If we want to learn more about the character(s) called Huntress, then it’s best to ask the experts, such as Diane Darcy, master of the Helena Wayne Huntress blog and podcast. Why does Darcy love the Huntress so much? In our latest Four-Colour Faves, we find out!
Helena Wayne, Helena Bertinelli — or Paula Brooks? Which Huntress did you meet first and what was it about the character that sparked your interest?
The first Huntress I became aware of in 2007 was Helena Wayne (renamed Helena Kyle) in the Birds of Prey TV show that aired on the WB between 2002-2003. I didn’t read her comic book counterpart until 2008 when she appeared in the Justice Society of America annual that tied into the Thy Kingdom Come story arc DC was publishing at the time.
Originally, I bought the annual because I loved the Alex Ross cover and I didn’t expect to care for the interior story. When I read the story, I was actually surprised by how invested I was in Helena Wayne. I loved that she was very much her own character with her own identity who was not at all dependent on her status as the daughter of Batman and Catwoman for recognition.
I loved that Helena had her own personality and her own internal conflicts that were in some ways consequential of her parents’ pasts. I loved that there was meaningful exploration of the impact Batman and Catwoman’s legacies had on their daughter who was trying to live her own life. This made Helena stand out from all the Robins and Batgirls in the Batfamily. She was truly unique.
Another major selling point of the character for me is her friendship with Power Girl, who is Earth-2’s Kara Zor-L. I loved that Helena allowed herself to be emotionally vulnerable around Kara and was comfortable sharing her honest thoughts and feelings with her. It was also powerful to see her seek emotional support from Kara instead of trying to deal with her life’s problems alone.
What are your thoughts on the other Huntresses?
I admittedly didn’t think much about Paula Brooks’ Huntress since she’s a wholly different Huntress from Helena Wayne. At best, I did enjoy the pre-Crisis story where Paula challenged Helena for the title of ‘The Huntress’ (All-Star Comics #72-73). That was actually fun to read.
Helena Bertinelli took some time to warm up to, namely because I wasn’t comfortable with DC using the character in a capacity that was meant to erase Helena Wayne post-Crisis. I was especially not comfortable with DC transplanting some of Wayne’s more identifiable traits onto Bertinelli to try and establish a pseudo-parent-child relationship with either Batman or Catwoman.
It wasn’t until I learned from Helena Wayne’s co-creator, Joe Staton, the real reason the character was changed from Wayne to Bertinelli that I started to think of the character differently. As I later learned, Helena Bertinelli was actually meant to be a new origin for Helena Wayne so that she could fit into the post-Crisis timeline. The same was done to Power Girl (who became Atlantean) and Fury (who lost her Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor parentage) for the same reason.
Even with the knowledge that Helena Bertinelli was meant to be Helena Wayne with a new origin, I still felt she was too different from Helena Wayne in terms of personality and character motivation. One thing that stood out as a stark difference between the two was the fact Helena Wayne became the Huntress to honour her family legacy on her own terms, and Helena Bertinelli became the Huntress to reject her family legacy. That last part was what ultimately allowed me to connect with Helena Bertinelli.
While I luckily never grew up in a crime family, I still had a traumatic childhood that was defined by both narcissistic and domestic abuse and I felt isolated. I had no outside support and neither did Helena Bertinelli. She had to figure out her own path in life through trial and error just as I did.
In the end, when it comes to my investment in the Huntress, Helena Bertinelli is the Huntress that’s most similar to me in terms of life experience, and Helena Wayne is the Huntress who embodies all of the traits I want to have. I relate to Helena Bertinelli and Helena Wayne inspires me to be the best version of myself.
Which of her stories has stood out for you the most? What was it about those stories that affected you?
For Helena Wayne, the story that resonates with me the strongest is Justice Society of America Annual #1 from 2008 — the same one that first got me invested in the Huntress — and Justice Society of America #20. Both of those are part of the JSA: Thy Kingdom Come story arc.
Apart from what I already mentioned, the way Huntress and Power Girl’s story arc affected me was it made a strong statement about the lasting power of friendship. Within the context of the story, Helena Wayne and Kara Zor-L hadn’t been in each other’s lives for a very long time thanks to Crisis on Infinite Earths cutting Helena’s life short.
