This Batman75 essay is just a part of what guest poster Diane Darcy could say about the history of the Huntress mantle. Originally planning to take us through a long and troubled history in celebration of Helenas — no matter the surname, a strong-willed, straight-shooting, purple force for justice — this in-depth piece introduces us to the first Huntress: Helena Wayne, bronze age heroine.
The Origin of the Huntress
One of the most underrated characters of the DC Universe is the original Huntress, Helena Wayne. Before the idea of the Huntress was conceived, an Earth-2 Batgirl was considered in order to add another woman to the Justice Society and alleviate the (then) new Power Girl from being the only female member. When DC Comics was unable to reboot the character with an origin with strong potential for future stories, the idea was eventually scrapped. It was at the insistence of artist Joe Staton that the idea of adding another ‘Bat woman’ to the Justice Society was revisited, and the idea evolved into the creation of the Huntress, as Helena Wayne, in 1977.
In stark contrast with the Earth-1 Barbara Gordon, Kathy Kane, and her niece Betty Kane, all inspired by Batman to become costumed superheroes (even developed identities adjunct to their inspiring hero), Helena Wayne was truly unique. Not only was she the direct descendant of (in this case, the Golden Age) Batman, but she also chose an identity, fighting style, and weaponry that were uniquely her own. Sure, she would occasionally use some of her father’s toys when they served her, but she also had her own primary weapons of choice: daggers and a collapsible pistol crossbow that shot both tranquilizer darts and bolts. Her fighting style was initially like that of most other DC Universe heroes of the time period, but over a period of time (most notably during Joey Cavalieri’s run), Helena Wayne became increasingly aggressive in her fighting style, reminiscent of her father’s earlier appearances. She developed a costume that honoured her heritage, but also chose a name that established her as an independent superhero. So Helena had all of this going for her, helping to differentiate her from the other Bat women that came before her, yet it may surprise one to learn, that prior to becoming the Huntress, Helena Wayne did not originally intend to become a costumed vigilante at all!
Despite the lives that Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle once led as Batman and Catwoman, they actually gave their daughter a normal upbringing. Indeed, Helena was well aware of her parents’ costumed identities, was even impressed by her parents’ history, and was naturally excited to be a part of such a rich legacy. Yet, despite all that, the idea of taking over the family business didn’t cross her mind at all. In her original incarnation, the adult Helena Wayne chose to honour her parents’ legacy a different way: by pursuing a career in law and graduating valedictorian from Harvard University with her Juris Doctor (JD). It wasn’t until she lost her mother, at the hands of a former henchman from her Catwoman days, that Helena decided to develop a costumed identity of her own and fight crime as the Huntress. (Hmmm — sounds familiar!)
Since I first became aware of her existence, Helena Wayne has strongly resonated with me. She wasn’t just the daughter of my unsinkable ship in the DC Universe, but I also loved what the character herself brought to the table. Despite being a woman in a position of power and privilege, Helena was also working in a male-dominated profession that often subjected her to the misogynist behaviour of her colleague named Roger. Helena was not only scorned for her wealth by this colleague, but also for the fact that Helena did not appear as invested in her day job as he was, which Roger often attributed to her sex. Though she was recognised for her idiosyncratic behaviour at her work place, Helena was nonetheless very self-confident and extraordinarily good at her job. She was even well respected by her senior colleague, Arthur Cranston, who recognised her strengths as a lawyer and often came to her defense when Roger made disparaging remarks about her.
This message was very powerful for me because sexism at the workplace is not unheard of (especially in Helena’s profession), and I loved seeing a woman being depicted as exceptionally competent at her job and being respected for it. I found her attitude and response to sexism empowering, because she simply did not put up with it. Period. Not only was she incredibly assertive with the men in her life, but she also did not allow these men to decide for her who she should be. Her father did not want her to follow in his footsteps, but she did so anyway because she recognised she wasn’t living in the kind of post-Batman Gotham where crime was at an all-time low. She also continued to fight crime as the Huntress despite her boyfriend, Harry Sims, taking serious issue with her indulging what he considered “a dangerous hobby.”
