Then Crisis on Infinite Earths happened in 1985.
The Crisis reboot was perhaps the major game changer DC fans did not anticipate at the time, but it did prove particularly frustrating for Huntress fans. Not only did Crisis writer Marv Wolfman decide the Huntress was a 'redundant' character who didn't fit the new direction he wanted to take DC on at the time, but his catastrophic decision to kill off the Huntress in this event also created a whole host of problems for the character further down the road. One that ended up dividing her fanbase and needlessly complicated her character in the process.
One of the damaging consequences of the Crisis reboot is that it led then Huntress writer Joey Cavalieri to completely reconstruct the character from the ground up for the post-Crisis continuity. This led to the version of the Huntress many modern DC fans know as Helena Bertinelli. This was a problematic approach for two reasons:
First, Cavalieri essentially created a whole new character in the skin of the previous character, which caused him to lose the support of many Huntress fans who loved the original Helena Wayne incarnation. The second reason this approach was problematic is that it established a troubling, even confusing status quo for the Huntress as a character with two profoundly different origins. The latter in particular has been the source of frustration for every Huntress fan, whether you're Team Wayne or Team Bertinelli.
By deciding that Helena Bertinelli was Helena Wayne 'reborn' for the post-Crisis continuity, this prevented DC from publishing more stories with the Helena Wayne incarnation, which caused an entire generation of fans to grow up with a version of the Huntress DC never intended to be seen as an original character. This, in turn, established another troubling status quo for the Huntress as a malleable character. In addition to becoming a character with an interchangeable origin and a conflicting history, this also led to inconsistent characterisation for Helena Bertinelli that even informed later interpretations of Helena Wayne.
Unfortunately, the version of Helena Wayne that lived as 'Helena Bertinelli' post-Flashpoint was still not the pre-Crisis original, but a brand new version of the character for that continuity. For a while, DC had merged the two different versions of the Huntress back to being one character, only now the Wayne identity was back as the main identity. Then, in 2014, DC did their second attempt to reverse this status quo. They accomplished this by introducing a new version of Helena Bertinelli as an agent of Spyral with a completely new look and backstory from the post-Crisis incarnation.
After Helena Wayne returned to her native world of Earth-2 that same year, the post-Flashpoint Helena Bertinelli inexplicably resumed the Huntress identity in 2016, and since then, has been acting more like her post-Crisis incarnation. DC has even been slowly (in a 'hope they don't notice' sort of way) returning the current Helena Bertinelli back to her 'Helena Wayne' skin.
Feeling overwhelmed and confused, yet? Are you by now scratching your head asking 'Why does DC Comics keep making this one character so damned complicated and confusing to follow?' Join the club! We all feel the same way!
If there is one thing both Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli fans absolutely agree on is that there is no reason for DC to keep maintaining this ridiculous status quo with the Huntress. We both want to be able to read our favourite versions of the characters as we know them without any of the baggage of the Crisis and Flashpoint reboots. This means that both fanbases want DC to start treating the Wayne and Bertinelli iterations of the Huntress as two separate characters instead of as a single character with an atrociously confusing history.
Here are the 'Top 3' reasons DC needs to stop trying to merge the two different versions of the Huntress and start treating them as separate characters.
3. Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli have profoundly different core mythologies
In the case of Helena Wayne, her entire character is built on two legacies: that of her parents Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (Batman and Catwoman) and that of the Justice Society of America. Together, these two legacies allow Helena Wayne to enrich DC's Golden Age mythology and even modernise it for a new generation of readers.
For Helena Wayne, being the Huntress is more than just about finding justice for her own loss and pain. It's also about upholding a family tradition on her own terms. It's about discovering what her own values are as a person, which informs the kind of hero she wants to be. As the Huntress, she wants to protect Gotham's vulnerable citizens from crime, and seek justice for those who have been exploited and victimised. As a lawyer, she uses her power and resources to hold criminals in similar positions of power accountable for their actions and put them behind bars.
Personality-wise, Helena Wayne is optimistic, confident, passionate, snarky, and loving. Shaped by the love she received from her parents growing up, she as athletically trained and went to good schools to receive the best education, which makes her one of the most intelligent heroes in her community. Some of her major flaws include obsessive behaviour which can get in the way of balancing her work life as a lawyer and her activities as the Huntress. She can also be reactionary at times, which can lead her to use excessive force.
In addition to her skills set, Helena Wayne was taught the value of forming and maintaining relationships with other people. It is for this reason that she felt a need to prove her worth to the Justice Society before she could join them and why she is easily hurt by the loss of significant relationships. For the most part, Helena Wayne is easily loved and respected by others, and makes friends very easily. She is able to maintain strong relationships with her own family, the heroes of the Justice Society, the Justice League, and Infinity Inc. Her most enduring relationships are with Kara Zor-L (Power Girl), Dick Grayson (Robin), and the Earth-1 version of her father, Bruce Wayne (Batman).
