With DC’s Doomsday Clock halfway finished—and potentially serving as a re-instatement vessel for the Justice Society of America plus other DCU characters—we turned to Diane Darcy, likely the foremost expert on Helena Wayne, who details the history of her favorite character and why she should return.
By Diane Darcy — I’ve made no secret that I’m a huge fan of Helena Wayne (see my blog, Tumblr, and Twitter), and today I’d like to share my interest with all of you. Let’s start at the character’s beginnings: Helena Wayne was created by Paul Levitz, Joe Staton, and Bob Layton in 1977, originally conceived as the daughter of the Golden Age versions of Batman and Catwoman—a very intriguing background from which to build a character—and as a member of DC’s original superhero team, the Justice Society. She is, essentially, a character built upon DC’s Golden Age lore.
Helena Wayne’s Relationships
People are often defined by their relationships and Helena Wayne is no exception. Her most significant are her friendships with the Earth-2 versions of Kara Zor-L (Power Girl) and with Dick Grayson, the original Golden Age Robin who continued with that identity into adulthood.
With Power Girl, Helena provided a contrast to Kara’s outspokenness, impulsivity, and more assertive personality, but she also loved and respected Kara for those same qualities. Kara connecting with Helena in a meaningful way created character development opportunities for both women, effectively allowing them to cement their place as the second generation World’s Finest team.
With Dick Grayson, Helena provided a different contrast. Whereas Dick maintained unwavering loyalty to her father—never challenging Bruce’s authority—Helena didn’t hold her father on the same pedestal. When she felt her father stepped out of line, she refused to accept it. She either challenged his authority or worked to diffuse the situation another way. We saw this most notably in All-Star Comics #69 and especially in America vs. the Justice Society. When it came to Batman’s legacy, Dick considered it his responsibility to continue his mentor’s work as Batman, whereas Helena felt she could more meaningfully carry on that legacy on her own terms as Huntress.
Helena Wayne and the Crisis on Infinite Earths
Apart from Helena’s time as a caped crusader, I found her civilian life just as interesting. When she wasn’t fighting the good fight as Huntress—or stopping major crises with the Justice Society—she had a day job as an attorney, which also created interesting conflicts. She had a stronger preference for her work as the Huntress and often found it difficult to balance that with her day job. Her double life also created relationship problems with her boyfriend Harry Sims, who was Gotham’s District Attorney.
This was all established in Helena Wayne’s first eight years of publication, and writers used it to tell incredibly fun stories that went in interesting directions. You can imagine then how devastating it was when she was one of the characters sacrificed in DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot in 1986, later to be retooled in 1989 as Helena Bertinelli, the character we know as The Huntress today.
While not a bad character, there's no denying that apart from physical appearance, nothing of the original Helena Wayne Huntress survived via Helena Bertinelli. She was completely retooled. In fact, by the time DC reinstated the Wayne origin two decades later (during Flashpoint) we still ended up with a completely different character. Post-Flashpoint, Helena Wayne had a new origin and the same post-Crisis Helena Bertinelli personality. Also, her relationships with both Power Girl and Dick Grayson were profoundly changed.
Between two cosmic reboots, Helena Wayne moved further away from the compelling character Levitz, Staton, and Layton created in 1977, and her situation was made all the more complicated by being retooled into Helena Bertinelli post-Crisis.
Part of the promise of Rebirth and Doomsday Clock, however, has seemed to involve restoring all of DC's characters to their iconic statuses. What, then, would DC need to do with Helena Wayne to restore her to her original compelling stature while also saving her future? I have a few recommendations…
Four Ways to Fix Helena Wayne
1. Make Helena Wayne and Bertinelli Separate Characters
Step one is to stop treating Helena Wayne and Bertinelli as the same character with two different origins. They are—at their cores—profoundly different. They are two very different women with different backgrounds and significantly different motivations.
Helena Wayne became Huntress to honor her family legacy. Helena Bertinelli, meanwhile, became Huntress as a way to reject hers. Essentially, Helena Wayne embraces where she comes from and Helena Bertinelli does not. Helena Wayne is a legacy heroine whose core values and motivations are shaped by her upbringing as the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Helena Bertinelli is a tragic heroine with a conflicted identity, molded by Italian-American heritage, her Catholic identity, and her roots within a crime family.
Quite literally the only thing Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli’s origins have in common is they both became Huntress after seeing their parents killed. The reasons and circumstances that led to the deaths, however, are still profoundly different, inevitably sending them on very different paths with different potential for stories. Simply put, Helena Bertinelli—while still a compelling character—does not satisfy the needs of Helena Wayne fans anymore than Wayne does Helena Bertinelli fans. The answer is to let these two women co-exist separately.
