Abandoning Gotham City after the destruction of the Clock Tower, Barbara Gordon had taking her team on a couple backyard missions. Helena’s next two missions would include a brief substitute teaching job in Ohio to assist with Black Alice, a young teenage girl with mystic powers who recently…
This is a pretty wonderful analysis of Helena in those arcs of Bop.
My belief on team books is that people are different, somewhat, when they are alone, than when they are around others. In the Birds, Babs’ admission that she messed up, and Dinah’s endless friendliness and accessibility wore down Helena’s natural tendency to distrust people. It didn’t come right away, there were some stumbling blocks, but eventually, Helena let them in.
I don’t feel it changes how Helena is when she’s alone, and she’s still a loner, really. But she has a couple friends that she grudgingly cares about, and so in my mind, she is a little more open every time.
To me, the fascinating thing about the three main birds is that they share a common perspective, but they don’t REALIZE they all feel the same way. That is to say, each bird thinks that she is the protector of the other two. Helena feels she’s watching out for Babs and Dinah, likewise, Dinah thinks she’s got Helena and Babs “Under her wing,” and Babs feels the same way, we’ve hinted at that several times. So they’ve each got that little bit of Big Sister feeling for the other two, and if you asked them their true feelings, they would all basically say the same thing.
The storytelling in Birds of Prey has always been about long stories told through the use of shorter ones, and we’re hoping to do that same thing again this run.
Abandoning Gotham City after the destruction of the Clock Tower, Barbara Gordon had taking her team on a couple backyard missions. Helena’s next two missions would include a brief substitute teaching job in Ohio to assist with Black Alice, a young teenage girl with mystic powers who recently suffered the loss of her mother to a drug overdose and was seeking retribution from drug dealers, a trip to rural Kansas to face Harvest, a woman whose “spirit of vengeance” stalks and kills the unpunished for their crimes; before settling in Metropolis to deal with Rose/Thorn, a woman who suffers from split personality.
Over the course of the next few missions it was becoming evident that Helena and Dinah were beginning to form an affinity towards one another and becoming good teammates as well as friends. Once withdrawn, Helena was starting to open up more than ever. She also appeared to be genuinely enjoying life, a rarity since hers seemed burdened and motivated by the inescapable tragedy of her childhood. She had a renewed sense of faith and purpose, but it would be short lived as she would eventually discover that Barbara’s decision to leave Gotham had a deeper purpose then simply escaping her own wounds. Furious with her and feeling betrayed, Helena would leave the team, declaring that Barbara is every bit as manipulative as Batman.
I wonder if readers truly grasp the leap of faith Helena took by joining Barbara’s team. How much she was putting herself out there hoping this would work, yet in the back of her mind waiting for the shoe to drop. We take for granted that interpersonal and social skills are learned and developed, and either people don’t know or forget that Helena didn’t grow up like most. After the death of her family, at age eight, she was isolated and sheltered for her own protection. The only major contact and heartfelt connections she’d developed were with her cousin Salvatore, who was more like a brother, her Aunt Antonia and her tutor, Justina, who were like mothers to her. The prism in which she saw the world and gained self-esteem, was shaped largely by Justina. Eventually sent to a Swiss boarding school at 15; no matter how intelligent, cultured, and sophisticated she was, she faced rejection from her peers because of her family association. When she returned from boarding school, she lived on the Asaro farm alone; only venturing out to attend classes at the University, and completely plunged herself to avenge the deaths of her family. Due to circumstances beyond her control, Helena’s life has literally been a one-woman, lonely journey.
Their confrontation in bop #80 was a critical moment for both. While her intentions were benevolent, they were manipulative, and upon reflection, Barbara seemed to once and for all understand that she can’t handle and control people in the manner she has. That she wasn’t Batman, but her own person, with her own beliefs in how things should be done. She wasn’t betraying him or what he meant to her, caring and loving him less by realizing some of his ways are flawed and no longer wanting to perpetuate them.
