Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about the current daughter of Batman and former mob princess, Huntress.
Created by Paul Levitz and Joe Staton, Huntress first debuted in 1977 on Earth-Two. In this pre-Crisis era, Earth-Two was the world in which the Golden Age characters resided. While DC’s younger, more marketable versions of their characters ran around on Earth-One, Earth-Two housed the Justice Society of America along with older versions of Superman and Batman. This version of Batman eventually came to marry his world’s Catwoman and the two of them had a daughter together. This young girl was named Helena Wayne and she grew up idolizing both her father and her mother.
Everything was perfect. Selina had hung up her Catwoman outfit and Bruce was winding down his Batman operations. One day, a former henchman of Selina’s entered the picture, claiming he had proof that Selina had killed someone during a robbery. He blackmailed the former villain into pulling one last heist. The plan went wrong and Selina died during the adventure. Heartbroken, her daughter Helena took up a costume herself and tracked her mother’s blackmailer down. The Huntress was then born.
For the next several years, Helena continued her costumed vigilant ways an Earth -Two. She occasionally teamed up with her friend and colleague Power Girl, but she was mostly a solo act. During the day, Helena worked for Cranston, Grayson, and Wayne, a public interest research group. This was a lobbying group who championed mostly liberal causes. Dick Grayson, the grown ward of Bruce and a partner in the firm, kept the name Robin and continued to fight crime on a semi-regular basis. Helena was also a partner in the firm. Dick was no longer based in Gotham, so it was a long while before Bruce Wayne’s ward and Bruce Wayne’s daughter actually teamed up on a case together. But, eventually, they did just that.
It was during this time period that Huntress had a backup story in Wonder Woman’s series. As Wonder Woman’s stories took place on Earth-One and Huntress’ on Earth-Two, these were fully separate tales.
During the Crisis on Infinite Earths a few years later, Helena appeared to die. A building fell on top of her but her death wasn’t fully confirmed. In any case, the continuity shuffle in the post-Crisis era did away with her more permanently than any building. Gone was Earth-Two and Helena Wayne vanished into the back issue bin. However, the Huntress name soon lived on.
In 1989, a new title launched named simply Huntress. There, readers were introduced to a woman named Huntress who wore the exact same costume as Helena Wayne. However, this new Huntress was named Helena Bertinelli. Now, Helena had grown up as a member of the Bertinelli family, a mob family based in New York. During Helena’s college years, her family was gunned down while celebrating at a local restaurant by a masked hitman hired by a rival family.
Omerta, the hitman, thought he’d wiped out the entire Bertinelli clan but missed the fact that Helena was still alive. It was a life changing experience for the teenager. Seeing the violence and bloodshed that the mob brought to her area, Helena trained herself to her physical peak, took on the name Huntress, and began trying to help the people of New York.
In a strange bit of storytelling, there was another piece of Helena’s backstory that was presented in this first issue. When Helena was in grade school, it was shown that some rival of her father’s crime operation had kidnapped her for a few days. While it was never explicitly said, it was pretty apparent that Helena was sexually assaulted during this time. The kidnapper released Helena without issuing a single demand. It was all simply a message meant for her father. Her time with the kidnapper and the things he did to her continued to haunt her throughout her solo series. Honestly, this whole subplot was icky and unnecessary. Future writers would appear to agree with me.
Only a few issues into her brand new career as Huntress, Helena tracked down both Omerta and the man who had hired him. In a bid to convince Helena to work for him, her father’s old rival killed Omerta. This did little to endear Helena to him. She refused to work for her family’s killer.
During the scuffle, he too died.
Around the same time that Helena appeared as a brand new post-Crisis character, she showed up in the pages of the Justice League’s book. There, she helped make sure that a brainwashed Blue Beetle didn’t kill Maxwell Lord. Considering that Maxwell Lord would, years later, put a bullet in Ted Kord’s head, perhaps Helena should have let Ted kill him.
Since Helena was already based in New York, Max then asked her if she’d join the League, which was then also based in the city. At first, she turned him down. She was a solo fighter and that was that. However, Max had just developed the ability to “push” people’s minds into agreeing with him. He used this ability to convince Huntress to join the League. When Helena discovered what Max had done, she went ballistic.
The only way Max could stop Helena from killing him was to once again use his abilities. Huntress stayed on with the League for a few issues more, but then just stopped showing up. At around this same time, Huntress was cancelled, leaving Helena without a book. In her few spare moments, Helena was able to stop a nuclear bomb from going off in New York and spent some time on a therapist’s couch before her book got axed.
During Helena’s next appearance, it was clear that a soft reboot had been performed on the character. Tim Drake had just been given the role of Robin and had two very successful miniseries under his belt. In his third mini, he was teamed up with the Huntress to take down KGBeast, a Russian supervillain. Here, Helena had a very different backstory than before. Now, the Bertinelli mob family had been based in Gotham City and not New York. Though Helena had never killed anyone directly in her solo series from a few year prior, now she had the reputation of being a killer. Also, she had a day job as a teacher, an occupation she’d never held before.
During the Showcase revival that same year, Helena’s black sheep credentials became solidified when Jean-Paul Valley, Bruce’s slightly insane replacement as Batman, actually seemed to agree with her style of crime fighting. If Jean-Paul sort of liked her, she had to be real trouble.
Response to this new Huntress was fairly positive. Because of that, Helena was granted her own solo miniseries the following year. In that story’s pages, Helena came face-to-face with the man who had kidnapped and assaulted her when she was a young girl. Even though this man had actually already died in the pages of Helena’s ongoing series years earlier, the soft reboot she’d just gone through appeared to bring him back to life.
The art in this particular story was nothing more than a poor man’s Sin City. Frank Miller made his style work for his extreme noir story, but Michael Netzer’s work here just distracted from the tale.
