So Helena Bertinelli died this week. You know, Huntress? (Of course you do.) World’s Finest issue #1 came out today, formally introducing us to Earth-2’s Helena Wayne, our current Huntress, and her buddy, Power Girl (who I’ll probably talk about next week). You can read the preview pages here.
Helena Wayne isn’t a new character by any stretch of the imagination, but steamrolling the beloved Ms.Bertinelli is upsetting, problematic, and yet understandable all rolled into one big mess of ugly, sniffley emotions.
Let’s start by looking at why some people, including me, find H. Bertinelli’s death so upsetting. I mean, besides the obvious, “she’s deeeead.” Here’s the page with the final death sentence:
I understand why Paul Levitz and DC decided specifically kill Helena B. In context, it makes sense: can’t just steal a person’s identity and let it get traced back to an uninvolved third party (I guess), but it’s convenient to steal the identity of a parallel universe version of yourself. So that’s logistics. So why does this feel like insult added to injury?
How about that awkward “she…well…died.” Oh…okay. “Shame to waste an interesting life.” DC would have to know that this would sting for Helena B. fans. One tumblr user pointed out that Helena could easily have been put in the witness protection program, “and I hear she’s teaching in Iowa now.” Or sommat. She would be put out of the way and dismissed, but given the life she always longed for pre-DCnU. Bittersweet. And it certainly would’ve softened the blow; felt less like Bertinelli was killed specifically to make way for Wayne. What I believe was supposed to be a fond nudge at Helena B.’s fans felt more like a slap in the face.
Hey, I think most of us were ready for the switch given the gap of time between when Helena H.’s real identity was released and the reveal of the preview pages.
But just…that aside. She’s dead. In these preview pages, she’s a sidenote at best, a simple tool for Helena H.’s use at worst. It’s hard to see a beloved, interesting, well-developed, character reduced to a burnt ID card and an unexplained death. In the words of one blogger, she becomes a disrespected prop. You can read more about what Helena B. means to fans here.
But I guess a lot of that is sentimentality. The real question in all of this is why are they using Helena Wayne (and by extension, Earth-2) in the first place?
I guess the answer is relatively simple in that they wanted to and felt they could make more money off of it.
But the logistics are different. The whole New 52 thing was to reel in new readers, right? Yes, ha ha, I know that they’ve sucked at that from the get-go. But that’s really no reason for them to stop trying. Hear me out.
Something that has always been simultaneously interesting and immensely ball-sucky is the looooooong history of comics. Decades upon decades of terrifying continuity, retcon, elseworlds, I mean HOLY CRAP. Shit’s CONFUSING, mang. Like, you like Power Girl? “Oh man yeah, she’s the coolest! But I’m confused—isn’t there another character named Kara?” Oh yeah, uh, well, about that.
Welcome to continuity/history/multiverse/crisis clusterfuck city! Answers just lead to more questions, and everything sort of gets muddled in the middle of things. You wanna know your shit!? Become a fucking scholar.
(Okay that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.)
Obviously not everybody’s as clusterfucky as Power Girl, but somebody who’s just getting interested in the possibility of picking up a comic isn’t going to want to check Wikipedia every time they want to talk about a character.
Which is why I thought, originally, they weren’t gonna pull the whole “Earth-2” shenanigans this time around. FACT: Parallel worlds are confusing. They’re fun as a one-off thing, like an episode or two of Doctor Who, but its own separate continuity? Following doubles of characters in the main continuity!?
Reading comics isn’t supposed to be WORK. It’s supposed to be a recreational activity. Come on guys, this was supposed to be a fresh start.
And again, about drawing in new readers… Just like it makes no sense that DC didn’t use John Stewart or Wally West, who would be perfect for drawing in nostalgia-driven young adults of the DCAU’s Justice League watching generation, it just would’ve made more sense to use Helena Bertinelli. She’s the most visible Huntress out there!
You have Justice League Unlimited Helena, who played a surprisingly large role in the show. The episode “Double Date” delves into her background as a mafia brat who witnessed the murder of her parents. She develops her character as a woman who plays fast and loose, by her own rules. She’s sassy and independent, and she makes it clear that anyone who judges her can go fuck right off. Like with John and Wally, the kids who were watching this show back when it aired, the kids who would be looking back fondly on childhood nostalgia would be the perfect age right now to pick up a comic with her on the cover. And then get confused and put it right back down because what is going on???? (Yeah it sounds stupid, but it happens all the damn time.)
Also her romance with The Question was the cutest, and I will not hear otherwise.
And then you had Birds of Prey Huntress. The series was quite popular, especially among women. (Not surprising, given the female cast and fantastic writing.) She developed a substantial fanbase from the comic, given that the comic ran solidly from 1999 to 2009 (and again 2010 to 2011). This is the Helena B. fresh on the target audiences’ minds.
Most recently of all, Helena B. got her butt all up in Batman: The Brave and the Bold as a returning character. She even got her own episode, “Night of the Huntress.” (Oh my god, I just…I just got that reference. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN HAVE TO DO WITH THE EPISODE YOU GUYS that is sick.) Fans of the show (and it did indeed have many) would be familiar with the character from that show as well. (Although, given that she’s dressed similarly to the Helena Wayne Huntress costume, that might end up being even more confusing…)
My point here is this:
Helena B. just has more public familiarity. She’s been in more than a couple mediums. (She’s in DC Universe Online or whatever too.) So why go with Helena Wayne? After getting killed off in 1986, she’s been floating around the DCU, yeah, but she hasn’t had the kind of modern visibility that Bertinelli has. Helena Wayne doesn’t even work off a basic understanding of the DCU: “Batman has a daughter??” So if you’re not going for new reader comfort and familiarity, why kill off Bertinelli at all? There were a lot of ways they could’ve handled this that would’ve been better and more creative.
This whole business just stinks.
Maybe they’re all playing us for chumps, and they’ve got something in the woodworks? ….Nah. It’s DC.
Also we have what basically amounts to a eulogy from Gail Simone.
I’m still going to buy World’s Finest #1 though. Because
I’m a chump I have to support female-led titles. There aren’t enough of them!