Let’s face it, giving her makeup, even though it was never expressed or an undertone, it’s not a stretch to believe Helena was beginning to feel the walls coming in on her. She’s use to being a lone wolf out of habit, necessity, self-perseverance; not answering to others. However you look at it, her comfort zone is being an outsider; Friendship and sisterhood were foreign. Barbara’s actions gave her an out and she did hesitate to take it. But Helena needed to step away, needed time to think, to gain a new perspective and understanding. Ultimately this conflict would help progress their relationship pass the suspicion and mistrust that had plagued their association to one of mutual appreciation, respect and love.
Helena’s next defining moment I felt took place in issue #86 . While it’s subtle, I believe wholeheartedly it was vital to her progession. Since leaving the team, she struck back out on her own attempting to bring down Gotham’s mob. Recovering from her operation, Barbara moved into her new home in Metropolis. Dinah organized a surprise housewarming party attended by a number of Barbara’s friends and associates. Although it felt like she was going through the motions, Helena was present. When everyone had left and the women were alone, Zinda gifted everyone with Birds of Prey jackets, and an “official” name. She offered one to Helena who declined and left the party to everyone’s disappointment, especially Barbara’s.
Helena’s trust has always been difficult to gain and if lost, it seems gone forever. Yet she realized a valuable lesson being away from the team, and that was forgiveness. She also learned that loving or being loved doesn’t make one immune to making mistakes. What she was developing with the other ladies, a sense of community and history, beats being alone. At the end of the issue Helena request the bop team jacket she’d rejected earlier. Accepting that jacket was a major moment because it’s an outward expression that Helena wants to be a part of the team, and all that it signifies not just missions but friendship, family, togetherness and unconditional support through the good and the bad. She’s making a commitment to go through life’s trenches with them. Mostly, she’s admitting she needs them.
That’s a pretty big admission if you’re Helena Bertinelli.
A little time ago, Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone asked for readers input into what they thought were the definitive moments for each of the characters during her run. When I think of definitive, I think not only classic but defining as well. As someone who’s invested passionately in seeing Helena propelled forward on her journey of self-discovery, I don’t separate the two, therefore, I’m sure my choices won’t be as flashy as others, and there’s not going to be a whole lot of ass whooping. Apologies in advance for my sentimental choices but I believe we learn more about characters in the quieter and reflective moments. I did, however, have to give this a lot of thought because even though Helena has been in bop for six years, and is an integral part of the team, for whatever reasons, her story progression feels more gradual and subtle then the other core members.
The first defining moment I saw took place in issue #75. Barbara had blown up the Clock Tower to protect Batman. When the issue opens, Barbara, Dinah and Helena are already on scene witnessing its complete destruction. The loss of the tower hits them pretty hard, including Helena who was still a relative newbie to the team. I wasn’t quite expecting her reaction or for it to have the emotional impact it did.
This scene is significant for Helena because she was able to feel the enormity of their shared loss. Up until this point, she had not allowed herself to be emotionally accessible since she’s so guarded. It’s very difficult to know what she’s feeling or thinking sometimes. But you can’t feel the loss of something if it doesn’t matter to you. In that one gesture of Helena and Barbara coming together (I believe Helena initiated it), we got to see her starting to admit to herself she cares about the team, and that the possibility of finding a family and a home were becoming real.
There’s no equivalent comparisons between the emotional devastation of losing loved ones and the loss the Birds suffered that day, but what it does symbolize is that Helena gets to participate in the collective togetherness that has been absent from the majority of her life. Enduring agonizing and sufferable situations are more manageable when you have a support system. I’m always struck by the reality that when Helena lost her family at eight years old, she didn’t have anyone to go through the grieving process with. At that point everything became about surviving and she suffered that loss in silence and alone. She still suffers that loss in silence (she has never spoken of it to Dinah, Zinda, or Barbara), and everything is still about surviving for her. There’s a sense of optimism that if Helena can let some of her walls down and embraced the foraging friendships, she’d never have to endure anything alone ever again.
In last week’s Birds of Prey there was a moment we don’t see very much in DC Comics outside of Wonder Woman. As Helena Bertinelli prepared herself for batttle, the writer Gail Simone, had her take a moment to pray.
Helena is Catholic so it makes sense for her to pray. But I was still surprised by the moment. I’m used to Wonder Woman calling up on her Gods, but I can’t recall off-hand another character within DC stopping to pray.
