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Helena as written by Madison is too interesting to disappear now
on November 23, 2009
A little disclosure might be in order here: I loved the Huntress, the original one, Helena Wayne, first introduced about 30 years ago by Paul Levitz and Joe Staton. That Huntress, Helena Wayne, the daughter of the Earth-2 Batman, was infinitely more interesting than Batgirl on Earth 1 (if you don't have any idea what that previous sentence was talking about, trust me--it's complicated, but suffice to say that comics readers of the '70s and '80s were well-versed in theories of different dimensions and alternate universes). That Huntress (by the way, her mother was Catwoman) practiced law by day and took the law into her own hands by night. She was both tough and human; not one of the impossibly superpowered humans who, after a short stint with a sensei somewhere, are able to do just about anything a story requires them to.
So I approached Huntress: Year One with more than a little trepidation. I hadn't taken a liking to the post-Crisis Huntress (again, complicated, but in the mid-'80s, DC issued a series called Crisis on Infinite Earths that wiped out its alternate universes and left just one earth and one incredibly long and convoluted history intact), so I was resistant somewhat to any rendition.
To offer a quick recap: In the new universe, the Huntress is now Helena Bertinelli, daughter of a slain mafia boss. Her family is massively tied in to a large criminal organization, but Helena, being a good person, breaks with her ugly family past and fights crime in Gotham City as the Huntress. Her weapon of choice: a crossbow. Her plan of action: whatever it takes, even if that means killing, a viciousness that is not shared or condoned by Batman. This puts her in the Dark Knight's bad column, and he doesn't take kindly at all to her running loose and acting as a vigilante in his city.
But Huntress: Year One veers off slightly (and wisely) from the previous reboot of the character to provide a more interesting character. The jumping-off point--daughter of a mafia family--remains the same, with Helena the sole survivor after her parents and brother were gunned down before her eyes when she was 8. Only the cross hanging from her neck saved her, as the assassin had a change of heart upon looking at it and her.
After being orphaned, Helena is sent to Sicily, where she learns how to hunt and be a woman who is not fearful of any man. The story here begins with Helena, now 20, just days away from her next birthday--and the large trust fund that will come with it.
Writer Ivory Madison, herself a former lawyer, is clearly a student of several of the better mob stories. She makes Helena ruthless, cunning, smart, and, above all, tough, but also a "good Catholic girl" who frequents church regularly. The opening scenes of Huntress: Year One play out somewhat stereotypically, but it sets the scene for Helena's eventual rebirth as a costumed heroine (or hero--Helena thinks a heroine is just someone who gets rescued by the hero of the story, and she definitely doesn't need to be rescued).
Huntress: Year One redefines the character wonderfully, a much better reenvisioning than the previous version and one that sets her up to be a powerhouse character yet still relatable as a human being. Not only did I like this story, but I liked this Huntress and wanted to see more. Hopefully, Madison will keep writing this character and putting her through her paces. Helena as written by her is too interesting to disappear now.
-- John Hogan