Monday, March 28, 2016

What If a Bat and a Cat Had a Kid? DC Super-Stars 17

DC Super-Stars #17 (Nov.-Dec. 1977)
"Secret Origins of the Super-Heroes"
Huntress Story --
"From Each Ending... A Beginning!"
Paul Levitz-Joe Staton/Bob Layton

Doug: Back on February 13 I told you that this cover made me buy this book. As many of you agreed, and since I have the trade paperback Huntress: Darknight Daughter (J.A. Morris reviewed the entire trade on his Bronze Age Reprints blog on March 14) we'll take a look at the cover story, a 13-page visit to Earth-2 and the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman. DC Super-Stars #17 landed right in the thick of my love affair with the revival of the Justice Society of America within the pages of All-Star Comics (All-Star Comics #69 [Dec 1977] gets equal billing as the debut of the Huntress). Like many here, the concept of legacy heroes was fascinating to me -- that the Invaders had preceded the modern Marvel Universe was as enticing as the notion at DC that Earth-2 had a heroic history that pre-dated "our" Earth's by close to 20 years. And the Super Squad of Power Girl, the Star-Spangled Kid, and Robin gave a kid like me an opportunity to further appreciate the classic heroes of DC's WWII era. Now the Huntress would be a part of that -- yes, the offspring of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman. Gives me pause...

100-Word Review: On Earth-2 in 1955, Bruce Wayne married a reformed Catwoman – Selina Kyle. Two years later their daughter Helena was born. Helena grew to be as smart and skilled as her famous parents. But one day in 1976 Selina answered a call that would change all their lives. A former henchman blackmailed Selina into becoming Catwoman for one more job. But a stray bullet and the appearance of the Batman destroyed the Wayne family’s world as Selina plunged to her death. Shortly, a new bat-like figure exacted revenge for her death – the Huntress would protect Gotham from its criminal element!

The Good: About a gazillion things, really. Where to start? Joe Staton's art - go! Staton's art is perfect for these stories that have a "yesterday" feel to them. I've always felt that on the All-Star material. Sure, he was a nice fit on Green Lantern, but for some reason I like him better on the Earth-2 stuff. There's a certain quirky charm to his figures, and his facial expressions are top shelf. Staton made good use of montage panels/pages for effect. His camera angles constantly shift, keeping the reader on alert - no easy way out in his panel work. Paul Levitz's story is a somewhat typical "Got it all/Lose it all/Exact revenge" tragedy. However, because I felt already fully-invested in the character due to her relationship to the Batman, Levitz was able to tug at my heartstrings. Of course, also being a fan of Batgirl, it was exciting to immediately see those possibilities for Earth-2, as well as a a potential set-up of a "next generation World's Finest" team of Power Girl and the Huntress. What's more, I'm really feeling many of these thoughts now as I did when I was 11 and read this for the first time. While it's not an original concept, it's execution and subsequent roll-out (until the Crisis, that is) made for some fun.

The Bad: I really only have one complaint with the story, and it involves a general complaint many of us have had with the way the Batman has been depicted on film since the Burton/Keaton film back in 1989 -- I am speaking of the voice. The gravelly voice.  In the climax of this story, as Helena Wayne has adopted the Huntress identity, she sets off after Silky Cernak. Cernak had been a member of the Catwoman's gang who went to the Big House when Selina Kyle went straight. Now out, Cernak was the one who contacted Selina Wayne about doing one more job -- or he'd make it known that she had indeed killed a man, something she'd sworn to the parole board and to Bruce Wayne. Obviously, the blackmail worked, as it got Selina back into the Catwoman costume, where she eventually met her tragic end -- from a ricocheted bullet fired by what appeared to be Cernak's gun. 

Later, after tracking Cernak to the Gotham docks, the Huntress appeared to him from the shadows. Cernak sits, waiting for a meeting he won't have -- of course he's talking to himself. He says, "I was just mindin' my own business, tryin' to make a buck!" From the shadows, a gravel-voiced shadow says, "Crime is no man's business, Cernak!" Cernak is ensnared in a rope, and turning sees a silhouette of the Batman. In fact, he even calls to the shadow, "Batman -- you again!" Now I have to wonder why Levitz went this route? Sure, the Huntress costume with its pointed mask and scalloped cape resembles the look of the Batman. But even given that, I'm drawn instead to what young Bruce Wayne said to himself many years earlier:  "Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible..." Well, if criminals are indeed superstitious wouldn't it have been better to have addressed Cernak in her own voice? Wouldn't there have been a chance that Cernak would have heard the voice of the now-dead Catwoman? Talk about instilling terror! But that's a very minor flaw in the overall story. It's just one of those "I'd have done it this way" sorts of things.

The Ugly: You get a big, fat N/A here, kids.

The trade I've used for reading and scanning retails for $20. Of course, we living here in the golden age of reprints know we can find discounted or used copies on the cheap. While this volume does not contain any of the All-Star Comics material (those are available in two trades and are also highly recommended), it does feature the Huntress's appearances from Batman Family and as a back-up feature in Wonder Woman. So feel confident that you'd be investing in some nostalgic time well spent! I would give one caution, however: Joe Staton's pencils can look very different when under the influence of various inkers. The first four stories were all inked by Bob Layton (as here); after that the art ebbs and flows, and is directly related to the embellishment. Ah, the Bronze Age and its inconsistencies...


Anonymous said...

Nice review Doug!

Well, it's always interesting to see a derivative superhero well done. The Huntress is one of those figures who could have been poorly executed in terms of character development, but Levitz does a good job here. I'm not the world's biggest Staton fan but his art here is good too.

- Mike 'I have a Bat in my belfry' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

Doug, when this came out, I was still just about young enough to enjoy 70s superhero comics unselfconsciously, but old enough to be interested in the background to the form, which I think is where the interest in "legacy" heroes you're talking about comes from. Maybe?

For me, the Earth-2 thing appealed a lot more than the straight historical (for want of a better word!) Invaders - the alternate universe idea seemed more exotic than it does now, and it took me a little while to figure out that the characters were based on earlier "golden age" versions, somehow mysteriously updated but not quite modern. I really "got it" with the JLA?JSA Earth X crossover, the Liberty Legion adding a whole other level - Philip K. Dick for kids (erm... sort of).

Anway... for all that, I have to say reading this story recently it came across as very generic in a way that didn't do a lot for me. As a comparison, I re-read the Batman/Catwoman crossover "The Autobigrapphy of Bruce Wayne", and that does the Earth-2 Bat thing much better in a way I could still enjoy - Joe Staton's art in particular (maybe you're right, and its in the inking).


Anonymous said...

Gahhh!!! - I am of course getting my old skool superheroes confused there, and that should be Freedom Fighters and not Liberty Legion of course.
You can take the boy out of the Marvel zuvembie but not etc etc.

Doug said...

Thanks for the comments, guys!

Sean, here's the link to our review/art samples from "The Autobigrapphy of Bruce Wayne" that you referenced. I think George Freeman's inks do give it a different look, but I also feel that Joe Staton was going for more of a Golden Age look. What was a little disarming to me when reading the Huntress trade I mentioned (and that J.A. Morris reviewed, with lots of art samples) was an encounter she had with the Joker. As we saw aged heroes in the All-Star Comics revival, and as the Huntress tales were set on Earth-2, I just thought it was weird that the Joker showed no signs of slowing down at all. No gray highlights in his green hair...!

I agree with you that the Liberty Legion did add an exciting layer to Marvel's "history"; I could say that of the Freedom Fighters at DC, too. All this is worth exploring further -- somewhere down the line.


Doug said...

Haha -- typing at the same time but on the same wavelength!

"Separated at birth, but an ocean apart."

Doug ;)

Anonymous said...

Not sure how I missed that piece seeing as it wasn't so long ago - thanks for the link, Doug.

Maybe you can help me out here, seeing as you mentioned grey hair - were the Earth-2 characters significantly older than the regular ones? What I mean is - was it the 70s on both Earth-1 and Earth-2, with the Earth-2 lot being older so they were around in the '40s?
That's the part of it that fascinated me - back then, I figured Earth-2 was an alternate '70s that was like the '40s, if you see what I mean.
Was it ever made clear? Maybe I missed something (the DC universe always seemed a bit vague as it was harder to get the comics here regularly than the more familiar Marvel)
I suppose basically I'm asking if the precise nature of the DC metaphysic was ever explained. And I mean in the 70s, not some Crisis of Infinite Morrison nonsense.
(Hmmm... maybe I have too much time on my hands today)


J.A. Morris said...

Thanks to Doug for linking to my review, it's a decent tpb, especially if you're a fan of Staton.

