While DC Comics fans and creators alike are focusing on September, the month of the comic book publisher’s 52 title relaunch, October is ramping up to be just as busy. Beyond the second issues of all 52 titles, October marks the release date for multiple miniseries starring characters ranging from the Penguin to the The Shade. Among them is “The Huntress,” a six issue series that reunites the deadly female vigilante with her original creator, ex-DC Comics President and writer Paul Levitz.
The Huntress first appeared in 1977 as Helena Wayne, Earth-Two daughter of Batman and Catwoman. However, as a result of “Crisis On Infinite Earths,” Helena Wayne was erased and replaced with Helena Bertinelli, daughter of a Gotham Mafia boss and a costumed vigilante bent on wiping the Mob off the map. Starting with “The Huntress” issue #1 in October, Levitz, along with artist Marcus To, will return to his much-changed creation, telling the story of how Helena Bertinelli earned both a price on her head and a place in the new DCU’s “Birds Of Prey.”
Levitz spoke with CBR News about what fans should expect from his upcoming “Huntress” issues, comparing his Huntress to comic strip heroine Modesty Blaise and diving into the rationale behind setting the series in Italy.
CBR News: The modern Huntress, Helena Bertinelli, is a very different character than the one you originally created in 1977, Helena Wayne. When you first signed on to write “The Huntress” miniseries, how did you go about writing this almost completely different character?
Paul Levitz: Well, she’s completely different in many aspects, but there’s a thread of great similarity, sort of the essence of the woman as Huntress. The first version — for her time and for the way the books were constructed in those days — she was a very tough broad! This was a character who really brought an attitude to her work. The world of comics is much tougher than it was when she was born, but the current Huntress still embodies that. She’s one of the toughest characters in the DCU, emotionally; she’s not like the many characters in the DC universe who were handed a wonderful power or who came from an environment of privilege and had a tragedy that took it away. This was a gal who had a tough time from day one, and that kind of leads you in a very specific direction. I immediately went back to my Peter O’Donnell “Modesty Blaise” passion, re-steeped myself in that and tried to structure something that was a fun caper with politics, world issues, emotional drama, [and] people’s lives at stake. I’m taking Helena through a world that we haven’t visited that much, either in the DCU or in comics, and trying to just make that a rich, standalone story. It’s not about her life in Gotham City, it’s not about her relationship with Batman — she gets led into a situation by circumstance and then goes hunting!
It’s interesting that you bring up “Modesty Blaise” as there are many obvious similarities in attitude between the two; you could say Modesty goes out “hunting” as well.
Absolutely! Depending on which story of O’Donnell’s, when it was a case that had an emotional motivation for Modesty, you were fairly sure the person on the other end was going to be dead if she had anything to say about it! She had a very personal sense of justice, and it certainly wasn’t about the courts of law or about who stole twenty-nine cents from somebody else; that was never important to her, except in the early years when it was her who was doing the stealing.
I think Helena, in the same way, is not about bank robberies. She’s about lives that get ruined. The request, when I was assigned the series, was to set this in Italy, which gave me great territory to play with, lots of interesting backgrounds and settings and things happen there. I just started playing with that and found a through-line that tied together the events of the Arab Spring, what might be going on in Naples, the type of corruption that exists in Italy today, and gave her reasons to be really pissed and doing her thing!
So it sounds like this is going to be Huntress taking on, not super villains, but down to earth, real-world problems.
Yeah, there’s no super villain anywhere in it. This isn’t something you would call the Justice League in on or anything like that. It’s very real-world level problems. I think, not that it is exactly set in the literal real world — I don’t have a great knowledge of some of the ramifications of the Arab Spring — but it wouldn’t shock me if stuff like this is going on. You’re much more likely to have a moment of commentary on the reoccurring garbage strikes in Naples, or there’s a hopefully wonderful scene set in Pompeii — which is full of, by the way, wild dogs wandering around this incredible world heritage monument because nobody seems to give a shit to fence it and keep them out — and they provide an interesting moment in the story as a result.
The pre-September Huntress is linked with the Mob in Gotham — is that another reason to set the story in Italy?