When you get to Helena Bertinelli's corner, conceptually, she couldn't be more different from Helena Wayne in every conceivable way. Unlike Wayne, Helena Bertinelli does not build on any known legacy of the DC Universe, and is very much a character who exists on the margins of her community.
As the daughter of an Italian-American crime boss, that background comes with a legacy of violence that quite often burdens Bertinelli's character. Whereas Wayne's parents died as they lived, Bertinelli's parents were brutally murdered in front of her in a mafia hit by a rival crime family. The history of violence coupled with the brutal massacre of her family were a source of PTSD for Helena Bertinelli that she sought to rebuild her identity. That identity became the Huntress, and as long as she wore the mask, she felt empowered. While the mask was off, she felt helpless, vulnerable, and alone.
Personality-wise, Helena Bertinelli lacks many of the core traits that are easily identifiable with Helena Wayne. In contrast with Wayne, Bertinelli struggles with self-loathing, which prevents her from realising her own self-worth as a person. She is therefore less confident and leans towards avoidant behaviour as a result. She still cares for the well-being of other people and does what she can to help them, but at the same time does not feel that she deserves recognition even when she desires it. Some of her major flaws include being easily angered, can be excessively violent, impulsive, and reactionary.
When connecting with other people, Helena Bertinelli strongly desires meaningful relationships, but at the same time does not know how to form those relationships. Part of that is due to the fact that she is frequently rejected by the very people she wants to get close to (which also doesn't help her self-esteem), and another part of that is due to her feeling like she doesn't deserve those relationships. Even when she does try to play by other heroes' rules, they still criticise her for her flaws when she succumbs to them, and eventually, she gives up.
While Helena Bertinelli does struggle tremendously with relationships and doesn't make friends as easily as Helena Wayne does, other heroes do respect her, and some have even come to value her friendship, most notably the members of the Birds of Prey: Dinah Lance (Black Canary), Barbara Gordon (Oracle), and Zinda Blake (Lady Blackhawk). Others include the two Questions (Vic Sage and Renee Montoya), Tim Drake (Robin), and to much lesser extents, Dick Grayson (Nightwing) and Bruce Wayne (Batman).
The latter two are relationships Bertinelli has in common with Wayne, but the nature of those relationships is still profoundly different. Between Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne, there is a familial bond coupled with romantic interest. Between Dick Grayson and Helena Bertinelli, there is sexual attraction coupled with a profound lack of trust. Between Bruce Wayne and Helena Wayne, there is mutual respect and love between a father and daughter. Between Bruce Wayne and Helena Bertinelli, there is significant animosity coupled with reluctant allegiance.
On the whole, there is nothing about Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli that is conceptually similar beyond their initial origins. At the end of the day, Helena Wayne is a character who embraces her family legacy to pursue justice as the Huntress, while Helena Bertinelli is a character who rejects her family legacy in order to find life meaning as the Huntress. This actually leads to my next point.
2. Fans of the Huntress connect to Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli differently
In the case of Helena Wayne, fans are drawn to her being the daughter of Batman and Catwoman and the fact that she upholds their legacy as the Huntress, which is not a role Helena Bertinelli can fulfil. Despite being the daughter of the Golden Age versions of Batman and Catwoman who resided on Earth-2 pre-Crisis, Helena Wayne still depicts a hopeful future for Bruce and Selina as a couple. Helena's parents meaningfully changed and evolved with age without abandoning who they are as people, which is what facilitated a successful marriage between them when they were older.
In addition to Batman and Catwoman as a married couple being a narrative fans have been hungry for for decades, fans are also attracted to Batman's legacy, which is a major reason the Robins and the Batgirls are so popular with fans. Fans love seeing Bruce mentor all these young people who bring out the softer side of his personality and want to see that relationship extended to his biological children.
While Bruce's biological son with Talia Al Ghul is the current Robin and is assumed he will become a future Batman, Helena Wayne is the biological child who wants to have her own identity as a heroine, which is another major selling point of her character for fans. For Helena Wayne, it's not just her father's legacy that matters, but also the legacy of her mother as well. As such she chooses to be neither Batman nor Catwoman, but the Huntress in order to honour both of those legacies. In addition to embracing both sides of her heritage, it is equally important to Helena to be recognised as a hero of her own standing, and not as a carbon copy of her father.
Apart from what Helena Wayne brings to the legacies of Batman and Catwoman, fans are also invested in her membership into the Justice Society. Helena Wayne doesn't just give the Justice Society more visibility by functioning as the team's counterpart to Batman, but she also enriches the core mythology of DC's Golden Age by helping to establish a real sense of history and legacy that spans decades.
Another major selling point of Helena Wayne being a member of the Justice Society is her close friendship with Power Girl, which effectively creates a second generation World's Finest team. Since fans are already invested in Batman and Superman as friends, they are equally invested in seeing how their successors carry on that legacy. Fans love seeing a similar dynamic between Huntress and Power Girl that also differs significantly from their father and cousin respectively.
