I’ve strayed completely from the New 52 Earth 2 things until this issue. Why? For it contains Damian Wayne. Do be warned of spoilers.
As some people have commented, the New 52 universe feels scarcely populated. DC’s strategy has been to focus on their handful of iconic characters from which they plan to spin-out stories that brush in the details of the universe. This strategy, while successful in many ways, has come to the detriment of many beloved Golden-age and legacy characters. James Robinson begins to rectify this with a new Earth 2. This universe, one of the new 52 universes, which is to be the home of Power Girl and Huntress (though, as their popularity would dictate, they were quickly jettisoned to the main DC Universes and their own series, World’s Finest, in the first issue of the Eponymous Earth 2 series) as well a new JSA. Or at least something that bears a semblance to what we have known as the JSA.
Traditionally the JSA were the first crop of super-heroes to appear, mostly around WWII, in the DC-verse. Publisher’s have always had an uneasy relationship with character origins that were historical situated, specifically the ageing issues that they inevitably lead to. Previously DC had utilized the Earth 2 concept as a way to explain away the discrepancies of such historical situated origins. As a result, Earth 2 stories have a pretty lengthy and developed publishing history. Those who were expecting a modern update of these stories will be severely disappointed. Earth 2 is as different from Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths, or even Post-Infinite Crisis Earth 2 (which, although editors went out-of-the-way to make clear was not the same earth, was in fact a very clear homage) as imaginable. Whereas the JSA had been treated as the forbearer of the JLA for a while now, Earth 2 is re-imagining them as a group heroes who fill the vacuum left after the catastrophic destruction of the JLA.
Huntress: Year One comes to us courtesy of Ivory Madison as her first foray into writing comics. Though her lack of experience is sometimes noticeable throughout the six-issue mini in a few relatively awkward scenes, the series is on the whole a success. Beginning in the youth of Helena Bertinelli, Madison quickly sets up Helena’s well-known mob background – first, as the daughter of Gotham crime boss Franco Bertinelli, then later as the ward of the Sicilian assassin Asaro family – covering much of her past in a few text-heavy pages throughout the first issue that are interspersed with a few choice traumatic scenes from Helena’s youth.
From there, we’re off. Helena’s journey from hunted to huntress smartly sets up the elements she’ll need to become the feared Gotham vigilante we all know, accompanied by dark, beautiful art by Cliff Richards. Richards does excellent work throughout most of the mini, working well with his inkers and colorist in setting up a pervasively dark atmostphere, though there are a few segments late in the mini, as Helena begins to meet characters like Batman, Catwoman, Barbara Gordon and more, in which the art accompanying a few of the fight scenes devolves into relative awkwardness. Those segments aside, however, Richards and co. nonetheless do fine work throughout.
Huntress: Year One provides us with an intriguing look at one of the darker heroes in Gotham, even managing to help set up the future conflicts between Barbara Gordon and Helena seen in Simone’s Birds of Prey. There is a recurring feminist motif throughout the series as well, working to varying degrees throughout. When Catwoman starts lecturing Helena on girlpower, you might groan a little, though it also, perhaps too transparently, offers Helena the chance to respond in kind then rise above. Despite the occasionally forced feeling of a few of the lines, however, Madison never lets the issues overwhelm the story, often opting to have Helena be the ideal, rather than talk about it.
Besides serving as an origin, the mini also manages to set up a ‘rogues gallery’ of a sorts for Helena, leaving a number of her foes alive and smarting, should later writers wish to make use of them. I’d hope someone does – the threat of a mano iddio is minor league compared to many threats DC faces daily, but the Gotham crew has always worked well with conspiracy, and the one Madison leaves us with is globe-spanning. Despite their survival, however, there is a tidy thematic arc to Huntress: Year One that leaves you wanting to see more of Helena, as well as more of the creative team that brought her here.