For the uninitiated who saw it, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) opened a door in the DC Universe that they may not have known existed. Birds of Prey isn’t exactly an underground property – after all, not just any group of heroes can inspire an ill-conceived early 2000’s WB drama series – but it won’t be winning many popularity contests when placed alongside superhero teams like the Justice League, the Avengers, or even the Teen Titans. It was a bold decision to use the adoration for Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn to introduce an entire line-up of DC heroines to the masses.
While box office receipts initially weren’t stellar and opinions on the quality vary (this writer personally thinks it rules), the movie went a long way to putting names like Black Canary and Renee Montoya into the zeitgeist. One character, however, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress is given the shortest of shrifts; the character as written and Winstead’s performance are often cited as one of the movie’s strengths, but there’s no denying that Huntress gets the least amount of time to shine. Which is a shame, because she has so much to offer. Well look no further for a rundown on where to start with Huntress and what comes next. Or should that be Huntresses?
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A Name Without a Face: Huntress in the Golden Age
The name “Huntress” didn’t pop up out of nowhere. DC Comics had tried out the alias at least three times before it really stuck on various female villains, most notably Paula Brooks, a Golden Age-era foe of Wildcat who was later revealed to have origins as a teenage hero named Tigress, left for dead after a battle with Nazi warriors. Paula’s origin as Tigress was told as part of her time in the line-up of the 80’s Young All-Stars series, but unfortunately that book remains uncollected in this modern era.
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A Little of the Bat and a Little of the Cat: Huntress in the 70’s
The Huntress finally became a household name in 1977, courtesy of creators Paul Levitz and Joe Staton. By this point, Earth-Two had become the designated home of the older versions of the familiar heroes whose stories were published during the Golden Age. As a result, icons like Batman were a full generation older than their Earth-One counterparts. Helena Wayne was introduced as the daughter of Earth-Two’s Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (formerly known as Catwoman). Intended as a more mature version of Batgirl who could join that earth’s Justice Society, Huntress earned a name for herself throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s until Crisis on Infinite Earths drove a stake through the multiverse as we knew it.
Collects: stories from DC Super Stars #17, Batman Family #18-20, Wonder Woman #271-287, 289-290, 294-295
This volume, originally published as The Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter, was re-released earlier this year to coincide with the film. It includes many of the early stories from Helena Wayne’s superhero career as she dons a mask to avenge her mother’s murder. Mostly written and drawn by Levitz and Staton, this collection gives a great sense of who Helena was, as well as the interesting dynamic Earth-Two’s existence contributed to DC Comics at the time.
A Mafia Princess with a Crossbow: Huntress post-Crisis
By 1989, the powers that be at DC Comics decided it was time for a new Huntress. Alongside writer Joey Cavalieri, penciler Joe Staton returned to present a new Huntress for a new universe. Helena Bertinelli was the daughter of a Mafia boss and the victim of a terrible crime. After witnessing the murder of her parents, Helena put on the mask and began a crusade to put an end to the Mafia’s operations in Gotham City. By any means necessary. This Huntress served as the inspiration for the character in the film.
Of course the “Gotham City” of it all inevitably brought Huntress into conflict with Batman – no longer a father figure, now just a disapproving thorn in her side (actually that sounds like a father to me). While they disagreed when it came to her methods, Huntress nevertheless became a member of the extended Bat Family and began playing larger parts in the greater DC Universe.
The Huntress series that introduced Helena Bertinelli is uncollected, but individual issues are available for digital purchase on Amazon. As are the mini-series by Chuck Dixon and the Nightwing/Huntress mini by Devin Grayson.
Collects: Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey #1, Showcase ‘96 #3, Birds of Prey: Manhunt #1-4, Birds of Prey: Revolution #1, Birds of Prey: Wolves #1, Birds of Prey: Batgirl #1
This volume collects stories that pre-date Huntress’s official addition to the Gail Simone-era Birds of Prey. It does, however, include Birds of Prey: Manhunt, Chuck Dixon and Matt Haley’s 1996 mini-series that united Huntress with Oracle and Black Canary for the first time, almost a decade before she joined the team for real.
Collects: Batman: No Man’s Land #1, Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #83-86, Batman #563-566, Detective Comics #730-733, Azrael: Agent Of The Bat #51-55, Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #117-118, Batman Chronicles #16
After the city was walled off in the wake of a devastating earthquake, Huntress attempted to make a name for herself as one of Gotham’s primary protectors during the “No Man’s Land” event, including a brief stint as Batgirl. The storyline is exhaustively and comprehensively collected in these four volumes.
