Huntress: Getting Past The Crucifix and the Crossbow

March 11th, 2009 by | Tags: , ,

For me, Huntress has always been one of DC’s least accessible characters.  It seemed like she was given half a helping of costume, two helpings of temper, and sent in whenever Batman needed to tell someone they had ‘crossed a line.’  Helena Bertinelli could kick, punch, toss off one-liners, and work with a cape, but she was more like a collection of behaviors than a person.

That’s why Huntress: Year One was such a pleasant surprise.  Though it is a Year One book, the mini-series follows Helena from childhood up through her assumption of the Huntress persona.  It examines her deep religious convictions, her time bouncing between mafia families after her parents are killed, and her instinctive feminism.  What emerges from these examinations is a young woman who  is surprisingly thoughtful, though still in possession of the smoldering anger that characterizes Huntress in regular continuity.

It’s the characterization of Huntress, and of those who inhabit her world, that makes this book really interesting.  Through Helena we meet various mob bosses, young heirs, mistresses, wives, and hangers-on, none of them boring.  Some surprise the reader only with the depths to which they will sink.  Others take unexpected turns.  All of them have a heft that’s unusual for comic-book characters.

Another strength of Huntress: Year Oneis its overt feminism.  Unlike most comics, Huntress doesn’t confine its feminism to a wronged woman beating up a sexist man.  It considers an adolescent’s first few quibbles with male authority and gendered language.  It explores the compromises made by women and men living in male-dominated social structures like the mafia.  And it takes a refreshingly unsentimental look at female victimhood.  This book doesn’t frame its victims as martyrs meant to set the plot in motion, or provocateurs who are complicit in their own suffering.  Nor does it imbue female suffering with any kind of glorification.  Victimhood is a shitty way to live, not an operatic finish to a pretty story.

The true test of a mini-series is if it leaves you wanting more, and Huntress did that for me.  The continuity would be tough to hammer out, of course, but in some ways continuing the comic would take fewer contrivances than a lot of other series.   The figures in Helena’s life are so fleshed out that they seem able to carry on the story simply by being themselves.

All six issues of the Huntress: Year One mini are out.  It is also available as a softcover trade paperback.

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3 comments to “Huntress: Getting Past The Crucifix and the Crossbow”

  1. Sounds damned deep. That’s a lot of subtlety and deliberation – more than I’d expect from a mini. I’m pretty curious, now.

  2. I liked that book a lot, but I never was able to get issue six!!!

    Now I need to track it down and re-read the whole thing.

  3. Huntress: Year One is twelve bucks on Amazon.