Appropriately, this six-issue exploration of the Huntress’s origin begins with a hunting sequence. The opening voice-over by protagonist Helena Bertinelli is a bit purple (“Life is beautiful, death is ugly. I’m so used to the ugliness part, my pulse doesn’t even race anymore. . . when I kill”), but that’s not surprising in a Frank Milleresque “Year One” story. Writer Ivory Madison does more than just imitate the hard-boiled narration of “Batman: Year One,” she adopts some of the visual cues as well, like the silent panels of the protagonist’s family being gunned down or the child tearfully positioned between the corpses of her parents. If you’re going to do a “Year One” story, there are certainly worse things to do than ape Frank Miller, and the thematic link between the Huntress’s origin and Batman’s origin shouldn’t be denied. By linking their origins visually — implicitly, not explicitly — Madison and artist Cliff Richards smartly allude to the parallels between the characters. On Earth 2, Batman was the Huntress’s father, after all, and if he isn’t her literal father in this version (and he’s not), at least he’s a metaphorical father, born from similar circumstances.
By positioning the Huntress’s origin in relation to Batman’s origin (and, once again, this is implied through the storytelling similarities, not through any specific mention or illustration of Batman himself), Madison emphasizes the contrast between the characters. Helena Bertinelli’s father was a bastard, her family involved in organized crime. She’s the warped alternate version of Bruce Wayne, vicious and lethal, and, perhaps most importantly, a woman of faith and passion while Batman is all cold logic and reason.
In Madison’s elliptical telling of Huntress’s origin, in which we flash forward and backward through time, we see a grown Helena Bertinelli dispatching rows of suit-wearing men with swift kicks on one page, while the next page shows the young Helena at the dinner table as her family is wiped out by a masked hitman. In a quiet sequence after the assassination, the hitman reaches down and rips the cross from around Helena’s neck. Madison uses the narrative captions here, spoken by the future-self of Helena Bertinelli, to great effect. “As men often do,” says the Huntress, “he silenced me with my own fear. He took it [the cross] as some kind of sick souvenir. Stole a child’s faith and walked off, literally, into the sunset. I reached at my throat as though it was still there, a habit. There was only air.” The rhyming between “fear” and “souvenir” and “there” and “air,” is a bit silly (intended or not), but it’s a nice moment, otherwise. Madison is at her best with the small character moments, and that’s important in an origin story.
The timeline in this first issue is a bit too fragmentary, and the pieces don’t fit together as well as they might, but Madison seems to have an intelligent take on the Huntress. This is not a rote retelling of a familiar origin. I’ve read plenty of Huntress stories in the past, and this is the first time I’ve gotten a sense of the complexity of her character. “Huntress: Year One” #1 might not be perfect, but it’s interesting enough to make me want to read the rest of the series.