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There have been two main versions of the Huntress character, Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli.
Helena Wayne version
The original Huntress was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, Helena Wayne, before Crisis of Infinite Earths. Existing on Earth-Two, Helena donned the cape to avenge the death of her mother. She first appeared in "DC Super-Stars" #17 (December, 1977), created by Paul Levitz and Joe Staton. She got several solo stories in The Seventies and The Eighties. As well as having regular appearances alongside the Justice Society of America and Infinity Inc.
In her civilian identity, Helena was a prominent lawyer and partner in a law firm, with her surrogate brother Robin/Richard "Dick" Grayson, also being a member. At times the two partnered up in certain cases. Both in and outside the courts. Her other frequent partner was best friend Power Girl. Opponents included villains from both Earth-one and Earth-Two.
The character participated with others in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. She got killed in its issue #12. Like most Earth-Two characters, her existence was then erased from history. Though Power Girl has had flashbacks of Helena in stories of recent years.
Following DC's controversial New 52 reboot, Helena Wayne was returned to the Huntress identity. Co-creator Paul Levitz wrote the return/retcon, beginning with a six issue miniseries titled Huntress Helena Wayne's adventures continued in the similarly Levitz-penned World's Finest. A conversation in World's Finest #1 revealed the fate of Helena Bertinelli, establishing that Bertinelli was killed years earlier, with her identity stolen by Wayne. Though Wayne had previously served as her father's sidekick using the identity of Robin, she took on the Huntress identity when her father and Superman were killed and she and Power Girl were forced to flee to Earth One.
Helena Bertinelli version
Like other old DC characters, Huntress eventually got reworked Post-Crisis. Wearing a version of her original costume, but having an entirely new backstory. The new version first appeared in "Huntress" vol. 1 #1 (April, 1989). She was created by Joey Cavalieri and Joe Staten.
Helena Bertinelli, the Huntress: what Bruce Wayne might have been if Bruce's father had been a Mafia capo in Gotham. Her father was one of the most powerful mob bosses in "The Five Families" until the other capos decided the Bertinellis were in their way and massacred every single member of the family - except for Helena, age eight, who watched as her family was murdered in front of her.
Kept safe in Sicily, she trained for years, then returned to Gotham and began pursuing the systematic destruction of the mob. Though she often pursued the same cases as Batman, Gotham's self-appointed protector held her at a significant distance due to several factors. The most apparent is Huntress's willingness to use lethal force. However, other stories have hinted that Batman feared for her safety, comparing her to Barbara Gordon. Batman sponsored her membership in the Justice League for a time, but her continued willingness to kill villains led to her expulsion. She continued to try to strengthen her ties with the Bat-family, even having a fling with Nightwing while working on a case, but to no avail.
During the late 1990s-early 2000s, things took a turn for the worse. During the year-long isolation of Gotham known as the No Man's Land, Huntress initially took up the cowl of Batgirl, unfilled since Barbara Gordon stepped down several years prior. She did so to inspire hope in the inhabitants of the city being attacked on all sides by crime lords and abandoned by the rest of America - and seemingly by Batman himself, who had been gone for many months. When Batman returned, however, he set her an impossible task in order to keep the Batgirl mantle, and when she failed, he manipulated her into joining one of the most violent groups in the city to act as a check on the unhinged leader. The crisis came to a head when she held off an assault by the Joker, felling 17 goons before the Clown Prince shot her three times in the stomach. Though Batman and Nightwing saved her life, her outlook had hardened as a result of Batman's willingness to use her as cannon fodder. Despite attempts to help from Vic Sage (The Question) and Richard Dragon in the Greg Rucka miniseries Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood, she continued in a downward spiral of isolation and violence. By 2003 (around the time of Hush) she seemed to have hit rock bottom: kicked out of the JLA, pursued by Checkmate, no friends or support group, and wrapped up in the machinations of the villain Hush, Huntress seemingly had no way out.
All that changed when Black Canary was captured by the villain Savant, and her desperate partner in the Birds of Prey, Barbara Gordon (Oracle) begged Huntress for assistance at the beginning of the Gail Simone run on Birds of Prey. From that point on, Huntress had a firm place in Gotham's premier female vigilante team, and a growing sense of belonging. Though she temporarily left the team when Oracle attempted to manipulate her into rejecting lethal methods, she returned to ask for help in concluding her massive plan to infiltrate the Gotham mob, a plan which initially causes Batman to flip out, then look extremely foolish (and surprisingly grateful) when she turns over a complete map of the Mafia to him.