There’s definitely a fair amount of the Italian mob running through the entire series — fewer by the time she’s finished, certainly! They are a major factor in what’s going on, but only in the things that actually bring her to Italy in the first place. They’re a link to what had happened in Gotham. A particular set of circumstances, before the first issue opens, have led her to be investigating something. She arrives on page one and we go from there.
As Huntress has that dark and shady criminal background, is morality a theme you’ll be dealing with in the miniseries?
I think the Huntress miniseries has much more moral indignation than it has morality in it. There’s not a lot of moments that are shades of grey. Again, it’s very Modesty Blaise-like in that fashion, where O’Donnell’s tendency was that your villains were pretty vile human beings. I don’t think Huntress has much introspection in her as a character about what she’s doing. She’s quite prepared to be judge, jury and, when necessary, executioner.
As Huntress is a character that in modern continuity has been strongly tied to the Birds of Prey and team books, how do you approach writing her as a lone gun for this miniseries?
I think you get an opportunity to hear her voice a little more. One of the advantages of a character like that in a team book is her personality shows through, in many ways, largely by comparison to the other characters. In a solo adventure, you have to find the story moments that really bring out who she is and, hopefully, we get that exploration. There’s certainly some stuff she brings with her she’s either learned from her teammates or borrowed from them or has tools available from them. But no guest appearances by any of the rest, this is her tale.
Going along with that, what drew you back to Helena after all this time?
Well, I’m sitting here staring at the oil painting of her that has been hanging by my desk, wherever my desk has been in my life for the last thirty years, so it’s never been like she’s far from my mind. It wasn’t hard to sell me on doing something with her!
Since you have that visual reminder, what has been your reaction to seeing artist Marcus To’s initial drawings of Huntress as you two begin working on the miniseries?
I haven’t seen any of the pages for the story yet, which is always what I’m most curious for, but I’ve enjoyed his preliminary sketches for the character — he seems to be having a lot of fun with her!
Did the two of you two get to meet to talk about tough dames and other real-world influences for his art?
I haven’t had the chance to meet him yet. With the spread-out geography these days, it’s relatively rare. by comparison, it was enormous fun to sit and play with Chris Batista on “Legion: Secret Origin” because he is a New Yorker, so it was easy to grab lunch and say, “So, what do you want to draw?” Marcus and I have gone back and forth by email a couple of times, but that’s not the same as sitting there.
That sounds like something you miss.
Well, one of the things that was wonderful about the comic book industry when I came into it was how small it was and how concentrated it was. There were 200 or so of us who made all the comics in America, and all but maybe twenty or twenty-five of those people lived in or a few minutes from New York City. Whether it was lunches, dinners, poker games, going out to the movies — they were intensely rich experiences. The group of people who sat around the poker table with me every Friday night for years were Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Jim Shooter, Denny O’Neil, Al Milgrom, Tom DeFalco, Mike Barr, other names you’d be less likely to know perhaps, but a host of people from the industry, and that was fabulous!
On the other hand, it’s a hell of a lot better industry now that its got a couple of thousand people working in it and we’re able to have the diversity of working with people who come from different countries, different backgrounds, every different type of human being who exists on the planet. So that’s definitely a trade up! Yeah, you lose something in the intimacy, but you gain something vastly more in the difference in all the voices and what that brings.
To wrap things up, Huntress is another character who, like “Legion,” has a fairly devoted group of fans. What do you, as one of those fans, like about Helena as a character? Is it that tough dame mold that we’ve spoken about?
I can’t speak for the full range of comics, but certainly within the DC Universe, I think she’s a very distinct figure. Her approach to her work, her approach to what she views as justice, is a very specific point of view, and I think that’s what kept people interested in her over the years. Plus, the crossbow’s pretty cool!
Finally, what would you as a creator and writer like to say to your fans?
Thank you for welcoming me back! I mean, there was an enormous nervousness that I’d step back on the field and throw out the pitch and they’d say, “That’s nice, we’ve got old timers day — can you get the real players out now?” It’s so nice being welcomed back into the game again. Because I started doing the work very, very young, I’m not actually that old a writer. I’m hoping to be writing many years to come, comics and other things, and it was a great relief to be welcomed back by everybody and to get that kind of reception.
“The Huntress” #1 hits shelves October 5