Tuesday, 31 December 2019

The End Of A Decade: 2019 In Review

Here we are! Last day of the year, last day of a decade, last day of an era of DC as we prepare for the next DC reboot that's going to launch Earth-5G in 2020.

If one word could summarise this decade, I would have to go with 'polarising.' Every facet of this decade from my personal life, to the political shakeups happening around the world, to the way DC Comics managed their various intellectual properties, and subsequent fan behaviour (including my own) can be described as 'polarising.'

Even the launch of the DC Cinematic Universe or DCEU this decade has been very polarising. The initial lineup of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and Justice League yielded very mixed reactions from critics, as well as lukewarm box office reception. The mismanagement of the Justice League film in particular led to the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, which similarly divided comic book movie fans between people who enjoyed Zack Snyder's unique take on the DC characters and people who found Snyder's vision too nihilistic for these characters.

Luckily for Warner Bros., they achieved better success with Wonder Woman, Shazam, and Aquaman, all of which are getting sequels and spin-offs in the next decade. We're also getting the first female-led superhero team film with Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn in two months, which will be the cinematic debut of Helena Bertinelli as the Huntress.

And speaking of the Huntress—the very topic of this blog—this has sadly not been a great decade for the character in the comics. On the one hand, I do appreciate the fact that DC Comics attempted to do a full revival of the original Helena Wayne Huntress for this decade, but made the same exact mistake they made with the character post-Crisis: they attempted to build this newer incarnation of the character on the death and erasure of the previous character, which—as you can imagine—wasn't well received by Huntress fans.

Helena Bertinelli fans reacted strongly to the loss of Helena Bertinelli in favour of Helena Wayne in this decade, much in the same way that Helena Wayne fans reacted strongly to the loss of Helena Wayne in favour of Bertinelli back in 1989. While eventually DC did reintroduce a new version of the Helena Bertinelli character for the post-Flashpoint continuity to co-exist with Helena Wayne's Huntress, she was completely changed from the character people knew pre-Flashpoint.

At best, the only positive change DC made to Helena Bertinelli this decade was give her a more diverse racial appearance to better reflect the character's Sicilian origin, but nothing of her original pre-Flashpoint history actually survived. By the time DC decided to reinstate some version of her pre-Flashpoint history, it did not actually fit the narrative of the post-Flashpoint character, at least not in a way that felt organic. As such, the character ended up being 'Helena Bertinelli' and 'Huntress' in name only, which is tragic in my opinion. There's definitely a lot DC could've done with the post-Flashpoint Helena Bertinelli that could've left a more profound impact.

On the side of Helena Wayne, the character perhaps faired worse than Bertinelli did post-Flashpoint, beginning with the fact she was depicted usurping Helena Bertinelli's identity in an ill-conceived attempt to preserve the character's post-Crisis history. This also meant prescribing Wayne some of Bertinelli's more identifiable character traits such as the latter's anger management issues, excessive use of violence, and being easily triggered into killing her enemies. These are not traits that make sense for the daughter of Batman and Catwoman.

In addition to a very poorly handled reintroduction this decade, DC also did absolutely nothing worthwhile with Helena Wayne as the Huntress like they did with the character in the 1970s and 1980s. Huntress (along with Power Girl) suffered from a lack of an actual story direction, which was subsequently not helped by DC's decision to create a new Earth-2 Batman to capitalise on her father's legacy.

The decision to create a new Earth-2 Batman not only robbed Helena Wayne of her own story and character development, but the attempt to build a new Batman in place of Bruce Wayne's actual daughter was a painfully obvious wrong direction that resulted in a less than marginally compelling narrative. None of the men who took up Bruce's mantle actually earned their right to wear it, and were not themselves particularly interesting as characters.

Thomas Wayne (Bruce's father) being depicted as a mobster who was also a murderous drug addict who abandoned Bruce for a life of revenge made him completely unlikeable. Dick Grayson having all of his original history jettisoned and turned into some random bloke who decided to become Batman because other 'Dick Graysons in the DC Multiverse have a relationship with Batman' was an equally stupid idea.

