So we gather together again for another iteration of celebrating kickass women, and once again it’s DC’s turn to provide our topic. Today’s topic is one that not too long ago I mentioned that I knew almost nothing about, but by this point I’ve managed to do some research and I think it’s a good time to take a look at the Huntress. Specifically I’m going to talk about Helena Bertinelli. Maybe I’ll get around to Helena Wayne another time.
Helena Bertinelli is in many ways a mirror to Bruce Wayne. Much like Bruce, Helena wanted for nothing while growing up until tragedy struck her family when she was eight years old. The difference, though, is that while the Waynes were billionaire philanthropists the Bertinellis were a mob family. The entire family was murdered not out of some chance of fate but because the other Gotham crime families felt that they were in the way. Only six-year-old Helena was spared from the massacre, but not from watching it happen before being spirited away to safety in Italy. When she returned to Gotham at the age of 16 she began to systematically hunt down and kill the people responsible.
This, it turns out, is the primary reason that Barbara Gordon objected to Helena wearing the mantle of Batgirl during the “No Man’s Land” event. I didn’t understand it at the time, but now it makes sense as the Bat-family has their strict no-killing philosophy. It’s not necessarily something that I agree with, not when you consider the average class of criminal that hangs around Gotham at least. Quite a few of Gotham’s criminals should have been put down a long time ago but that’s really a discussion for another time. Anyway, back to No Man’s Land. That’s where I wanted to focus today, as I have recently finished reading through the story.
There is one event in particular that I want to focus on, and Batman fans will likely know exactly what it is at this point, but to get there we first have to go back to near the beginning of No Man’s Land so as to see why the event came to take place. The reason why the event in question even happened can honestly be broken down into one simple sentence. Batman is an asshole. When the NML event first began, Batman put on his Bruce Wayne duds and went to Washington to try and get aid for the city from the government. This being a Batman storyline, of course the government was inept/corrupt/apathetic and of course he got told to pound sand. This caused him to fall into a depression for a while and it took months for Batman to reappear back in Gotham. So Helena took it upon herself to bring hope to the people of Gotham by putting on a bat themed costume and going around as the new Batgirl.
When Batman finally deigned to reappear, he had the gall to be butthurt about what she was doing, you know saving lives and protecting innocents while he was sitting around feeling sorry for himself. So he gave her an impossible task in order to have the “right” to wear the Batgirl costume. Let me stop for a moment to give my opinion on this load of crap by giving all of you this quote from King George VI. “The highest of distinctions is service to others.” In other words, Bertinelli’s willingness to put on the Batgirl costume and wear it while protecting people in Gotham for the purpose of bringing them some to hope for and believe in again in of itself made her “worthy” to wear the costume. Batman’s arbitrary opinion on the matter was really just…arbitrary.
So back to the story, Helena was told by Batman to guard their territory while he was off dealing with what looked to be a minor issue of breaking up one of Two-Face’s kangaroo courts. He did this despite being told by both Oracle and Helena that they smelled a trap. They were right of course, the real objective that night was for Two-Face to gather his men (numbering over 200) and proceed to take over Batman’s territory while he is incapacitated. Batman holds Helena responsible for failing to protect the people in their territory alone against 200 men, and that’s why he’s an asshole. As someone who has seen their fair share of war, I can say with absolute certainty that the only reason Batman himself is able to pull off those kinds of odds is because of writer’s favor. With those numbers against you all you can do is retreat or die meaninglessly.
So Helena loses the Batgirl mantle in shame and it gets passed to the new ‘girl, Cassandra Cain, while Helena fades into the background of Gotham and the storyline. It isn’t until much later on, near the end of “NML “that Helena comes back into focus and finally we start getting close to her really awesome moment. The Joker had resurfaced in Gotham, you see, and he decided that simply making more rubble wouldn’t have been very funny. So he had the idea to kidnap every baby born during the previous year and kill them. Four of those children happened to be in the area of Gotham that Huntress had continued to protect, alongside many former Gotham Police that had decided to break from Commissioner Gordon.
After the Joker tricked former officer Pettit into killing most of his own men while trying to kill him, Helena was all that stood between the Joker and his 12 men — some of which were now armed with guns. The odds were again pretty grim, but this time technically possible with a little luck. Huntress didn’t back down and began to brutally crush any and all of Joker’s men that she could get her hands on in order to keep them from getting inside the building with 80 people. She took out practically the entire force through the use of clever tactics and constant movement before Joker managed to shoot her in the stomach. She took two more bullets for her trouble before finally going down, but she had managed to stall Joker long enough for help to arrive in the form of Batman and Nightwing.
The city was in ruins and its protector missing, so Huntress donned a different costume and changed her tactics to give the people hope. Despite the setback she suffered due to losing to an insurmountable force, Helena continued to stay in Gotham and help the people of the city as best as she could — even without Batman’s blessing. When the time came and she stood before the Joker and his men with their guns she stood firm and allowed none to pass her and harm the people she had placed under her protection. And when she kneeled in the snow, bleeding from the gunshots in her stomach, and The Joker got in close to taunt her and deliver the coup de grace she remained defiant.
For these reasons, Helena Bertinelli is a badass. While I like the current Earth-Two Helena Wayne version of the character, I can’t help but feel like I and many others like me who picked up DC comics after the New 52 are missing out on something great with the absence of Bertinelli.