My experience with The Huntress as a character begins with the end of her first version; specifically, her death in Crisis on Infinite Earths. As a result, I never had much of an attachment to Helena Wayne and when when I first encountered Helena Bertinelli in a Detective Comics two-parter in the fall of 1992, the change in the character didn’t seem odd. In fact, I don’t know if the character had a lasting impact at all, to be honest. I remember at the time really liking the Travis Charest cover (because I was 15 and he was like DC’s Jim Lee) and I thought that Robin III: Cry of the Huntress was pretty cool when it came out a few months later (enough for me to have a letter published, anyway).
I would get to know Helena Bertinelli over the course of the next few years by reading Chuck Dixon’s runs on ‘tec, Nightwing, and Robin regularly and the idea that there was a female vigilante in Gotham who took things further than Batman was intriguing. I knew that at one point she’d had her own series–in fact, the last few issues of the series were on the stands just as I was getting into comics in 1990–but had never really checked it out. Last year, Michael Bailey was auctioning off a bunch of his back issues and I picked up the entire series (#1-19), thinking why not–I can read something I’ve always been curious about and help a friend make some money. It was win-win.
Or was it?
Of course it was, and I decided to read it and review it in small chunks here, going storyline by storyline (more or less). Issues 1-6 are the first story arc and also serve as the character’s origin story. The writer is Joey Cavalieri, whom I’ve been hot and cold on over the years; the artists are Joe Staton and Bob Smith (with Bruce Patterson on issue #1). Staton is the co-creator of the Helena Wayne Huntress and drew some of the character’s Bronze Age adventures. Here, he’s taken what was a really great Bronze age costume and given it a bit of an update (along with some serious Eighties hair) and is working with Bob Smith and colorist Tom Ziuko to give the book a look that is much grittier than what we saw in the 1970s. Literally grittier, too–the pages have the effect of looking like they have been tossed in some dirt.
Helena’s story is this: she is the daughter of one of the biggest crime bosses in New York, her father gets killed, and she winds up going on a quest for vengeance as The Huntress. This six-issue arc traces that back story and the quest for vengeance, even giving her a rival in mafia-killer Omerta and the villain a motive in going after her so that they can have access to a vault that contains just about everything that was important to her father. Cavalieri, Staton, and Smith take advantage of what would become a “suggested for mature readers” label (though these issues are code approved) to present a more violent vigilante hero in the vein of The Punisher.
The downside of this was that the character was so associated with Batman both before and after and knowing who she would become under Chuck Dixon and other writers, this feels underwhelming, like there should have been a better foundation for them to build on (a la Robin and Nightwing). But in 1989, you didn’t know where The Huntress was going to go at all, so to make that judgment based on hindsight is kind of unfair. It’s still unfair–although slightly less so–to criticize the new version of the character based on the old one. Cavalieri and Staton were going for an entirely different person altogether in Helena Bertinelli and were therefore under no obligation to stay true to the character of Helena Wayne.
Still, this works. More specifically, it works as a late 1980s/early 1990s action series. In fact, it would work as a late 1980s/early 1990s syndicated action series (or maybe I’m thinking of that because of the amount of syndicated TV still on my brain from last year’s Pop Culture Affidavit miniseries). All of the classic story beats for a “mafia vengeance” story and “vigilante justice” tale are there. The action is well-paced and sometimes even brutal. Helena has a couple of cops who may or may not be allies and a bodyguard the family has hired to protect her who also may or may not be an ally, and each issue gives us a full story (no six issues in one sitting with this). And with the origin story out of the way, I’m interested in seeing where it’s going to go.
Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?
*For now. I’m saving my final judgment for when I hit the end of the entire series.