Sunday, 6 September 2020

How I Became A Helena Wayne Huntress Fan Part 2

In Part 1 of my origin story as a Huntress fan, I shared my first experience with DC characters at the age of six via film and television. I especially talked about how strongly Catwoman resonated with me at that age and how she set the gold standard for the way I would invest in future female characters, including the version of the Huntress who is her daughter with Batman. Catwoman specifically set the standard for complex female characters who's goals and motivations were often (if not entirely) at odds with the lifestyles they led.

Who, then, are the other female characters who followed in the footsteps of Catwoman that paved the road to my future as a Helena Wayne Huntress fan? Let's take a trip to the late 1990s and early 2000s! Not only is this the timeframe that solidified my favourite female character archetype, but it is also the timeframe where I ALMOST HAD my first run in with the Huntress herself! Considering it is Helena Wayne's canonical birthday today, the timing couldn't be more perfect to share that experience!

Welcome to Part 2 of my origin story as a Helena Wayne Huntress fan!

1997

As the 1990s came and went, so did my investment in Batman. Batman: The Animated Series had concluded its original run in 1995, and its sequel series, The New Batman Adventures, debuted in 1997. That same year the Joel Schumacher Batman and Robin film also made its cinematic debut. While the movie featured one of my favourite female characters from the Batman property—Poison Ivy—it is also the film that killed the Batman film franchise for nearly a decade. 

As for how I personally felt about the Batman and Robin film? Well, as an eight-year-old, I did like the previous Batman Forever film that Joel Schumacher did, in large part because I liked Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne and Batman. It is also the film that had legendary Australian actress Nicole Kidman in a major supporting role. As a kid who was a huge fan of Nicole Kidman at the time, she was undoubtedly a major selling point, along with Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones as the Riddler and Two-Face respectively. Two villains I actually liked from the Batman property.

When it came to Batman and Robin, as a ten-year-old, you can probably imagine I had very high expectations of this film. Even more so with a 1980s and 1990s icon like Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the main villain for the film, Mr. Freeze. When I left the cinema, however, Poison Ivy was the only saving grace of the film for me. Not just because she was portrayed by the fabulous Uma Thurman, but also because Ivy herself followed the same standard Catwoman set before her. 

Like Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman in Batman Returns, Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy was also a woman who was abused by a man in her life, and that man also attempted to murder her. She too was a femme fatale who was tired of being life's bitch and decided to live her life on her own terms. Like Catwoman, this meant having goals and motivations that were at odds with the lifestyle she led. While it was certainly a joy to see Uma Thurman 'fuck shit up' as Poison Ivy, she was regrettably not in a film worthy of her character or her acting talents. 

1999

While Batman and Robin may have killed my investment in Batman for the time being, it did not, however, kill my investment in characters with dark origin stories, or with narratives rooted in gothic storytelling. Enter Buffy the Vampire SlayerAngel, and Charmed—three WB TV shows from the late 1990s that dealt with dark themes and complex characters who battled supernatural monsters. Those same monsters, in many ways, embodied these characters' internal struggles.

From Buffy, my favourite character was Faith Lehane (played by Eliza Dushku), the dark-haired vampire slayer who embodied a character archetype similar to Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman. Unlike Catwoman, however, Faith was a much darker character with a far more tragic storyline. As a character, Faith's narrative was the polar opposite of the show's titular heroine, Buffy Summers, in that she had a highly unstable childhood. 

Whereas Buffy grew up in a mostly stable household with parents who loved her, Faith was by contrast raised by highly toxic parents who eventually ended up in prison. Following that, Faith spent most of her adolescence in search of parental figures she could actually rely on. Parental figures who would actually love and value her as a person, but her life circumstances often prevented her from having those things. That was before she became a vampire slayer. After becoming a vampire slayer, she experienced her first tragedy when she lost her first watcher to a vampire. That first watcher was the first real parental figure she had.

When Faith met Buffy, her watcher, and her group of friends, Faith attempted to be a part of her group. However, since Faith was also a slayer who refused to play by anyone else's rules but her own, this often put her at odds with Buffy and her group of friends. When Faith especially committed manslaughter, this shook up any remaining trust Buffy and her friends had in her. This effectively set Faith up to take on a more destructive path—the path of Sunnydale's mayor who actually loved her like a daughter. Faith's alignment then shifted to a more villainous role.

While Faith as a character was much more raw and lacked the sophistication and nuance of Catwoman, she was still a complex and morally grey anti-heroine whose motivations at times made her a borderline villain. It wasn't until the character crossed over to the Buffy spin-off series, Angel, that Faith got her real shot at a redemption arc. Part of that was due to the fact she found a kindred spirit in the form of Buffy's vampiric ex-lover, Angel (played by David Boreanaz), whom Faith also attempted to kill in the third series of Buffy's own show.