Collects: Batman #567-568, Detective Comics #734-735, Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #119-121, Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #87-88, Batman Chronicles #17, Robin #67, Nightwing #35-37, Catwoman #72-74, Azrael: Agent Of The Bat #56-57, Young Justice: No Man’s Land #1
Collects: Batman #569-571, Detective Comics #736-738, Azrael: Agent Of The Bat #58, Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #122-124, Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #90-92, Robin #68-72, Batman: No Man’s Land Secret Files #1
Collects: Batan Chronicles #18, Batman #572-574, Detective Comics #739-741, Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #125-126, Robin #73, Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #93-94, Azrael: Agent Of The Bat #59-61, Catwoman #75-77, Nightwing #38-39, Batman: No Man’s Land #0
Collects: JLA #10-17, Prometheus (Villains) #1, JLA/WildC.A.T.s #1, JLA Secret Files #2
Around the same time, Batman put Huntress’s name forward as a potential member of the Justice League. These volumes include her tenure on the team from issue #16 to to #39, after which she is released from duty upon showing she still cannot control some of her more lethal impulses.
Collects: JLA #18-31
Collects: JLA #32-46
Collects: Batman/Huntress: Cry For Blood #1-6
This confusingly titled collection – named so only as a tie-in to the movie – collects Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood, a mini-series written by Greg Rucka that presented a new version of Helena’s origin and a relationship with The Question. Huntress is faced with the prospect of killing the man responsible for the deaths of her family and must decide whether she will succumb to the temptation of revenge.
Birds of Prey Vol. 1: Of Like Minds
Collects: Birds Of Prey #56-61
Finally, in 2003 Gail Simone brought the Birds of Prey as we know them together. Simone took over Birds of Prey with issue #56 and promptly brought Huntress back into the fold in issue #57. By issue #67, Oracle and Black Canary’s two-woman operation had officially expanded to include Huntress. That team would become Huntress’s on-again, off-again home for the next two decades. Some of these volumes are out of print and used copies are pricey, but DC seems to be working on a reprint initiative that might make them more accessible soon.
Birds of Prey Vol. 2: Sensei & Student
Collects: Birds Of Prey #62-68
Birds of Prey Vol. 3: Between Dark & Dawn
Collects: Birds Of Prey #69-75
Birds of Prey Vol. 4: The Battle Within
Collects: Birds Of Prey #76-85
Birds of Prey Vol. 5: Perfect Pitch
Collects: Birds Of Prey #86-95
Birds of Prey Vol. 6: Blood & Circuits
Collects: Birds Of Prey #96-103
Birds of Prey Vol. 7: Dead of Winter
Collects: Birds Of Prey #104-108
Birds of Prey Vol. 8: Club Kids
Collects: Birds Of Prey #109-112, 118
Simone’s run on Birds of Prey ended with issue #108, after which writer Tony Bedard took over, steering an expanding roster of heroines through confrontations with the Calculator, Killer Shark, and one another, until the title came to an end in 2009 with issue #127.
Birds of Prey Vol. 9: Metropolis or Dust
Collects: Birds Of Prey #113-117
Birds of Prey Vol. 10: Platinum Flats
Collects: Birds Of Prey #119-124
Collects: Huntress: Year One #1-6
As the initial Birds of Prey title wound down, DC published another revised take on Helena’s earliest days as Huntress written by Ivory Madison with art by Cliff Richards. In this mini-series we see Helena’s first introductions to Barbara Gordon, Catwoman, and Batman, as well as her first forays into costumed superheroing.
Collects: Batman: Battle For The Cowl #1-3, Gotham Gazette: Batman Dead? #1, Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive? #1
In the wake of Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis, Huntress returned to Gotham City to help her fellow members of the Bat Family keep it going without Bruce Wayne to protect it.
Collects: Birds Of Prey #1-6
It wasn’t long before the Birds of Prey returned with a new issue #1, also featuring the return of Gail Simone as the series’s writer.
Birds of Prey Vol. 2: Death of Oracle
Collects: Birds Of Prey #7-13
Simone’s second Birds of Prey run and the series itself were short-lived as all of the books in DC’s line-up gave way to the New 52. It wasn’t just the end of an era, but also the end of a Helena. But perhaps the return of another.
A Stranger in a Strange Land: Helena Wayne and the New 52
The creation of the New 52 was a tenuous time for most DC heroes. Would they persist in a mostly unchanged state a la Batman? Or would the new status quo change their personality entirely? Something akin to Green Arrow. Paul Levitz returned to introduce readers to a new Huntress in a mini-series debuting the month after the first wave of titles launched. By all indications she seemed to be Helena Bertinelli – similar costume, Italian locales, even the “Bertinelli” name was thrown about, but eventually this version of Huntress was revealed to be Helena Wayne from the new version of Earth 2. She and Power Girl (formerly Robin and Supergirl) found themselves stranded on our earth, unable to get home, and Levitz would go on to chronicle their adventures here in Worlds’ Finest.
Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads
Collects: Huntress #1-6
Levitz and penciler Marcus To used this six-issue mini-series to introduce us to the new Huntress – lighter in personality than Ms. Bertinelli was – before starting to hint at her interdimensional past.
Worlds’ Finest Vol. 1: The Lost Daughters of Earth 2
Collects: Worlds’ Finest #1-5, 0
Over the course of 26 issues, Levitz told the story of the universe-displaced duo with help of pencilers like George Pérez, Kevin Maguire, and more – bringing a little throwback flavor to the New 52.
Worlds’ Finest Vol. 2: Hunt and Be Hunted
Collects: Worlds’ Finest #6-12
Worlds’ Finest Vol. 3: Control Issues
Collects: Worlds’ Finest #13-18
Worlds’ Finest Vol. 4: First Contact
Collects: Worlds’ Finest #18-21, Annual #1, Batman/Superman #8-9
Worlds’ Finest Vol. 5: Homeward
Collects: Worlds’ Finest #22-26, Worlds’ Finest: Futures End #1
Collects: Earth 2: World’s End #1-11
Eventually Huntress and Power Girl returned to Earth 2, and in Marguerite Bennett, Mike Johnson, and Daniel H. Wilson’s Earth 2: World’s End maxi-series they joined a supergroup called the Wonders of the World and battled the forces of Apokolips, coming to destroy the home to which they just returned.
Collects: Earth 2: World’s End #12-26
Earth 2: Society Vol. 1: Planetfall
Collects: Earth 2: Society #1-7
In the wake of Earth 2: World’s End, the heroes of Earth 2 found a new home and hoped to build a new society. Helena became more of a supporting player at this point, slowly fading into the background, as DC Comics shifted their Huntress focus back to a different familiar face.
Earth 2: Society Vol. 2: Indivisible
Collects: Earth 2: Society #8-12
Earth 2: Society Vol. 3: A Whole New World
Collects: Earth 2: Society #13-16, Annual #1
Earth 2: Society Vol. 4: Life After Death
Collects: Earth 2: Society #17-22
Mama’s Got a Brand New Bag: Helena the Spy
Helena Wayne had taken on the identity of the late Helena Bertinelli for one of her early jobs. But Ms. Bertinelli was not as dead as people believed. After his secrets were exposed, former Robin Dick Grayson shed his Nightwing persona in favor of life as a globetrotting spy in service to an organization known as Spyral. Once there, Grayson met and formed a relationship with one of Spyral’s top agents, the New 52’s version of Helena Bertinelli. Dick ultimately returned to costumed crime fighting, but he wasn’t the only one to pick up a mask, as Helena Bertinelli finally found her way back to the family she didn’t know she was missing with the “Rebirth”-era Batgirl and the Birds of Prey.
Grayson Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral
Collects: Grayson #1-4, Grayson: Futures End #1, Secret Origins #8
Writers Tim Seeley and Tom King introduced us to a Helena Bertinelli who was physically dynamic but emotionally reserved, more in line with the post-Crisis characterization. She reveals herself to be a lover and a fighter in equal measures, especially where her relationship with Dick Grayson is concerned.
Grayson Vol. 2: We All Die at Dawn
Collects: Grayson #5-8, Annual #1
Collects: Grayson #9-12, Annual #2
Grayson Vol. 4: A Ghost in the Tomb
Collects: Grayson #13-16, Robin War #1-2
Collects: Grayson #17-20, Annual #3
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Vol. 1: Who Is Oracle?
Collects: Batgirl And The Birds Of Prey #1-6, Rebirth #1
After Dick left Spyral and the espionage life, Helena finally took on the Huntress persona (with a very sensible outfit). Julie and Shawna Benson brought Huntress into the Birds of Prey with the revamp of the title post-Convergence and “Rebirth.” Huntress was finally home again in a story arc that also shed some light on her origins.
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Vol. 2: Source Code
Collects: Batgirl And The Birds Of Prey #7-13
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Vol. 3: Full Circle
Collects: Batgirl And The Birds Of Prey #14-22
Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey: The Hunt for Harley
Collects: Harley Quinn And The Birds Of Prey #1-4
Benson and Benson’s Batgirl and the Birds of Prey concluded in 2018 with issue #22, but DC Comics was not foolish enough to let a major movie release pass by without capitalizing on it. The DC Black Label mini-series Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey is written by Harley veterans Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by Conner. The series serves as a follow-up to Conner and Palmiotti’s Harley Quinn, while also featuring the same cast as the Birds of Prey film, including Huntress of course.
Helena Bertinelli doesn’t seem to be high on DC Comics’s list of priorities these days, but between Huntress’s storied history and the fact that Birds of Prey might end up being one of the few superhero movies we end up getting in 2020, keep your eyes peeled for things to come. You can’t keep a good crossbow killer down.
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