Whereas Superman is usually depicted as the patient, meticulous type, Power Girl is by contrast more impulsive and less patient to get things done. Whereas Batman is very set in his way of doing things—regardless of how others feel about his methods—Huntress is more flexible and is even open to suggestions from others. In an ironic way, Huntress plays well off of Power Girl in the same way Superman plays well off of Batman.
Again these are not roles Helena Bertinelli can fulfil for Helena Wayne fans, but that doesn't mean Helena Bertinelli doesn't have unique traits of her own that fans equally respond well to. One of those traits happens to be her Italian-American identity and the complex nature of having a dual cultural background. As a woman of Italian origin, Helena Bertinelli identifies strongly as Catholic, which makes her one of the few characters who has a strong religious identity in the DC Universe. It also allows her to represent two largely invisible groups in the DC Universe.
Helena Bertinelli's Italian heritage also shapes the way she values relationships, and she especially understands the importance of family and loyalty, even if she herself struggles with both. Her immediate family had been the source of her pain and suffering for most of her life, and they are the reason she has a merciless approach to fighting organised crime that is perhaps too uncomfortable for Batman. But even with the ways her family has hurt her, she still managed to find a new family in the form of the Birds of Prey, whom she loves and protects with her life. These are ground-level internal conflicts fans can easily connect with.
Another way Helena Bertinelli's Italian-American identity resonates with fans is the fact that a lot of people can identify with being a member of two different groups, and yet, still feel like an outsider. In her civilian identity, Helena Bertinelli being the daughter of a dangerous crime boss already prevents people from wanting to get close to her and trust her the way she would like.
Helena Bertinelli also can't get close to nor trust anyone in her family's circle because apart from being dangerous people, they are also incredibly self-serving. They are not beyond sacrificing the lives of innocent people and even their own family members to get what they want, which immediately conflicts with Helena Bertinelli's moral standing, as well as her idea of family loyalty. In both situations, it's lose-lose for her and a lot of people empathise with that.
On the subject of Helena Bertinelli's moral standing, she is incredibly unwavering in her thought process, which is another way she stands out. She's not the type to mindlessly follow someone else's lead nor is she the type to compromise her own values to gain someone else's favour. The moment someone asks her to change who she is, or change the way she does things as a condition for friendship, or even membership into any group or organisation, that's the moment she tells that person to 'fuck off' and walk away, which is one of her more admirable traits.
On the whole Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli bring very different story ideas to the table. They explore very different themes that resonate with fans in ways that isn't interchangeable between the two characters, which brings us to the final point.
1. The success of Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli as characters heavily depends on fans staying invested in their narratives.
Helena Bertinelli's story is never going to be tied to the legacies of Batman and Catwoman, nor the legacy of the Justice Society, nor will her story ever build on DC's Golden Age mythology. For all of those things, you will always need Helena Wayne. But that doesn't mean that Helena Wayne can be used to explore the themes of marginalisation in almost every facet of her life as a woman who comes from a place of white privilege.
As a woman of white British ancestry, Helena Wayne's story is never going to touch on themes related to being the child of Italian-American immigrants, complete with a dual cultural background that can still make a person feel like an outsider. As a woman who has a healthy, loving relationship with her parents, Helena Wayne's story is never going to address the conflicting emotions that comes with being a member of a crime family and having to divorce herself from her family legacy as a way of rebuilding her life and even try to create new relationships. For that kind of narrative, you need Helena Bertinelli.
With the profound differences that exist between Wayne and Bertinelli in both concept and story potential, no one single Huntress will ever be fully equipped to satisfy the needs of both fanbases, but having both women co-exist as separate characters will definitely do that. Both of their characters offer something unique and interesting to the DC Universe that enrich its core mythology in very meaningful ways. To decide for Huntress fans that they can only invest in one of these versions of the character is like having a doctor decide for a healthy patient that they can only have one leg to stand on instead of both. No one will ever agree to invest in a character on those kinds of terms.
On the longterm, maintaining this status quo of the Huntress being a character with two significantly different origins and a conflicting history is how you also prevent newer readers from becoming invested in the character in the longterm. Depending on which version of the Huntress a new fan gets introduced to, they will find the conflicting history confusing to follow. They will be forced to research which comics feature the version of the character they like just to keep following their adventures. That's already too much work than investing in a single character should be worth, which can also prevent the fanbase from meaningfully growing.
When you look at the bigger picture, there is no longterm benefit to merging these two women, or erasing one in favour of the other. This approach to the Huntress creates unnecessary problems for both characters in ways that creates divisiveness and bitterness amongst fans, which in turn stifles longterm profitability. With all that these two women have to offer to the DC Universe and their respective fans, it really is time to change the status quo for the better.
It's time for DC to stop treating Helena Wayne as the pre-Crisis origin of the Huntress when she is the original Huntress, complete with a rich history and story potential. It's also time for DC to stop treating Helena Bertinelli as a rebooted version of Helena Wayne, when conceptually, she doesn't continue Wayne's narrative in any capacity. Instead she explores wholly different themes that in their own way also enrich the DC Universe.