2. Reinstate Helena Wayne’s Pre-Crisis History
In post-Flashpoint continuity, a version of Helena Wayne was created in which she served as Robin. While it was cool to see what Helena as Robin looked like fighting alongside her parents, this is better as an Elseworlds or What If story. Making her Robin changes too much of her character.
In pre-Crisis continuity, Bruce and Selina marry only after reflecting on their lifestyle choices and concluding they were not happy with where their futures were going. They also reflected on who they were as people, realizing that Batman and Catwoman were outlets for pain, not true identities. When they became parents, they retired their costumes to give their daughter a normal upbringing. Making Helena Robin changes Bruce and Selina from responsible to irresponsible parents who brought their daughter into their dangerous lifestyles—a regressive change.
Making Helena Robin also drastically changes her motivation. Pre-Crisis, Helena became Huntress both in response to her parents' deaths and in response to their legacies. She felt that with the upbringing she had, she had a stronger chance of making a difference in Gotham as the Huntress than as a lawyer in a courtroom. Why wait for a crime to happen when she could actively prevent it? The decision to become a costumed hero was entirely her own. It was very powerful. As Robin, the decision was made for her by her parents when she was a young age.
Finally, it’s simply more interesting having Helena Wayne as a Harvard graduate and a successful lawyer. She just has so much more agency than if you make her yet another sidekick whose choices were made for her while she was a child. Seeing Helena try to balance her life as a lawyer and as the Huntress created a conflicting and compelling dichotomy that affected her most intimate relationships.
3. Reinstate Her Original Identity, Personality, and Relationships
Speaking of her identity and relationships, the change I want most is to see them reinstated. I love when Helena Wayne’s Huntress showcases her detective skills, combat training, and, of course, her signature pistol crossbow, but her civilian identity is just as important. It’s the Helena Wayne side of that Huntress that most strongly attracts me to her character vs. Helena Bertinelli when she occupies the same costume.
What makes the Helena Wayne identity so special? It goes back to what I said at the start. She is the daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman, and she originated the Huntress identity as a way to continue their legacy. In being the original Huntress, she even provided the base template for Helena Bertinelli. (I always think of Helena Wayne as the Jay Garrick to Helena Bertinelli's Barry Allen.)
I also like the fact that she is a lawyer because it positions her as a working woman who earns her own money as opposed to living on her family's fortune. She even differs in this way from her father, who seemed to spend more time fighting crime as Batman than working a real job. (Golden Age Bruce started working a real job after he retired his Batman lifestyle.)
On the personality front, pre-Crisis Helena Wayne was never a dark and brooding heroine. Even when she experienced low points in her life, she still maintained a high level of self-confidence, which always spoke to me. She remained happy and optimistic in the face of grave troubles, which is another way she differs significantly from Helena Bertinelli.
What was also vital to her personality was her relationships, which brings me to another vital point—Helena Wayne needs Power Girl in her life and vice versa. They enrich each other's lives by being the legacies of the Golden Age Batman and Superman, and their friendship also makes their tragic circumstances a little less sad. If Power Girl in particular is going to return to her status quo of being the Earth-2 survivor of the Crisis reboot (a development we’ve seen hints of), having Helena is vital.
Another relationship that would definitely enrich Helena's life on the main Earth would be rebuilding her friendship with Dick Grayson. Even though Nightwing is a different character from the guy she knew as her big brother on the original Earth-2, the Prime Earth Dick still embodies the charm and appeal of the Golden Age Robin (perhaps with a better fashion sense). Of course, DC could also just retcon the current Earth-2 Grayson back into the pre-Crisis original and settle for having two Dicks on the main Earth instead of one. I mean, why not? We already have two Wally Wests. Just let the Earth-2 guy grow a beard and call him Richard. But I digress…
4. Return Her to the Justice Society
Last but not least, reinstate Helena’s membership into the Justice Society. The Justice Society was her superhero family from the beginning, and putting her back on the team would allow her to reclaim her place within DC's Golden Age lore. She was always a character built on that history. Now we have a main Earth that erases the Trinity from the Golden Age, but putting an Earth-2 Helena Wayne Huntress alongside Power Girl, along with Lyta Trevor as Fury, would help make up for that.
I am, however, a realist, and I know it is unlikely that any of the things I want to see happen for Helena Wayne post-Rebirth will actually happen. If there is, however, a creator or editor at DC who’s thinking of Helena Wayne fans (like me), we’d absolutely love to see the classic character return. Her existence would benefit other characters in the DCU, and, most importantly, she is still so ripe with the potential for good stories.
Click here for a reading list of comics starring Bronze Age Helena Wayne.
Diane Darcy is a huge fan of Bronze Age DC, Earth-2, the Justice Society, Power Girl, and especially Helena Wayne as the Huntress. When Diane isn’t obsessing about comics, she enjoys music, writing, animals, and researching exoplanets, multiverse theories, and time dilation. You can find her at @HelenaWayneBlog