05 September 2010

The Huntress as Successor to Jason Todd

Although DC Comics had used the character name before, the first Huntress anyone cared about was the daughter of Bruce Wayne. The Bruce Wayne on Earth-Two, that is—the one who fought crime as Batman starting around 1940 and married Selina Kyle, the reformed Catwoman.

Helena Wayne took up the costumed crime-fighting in 1977 after her mother’s death, in a story written by Paul Levitz and drawn by Joe Staton. There were later hints of attraction between her and the grown-up Dick Grayson, but their relationship was mostly fraternal, and they became law partners instead.

Earth-Two, Helena Wayne, and the grown-up Dick Grayson were all wiped out in the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries of 1985-86. This left the Huntress name (and trademark) hanging.

In early 1989, DC introduced a new Huntress. The first issue of Huntress magazine, written by Joey Cavalieri and drawn once again by Joe Staton, had an April cover date. The following month Huntress also appeared in Justice League alongside Batman. As a crimefighter in Gotham City, she naturally fell under the Dark Knight’s shadow.This Huntress’s name was Helena Bertinelli. And in many ways she was remarkably like Jason Todd, the third Robin, who had been killed only months before.

As reimagined by Max Allan Collins, Jason wasn’t just another orphaned circus flyer (there are just so many of those). Instead, he was the orphaned son of a career criminal who had grown up in a tough world. Furthermore, as developed by Collins and even more so by Jim Starlin, Jason was often driven by anger, occasionally defiant toward Batman, and ready to wreak more permanent violent retribution than his mentor.

These traits naturally produced more tension in the Batman-and-Robin relationship, and opened the door to more interesting storylines. They also proved terribly unpopular with readers, to the point that DC decided to retire the character one way or another.

And then the company introduced readers to Huntress, who was:

  • the orphaned daughter of career criminals who had grown up in a tough world. She came from a leading family of organized crime who had all been wiped out by rivals.
  • often driven by anger, not just at those murderous rivals but at criminals in general.
  • defiant toward Batman, yet at many levels seeking his approval.
  • ready to wreak permanent violence, without Batman’s scruples against killing.
In sum, Helena Bertinelli received all of the second Jason Todd’s stand-out traits without the symbolic baggage of being Robin. (Helena Wayne hadn’t been prominent enough to accumulate similar baggage for most readers.) Huntress could be evil, or at least could push the edges of the superhero ethos, without provoking complaints. Indeed, as a tough woman, she was a refreshing addition to the Gotham City lineup.

The Huntress series lasted nineteen issues, the last three featuring Batman. Over the next two decades, Huntress has remained a significant figure in DC Universe, though usually as a supporting character or member of a team. She maintains a unique symbolic value within the Batman family.

Being an adult, and having inherited her family’s money, Helena Bertinelli is independent of Bruce Wayne, which allows her to move nearer and further from the Batman “family” as stories require. Her Catholic faith and Italian heritage provide interesting nuances. Her day job is teaching school, which softens the edges of the character and made for a particularly interesting relationship when she crossed paths with…the next Robin.

No comments: