Before I really get into this, I’ll admit something; I’ve always been a Helena Bertinelli fan, but, this attraction with reading about the character and her stories really began with Helena Wayne. Because I’m old enough to remember the original Huntress’ first appearance in comics (by that, I mean Helena Wayne, not the Golden Age villain Paula Brooks who fought Wildcat… I’m not that old).
Helena Wayne made her appearances in All Star Comics and DC Superstars, and had a few stories in the Batman Family Dollar Comic format as it came to it’s last few issues. In 1980, Huntress had a backup feature in Wonder Woman for a time. I read them all, because I liked the character. It fit very well with what I would later identify as my love of Batman thanks to his supporting cast. Because in truth, if there was no supporting cast, Batman would be really boring.
Helena Wayne’s end would come in the often heralded and often maligned Crisis On Infinite Earths. Depending upon just who you were, it ushered in a new age of comic stories, but it also destroyed so many characters (a lament that is very familiar today with the New 52).
But the Huntress wasn’t gone, as she made her return as Helena Rosa Bertinelli (or Helena Janice Bertinelli as revealed in Robin 3, Cry of the Huntress). While having the same first name and a similar costume (albeit, changing somewhat over the years… woe to the “Belly Window”), Bertinelli had a very different origin.
It’s sort of that aspect that I really find interesting about the Huntress. Both versions, really. Both Wayne and Bertinelli have an origin that is often reserved for male heroes. That being the tragic backstory. We can all recite without failing the origin of Batman, how a young Bruce Wayne watched as his parents were gunned down in Crime Alley. Captain America watching as his side kick, Bucky Barnes was strapped to a buzz bomb and sent on his doom (in the comics, though the movie did have Cap watch Bucky die as well… or did he?). The Punisher, Spider-man, Daredevil, Spawn, Green Arrow, even Superman had a tragic back story that had a direct affect on them. Whether that was the death of a family member, being touted as the last son of a destroyed world, have a sudden disability, or an attempt to steal their fortune from them.
While this is the way of things for male heroes (not always, but often enough), female superheroes often get something completely different. Often it boils down to a female version of the male. Supergirl, Batgirl, Hawkgirl, Hawkwoman, et al. Or, the mother happened to have been a superhero, and so it just became family tradition. Such as with Black Canary. The only difference has been Wonder Woman, who was the first of her kind, and didn’t have a male counterpart. To an extent, both versions of the Huntress also have very unique beginnings.
Both Wayne and Bertinelli had extremely personal loss happen to them before they took up the name of the Huntress. Wayne’s mother, Catwoman, was blackmailed to perform one last big capper. And as a result, she was killed. Bertinelli saw her entire family killed before her very eyes. Where the two stories differ is where the attitudes of Wayne and Bertinelli change a great deal. Helena Wayne was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Throughout her life, she’d have been taught a certain set of morals, how to approach situations, and was even trained by both parents to become the top physical condition she could be. Bertinelli on the other hand, was the daughter of a Gotham Mafia family. Wherein lay the differences, as Helena Bertinelli would know about the shady backdoor dealings of the criminal underworld, which would also make her actions much more violent (as seen quite fittingly in Huntress: Year One by Ivory Madison, Cliff Richards, Art Thibert and Norm Rapmund).
It’s this unique aspect to both their origins that drew me to the character. Helena Wayne when I was not even ten years old, and Helena Bertinelli when I was in my late teens. I often have voiced my own misgivings about the New 52 and the treatment of Helena Bertinelli. Those misgivings, as I would recollect, weren’t much different to what happened in 1985 during Crisis on Infinite Earths. I’m often wondering why both can’t exist in the same universe, even if one happens to be from a parallel Earth. A meeting like that would actually be rather exciting, considering how different their attitudes are. At least it does appear as though Bertinelli hasn’t been completely given up on, as she appears in the TV Series Arrow.
At the end of the day, I’ve really become a Bertinelli fan because of the fact that she’s existed in my lifetime for a longer and more recent time. But you can’t merely hand wave Helena Wayne because of that. If it wasn’t for Helena Wayne, there would be no Helena Bertinelli. Personally, if I had any say in the issue at all with DC, it would be to keep both characters alive and well.
Because oh the stories you could tell with both of them.
- Tim Holtorf