Monday, December 06, 2010


Helena Bertinelli
Also Known As: Honestly, I've called this character a lot of fairly misogynistic slurs and I'm trying to quit that sort of thing.
First Encountered (By Me): JLA #16
Franchise: Birds of Prey, Batman, Justice League
Core Concept: Ethnic Stereotype + Gendered Ethnic Stereotype
Writer Responsible For My Distaste: Joey Cavalieri
Character I Want To Read That She's Attached To: Fortunately no one, though she pops up on occasion. This is why I don't often rant about her.

Best Character Trait: Drive
Worst Character Trait: Moral compass requires external calibration

I think the first time I saw Huntress was the expanded team in JLA #16. As with Jade, she appealed to me at first. She had a great look in the 90s, full body suited black and purple (none of this exposed belly white stripe shit). She was presented a Gotham character who clashed with Batman, another of DC's attempts to answer the Punisher. Not bad initially, though it wasn't a surprise at all when Batman booted her from the JLA. She hadn't impressed me terribly during her short time as a JLAer, and I wondered if Morrison just wasn't that fond of her and her potential might be better explored elsewhere. So when my sister began bringing home Batbooks, I kept an eye open for the Huntress.

I confess that when I ran into her in the Batbooks I was disappointed in what I'd hoped would be the Punisher of the DCU. There was a characteristic present in her that the Punisher never displayed, a underlying need for acceptance by her peers in the cape community. When that need wasn't satisfied, she would turn darker and grimmer and seemed to slide further into the realm of rage-powered take-no-prisoners 90s lethal force characters, suggesting her moral compass was thrown off when left to her own devices. It wasn't an endearing character trait, because as much as we associate the 90s with everyone turning dark and grim, most of the well-established DC heroes adhered to the high road while lethal force was left to socially rejected minor characters and (used to highlight the morals of the main characters) and brand new characters and teams that occupied their own universes. Helena was a low-road character in my fan-formative years, a low-road character who aspired to be accepted by the high-road characters. I understand that the need to belong is a universal story, and by no means am I immune to it myself, but I can only be steeped in that theme so much before I lose patience. Helena stopped appealing for me back when her storyline focused on seeking the Batseal of Approval, and then getting pissed off because she didn't have it. The implication that this was a deep-seated problem involving her own family and particularly her father really didn't make her any more interesting.

None of what I've gone over so far is a reason to hate Huntress, it's just why I lost interest in what looked like a promising character and stopped caring whether she came or went. It wasn't hatred, it was just a lack of enthusiasm. For a good deal of time my feelings towards Huntress could be summed up as a marked indifference to whether the character existed or not. I'd read things with her in them, but she wasn't really a factor in whether or not I'd pick something up.
At this point, of course, Huntress fans will want to recommend that I read their favorite stories because surely I'll have an epiphany and convert to a true fan once I've found the proper work. Forget it. Writers I normally enjoy quite a bit like Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Gail Simone have written this character and no matter how much they let her shine I couldn't really bring myself to give a fuck what happened to her.

My problem with Huntress was not caused by clumsy, thoughtless writing that inadvertently exposed her worst character traits without actually being out of character. Nor was it caused by lackluster writing that failed that give her any distinguishing characteristics or allow her any notable accomplishments. The writers seemed to very much like Helena and spotlight her strengths. I recognize that she has strength, they simply aren't of the sort that I consider particularly impressive in a superhero on their own. No, my real problem with Huntress was caused mainly by her core concept, and my own personal revelation about my tastes.
There came a day--after the umpteenth time someone had seen fit to speculate about the morality of my ancestors or why I might be reacting to the implication as an insult--when I decided that I was fucking tired of Italian-American characters from Mafia families and gawddamned sick of ruthless, cutthroat Italian-American women with deadly tempers. That's pretty much it. I think I could take one stereotype or the other, and I suspect I could even enjoy reading both in one character if there was some joy and humor in the execution but Huntress is just such a precise measured blend of Stereotype That Irks Me, Stereotype That Irks Me, Fucking Miserable Background, and Fucking Miserable Attitude that I can't fucking stand the sight of her anymore.

Three of my favorite writers in comics have had Huntress under my pen, given her their best shots, written her as sympathetically and competently as they do any other character, and not one of them has succeeded in overcoming my disinterest in her dour overall story arc and my distaste for her infuriatingly stereotyped traits. It's not the writing. In this case, it's safe to say that it is the character I hate and the only person who can be held responsible is Joey Cavalieri for reintroducing what was once Batman's daughter as the Perfect Storm of Character Elements That Piss Me Off.