After Infinite Crisis established a new multiverse and brought back characters that perished in the original Crisis, this allowed Kara to reunite with Helena on a new Earth-2 for the first time in years. It’s a reunion that brought them both happiness until it was revealed that this new Earth-2 had its own Power Girl who was none-too-pleased to see her Huntress in the arms of another Power Girl.
Even with the kerfuffle that ensued as a result of that misunderstanding (in this case, Earth-2 Power Girl thinking her main Earth counterpart was looking to replace her), I liked that Huntress remained sympathetic towards the main Earth Power Girl and even tried to protect her against her own Power Girl. That really spoke to me because it said something about how much Helena loves Kara that it didn’t matter to her where this other Power Girl was from. To Helena, she was still Kara and didn’t deserve to be hurt over a stupid misunderstanding. From that point on, I’ve wanted the original pre-Crisis Huntress to return so that the main Earth Power Girl could have her best friend back.
How do you feel about Helena’s costumes? Which one is your favourite?
For the overall design of the Huntress costume, I have a special fondness for the pre-Crisis costume because it set the standard look for the Huntress even after Helena Bertinelli took over the mantle from Wayne post-Crisis. I liked that the original costume had a well-balanced design and colour scheme that truly homaged Batman and Catwoman as the Huntress’s parents while at the same time affording her a distinct (and I dare say iconic) look. I would argue all of Bertinelli’s costumes throughout the post-Crisis era was a variation of the original Helena Wayne costume, including the belly window costume that fans are mixed on.
Having said that, I would say my absolute favourite Huntress costume is Helena Wayne’s New 52 costume. It retains the standard look of her original pre-Crisis costume, but it’s also more practical and completely covers her body to not leave her vulnerable to injury. I liked that it also retained Helena Bertinelli’s contribution to the design, namely in the form of keeping the cross on the costume.
While the cross is more strongly associated with Bertinelli’s Catholic identity, I don’t think Wayne wearing a cross is too off-mark for the character. While Wayne doesn’t strongly identify as a Catholic the way Bertinelli does, it was shown pre-Crisis that Helena’s parents had Christian-based faiths (they married in a cathedral and had Christian funerals).
Post-Flashpoint, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle still married in a cathedral and it was implied (at least on Earth-2) Selina kept most of her post-Crisis developments, including her origin that established her mother as Latinx with a Catholic upbringing. Since Helena Wayne (post-Flashpoint) largely modeled her Huntress costume after her mother’s Catwoman costume, I liked the fact that there was more emphasis on Selina being Helena’s role model than her father. Historically, Helena idolized her father more, so shifting that role to Selina was a welcome change.
Batman has taken issue with Helena Bertinelli’s violent ways. Do you feel he has been justified in his accusations and treatment of her?
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a fan of Bruce’s characterization post-Crisis, namely because I don’t gravitate towards Dark Knight Returns as the ‘gold standard’ for Batman stories. I get why it was thought of as groundbreaking at the time since it pushed new boundaries with Batman in ways that hadn’t been done prior. But I also don’t feel like this is the right take for Bruce in the main DC canon as it makes him profoundly unlikeable, at least for me. So whenever he was paired off with Helena Bertinelli in a story, I always took Bertinelli’s side.
While Bruce taking issue with Bertinelli’s willingness to kill is understandable given his past trauma with seeing his parents murdered before him, I don’t think his overall treatment of Bertinelli was justified. Putting aside writers attempting to capitalize on the Huntress’s past as Helena Wayne to create a pseudo-father-daughter dynamic between Bruce and Bertinelli, I often felt Bruce was written as unreasonably hostile towards her, even when Bertinelli was actually reasonable in her actions.
I remember one mini-story arc towards the end of the 1989 Huntress series by Joey Cavalieri and Joe Staton where Bruce intruded on one of Bertinelli’s cases (she was residing in New York at the time). Bruce wanted to put a black kid in prison because he was avenging his family’s murder by blowing up gangs in New York to trigger a gang war between them and have them kill each other. Bertinelli took the kid’s side and called Bruce out on the fact that the kid’s family was murdered by gangs and feels like he has nothing else left to lose. Bertinelli didn’t condone the bombings, but also knew prison wasn’t the right place for him since he actually needed professional help.
