We all know that I was excited about this book, right? It’s no secret that Huntress is my favorite character, so naturally, I was looking forward to this issue. And, if I’m being honest, I feel like Tamaki has done a decent job with Huntress in the pages of Detective Comics, so I was curious to see what she could do when allowed to put an actual spotlight on Helena. Have I been blown away by Tamaki’s representation of Helena? No. But I also don’t feel that Tamaki has butchered the character like Batgirl & the Birds of Prey did. And that remains true with Batman: Secret Files: Huntress. The real question is whether or not that is enough to make this a worthwhile read… Find out below!
Before I get started, I need to gush over the cover for a bit. I love this cover! I know some people don’t like art to be hyper-realistic – especially for interior artwork – but I enjoy it, and am perfectly fine with it as cover art. Irvin Rodriguez does some beautiful work here though and it deserves to be recognized. So, if you picked up this issue, before you dive in, just take a moment to really take it all in.
Now, jumping into the pages of Batman Secret Files: Huntress #1, the biggest problem with this book is that it isn’t its own story. Huntress has had an ongoing plot in the pages of Detective Comics for a few months now, and rather than take advantage of this issue to really delve into the character and who Helena Bertinelli is, this book just continues that story. In many ways, it feels like a plot that was left on the cutting-room floor for Detective Comics, but then DC decided they did want to utilize the plot, so they threw this issue together. Even as a complete, cohesive story, this issue feels as though it is lacking because the reason for its existence is to set up a subplot for another book. In fact, if you haven’t been reading Detective Comics, then this story probably won’t land very well for you. I mean, yeah, we get a few pages to recap the recent events of Detective Comics here, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. Also, in juxtaposition to this point, if you don’t plan on reading Detective Comics after this, then I also have trouble recommending this issue. There is, potentially, a chance you’ll read this book and feel inspired to pick up tec, but I think those occurrences will be quite rare.
Anyway, for those of you haven’t been reading Detective Comics, Huntress has been assisting Batman with a myriad of issues he’s currently facing, which includes, but isn’t limited to: investigating Sarah Worth’s murder, Batman being accused of murder, Bruce Wayne being accused of murder, Mayor Nakano putting pressure on vigilantes, Saint influencing Nakano, Mr. Worth influencing Nakano, Mr. Worth going after Batman and Bruce Wayne, Mr. Worth aligning with Penguin, Lady Clayface losing her memories and is currently in shock/ unstable after witnessing the murder of Sarah Worth, and a city of people who are becoming more and more aggressive and violent. Point is, there’s quite a bit taking place in the title, and it’s being executed quite well with a plethora of supporting characters and layers. It’s Vile/ angry citizens plot that we’ll be focusing on for this issue though.
As we’ve seen in various issues and titles, Gotham citizens have become crazed and violent, and it’s all because of a man named Hue Vile. Vile works for Nakano, but is living with an evil parasite inside of him that is infecting other people so that they go crazy and commit acts of violence. These acts of violence feed the parasite, with the infected party eventually dying. In the pages of Detective Comics, Helena encountered Vile and became infected. While infected, Vile controlled her and sent her to fight Batman, but Huntress had enough will to break through the Vile’s control long enough to tell Batman how to stop her. Batman is successful and gets Huntress to a hospital where they were able to purge the parasite from her body.
That’s where this issue picks up. Helena flees the hospital and returns home. While in her apartment, we discover that she is suffering from a slight case of PTSD after being controlled by Vile, and as she’s coming to terms with this, she starts having visions. Writing them off as nothing more than dreams, Helena quickly realizes that these aren’t dreams or hallucinations at all, but real events. Huntress decides to try and analyze her visions to see if she can impact what she’s witnessing. It’s a trial that leads her to the dockyards where she discovers the man she keeps seeing, and, as expected, the man is being pursued by a host infected by Vile. As it turns out, there’s a link between the parasites and infected hosts, and that allows Helena to see what others are seeing. If you’re wondering why this hasn’t happened before, it’s because the victims usually die. There is one other survivor though, the reporter Deb Donovan, so I’m curious to see if this plot thread pops up for her in the pages of Detective Comics. Also, I’d kill to see more of Deb and Helena working together. Seriously, just give Helena her own book, have Deb as a main supporting character, and you’re off to the races!
Anyway, whether or not you enjoy this issue will depend heavily on how you react to this. Helena doesn’t usually deal with situations like this, but I find it to be a welcomed and refreshing change of pace. It clearly sets her up on her own mission, and there are several angles you could take this plot depending on who Helena’s encountering and when, with the story ultimately leading to her confronting Vile, himself, again. Although this is a bit of a different setting for Huntress, I do like the Grifter-like aspect of her being able to find and suss out her prey. There’s one panel where Huntress is sitting high above Gotham, eyes closed, focusing, trying to hone in on being able to connect to other infected hosts so she can stop them. It reminds me of Daredevil trying to listen into his city, and if you’ve heard me preach about Huntress (specifically how I feel that a large sum of the character is a cross between Daredevil and Punisher), then you know this single panel made me giddy just because of the comparison.