A few years later, a case brought Helena and Dick Grayson together. Now that Dick and Helena weren’t essentially siblings in this version of their characters, they quickly hooked up.
This little rooftop kissing session ultimately led to a full night together at Helena’s place. The two were a fun pair together and needled each other into doing their best on this case. After wrapping up their work, it came out that Helena was just sleeping with Dick in order to get in good with the Bat family. But she did admit that it was also a very pleasurable evening.
Helena’s attempts to get in good with Batman came to fruition when he offered her a spot in the newly enlarged JLA. At first, Helena was unsure whether to take Batman up on his offer or not, but she eventually agreed.
No one, not even Helena herself, ever mentioned the fact that she had already been a member of the League several years earlier so perhaps that too had been wiped out in her 1993 soft reboot.
During her time with the League, Helena became a valued member. She helped take down villains as diverse as the genetically modified General and the rogue sun Solaris. However, when the League took on Prometheus for the second time, Helena decided that he simply shouldn’t be allowed to live. He was too dangerous. As she was about to kill him, Batman found her, saw what she was doing, and immediately fired her.
Over in the Batman line of books, Helena was doing something completely different than in the pages of JLA. There, she had taken up the role of the second Batgirl.
After a massive earthquake had destroyed much of Gotham City, Batman was no where to be seen. Assuming that he’d do more good in Washington as Bruce Wayne, lobbying for government resources in the wake of the earthquake, Bruce had left his city behind. Seeing a void, Helena filled it with her Batgirl idea. When Batman finally returned to his city, he saw the work she was doing and agreed with her ways.
Batman gave Helena a bit of latitude in her role as Batgirl. Unfortunately, when she failed at a seemingly impossible task that Bruce had given her, Helena was stripped of her Batgirl role, which eventually went to a young girl named Cassandra Cain. Knowing that Gotham still needed help, Helena went back to her Huntress costume and kept battling back the gangs and supervillains who had remained in the demolished city.
Near the very end of Gotham’s No Man’s Land, Helena found herself going up against Joker and his thugs by herself. After taking several gunshots, Helena could only watch in anger as the Joker put his gun against her temple. Only the timely arrival of Robin and Nightwing saved her life.
Later that same night, Joker went on to kill Sarah Essen, Commissioner Jim Gordon‘s wife. It was rough day for Gotham’s heroes.
Shortly after No Man’s Land ended, Helena was granted another miniseries. Written by Greg Rucka with art by one of his longtime collaborators Rick Burchett, the series was yet another relaunch for Helena. Her original post-Crisis origin was tweaked. This time, the kidnapping and implied assault of Helena was completely removed from her story. In this version, Helena was a grade schooler and not a college student when a hitman entered her family’s house and killed everyone but her. It would be years before Helena discovered why she had been allowed to live.
It seems that Helena’s mother had been sleeping with the head of a rival mob family. This other mob boss had put out the hit on the Bertinellis and told the hitman to spare Helena’s mother. However, wires got crossed and the hitman left Helena alive instead. It was a simple misunderstanding that spared Helena’s life.
This miniseries wasn’t just about Helena’s past. During the course of this series, Helena left Gotham for months in order to study with Richard Dragon and the then-Question, Vic Sage. By the time she returned to Gotham, she’d been fired as a school teacher. That was probably for the best, since no one seemed to mention her teaching job in several years.
The 2008 miniseries Huntress: Year One retold the Cry for Blood flashback story but with a few differences here and there. That story wasn’t as well written as Rucka’s. If you have a desire to read Year One, I’d recommend Cry for Blood instead.
While she was never a true member of the Bat family, Helena did eventually become a full member of Barbara Gordon’s Birds of Prey. Sporting a new costume, which she eventually chalked up to doing 700 sit ups a day and wanting to show off that hard work, Helena was called upon by Barbara when Black Canary was in trouble. After helping out, Helena was eventually put into Barbara’s regular speed dial. Though she was helping the citizens of Gotham, Helena kept her edge.
Even after years of attempting to break into Batman’s good graces, Helena wasn’t against killing the occasional foe when need be. It was never a casual decision. Helena took death seriously and had to be pushed quite a bit before she decided to go through with a kill. For instance, only after Man-Bat seemingly went insane and tried to kill both her and several innocents did Helena decide that he had to die.
She would fail to kill Man-Bat, which is probably for the best since he wasn’t actually insane.
That’s where Helena was left before the New 52 relaunched the DCU. Now, the Huntress who is running around in the pages of Worlds’ Finest is once again Helena Wayne. Helena Bertinelli, daughter of the mob, was wiped out along with people like Wally West and Stephanie Brown in the reboot.
Daughter of Earth 2′s Batman and Catwoman, Helena started off her career as that world’s Robin. After seeing her mother die before her eyes, it changed the young hero.
When Helena found herself on Earth 1, she changed her persona to Huntress. There she remains with her friend Power Girl in the pages of Worlds’ Finest.
This reset of Huntress back to Helena Wayne may be the best thing that happened to her in years. The many tweaks and changes to her backstory from 1989 all the way up to the New 52 were incongruous and a bit baffling. Writers seemed to want to keep retelling her origin story rather than give her something new to do, which caused every new origin to not quite line up with what had come before. Hopefully this Helena Wayne version sticks around for a while to come and won’t have her beginnings changed every five or so years. It certainly helps that Paul Levitz, the man who co-created Helena Wayne all those years ago, is writing her story now. He’s certainly got a good handle on the character. I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.
Jeff Reid finds characters with constantly shifting origins fascinating. It really shows the types of stories each writer likes to tell. Occasionally, Jeff tells stories on Twitter.