Throughout the post-Crisis era, Bertinelli tried forming an alliance with Bruce on the basis of having a common goal, and Bruce harshly rejected her offer by stating he had ‘all the help he needed’ with Robin (Tim Drake) as his partner. When Bertinelli took quick action in one Detective Comics story from the early 1990s to save a large group of people from a suicide bomber by isolating the bomber to blow up on his own, Bruce scolded her for her actions even though they were quite limited on time.
We see this pattern a lot, most notably during No Man’s Land, where Bertinelli tried to keep Batman active in the city in a time when it succumbed to a natural disaster and Bruce had abandoned his post. She did the best she could with what she had, and that simply wasn’t enough for Bruce who managed to criticize every mistake she made. His reasoning was something along the lines of ‘I’m holding you accountable in the same way I hold myself accountable,’ which was complete bollocks, if you ask me. He didn’t punish himself too harshly for abandoning Gotham in a time when he was more strongly needed and came back an even bigger colossal arsehole than he was prior.
It’s enough to say, with the way Bruce was characterized for most of the post-Crisis continuity, I would have been content if he had stayed dead following the events of Final Crisis and the Birds of Prey protected Gotham in his stead. Bertinelli had by this point become a more seasoned fighter with the support of her teammates.
How do you feel about her role as a member of the Birds of Prey?
I feel that Helena Bertinelli as a member of the Birds of Prey is a great fit for her, namely because it allows her to have a strong support system. One of Bertinelli’s recurring themes throughout the post-Crisis continuity is a desire to connect with other people and she attempted to achieve this with the Bat-family with little success.
With the Birds of Prey, she has friends who actually love and accept her as she is and also depend on her. This in turn contributes to Bertinelli’s character growth. By having a real group of friends she can be herself with and who inspire her to be the best version of herself, we get to experience a softer side of Helena Bertinelli. She gets to be emotionally vulnerable in a healthy way and when she makes mistakes, Dinah Lance (Black Canary), Barbara Gordon (Oracle), and Zinda Blake (Lady Blackhawk) still have her back. Obviously, she and Barbara haven’t always been on the best of terms, but they’ve also grown and changed together.
I don’t know how DC plans to reconcile the Birds of Prey with their pre-Flashpoint history since each of the characters’ histories have been profoundly changed during The New 52 leading into Rebirth and Infinite Frontier. But I do hope to see the team re-establish the rapport they had prior to the New 52 changes as it’s something truly special.
What are your hopes for the future of the character? Where would you like to see her story go?
I think Helena Bertinelli is in excellent hands with Mariko Tamaki on Detective Comics. Right now, I’m just waiting for DC to figure out their own plans for the Justice Society, which is where we can expect to see Helena Wayne return in the main DC canon.
The Stargirl: Spring Break Special teased the classic Helena Wayne Huntress existed as a member of the Justice Society on the main Earth. It’s also hinted that her disappearance is now possibly linked to Per Degaton changing Batman and Catwoman’s timeline rather than being erased in Crisis on Infinite Earths like before. This seems to also be building on a tease from Doomsday Clock #12 where it was established that Bruce has a missing daughter (implying Helena) and that at some point he becomes aware of this and recruits Superman to find her.
I do hope that DC follows up on those developments. Not just because the classic Helena Wayne Huntress is long overdue for a return, but I also want to read more stories with her and Power Girl. If Geoff Johns is the writer who follows up on his own teases for Helena, he’ll probably make a reunion between the classic Huntress and Power Girl as emotional as their brief reunion in Thy Kingdom Come.
And then, of course, I’d love to see Helena Bertinelli meet Helena Wayne. How would Bertinelli react to the knowledge that there was another Huntress active in Gotham during the late 1970s and 1980s? Was Bertinelli always aware of Wayne’s existence but had her memories altered? Did Wayne’s mysterious disappearance motivate Bertinelli to take up her mantle when she experienced her own tragedy? Could Bertinelli put two and two together and know that the original Huntress was always Helena Wayne, especially in light of America vs the Justice Society being integrated into the main DC canon?
There is a lot of story potential in bringing Helena Wayne back and having her meet her successor, and more.