a part of her life.
Pre-Crisis, Helena enjoyed Kara's company a lot. She frequently partnered up with her during Justice Society missions and even during solo missions. When they weren't in costume, Helena could be seen taking Kara out for coffee and even an expensive lunch. Or sometimes, if it was just them alone at Justice Society headquarters, they'd play around or tell each other stories like they clearly did in the Adventure Comics story "The Defeat of the Justice Society." When Helena was killed off in the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Kara was the character who felt the weight of her loss the strongest, and the toll of that loss was explored in depth in JSA: Classified, Infinite Crisis, and the "Thy Kingdom Come" story arc in Justice Society of America.
It wasn't until the New 52 that Kara was truly reunited with Helena for the first time in nearly three decades in a new volume of World's Finest with them as the protagonists. Though Kara was depicted as having had a romantic relationship with the Prime Earth Mister Terrific, Michael Holt, her most important relationship was still with Helena. Though not explicitly established as romantic partners, the two women more often than not behaved like girlfriends than platonic best friends. They not only had each other's backs during a fight, but they sometimes interacted in a flirtatious manner, even comforted each other in ways that went above and beyond what's expected from two best friends.
In the World's Finest book alone, Kara and Helena did everything from gaze into each other's eyes in a romantic manner to Helena holding Kara's hand when down. At one point, Helena even cradled Kara's body when the latter passed out from a fight. By Earth-2: World's End, they were literally one intimate hug away from admitting "I love you" and sealing that with a kiss.
Could it work out? Well, considering how badly DC's cosmic reboots has fucked both of these women's lives to the point of literally losing everything but themselves, I'm more surprised these two women being a couple isn't canon by now.
Final Heart Rate: ♥♥♥♥
Having looked at the three most memorable love interests of the Earth-2 Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne (at least as memorable as it gets), who has had a better shot at love? I have to honestly give this one to Helena. Despite the fact that she found herself in a bad relationship pre-Crisis, even fulfilled the star-crossed lovers trope twice with a man who was practically her brother (and missed the opportunity to get with him post-Flashpoint), Helena still has one relationship that could still blossom into a healthy romantic one, and that is with Kara.
Despite the Earth-2 Dick Grayson acquiring a wife post-Flashpoint in the form of an Earth-2 Barbara Gordon (a character more significant to his Earth-1 counterpart than himself personally), complete with a son, he never seems to ever get lucky. He has a recurring pattern of either being rejected often by women, or being attracted to a woman who is practically his sister. In the special case of the New 52 Earth-2, his wife only existed long enough to fulfil the women in refrigerators trope so that he could be turned into a cheap insufferable Bruce Wayne knock-off, effectively robbing him of his originality as a character.