Home Comics & Toys Birds of Prey 101: Huntress, from mob family origins to ass-kicking vigilante

Birds of Prey 101: Huntress, from mob family origins to ass-kicking vigilante

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With her previous appearance in episodes of Arrow as well as the animated Justice League Unlimited and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, you may think you know Huntress, the crossbow-wielding comic book vigilante that will soon be making her big-screen debut courtesy of Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the upcoming Birds of Prey. But who Huntress is, is actually a pretty complex topic.

In the Silver Age of DC Comics, the comic publisher’s line saw titles set in many alternate universes (a clever/convenient way to allow different writers/artists to put their own spins on the same characters without clashing continuity), one of which was Earth-Two. In this universe, Batman aka Bruce Wayne and Catwoman aka Selena Kyle had openly declared their love for each, got married and settled down. And in 1957, their union produced a baby girl, Helena Wayne. Trained from young by her parents and mentored by her adoptive older brother Dick Grayson (Nightwing), Helena would become a supreme athlete and master of many martial skills.

When her retired mother was blackmailed into becoming Catwoman once again though, things changed for Helena Wayne. When the job the aged Selena Kyle is forced to go on goes south and results in her death, Helena uses her training – and an arsenal of weapons and tools taken from her parents’ stashes – to hunt down her mother’s killer and bring him to justice. Thus Helena becomes Huntress, a costumed, crossbow-wielding vigilante who protected the Gotham City of Earth-Two for years… until she didn’t exist anymore.

During the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover of 1985, Helena Wayne would see Earth-Two destroyed before dying herself in an attempt to rescue some innocents from the destruction caused by the Anti-Monitor. And when the dust of Crisis settled, the DC Comics multiverse would be condensed into just a single universe. Into this new world, writer Joey Calavieri and long-time character artist Joe Staton would reintroduce Huntress in 1989. Except this wasn’t Helena Wayne, the offspring of Batman and Catwoman. No sirree!

Born into one of Gotham’s most powerful mafia families, Helena Bertinelli was an immensely withdrawn girl. Her quiet mental state the result of trauma due to a rival mob boss kidnapping and raping her at just age six, as a way to hurt her parents, Guido and Carmilla, the heads of the Bertinelli crime family. Spending most of her time at a Catholic boarding school with no friends, Helena’s bodyguard Sal would train her in all forms of combat as a means of treatment. That training would come in handy when the Bertinelli family would come up short in a mob war, Guido and Carmilla murdered right in front of 19-year old Helena. Upon this act, the final bloody straw, Helena would swear to end the existence of not just the mobster who killed her parents, but all mafia so that nobody else would suffer as she did. Travelling the world with her bodyguard Sal for support, Helena would dole out brutal justice as the Huntress, fitting in with the wave of mature adult comics of the time… Until DC Comics changed her story again.

In 2000, Huntress underwent a new reboot in the Cry For Blood miniseries. She is still Helena Bertinelli, the daughter of mobsters, but now at age 8, Helena witnessed her parents and brother murdered by a rival mob boss. Raised by her mafia uncle Tomaso in Sicily, she is trained in all manner of hand-to-hand and weaponised combat. Upon returning to Gotham, she becomes awed with Batman and is inspired to become a vigilante herself, though one that takes a much harder approach.

However, Helena is soon framed for murder by a mysterious assailant, putting her at odds with Batman who attempts to bring her in. With the help of masked vigilante The Question, Helena would discover that the person behind her framing is actually her real biological father, a rival mob boss named Santo Cassamento who had an affair with her mother. Through some convoluted logic, Cassamento blames Helena for the death of her mother – even though it was Cassamento who was involved in the killing – and is taking revenge now.

Helena eventually captures Cassamento, but decides to not give in to her darker side. Her uncle has no such qualms and kills Cassamento for his involvement in the Bertinelli murders, forcing Helena to stop him and turn her own family over to the cops. Impressed by her though, Batman would take Helena into the fold, eventually becoming a part of his extended family. Supplied with a costume and equipment by Batman, Helena would fight crime in Gotham – often alongside the Dark Knight – as Huntress.

It’s here where Helena would strike up an intense friendship with Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl. When Barbara is paralyzed from the waist down due to a vicious attack by the Joker, she takes on the identity of Oracle, using computers and technology to combat crime remotely. When one of her first team-ups with superpowered martial artist Black Canary goes awry, Oracle calls in Huntress for support. Learning that they work very well together, the three would become the original members of a new all-female vigilante group known as the Birds of Prey. While she would leave the group for a while due to a personal conflict between her and Oracle, Helena would eventually return to become the team’s field leader when Black Canary departed the team. Her membership status with the Birds of Prey has gone back and forth, but she was always there to stand alongside them when needed.

Oh, and in case everything above wasn’t complicated enough, since the New 52 DC universe reboot a number of years ago, a new Earth-Two was established as Earth-2 with its own Helena Bertinelli… who is actually an alias of Helena Wayne, the secret daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Comics!

Powers and abilities

  • Highly skilled hand-to-hand combatant and athlete – Naturally gifted with far above average athleticism, Huntress also honed her physical skills against mob-trained killers, allowing her to stand toe-to-toe with most foes
  • Expert markswoman – Huntress was trained in all manner of firearms, mastering them. However, her proficiency with a crossbow led to it becoming her signature – and very effective – weapon of choice.
  • Expert in forensics and criminology – Huntress has a keen intelligence and has put that to use with extensive study

Essential reading and viewing

  • All-Stars Comics Vol 1 #69- 74
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Jerry Ordway
  • Huntress by Joe Cavalieri, Joe Staton
  • Huntress: Cry for Blood by Greg Rucka, Rick Burchett
  • Huntress: Year One by Ivory Madison, Cliff Richards
  • Batman: No Man’s Land crossover
  • Birds of Prey by Gail Simon, Ed Benes
  • Batman: Battle for the Cowl crossover
  • Batman Reborn crossover
  • Justice League Unlimited
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold
  • Arrow S1 and S2

Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress will be kicking butt alongside Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Jurnee Smollet’s Black Canary, and Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya in Birds of Prey, in cinemas this coming Friday, 7 February 2020.

Last Updated: February 4, 2020

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