But, speaking to characterization, there’s more to what Tamaki is doing here with Helena that I love. No, the issue doesn’t take a deep dive into Helena Bertinelli, but it still respects the chore of the character based on how she is presented and the decisions she makes. We need to keep in mind that Huntress is different than the rest of the Bat family (aside from Jason Todd). She’s not opposed to taking a life, and often feels that sometimes the greater good calls for the death of an individual. While we don’t see her go that far here, it is implied, and based on what I’ve seen from Tamaki, I have to assume it’s just her planting seeds for Helena in future stories… And I’m super excited!
There is a great horror angle to this story that creates a wonderfully stressful read. I really enjoyed the “chase” of this issue. Helena’s visions are flashes of events that are occurring at that moment, so this thread alone creates a sense of urgency. Can she sort out the clues? Can she find the location? Even if she does, will she be able to stop the infected person before they kill? Can she stop the host without killing the host? Or, will Huntress make the call that it is best to kill the host? There are so many elements to play with based on story structure alone, and that’s not even factoring in what you could do with the hosts/potential victims you feature – which, by the way, could easily set up other long and short-form story arcs.
At this point, I’m only halfway through the issue, and after feeling like the book started a little shaky, I find myself suddenly invested. I’m digging the direction, and I just know it’s going to lead to some solid follow-up issues that really explore Helena Bertinelli, her complexities, her moralities, and why she has a different code than the other heroes… But, then, to my surprise, it’s as if the plot goes into hyperdrive. Tamaki runs through a string of other infected individuals that Huntress stops – most of them taking place within a page to two pages – and it’s at this moment that everything becomes quite clear…
Batman Secret Files: Huntress isn’t setting up a mini-series or mini-run in the way that Batman Secret Files: Signal did… It’s just adding a layer that will be interjected into Detective Comics. I’m so disappointed. I feel like DC just pulled the rug out from under me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still interested in this story, and I I’m genuinely enjoying what Tamaki is doing in the pages of Detective Comics, and I will be reading… But I feel like DC just teased me with something I’ve desperately wanted for a while now, then laughed and said, “Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen.”
The book quickly ends with Helena realizing that Bruce is infected. We, personally, don’t see anything to confirm that this is the case, but, for some reason, Huntress is convinced. So, whether Bruce is infected or not, we’ll most likely see Huntress going toe-to-toe with Batman (again) soon. I wish I could say I’m excited – I mean, I am – but if I’m being honest, I was more excited about where I thought this story was going to take us as opposed to where we end up.
David Lapham delivers the pencils for this issue, and he does a solid job. I wouldn’t consider his work top-tier, but there are moments where it genuinely looks great. I have a feeling that Lapham was rushed on the issue though because his pencils are rather inconsistent. And, to make matters worse, I think the worst of his work is during the opening pages of the book. I wouldn’t be surprised if people flipped through the first two or three pages and thought, “Nah, I’m going to pass,” missing out on some quality work further in. It’s definitely an example of a book not leading with its best foot forward.
I feel that Lapham’s strengths and weaknesses shine through in this issue as well. When we see Lapham’s depiction of Helena, I feel that it isn’t detailed enough to allow for the “acting” that is needed for the earlier scenes. The emoting isn’t there, and I don’t necessarily feel the “claustrophobic” stress Helena is experiencing after being controlled. When Helena is in uniform and operating as the Huntress though, I feel like Lapham’s work comes alive. There’s just a certain energy that appears to be infused in those panels. Maybe be enjoyed working on those pages and panels more. Who knows?
What I do know, is that he does an excellent job delivering on the horror tones of this issue, and I felt the suspense of the hosts going after their victims. The first host/victim scenario stands out because of how it is framed and executed. The final one stands out because of the personal connection between the host and potential victim, as well as the super creepy threat Vile makes against Huntress through the host. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of.
I do have a minor complaint about Helena’s hair in this issue. It’s too long. Since Tamaki and Mora have reintroduced Huntress, she’s had substantially shorter hair. This iteration is at the past-the-shoulder length and curly, kind of how Helena’s hair was in Grayson and the early days of Rebirth. Again, super minor note that doesn’t impact the story, but it’s something the editors should’ve caught early on.
- You’re a fan of Huntress/ Helena Bertinelli
- You’re enjoying Tamaki’s run on Detective Comics
- You like horror themes in your superhero comics
Batman: Secret Files: Huntress #1 is a solid and promising story that plays with a unique and exciting premise. Tamaki and Lapham have fun playing in the horror genre and deliver some creepy and intense moments that have me excited for the next installment of Huntress. But, you see, that’s where this book’s greatest problem lies. There may not be a next installment of this title. Instead, this plot will just carry on in the pages of Detective Comics as a subplot, making this issue nothing more than a bridge, or, perhaps, a collection of deleted scenes. As disappointed as that makes me, I still found the issue enjoyable overall, and look forward to seeing where Tamaki takes this.