On the subject of her relationships, this is admittedly an area that was both hit and miss for me. Writers were off to a great start when it came to establishing Helena’s friendships in the DC Universe, but then started to lose me when it came to depicting her in a romantic relationship. The bulk of Helena’s friendships, pre-Crisis, were other superheroes, namely members of the Justice Society. She was also very close to the Superman family on Earth-2, and even had something of a familial relationship with Clark Kent and Lois Lane, given their close friendship with her parents, Bruce and Selina. Out of this particular family, Helena was immediately drawn to Clark’s cousin, Kara Zor-L, who fought alongside the Justice Society as Power Girl.
The relationship that existed between Kara and Helena pre-Crisis was truly special in many ways. Not only were they a second-generation World’s Finest team, but the amount respect that these two women had for each other was remarkable. While Helena recognised that Kara’s newly arrived status on Earth (after a decades long journey from the doomed Krypton) made her largely unfamiliar to human culture, she nevertheless loved and respected Kara for her personal values and enjoyed her company best. Whenever Helena worked on cases that required the expertise of another superhero, Kara was often (if not always) her first choice of partner. When they weren’t fighting crime together as Huntress and Power Girl, they often spent their leisure time in each other’s company, usually dining together or just having a girls’ night out. When one or both women were in a dark place in their lives, they would often turn to each other for comfort, and were warm and affectionate towards each other, the way best friends would be. The overall depiction of Helena’s friendship with Kara was both positive and powerful, but also very meaningful.
When it came to Helena’s romantic relationships, this is where improvements could have been made. To start with, I was never able to gravitate towards her boyfriend, Harry Sims, who was written as incredibly sexist and (depending on the writer) even abusive towards Helena for her lifestyle choices. The chemistry between them was incredibly lacking, their having very little in common other than working in the same profession. They also had very different views of what a working relationship comprised of, with Harry having a more patriarchal view of relationships, and Helena being more egalitarian in her dating style. As you can imagine, things did not end well for these two.
For a long time I found myself wondering why Helena didn’t leave the relationship, despite knowing that it wasn’t working. A woman of her wealth and resources would not need to stay in a relationship with a man who didn’t respect her, and even less so someone who was raised by Selina Kyle herself. It wasn’t until a post-Crisis story written by Geoff Johns that we got some closure on Helena’s relationship with Harry. Harry did eventually propose marriage, but Helena had by this point come to the realisation that they just didn’t work together as a couple. While she acknowledged that she did care for him, she also admitted to Kara that she was never in love with him. Who she did reveal as the person of her affections is where things got even more “interesting.”
One potential love interest that was established for Helena Wayne in the pre-Crisis continuity that carried over to the post-Crisis DC Universe was her father’s ward, Dick Grayson. In the pre-Crisis continuity, it was established that Helena had more of a familial relationship with Dick, and the two even came to think of each other as siblings. It wasn’t until they teamed-up together for a case involving a crime boss that a silent but mutual attraction between them was established, with Dick even admitting that he was starting to develop more sexual feelings for Helena. He eventually left Gotham again to keep himself from pursuing those feelings further, though he continued to have a lingering attraction for Helena, most notably in the miniseries America vs. the Justice Society. In the post-Crisis continuity, Dick was even more open about his attraction towards Helena, offering his support when she was experiencing a personal crisis of her own. While Helena was well aware that Dick was in love with her, she never disclosed to him that she felt the same way about him. I will admit that while Dick certainly treated Helena with a lot more respect than Harry did, at the same time, the thought of them being in a sexual relationship feels borderline incestuous given that they were both raised by the same man.
The last potential love interest that Helena had pre-Crisis was an Italian-American police officer named Gary Minelli. Having initially met Helena in a psychiatric facility that was functioning as a base for illegal drug activity, Gary was immediately smitten with Helena. Contrary to Harry, who wanted Helena to give up her life as the Huntress, Gary had absolutely no problem with her vigilante lifestyle and actually found this attractive about her. He was very interested in getting to know her better, even asking for her number to ask her out on a date. All seemed well at first, at least up until he started stalking Helena — which naturally disturbed her. Whether or not Joey Cavalieri intended to give Helena a new love interest and a new direction will never be known, because it was at around this that Crisis on Infinite Earths reared its ugly head, and this storyline was never properly concluded.
While Helena did by all accounts have a rubbish love life, she did, however, have many positive developments going for her that would soon be pulverised with the arrival of the Crisis reboot. Not only did Crisis mark the end of an era and begin a new direction for the DC Universe in 1986, but Crisis was also the beginning of a long list of problems that would hurt Helena in the years that followed.