Saturday, 22 February 2020

Tom King’s Upcoming Batman/Catwoman Maxiseries From The Perspective Of A Helena Wayne Huntress Fan

It has been a wild week for me this week. Not just because AT&T removed DC co-publisher Dan DiDio from his position yesterday (seemingly as part of a restructuring effort to align DC with AT&T’s multimedia platform with more emphasis on franchising and branding), but also because Batman/Catwoman writer Tom King dropped another tease bomb this week that caused my Twitter feed to blow up.

I will admit, I was originally not going to write about this. In part because the main Earth Batman Family is not really something I cover on this blog, and in part because I want to maintain a positive, welcoming space on this blog by not getting caught in the crossfires of fandom reactions to Tom King’s social media teasing.

Luckily, for the most part, I get tagged by fans genuinely excited for his work and very curiously ask for my thoughts. I also, however, sometimes get caught in threads where fans feel differently. Most of the time, I just ignore the negativity when that happens, but other times it can really get to me, especially when people catch me on a bad day.

I figured I was probably going to have to address the upcoming Batman/Catwoman book sooner rather than later, even though I made a commitment this year to bite my tongue on it until more information is known about the project. I also knew I was going to have to address this topic on a weekend to be able to share my thoughts with a clear mind.

For Batman and Catwoman fans reading this post, please note that these are just my initial thoughts and concerns I have about Helena Wayne’s place in the upcoming book and the creative mind behind it. If this is a book you're excited for and can't wait to read, then by all means, don’t let my initial concerns ruin that for you. You are, after all, the target audience for this book.

I do hope that the book delivers on all the developments you want to see happen and that your experience with the story is a positive one. I hope you will similarly understand why I may not necessarily share your enthusiasm for Helena Wayne’s inclusion in this book, and it really just boils down to the fact that I am a Huntress fan first, and my investment in Helena Wayne as a character has little to do with her parents’ romance.

Having said all that, let’s go ahead and get started. Bear with me.

If you recall from my New Years Resolution post in January, the Batman/Catwoman maxiseries is a book I’m very much on the fence about. Part of the reason for that is because I find the book’s writer, Tom King, too polarising for my liking. The other reason is I’m admittedly not a fan of King’s interpretation of Batman, his core mythology, and cast of characters. I appreciate the fact that he attempted to do something bold and different with those concepts. It just (ultimately) wasn't for me.

On that note, I also respect the fact King’s take on the Batman and Catwoman relationship resonated strongly with Bruce and Selina’s immediate fanbase. However, like my reception of King's take on Batman as a whole, his take on the relationship also did not resonate with me. In my opinion, I felt his voice for Bruce and Selina was off, and in terms of characterisation, his Bruce and Selina often read like school kids experiencing a romantic relationship for the first time. (Which may have worked if they were in fact kids and not fully grown adults in their 30s.)

When it came to his depiction of Selina Kyle in particular, I did not feel like I was reading about the complex individual who could go toe-to-toe with Bruce Wayne on equal footing. King's Catwoman did not have much of an actual personality, nor did she do things on her own terms, nor did she challenge Bruce and his world view like the Selina Kyle I know and love. Instead, she read like the manic pixie dream girl for Bruce. She either did not have much agency as a character, or she had her character rewritten/repurposed to progress Bruce’s character. To put it another way, Selina was very much there for Bruce's own character progression, but not her own. This now gets me to my favourite character: Helena Wayne.

As many people know, Helena Wayne is a character that means a lot to me. I love that she is the original Huntress who is also the daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman. I’m especially a huge fan of her relationship with Power Girl and the Earth-2 Dick Grayson, and, of course, I love that she is a lawyer who is also a member of the Justice Society of America.

There’s so much that’s interesting about Helena Wayne already, it’s honestly hard to believe she’s also a character that’s been repeatedly hurt by DC’s reboots and retcons. First with her erasure in the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot, which then resulted in her character being retooled into the more well-known Helena Bertinelli character, complete with a new backstory, a new personality, a new character motivation, and new relationships.

With the Flashpoint reboot, the post-Crisis Helena Bertinelli was restored to her original Helena Wayne incarnation, but she was still not the Helena Wayne I knew and loved. Instead, she was a brand new character with Helena Wayne’s personality and backstory who also retained Helena Bertinelli’s ‘judge, jury, and executioner’ method of crime-fighting, complete with the same lack of restraint when it came to killing her enemies. This was not the Helena Wayne I became invested in pre-Flashpoint.

To add insult to injury, DC robbed Helena Wayne of her own story on Earth-2 post-Flashpoint by having her (supposed to be deceased) grandad usurp her father’s mantle, followed by a random bloke who was ‘Dick Grayson’ in name only. The latter was not the original Robin from Earth-2 who was actually mentored by Helena’s father, nor did he have an authentic relationship with Helena built on a pre-existing past. This was all in the last decade.

With all the wrong-headed decisions DC has made with Helena Wayne in the past three decades, you can probably already imagine I’m not immediately receptive of another possible ‘hot new take’ on the character. Even less so if there is a chance this new interpretation will once again profoundly change Helena Wayne in ways that betray her internal logic as a character. I love Helena Wayne as the Huntress; she is my favourite DC character. But my experience with DC when it comes to this character has also been a painfully frustrating one, which gets me back to Tom King’s Batman/Catwoman book.

