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 Once withdrawn, Helena was starting to open up more than ever.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.