When it comes to the Batman legacy on Earth-2, there is no doubt Helena Wayne is the character that actually sells that legacy. Her being the daughter of Batman and Catwoman alone is a major selling point in and of itself. The fact that she chose to build on that legacy by becoming the Huntress instead of more obvious choices like Batwoman or Catwoman is another major selling point of her character. Her Huntress identity communicates she is a woman with a distinct personality and her own objectives that are not necessarily the same as her parents'. The fact that she is also best friends with Power Girl (Superman's cousin) and a member of the legendary Justice Society of America means that DC had plenty of material to work with for building Helena Wayne for the current generation. The fact that they didn't was one of DC's worst missed opportunities of the decade.

When you look at how the Huntress alone was handled by DC Comics during this decade, it truly encapsulates everything that went wrong with this era of DC. When DC rebooted their universe in 2011 with the goal of modernising the characters for a new generation and make their stories more accessible, you could tell there were a lot of aspirations to do something truly revolutionary, but there was no actual plan in place for how to roll it out. You could literally tell from the execution of various projects which ones were carefully planned out and which ones were being made up on the fly. On the whole, it was an era of missed opportunities.

Luckily for DC going into 2020, they actually took the time to map out their new timeline before executing their newest reboot sometime next summer. This time they have all the different generations of their heroes figured out, and appear to have a plan in place for rolling out the upcoming Earth-5G, which I think is great. While DC co-publisher Dan DiDio didn't explain the concept well during NYCC this year, I did feel that former DC President and CCO Geoff Johns did a great job at laying out the new foundation in Doomsday Clock #12.

Whereas DiDio made it sound like DC was once again rewriting their actual history with the upcoming Earth-5G (which historically has never worked out for DC fans), Johns established with Doomsday Clock #12 that they are not erasing any of DC's past history, but creating new ones. In concept, this means that every time there is a change to the DC Metaverse, it results in the creation of a new Earth in the DC Multiverse.

In my opinion, this is a better approach to executing a reboot because it doesn't actually eliminate the continuities that came before, it just establishes those old continuities as separate Earths in the DC Multiverse. Recanonising the DC Multiverse is a great way of keeping those older DC stories canon and leaves those worlds available for DC to later revisit. This approach will also make DC fans a bit more receptive to change, assuming of course that DC doesn't keep repeating the same mistakes of the past.

As for the Huntress herself and what roles we can expect to see her take up on Earth-5G? Well, we don't know yet what DC has planned for the character at this time as her timeline is not currently mapped out. What we do know is that we'll definitely see Helena Bertinelli again in two upcoming Birds of Prey comics under DC Black Label, but we don't know how she's going to fit into the new Earth-5G timeline apart from possibly still being a member of the Birds of Prey. We also know that Tom King and Geoff Johns have teased future appearances of Helena Wayne in 2020, but we once again do not know how she's going to fit into the new timeline.

From the teaser in Doomsday Clock #12, it sounds like DC is going to retcon Helena Wayne's death from Crisis on Infinite Earths, but it may not be the same Crisis storyline as the Wolfman and Pérez original. It could be a version of the Crisis storyline for the Earth-5G timeline. If I were to have a guess, I would probably place Helena Wayne's first appearance as the Huntress in the second generation timeline leading up to her disappearance in that version of Crisis. This would at least preserve Helena Wayne's status as the original Huntress if Helena Bertinelli does appear in the third generation timeline where the Birds of Prey are currently placed. If Superman looking for 'Bruce Wayne's lost daughter' is an actual upcoming storyline that will restore the pre-Crisis Huntress, I am all for it!

It's too early to tell at this time whether or not the upcoming Earth-5G will be a longterm success, but I think it has the potential to be since DC has the various timelines mapped out. Whether or not DC will change their position on the Huntress to allow the two different versions to co-exist as separate characters without jettisoning what fans love about Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli, only time will tell. What I can say is that I am cautiously optimistic, but I do wish for good things to come.

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