In many ways, Angel's story paralleled that of Faith's in that he too came from an abusive family that sent him down a much darker path. As a young man named Liam living in 18th century Ireland, Angel had a toxic relationship with his father that caused him to internalise an intense hatred for his father. This hatred later informed the sadistic person he would become after he died and was reborn as the vampire known as Angelus. 

As Angelus, Liam murdered his entire family as retribution for the abuse he endured, and spent centuries torturing and murdering people for his own sadistic amusement. It wasn't until he murdered a Rroma woman that Angelus had a curse placed on him by her clan. By restoring his soul, the Rroma clan ensured that Angelus would live his eternal life with the pain and suffering he caused for centuries. Driven by intense feelings of guilt, the curse set Angelus on a new path of redemption as Angel, using his cursed existence to save lives in order to compensate for the ones he destroyed. As such, he was the right person to help Faith because he more than understood where she came from.

Apart from being a complex anti-heroine with a tragic origin story and dark narrative, Faith may have also been responsible for making me attracted to dark-haired, crossbow-wielding women in fiction. In this regard, she may have been my first predecessor to the Huntress.

2002

While Buffy and Angel defined my late childhood fandom in the late 1990s, Charmed became my favourite TV show in the early 2000s when I was just becoming an adolescent. From Charmed, my favourite Halliwell sister was Prue (played by Shannen Doherty). While Prue (like Buffy and Faith) also vanquished monsters and demons in the sunny state of California, she also did this without any specialised weapons. Instead, Prue was a dark-haired witch who was born into a long bloodline of powerful witches—a legacy that wasn't easy for her to accept at first.  

When Prue first became aware of her family heritage, she initially rejected it. A big part of that was due to the accompanying legacy resulting in her mother's death when she was still a child. As an adult, Prue did not want to embrace her destiny as a witch and only did so when monsters started attacking the people she loved as well as her hometown. When Prue finally embraced her family legacy and started using her powers and talents as a witch to protect lives, she quickly learnt she couldn't be a witch and still lead a normal life. 

For a long time, Prue could not tell her boyfriend—a police officer named Andy (played by T.W. King)—about her double life. This often frustrated Andy because it prevented him from having the quality time he wanted with Prue and he never understood why. When Andy finally did learn Prue's secret, he was none too pleased to learn his girlfriend was a witch. This ended up putting some distance between the couple. When Andy finally came around, Prue's lifestyle as a witch predictably got him killed, which became one of her greatest regrets. 

Does Prue's story sound very familiar to Helena Wayne Huntress fans? Well, the WB back in the early 2000s seemed to think so, because Helena Wayne became the next character they wanted to make a TV show about in that same timeframe. During the 2000s, the WB Network thrived on shows about dark heroic characters that dealt with dark themes. They even dipped their toe into their first DC property with Smallville in 2001, which was a successful teen drama that focused on Superman's teenage years as Clark Kent. 

In stark contrast with the other shows that were airing on the WB during that time, Smallville was a more lighthearted show. However, since the popular trend back then was still 'dark anti-heroes' especially amongst a young female demographic, the WB Network decided to dip their toe into another DC property that fit that trend. As such, the city of Gotham and the character of Helena Wayne as the Huntress seemed like a good fit for them. Enter the debut of Birds of Prey in 2002, starring Ashley Scott as the Helena Wayne version of the Huntress! 

Ironically, however, I missed the initial airing of Birds of Prey because I had already left the WB TV fandom a couple of months earlier. By 2002, neither Buffy nor Angel were moving in creative directions I was actually enjoying, and the Charmed show runners had killed off Prue around that same timeframe. The word on the street back then was that Shannen Doherty quit the show because she did not get along with her co-star, Alyssa Milano, who played her sister Phoebe. Rather than recast the role, they just replaced the character with a new character named Paige Matthews played by Rose McGowan.

With the loss of Prue Halliwell in particular, I decided right then and there it was time to move on. In 2002, I became invested in a new fandom—in this case manga and anime fandom. It's funny to think that if not for the fact the Charmed show runners had killed off Prue a few months early, there's a very good chance I would've become aware of the Birds of Prey television show. I probably would've even watched it at the time it actually aired! After all, the Huntress sounded like the kind of character I would've been easily invested in as a fifteen-year-old girl, given my track record with WB TV shows during that time. 

Alas, however, fate had other plans, and it clearly did not intend for me to find out about the Huntress the first chance I actually had in 2002. Instead, I became aware of another female character that same year that in many ways embodied ALL of the traits my previous childhood heroes embodied! In many ways, this female character was my real precursor to the Huntress and was especially my first comic book character! I am, of course, talking about the tragic miko named Kikyou from the Inuyasha franchise in Japan!

Come back here on Batman Day on 19 September for Part 3!

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