The upcoming film Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) will introduce mainstream audiences to one of DC Comics’ most beloved superheroes, known as the Huntress. The movie has Mary Elizabeth Winstead taking on the role of Gotham’s crossbow wielding warrior. But who is this urban vigilante? Like many DC characters, this hero has a very complex history. But Huntress has one even more than most. And there have been not one, but two prominent characters with this particular code name.
Although both Huntresses most famous for using the title have had the first name “Helena,” they are very distinct characters from one another. The first Huntress was Helena Wayne, the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Only these were the Batman and Catwoman of Earth-Two. Back in the ’70s, Earth-2 was the parallel world designated for DC’s original characters from the Golden Age of comics. This version of the Bat and the Cat could age up, marry, and have a child.
Helena’s first showed up in 1977’s DC Super Stars #17, which told her origin story. Her first comic fleshed out her backstory, and told how Helena was born to Bruce Wayne and his wife Selina Kyle. When she was 19 years old, her mother was blackmailed by an old enemy into becoming the criminal Catwoman again. This led to Selina’s death, and so Helena vowed revenge. She fashioned weapons for herself based on the ones used by her parents when they were Batman and Catwoman. Embarking on a career as the Huntress, she brought her mother’s killer to justice.
Soon, Huntress joined the Justice Society of America, and not long after took her father Batman’s place at the table when he too was killed. She appeared in many JSA stories during this period, and also received her own back up feature in Wonder Woman. But although she was quite popular, she would soon become a victim of DC’s housecleaning. With Crisis on Infinite Earths, the multiple worlds of DC were consolidated into one. And with this consolidation, Huntress’ history was wiped out. She then died at the end of the series, along with her “brother.” the Golden Age Robin.
A few years later, DC decided to revived the Huntress brand. But as Batman was now a young man and never married Catwoman in this new DCU timeline, Helena Wayne could no longer exist. Instead, she got a whole new identity. In 1989’s The Huntress #1, we meet Helena Bertinelli. She was the daughter of a Gotham City mafia Don, who was the sole survivor of a hit on her entire family from a rival mob boss. This forged an intense hatred of all organized crime, and the adult Helena took on the identity of the Huntress to bring the mob to justice. Although not related by blood to Batman, she would still work with the Dark Knight on many occasions, and became part of the overall Bat family.
Huntress is angrier and more unpredictable than the other members of the Bat-family. But during the “No Man’s Land” storyline, she briefly becomes the new Batgirl. She even joins the Justice League for a time, but Batman has her fired for attempting to kill one of their enemies. She ultimately finds her proper place in the world when she accepts former Batgirl Barbara Gordon’s invitation to join the Birds of Prey. Along with Black Canary, the Birds become a formidable team fighting crime on the streets of Gotham. This version of the Huntress would prove to be the most popular with fandom at large. In addition to being part of the Birds of Prey, she played an iconic role in the seminal Batman story “Hush.”
After the events of Flashpoint in 2011, DC continuity would become restructured once again. This resulted in what was called The New 52 continuity. The Helena Bertinelli version of Huntress was dead in this new reality, killed herself in a mob hit. But since the Multiverse is in play again, we instead get a new version of the original Huntress, Helena Wayne. She is from a different version of Earth -2, but she is still the daughter of Batman and Catwoman.
This Helena comes to the main DC Earth, and assumes the life and name of the dead Bertinelli. She crosses paths with Batman many times, but never reveals that he is her “father.” She also forms a partnership with her best friend Power Girl, who is the cousin of her Earth’s Superman. Later, the comics reveal that the real Helena Bertinelli is indeed alive, but dead to the outside world. She is a part of the spy organization called Spyral, where she works alongside former Nightwing Dick Grayson. She eventually takes on the Huntress name herself and joins the Birds of Prey in the DC Rebirth era. Everything comes full circle.
As for Huntress in other media, there have been versions going back to 1979. She first showed up in the campy Legends of the Super Heroes television special fighting alongside Adam West and Burt Ward’s Batman and Robin. The original incarnation of Huntress also appeared on the Birds of Prey TV series, only she was Helena Kyle, not Wayne. In this series, Catwoman never married Batman, although Bruce Wayne is still her father. Played by actress Ashley Scott, this version is making an appearance in the upcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover on the CW.
The Bertinelli version showed up in animated form in Justice League Unlimited as well as in Batman: Brave and the Bold. She finally made her live-action debut on Arrow, in a fairly comics accurate portrayal by Jessica De Gouw. With Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing the first big screen version of the Huntress, judging from the trailers, she doesn’t seem to have anything resembling her comic book costume. She does have her traditional weapon from the comics, as the trailers show her carrying a crossbow. Could we see her down the purple, black, and white? And hopefully the mask as well? Only time will tell.
Featured Image: DC Comics