Religion is such a personal and provocative topic. I imagine for most creators its easier to not to broach it and just leave it alone when writing characters. But when a character, like Helena, is about to risk severe injury and/or death it’s natural to want to steel oneself. Some will simply meditate. Some will strategize. And some will ask for help from their God.
I’m not sure I want to see people praying regularly in comics. I think it’s because such moments are so rare, it’s why the panels were so affecting. Or it could be simply my religious upbringing kicking in. But I liked it. It fit. It brought a new dimension to the character and to the fight.
What do you think?
In the “Pipeline” story with the Question several months back, Helena prayed. Greg Rucka has always had a thoughtful understanding of the Huntress character and so I expect no less clarity when he writes her. Showing this dimension of Helena in bop means more to me because it’s her home book, the place that’s suppose to nurture her and understand her best. She has spent more time in the pages of Birds of Prey than anywhere. As a result, it’s the place that will define her legacy.
Faith is as fundamental a component to the Huntress character as is her crossbow. It’s wonderful to finally see it translate to bop in such a sincere, heart-warming, and effective manner. The reason that scene reverberates with me is Helena’s about to face the most daunting and improbable task of her life, and she doesn’t kneel in prayer seeking deliverance from her enemy or the situation. Instead she offers a prayer of thanksgiving because she’s found meaning to her life.
What a definitive moment in Helena’s life. Up until that point, Helena was searching for purpose to her existence. It’s something that she’s been seeking since her inception as a character, and it’s finally been realized. You don’t have to prescribe to any particular religious doctrine or faith for that to have a resounding effect.
Birds of Prey introduced us to Yasemin Soze, a gorgeous and powerful arms dealer from Istanbul, Turkey; and at the time, a potentially worthy adversary for The Huntress. While not a fundamental component of the story, what struck me were two shared similarities between Helena and Yasemin. Both women are decedents of a long legacy of influential, powerful, and corrupt men, and both come from cultural heritages where family loyalty, family obligations, and family honor remain the strongest and most important considerations.
While the events in Blackest Night Suicide Squad and Secret Six imply finality to their conflict (the track record of deaths in comics always lean towards a glimmer of hope), Yasemin Soze represents for me an unexplored yet fascinating brief glimpse of who Helena Bertinelli “could have been” had she embraced the greed, power, and success of her Mafia family’s legacy. In addition, she was also the catalyst that provided an unforgettable Huntress moment!
What's your all-time favorite Huntress/Helena moment?
That’s a tough question. She’s had some killer moments!
I don’t know if I can narrow it down to an all-time favorite because two moments stick out so vividly in my mind. The first was when Helena was recurited by Checkmate to be their new Queen and she jumps out a window at least 80 stories high, maybe more, which was an emphatic hell no. Only Helena would respond in that manner. I’ve seen people read and factor loyalty to Batman for her decision to reject Checkmate. I can’t agree with that. Helena didn’t owe Batman her loyalty, nor did he deserve it. What it boils down to is Helena is princpled; she believes in right and wrong, and she refuses to be a pawn in someone else’s game. She has her own code of behavior and won’t be used to do other people’s dirty work if she’s not convicted they are in the right!
The other was when she faced down the Joker and his 12 thugs in No Man’s Land. What that encounter highlights the is one, Helena’s selflessness and fearlessness, and two, and most clearly, her will to live, to survive is extraordinary. She is the "last Bertinelli" and that means something that is often inadequately indefinable with words, but it’s ever present in her mind and wills her to some unspeakable feats.
If you’ve read the new issue of bop #6 (I won’t give anything away), I’d say what Helena did in the latest issue might well in fact surpass those two and be my all-time favorite moment to date. Years from now, when people revisit it, they’ll recognize it as Helena’s single most defining moment in bop.
I feel all three embody and stay truest to the spirit of the character that Joey Cavalieri and Joe Staton envisioned when they first created and introduced Helena Bertinelli to the comic world.
Thanks for the question and sorry I took so long getting back to you. I had to think on that one!
I own a Huntress Tonner Doll. She is a thing of beauty. Her face is exquisite. Her mask is perfect. The costume, everything, she looks flawless. Oh and her hair, I love her hair. If there is one drawback, and it might not even be fair to call it that, I do wish they had found a way to incorporate her cross. Other than that, I’m ecstatic with the quality and attention to detail.