The Birds underwent several blows, starting with the departure of Black Canary, leaving Huntress as senior field agent alongside Zinda Blake (Lady Blackhawk). Eventually, Oracle disbanded the Birds, leading to a return to Huntress's more unstable days when she was willing to use lethal force. During this period, she formed ties to Renee Montoya, the second Question (another Greg Rucka miniseries, Question: Pipeline, which also contains a Shout-Out or two to Cry for Blood). When Oracle is forced to reunite the Birds during the events of Brightest Day, Huntress rejoins, and nearly loses her life to save Black Canary's in a fight against Lady Shiva. In doing so, she finally returns to the realization that she's no longer alone. Through the next several missions, Huntress impresses Oracle so much that she is promoted to field leader, a position once held by Black Canary.
Huntress's preferred methods usually include her unerring accuracy with crossbows and other bolt-firing weapons, though she also possesses considerable hand-to-hand combat skills, only enhanced by her height (5'11") and conditioning. Her outfit has gone through a large number of changes, generally retaining a black-and-purple (with occasional white) scheme, often incorporating a cross motif to reflect her Catholicism, and some kind of mask which has mimicked Batman's outline with pointed ears many times. In 2003, artist Jim Lee redesigned her costume for the miniseries Hush, and incorporated a large belly-window into her costume. When asked by Black Canary about the change, Huntress replied "700 sit ups a day."
In her civilian life, Helena has always wanted to be a teacher. When she initially started in Gotham, she managed to maintain her dual lifestyle, but after No Man's Land and her training with Richard Dragon, she was fired. She retained access to her family's three-billion dollar account for a while, but when Checkmate recruited her, they froze her accounts (which was reversed by Spy Smasher in return for successfully rescuing Ice, shortly after Black Canary left the team). Oracle both got her a stable job as a teacher and gave her considerable pay as a field agent when Helena joined the Birds of Prey, which greatly contributed to her gradual process of accepting love and trust. This process has also influenced her relationship with her faith - in Cry for Blood and the early days of Simone's Birds of Prey run, Helena seemed to regard herself as damned, and was antagonistic to God and the church as a result. As Dinah and eventually Barbara gained her trust and love, she also opened back up to her childhood faith. By the time of her duel with Lady Shiva, though still suffering from feelings of abandonment and self-hatred, she prays, knowing that God is "always there," and thanks Him for giving her life meaning.
Huntress has also appeared in a few animated incarnations. In Justice League Unlimited, she was given a similar backstory to her Mafia origins in the comics in the episode "Double Date," written by Birds of Prey scribe Gail Simone, and voiced by Amy Acker. In that story, she conflicts with Black Canary, while forming a romantic relationship with The Question. This romance continues in later episodes such as "Question Authority" and "Grudge Match". Recently, in Batman the Brave And The Bold, Huntress has appeared a few times. In "Night of the Huntress," she has a cover identity as a professor at Gotham University and a reputation as a sexy bad girl vigilante. In another Simone-penned episode, "The Mask of Matches Malone," she teams up with Black Canary and Catwoman, singing a little "Birds of Prey" ditty in a nightclub, and generally being awesome. The comic-book tie-in story "Captured by Mister Camera" implies that Helena and Batman share a closer friendship and camaraderie than their mainstream counterparts.
Creators who have significantly contributed to Helena Bertinelli's development:
Titles which star or significantly feature Helena Bertinelli:
- Huntress Year One
- Batman: No Man's Land
- Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood
- Birds of Prey
Tropes seen involving this character include:
- Action Girl: Natch.
- A Handful for An Eye: When duelling Shiva to the death to prevent Black Canary from doing the same, Huntress blinds Shiva with her own blood in a surprise (to Shiva) employment of gutter tactics.
- Badass Biker: Her preferred method of transportation. Even tells Misfit that damaging her ride comes with severe consequences. In her civilian identity she seems to prefer bombing about town in a Lamborghini.
- Badass Normal: So far, has not received any supernatural or even technological upgrades.
- Bait and Switch: On a meta-level, while her 2011 mini has been well-received, many fans weren't happy at The Reveal that the Helena we've been following was actually Wayne instead of Bertinelli. Levitz has said in at least one interview that he's sorry about the Bait and Switch.
- Bare Your Midriff: The Jim Lee 2003 costume redesign. Gail Simone disliked the costume, but instead of merely retconning it away, came up with the in-universe "700 sit-ups a day" reasoning, which is both hilarious and rational.
- Bound and Gagged: In one of her first important missions as senior field agent with Lady Blackhawk, one of Zinda's old enemies brainwashes her, leading her to tie up Huntress. Being a good member of the Birds of Prey, though, Huntress breaks the brainwashing through The Power of Friendship. An earlier issue of The Batman Chronicles had her getting tied up and gagged after being ambushed by a group of street children.
- Also, in the Gail Simone penned episode of Batman the Brave And The Bold "The Masks of Matches Malone," the team is tied up and hung over sharks - but Huntress's mad crossbow skills help save the day.
- And of course she does this to Jimmy Olsen in Justice League Unlimited, leaving him taped up so she can steal his signal watch.