Similar Characters That I Like: Jeph Loeb of all writers wrote a story in which Catwoman discovered her real father was a rich mafia don, and she stole from him endlessly to get some revenge. Honestly, I rather liked that twist. Catwoman's reaction to a deadbeat dad and a family tree of ruthless thugs was essentially "I'll just steal my inheritance and get on with my life." Catwoman doesn't really give a shit what anyone thinks of her, and she is eminently practical even under writers I can't read.
I'm fond of Bobo Bennetti because his criminal past is a result of his gaining superpowers and choosing a life of crime. It wasn't a family thing for him.
I confess to both loving and hating Nately's Whore (yes, that is what the character is called in the book), the prototype for the hot-blooded Italian sex object from Catch-22. I hate what she represents, but damned if I didn't find the absurdity of the whole situation greatly amusing.
I can also enjoy minor characters in comedy settings who have Mafia Ties as a punchline, because I haven't lost my ability to laugh at this trope. I'll sit down and watch gangster parody movies like Analyze This and The Crew repeatedly without getting worked up over it. I'll admit that's a weird point of view, but in this particular case it's my ethnicity and I reserve the right to be offended when people take the stereotype seriously and laugh my ass off when people mock the shit out of the genre that created it.

Favorite Appearance: I didn't her JLA stuff, but I actually enjoyed a Christopher Priest story better than a Morrison or Waid story. JLA: Secret Files #2 is about how the new team was put together (without just sitting around a table dealing out pictures and flashing forward to events DC is never going to carry out) for their unveiling in JLA #16 and focused a lot on her. It held up on a recent rereading. I think this is the story that made the Batbooks in the same period such a disappointment, though, and Priest's portrayal was the exception rather than the rule with her.

Could I Ever Like Huntress? Probably not. Good writers haven't worked. Acceptance into the Batfamily hasn't worked. Having a badass moment in each appearance hasn't worked. Developing a strong moral fiber hasn't really worked, because that tends to change based on whoever she's teamed up with. Really, I'm not going to like the character unless she turns into a completely different person, down to her Secret Origin. And while I'm not ruling out DC erasing their universe and either replacing her with Pre-Crisis Huntress or rebooting her as an Amazon, it is unlikely. Still, I know some people do so I promise not to vote in any official polls for her death.

Unless of course it's a direct choice between her and a character I love. Or like. Or wouldn't mind seeing in another issue.


  1. My pet peeve with Huntress stems with how people keep resurrecting that inane bare-midriff outfit for her when it makes absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever for someone with her age, personality, power set, and base of operations to be wearing it.

    This scene elevated Huntress in my eyes:

    It plays up the schoolteacher angle of Helena's personality. This may be what endears me to Helena: My wife is a teacher, too. She's not a trained athlete like the Huntress, nor is she as hot-tempered, but she would protect her students.

    But I understand your issues with stereotypes. (I had no idea you were Italian, though.) It's like when Irishmen are portrayed as being perpetually drunk and/or hotheaded. Or with obnoxious fucking Lucky Charms-style accents.

  2. I never had an issue with Huntress' origin, though I did think it was kind of odd. I was always bothered more by using crossbows while trying to work with people who didn't kill. The fact that she was originally positioned as an equivalent of the Punisher actually makes her character easier to understand than it used to be, even if it highlights that she's been badly conceived and/or used.

  3. Meh. My feelings towards the Huntress have always been fairly neutral. I don't hate her, but I don't love her either. She's just THERE sometimes. Although I do enjoy it when she and Zinda go clubbing, but that's only because I LOVE Zinda.

  4. I like Huntress very much when she's either incorporating her day job - "teacher" should be a far more common job for superheroes, considering their motivations - or when she's working with the Birds of Prey or the Question, people who won't tell her what to do. (But yeah, I can see your problem with the stereotyping!)

  5. I totally agree with you about Huntress' origins, and about the terrible stereotyping involved. But I think she can be fun when writers forget about her stupid origin and her weird need for approval from Batman; to me, she's like the Guy Gardner of the street-smart heroes. She says what she feels like, she doesn't follow the rules, and she knows she's better than everyone else at her job, even if the universe sometimes disagrees with her on that. :)