By Cat Wyatt
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #20 starts out on a more somber tone than is usual, but considering the events that occurred in the last issue, this isn’t terribly surprising. When we last saw our heroine trio they had suffered a great loss – somebody they all considered to be their friend ended up dying because of their actions (okay, well more specifically because of Batgirl’s actions). Their grief is palpable, even if they chose to process it in different ways.
I was expecting this issue to be a Batgirl heavy one – not only because she’s the main character, but because of the events she put into motion the last issue. I sort of figured this would be one of those stories that would focus on her learning to deal with the consequences, and would thus be pretty emotionally heavy. I was wrong. Okay, I was right about the emotionally heavy bit, but I was wrong about the focus.
This issue instead focuses on Huntress, AKA Helena Bertinelli. Loss and betrayal are not new to Huntress, but she still didn’t see this one coming. She and Dinah (Black Canary) had made a conscious decision to trust Barbara (Batgirl) and that makes what happened burn that much more. Especially when one considers the fact that Gus Yale (the man that died in the last issue) was another one of the few people Helena trusted, and his death was not of the quick and painless sort.
It would be easy to place all of the blame on Barbara; she made choices for the entire group and then kept it a secret; choices that ultimately set the Calculator (and his robot Burnate) after them and anybody else who would know the identity of Oracle. But let’s not forget that Calculator also has to take some of this blame. Nobody is saying it, but I honestly think that Batgirl may have been set up from the start. There’s no way somebody like Calculator would fail to notice a backdoor being actively used that much. Regardless of how long the setup lasted, the fact remains that Batgirl was set up in the end, and Calculator even sent the robot after a non-combatant like Gus.
To Helena the loss of Gus was horrible, of course. But that’s not all Calculator took from her. He took away her friendship with Barbara as well (granted, he doesn’t actually know that, but that’s hardly the point). I personally would not want to be in that man’s shoes right about now. It’s likely not going to go well for him.
Ironically the pain Helena is feeling right now is forcing her to consider something completely different. A few years ago she would have hunted down Calculator and killed him, no questions asked (just like she did to the mobsters involved in the death of her family). But now? She doesn’t want to handle her problems like that anymore. She doesn’t want to be a killer anymore. She’s changed.
And that raises a very important question – if Helena can change, then can’t her mom change as well? Now I’m not going to delve into whose crimes were worse or anything like that (because there’s no argument – Helena’s mom would totally win the prize of least moral woman of the year, no questions asked), but I can understand Helena’s hope here. She’s been visiting her mom in prison pretty regularly, but she likely doesn’t know how much she can invest into the relationship with her mother. I mean, her mom did issue a hit on their father, and while she hadn’t intended on the kids being collateral damage, she was still okay with it happening in front of them (which would be pretty damn scarring, if I may say so), so I think it’s safe to say that Helena’s wellbeing was never this woman’s top priority.
Now we can hope and assume that since Maria just found out her daughter is alive that perhaps she’ll stop her ways in order to have a relationship with her – but I don’t think we can assume anything at this point. I’m sure she’d like to have that relationship, but I have yet to see any evidence that she’d sacrifice anything to be with her daughter, let alone everything.
I do know one thing for sure though; there’s no way that Maria Bertinelli would come out of Arkham Asylum the same woman she entered it as. She may be a criminal, but she’s not criminally insane, and she certainly isn’t on the same level of some of the villains Arkham houses. This whole thing stinks as a setup (another one), and thankfully Helena agrees.
In the end it all comes back to secrets. If Barbara had told Helena and Dinah about her plans earlier they may have seen the setup coming. If Helena had told Barbara and Dinah about the situation with her mother they may have been able to help – even if it was just offering a shoulder to cry on. Dinah’s secret (her canary cry is still supercharged) hasn’t hurt anyone yet – but if things had gone another way it could have; superpowers can be unpredictable that. If they want to stand any chance of staying together as a team they have to stop keeping all these silly secrets from each other.
Because of the breach in trust Helena didn’t feel comfortable telling the girls about what happened to her mother, or the likely fact that Judge Watson was bribed to make it happen. It was the first time in a long time that she had to fight alone, and I doubt that felt very good. Even worse; having a fight alone against Burnate (have I mentioned how much I despise that name?).
In the end it appears that their secrets and infighting directly resulted in the team missing some vital information and signs. Had they been keeping an eye on the events occurring, they may have figured out the pattern of events, and prevented the outcome. Or maybe not. We’ll never know now.
This was a pretty interesting issue on the whole. I’m happy they switched the perspective to Helena for a while. It was a great change of pace, and allowed us to focus on Helena’s backstory for a bit (and bonus; we didn’t have to see Barbara beat the crap out of herself thanks to her guilty conscious). The storytelling technique here relied heavily on using thought boxes to tell the story (which makes sense since it was really only one character throughout) but it flowed eloquently.
The artwork for this series has been great so far, and this issue is no exception. I love the raw emotions you can see in this issue – though obviously there was more focus on Helena and her reactions than anything else.
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #20