Helena: Justina…Why aren’t there any women heroes?
Justina: There are, Helena. There was a female pope once. She dressed in men’s clothing. When she died, they discovered she was a woman, and ever since, they’ve pretended she never existed. She’s one of my heores. In all the operas, women only matter if they are young, innocent, and die. Men can’t handle women their own age, you see. And innocence *sigh* is overrated. As for death, well…you must vow to outlive them all.
I’ve talked with Huntress Year One writer, Ivory Madison, on many occasions about her story. Each conversation leaves me wistful for her return to Helena. Huntress Year One was an ambitious story - many of the plots and threads had a sophistication and depth that don’t scream first time comic writer. That’s not to say that I think HYO is flawless, but the few negatives I felt are out weighted by the positives, and Ivory’s passion and unwavering commitment to tell the story she believed in and would be proud of.
Now, I wasn’t always at this point. It took me a good three years and what felt like were hundreds of readings to really appreciate the scope and intellect with which Ivory approached the storytelling. HYO could have benefited by being twelve issues instead of six. I also felt the feminist mouthpiece in which she spoke with now and again was jarring and more about her, and less about Helena. At times, I felt it interrupted the emotional flow of Helena’s journey. But I’ve come to appreciate how assured and comfortable Ivory is in her own skin. It’s those attributes she used to project Helena in much the same way: confident, committed, focused, principled, and mature beyond her years.
I’ve already shared by feelings here and here about Helena’s relationship with her cousin Sal, a HYO highlight, and about Helena’s brief, but exciting confrontation with A Mano Iddio.
In issue 2 of Huntress Year One – “La Donna e Mobile”, we are treated to a specific flashback of Helena’s childhood, at the Opera House with Justina, her tutor. We’d later come to see that Justina’s words and influence had an enormous impact on Helena. The prisms, in which Helena viewed not only the world, but her own self-esteem, were shaped largely by Justina. Despite this one page appearance and a few name drops, we know they spent a lot of valuable time together and that she was a great source of inspiration in Helena’s life. When Helena meets Catwoman for the very first time, she is reminded of Justina, and that is our reminder of their bond, and that Helena viewed Justina as a mother figure.
There is a touch of brilliance in the last panel with Justina. Ivory conveys to readers there is more to her than even the young and impressionable Helena is aware. “You must vow to outlive them all”. I want to know what Justina’s back-story is and how she came to play such an important role in Helena’s life, because as Ivory told me once, “it’s huge”, and “it wasn’t by accident”.
NOTE: As for the art direction, the opera that Ivory Madison used as a reference in this scene is Rigoletto, a story that reflects the overwhelming sexism of the time. The Italian actress from the forties/fifties, named Alida Valli, was the inspiration for Justina’s visual look.