- Brainy Brunette: Actually fits this trope, though more often has the image of a bruiser. Black Canary points out that she and Oracle have a lot in common, both being extremely intelligent. Of course, when you share a team (and, out of universe, a book) with Oracle, possibly the DC's smartest "normal" human, even a smart girl like Helena is going to be pushed out of the spotlight.
- Break Her Heart to Save Her: Catman, who knows that unless she believes him to be unredeemable, Huntress will become involved in his rather problematic life.
- Combat Pragmatist: Much more so than most of her colleagues - and mostly by necessity, since good as she is, she often has to face threat levels far above street level.
- Dating Catman: Starting with a surprise meeting/fight/teamup in Russia, she's flirted/warned/fought with Catman fairly consistently. Unfortunately, since she's still clearly a hero and he's a heroic-wannabe-killer, there are problems.
- Determinator: Is made of this trope. In No Man's Land, she takes three bullets to the stomach from the Joker and keeps going. After being rejected by Batman.
- Later, when she fights Lady Shiva, even though she knows she will die painfully, she manages to do something almost no one has done: knock her down.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: In the New 52 continuity, it was established via retcon that the real Helena Bertinelli was killed years ago, only to have her identity stolen by the newly reintroduced Helena Wayne. Worse still, Helena B's fate is regulated to an offhanded shout-out, with the real details unexplained.
- Honor Before Reason: Though occasionally she's expressed disdain for this trope, when it's really important, she's there. She has faced down the Joker, Lady Shiva, and countless other world-class threats simply because she cares more than she lets on.
- Hot Amazon: Perhaps best demonstrated in the first issue of her 2011 mini, when she kicks ass while wearing lingerie and is drawn with very prominent leg muscles.
- Improvised Weapon: In close quarters combat she often uses objects like frying pans, car windows, chairs or even television antennas - whatever happens to be close at hand - to inflict damage.
- The Infiltration: After leaving the Birds because of Oracle's manipulation, Helena uses her family heritage of Mafia Princess to rise to the rank of capo. She does so in order to give Batman the most detailed picture of the Gotham Mob's organization he's ever had.
- In-Series Nickname: With Renee Montoya, the current Question - they call each other "Q" and "H," possibly as a reference to their Justice League counterparts.
- Iron Weight: So much so, Lady Shiva, one of the DCU's deadliest assassins, nicknames her "Iron Owl."
- Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: In Huntress #5 (the 2012 mini-series), Helena disguises herself as a cleaning woman to sneak into the Lion's fortress.
- Kinda Busy Here: Often takes calls (or even makes them) while delivering some justice to villains, such as the beginning of Simone's run on Birds of Prey, when Oracle calls her in the middle of a job to save Black Canary's life.
- The Lancer: Her usual role in any book but her own. However, Simone attempted to change that in her last issue of Birds of Prey by promoting her to field leader...and then the New DC happened.
- The Mafia: Born to it, rejected it, continually drawn to it, eventually infiltrated it and became a capo. Her mission in life: take it down.
- Mafia Princess: What she was initially, and what Batman thought she was trying to do when she infiltrated it.
- Mama Bear: Threatening her students brings this out. With a free order of dangling-from-rooftops!
- Molotov Truck: In the 2012 mini-series, the Huntress sends a speedboat packed with explosives into a harbour as a distraction.
- More Expendable Than You: What Huntress usually feels about herself compared to other heros, especially Dinah. Explicitly dealt with when she takes on Shiva for Canary.
- Official Couple: In Justice League only (the comicbook Helena has a much more troubled romantic history) with the Question. Though she did have a fling with him during the Cry for Blood miniseries, which is referenced a few times afterwards, indicating it had some meaningful to her.
- Raised Catholic: Since she was born a Mafia Princess, naturally. However, according to her Year One miniseries, she has some unorthodox theology, and she's gone back and forth on where she stands with God. During Rucka and Burchett's Cry for Blood miniseries, she feels she's damned regardless of what she does, which seems to carry over into the beginning of Simone's Birds of Prey run, saying that the church repels her. However, through that run, she comes to have a better view of herself and her faith, and even thinks about attending church again. In the 2010 relaunch, just before she believes she's about to die at Shiva's hands, she takes a moment to thank God for giving her life meaning, and thinks that "He's always listening."
- Really Gets Around: Her reputation. However, the actual number of her partners is surprisingly low (well, surprising if you don't remember the Raised Catholic part...)
- Secret Identity: Helena Bertinelli, former Mafia Princess and current substitute teacher.
- Statuesque Stunner: Official DC sources put her at 5'11". Though she's often drawn short...such as in the last few issues of Birds of Prey, in which she appears shorter than Black Canary, who is very short.
- Stripperiffic: The Jim Lee costume redesign of 2003. His co-redesign for the 2011 New DC with Cully Hamner, however, doesn't seem to be quite as silly.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Happens rather frequently as a result of Huntress's well known willingness to cross the line (both in beatings and in killing).