I'll add that when I was a kid, I was one of those readers who had a tough time wrapping his head around Earth-2. I remember asking a friend (who had encyclopedic comic book knowledge) why Superman had gray hair. And if he's on Earth-2, did that mean there was also a "Krypton-2"? It got me asking tons of questions about even minor DC characters. Was/Is there an Earth-2 Ice Cream Soldier? (sorry to digress, maybe that's a topic for another day).

Which is one reason I was okay with Huntress, because she wasn't "The Huntress of Earth-2," she was just "Huntress."

Doug said...

Sean --

I always worked under the basic assumption that the editors at DC just slid the WWII heroes over to Earth-2 when the Silver Age dawned. There was the conceit that the DCU heroes knew of the Flash and Green Lantern as heroes in their comic books from their childhoods. Why they didn't immediately use them as legacy heroes on "our" Earth I have no idea. I believe that the JSA stories during the All-Star Comics revival took place in the 1970's of Earth-2, which may have been slightly different culturally from what we might have seen in a JLA Earth-1 story of the same vintage.

Of course, the biggest problem (which comics eventually collapsed/scrapped/whatever) was attempting to reference "real time" in comics without characters aging too fast. That's a major point in the "holds up" argument -- those political and pop-cultural references that dot our Silver and Bronze Age comics.

Here's a link to the "seminal" JSA story, told while the All-Star revival was in full swing. It's billed as the JSA's "secret origin".

I could be wrong in all this -- but that's how I saw it when I was a tween.


Doug said...

Sheesh -- this is "typing at the same time" day!

J.A. -- you don't think the Huntress was tied to Earth-2? I always felt she was the Earth-2 Batgirl, as Power Girl was the Earth-2 Supergirl. That Bruce Wayne was police commissioner seemed to line up with Gordon's daughter becoming Batgirl on "our" Earth.

Again, not saying I know anything. You all are just getting a look inside my head as it was pondering all this 40 years ago.


Anonymous said...

But what about BatWoman, Doug?:)

Yrah, convenience for DC editorial is definitely an explanation, but not quite what I had in mind...
Ok, I'm off to read your piece about the JSAs secret origin (thanks)


Anonymous said...

Apologies - I need to double check more before commenting in future...


J.A. Morris said...

Oh yeah, she was definitely tied to Earth-2. But I never thought of her as "the Earth-2 Batgirl" because Batgirl wasn't Bruce's daughter on "our" Earth. I didn't know about "Commissioner Wayne" until later. Earth-2 Bruce Wayne was "dead" when I read Huntress stories.

Redartz said...

Nice review, Doug! I enjoy both Staton and the Huntress, so it's a win all around. Like others have mentioned today, I was always a bit shaky on Earth 2 and it's relative time frame. One positive element in Crisis on Infinite Earths was that it drew from all spaces and times, so such distinctions weren't a question. Unfortunately the post-Crisis DCU lost those distinctions altogether, and really clarified little in the process.

Anonymous said...

My introduction to the JSA was in the pages of ALL STAR COMICS #62, and I gotta tell ya, as a seven-year-old kid the whole Earth 1-Earth 2 thing was kinda confusing, and I couldn't figure out why Superman was an old guy.
I think that's why DC eventually cleaned up that mess in the Crisis, because it was a lotta work explaining all the time what exactly was going on to new readers, and fifty years of continuity was making everybody's head hurt. (Why they recently brought that back is beyond me, but I think DC is currently staffed by a bunch of monkeys with typewriters. Shakespeare's works should be rolling out any day)
That said, I became a big fan of the pre-Crisis JSA and their "legacy" heroes, once I doped out the alternate earth thing.
And it was interesting what they did with the post-crisis Huntress, giving her and Batman an almost father-daughter relationship (often strained, because, hey, it's Batman). She really came off well in the wonderful JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED cartoon.
Under the right writers, the character had possibilities.

Edo Bosnar said...

Hm, when I saw the title to this post, for a second I thought it was about Man-Bat and Tigra hooking up... :P

Thanks for the review, Doug. For whatever reason, I missed this one; I'd really like to get that Dark Knight Daughter book you have, but I have yet to stumble onto a copy at a satisfactory price.
Besides the annual JLA/JSA team-ups, most of the Earth 2 stuff I read back then was some JSA stories in a smattering of All Star Comics issue and and JSA stories in Adventure Comics. Most of those were also by Levitz and Staton. I really like the Huntress as well, and generally agree with the view that Crisis kind of messed her up (along with Power Girl and the Legion of Super-heroes).

Anonymous said...

The Crisis really messed Hawkman up, too, Edo!
They didn't know WHAT to do with that guy after that!
And yeah, I think they had Power Girl being from Atlantis at one point. Yeeshh...

Anonymous said...

Huh - it messed up Supergirl even more!


pfgavigan said...


This cover did get me to buy the book. Thought it was a little unfair to the LOSH and Green Arrow but DC was trying to launch a new character so it did make sense to focus on her.

But the powers that be really need better security on that file room. At any moment Lex Luthor or the Joker or Forbush Man could just waltz on in an get every bit of background information on the heroes.

I saw this posting in the morning and was trying to figure out just why I never got too interested in the Huntress. In the end I think it wasn't because she was a legacy hero, it just seemed that there was a certain 'by the numbers' approach to her adventures that kept her from standing out among the crowd. I never found her to be a dull figure, just not a special one.

And if you want to see something that takes the cake, just follow the link below.



Garett said...

I really enjoy the Levitz/Staton/Layton team, and Huntress by them is probably my favorite comic with a female lead. I remember picking up a few Wonder Woman comics back in the day just to read the Huntress backup stories. Nice review, Doug!

I always liked the exotic quality of Earth-2, and never had a problem understanding it. Star Trek also used the idea of an alternate universe, with the evil Spock-with-a-beard episode. I liked that Earth-2 wasn't an exact parallel-- 2 Green Lanterns and 2 Flashes, but only one Black Canary.

Martinex1 said...

I did not have the comic reviewed here, but I did have the All-Star Comics # 69 that you mention. I think that was my first experience with Earth 2 (or it had to be close to it) and I loved it; at 10 years old I didn't get it all, but I loved it. And it was my intro to Wildcat, Dr. Midnite, Hourman, and of course the Huntress on those last pages. I believe that was Staton art as well and it was a little different and more shadowy than the art here from what I recall. It also had a great Al Milgrom cover. Ultimately I wasn't confused any longer and liked the older versions of the heroes, particularly Dick Grayson as a mature Robin.

In the story you review, I totally agree with your editorial comment on the voice. It would have been better for the blackmailer to see the shadow and think Batman, then hear her voice and think Catwoman, but lo and behold it was the combination of both with the Huntress.... A detective with a cunning and sly side.

I can understand DC wanting to clarify things but maybe just Earth 2 for mature heroes and the Earth with the evil Justice League should have stuck around. Even now, in modern times maybe there could be room for a 1940s Batman, a 1970s Batman, and a post 'Miller 1986 Batman. Nothing wrong with that... I'd read the first two and others could enjoy the last one. Ha.

The Prowler said...

I tell myself I'm a Marvel guy. I keep saying I don't know much about DC yet I find myself knowing more than I care to admit. (Was that an intro or a riff?)

In the WB series Birds Of Prey, Helena was the child of Catwoman and Batman and fought crime as The Huntress. Oracle was pretty much as she was in the comics but Dinah was the daughter of the Black Canary.

Wasn't there also some story line where Batman and the daughter of Raul's Au Ghaul (?) had a daughter? You would think somewhere in the Bat Utility belt there would be a couple of "gloves"?

Hey! No exclamation points!!! Damn it, so close.......

(Hannah you're with me in spirit wherever I go
To the ends of the earth and all points between high and low
Each night by the stage you appear as you are
The ever intangible child
Ageless and timeless as Dorian Grey
Oh Hannah I know that it's you and you're leading me on)

Rip Jagger said...

These are great stories and this trade is one of the best DC ever put out. I wish they'd finish the run of Huntress stories (I think there were a few that got left out at the end) but I doubt we ever see that.

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

Prowler, I think Batman and Raul's daughter, Tania, had a son. A few horror movies in the 1970s were made about his failed attempt to take over the world.

JJ said...

Yes, they had a son in my favorite Batman story of all time, Son of the Demon, by Mike W. Barr ans Jerry Bingham. Well worth a read! Might be worth a review as well.

Enjoyed the read, Doug. I really enjoy your passion for the DC characters. It's great to see them represented here. And what more can be said about Joe Staton? I know him from E-Man of course, but it was his run on Green Lantern that won my heart. Fine work, especially when inked by Mike DeCarlo. Cheers!

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