As of right now, little is known about the project apart from the fact that it picks up from where Tom King left off with Batman #85. Per King’s interview with Word Balloon, the book is going to explore five decades of the couple’s history: from their first meeting to the midpoint of their relationship to when they are an elderly couple. While King does not confirm that his story takes place in the alternate future explored in Batman Annual #2, the premise of the book does nonetheless imply that the story will take place in an alternate timeline and will not affect the characters’ narratives in the main DC continuity. That direction is now being decided by James Tynion IV who took over writing duties on the main Batman book, starting with issue #86.

While I completely understand Batman and Catwoman fans want Tom King’s vision for the couple to become mainstream DC canon, I also think the book being set in an alternate universe is the best thing that can happen to it for a multitude of reasons, but two strongly spring to mind:

First, without the burden of mainstream DC continuity (which will always need to maintain a status quo for AT&T’s bean counters), this affords King the creative freedom to fully realise his vision for the characters without needing to tailor his story to upcoming DC events. This means that if he decides he wants to depict a world where Bruce and Selina tie the knot, have children, and raise a family together, he can do that to the satisfaction of Batman and Catwoman fans. They won’t have to worry about DC splitting the couple up, which is what will inevitably happen in the main DC continuity, quite possibly in a very damaging way that could hurt the couple’s future viability.

The second reason the alternate universe premise is the best case scenario is that it allows fans who do not enjoy King’s interpretation of Bruce and Selina or any of the other Batman family members to simply ignore the book if it is not to their taste. For me as a Helena Wayne Huntress fan, this is ideal because it frees up the character to come back to the main DC continuity with her original Earth-2 history and developments intact, which is exactly what I want for Helena Wayne.

Since Helena Wayne is already a character with her own fanbase, a solid core mythology, relationships, and narrative that more strongly establish her as a Justice Society mainstay, there are plenty of reasons to not want to see the character’s status quo redefined in the main DC continuity:

First, by making Helena the daughter of the main Earth Batman and Catwoman, her existence will stop being about her own heroic journey, and will instead be about developing her father, Bruce Wayne. This is a wrong direction for Helena because it’ll reduce her from being a character with her own agency and narrative to being a plot device in her father’s story. Once DC decides to move away from this narrative, Helena along with Selina will be discarded.

Second—to build on the first point—Helena as the daughter of the main Earth Batman and Catwoman will cause her to lose many of her original developments that endeared immediate Helena Wayne fans like myself to her character. For example, she will no longer originate the Huntress identity on a world where Helena Bertinelli (Wayne’s replacement) originates it first, and would most likely be set up to become another Robin or Batwoman instead, which is a completely unoriginal and frankly boring direction to take her character in.

A main Earth version of Helena Wayne will similarly not have a reason to be friends with Power Girl if she’s now a native of the main DC Earth and Power Girl is once again the Earth-2 survivor of Crisis on Infinite Earths. In fact, there would probably be very little grounds for these two women to connect since a main Earth version of Helena Wayne would probably not want to be seen as a replacement for her original Earth-2 counterpart in Power Girl's life. On that note, a main Earth version of Helena Wayne will also no longer have meaningful ties to the Justice Society since her father is a member of the Justice League instead.

In short, too much of my favourite character will change if she becomes the daughter of the main Earth Batman and Catwoman, which would further compound my frustration rather than alleviate it. While many Batman fans may embrace the idea of a main Earth Helena Wayne as a welcome new member of the Batman family on this Earth, she will still not be the same character Paul Levitz originally envisioned with Joe Staton and Bob Layton in 1977. She will just be a brand new character with Helena Wayne’s name tacked on.

The good news for me is that Doomsday Clock #12 already teased the return of the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne Huntress in a future storyline, further indicating that whatever Tom King does with Helena Wayne in his Batman/Catwoman story will not affect the mainstream version of the character. Since DC also appears to be moving away from making Bruce and Selina a permanent couple in the main Batman book, this seems to further validate my suspicion that the original Earth-2 Helena Wayne Huntress will be the version appearing in DC's upcoming Earth-5G timeline.

Assuming AT&T doesn’t end up changing DC’s current plans as part of their company restructuring, the teaser from Doomsday Clock #12 is the one I’m most excited to see a follow-up to. If all else fails, at the very least, I'll still have the Stargirl show to fall back on since the show is set on Earth-2, the world Helena Wayne originates from. Since the show is helmed by Stargirl creator Geoff Johns, I can at least expect a more classic take on Helena Wayne, her core mythology, and relationships. To this day, Johns continues to have a profound love and respect for the Justice Society property and characters, I know he won’t let me down.

As for whether or not I’ll cover Tom King’s Batman/Catwoman book when that comes out knowing what I know now? This is literally a case of I will need to see what he ends up doing with his 'Helena' story in the upcoming Catwoman 80th Anniversary Special out this April. If I end up liking that story, I will then look forward to the preview of Batman/Catwoman #1 and make an informed decision based on that. I honestly won't know until closer to the book's release date.

Since the book is set in its own continuity not burdened by upcoming DC events, hopefully, the book will be good and Tom King actually tells the best story he can with these characters. Hopefully he succeeds in proving me and everyone else wrong by invalidating all our reservations. Hopefully he gives Batman and Catwoman fans the kind of story they crave since it's not likely AT&T will ever green-light this kind of story on the main DC Universe.

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