Interview: Ivory Madison on ‘Huntress: Year One’
It’s no small feet for a comic book character to last over 60 years — but that’s exactly what the Huntress has done.
Debuting in the ‘40s as a villain for Wildcat, she was recreated for the Silver Age as Helena Wayne, the daughter of the Batman and Catwoman of Earth-2, which was an alternate universe established in the early 1960s as the world where DC’s Golden Age stories took place. However, following DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries in 1985, the Helena Wayne version of the Huntress was removed from continuity.
In 1989, due to the popularity of the character, DC introduced a new version of the Huntress. She had the same first name and a similar costume, but an entirely different back-story and personality. The Modern Age Huntress, Helena Rosa Bertinelli is the daughter of one of Gotham’s mafia bosses. After seeing her entire family murdered by a mob hit, she vows revenge for her slain relatives. In Huntress: Cry For Blood by Greg Rucka, Huntress’ origin was revised. Originally, Helena believed that Franco Bertinelli was her father. She came to discover that her father was actually Santo Cassamento, the don of a rival mafia family, who was carrying on an affair with Helena’s mother, Maria.
The Huntress has been a member of the JLA, the Outsiders and most recently the Birds Of Prey. Not to mention, she had a recurring role on the animated hit Justice League Unlimited and a staring role in the WB’s failed television series, Birds Of Prey. Proving that her character is strong enough to survive many years and several makeovers, she returned this month in her own miniseries.
Huntress: Year One looks at the early days of Helena Bertinelli’s crime fighting career. Written by comic book newcomer Ivory Madison, the book promises to give fans of the character some real insight to her beginnings and what makes Helena the hero she is today.
I had the opportunity to speak to Madison about the new book, her love for all things Bat-related and her multifaceted career.
COMICMIX: How did you end up working on Huntress: Year One for DC?
IVORY MADISON: I’ve always wanted to write comics. I’m a DC Comics person and I’ve always been obsessed with Batman and anything Gotham-related.
It all started when I tried pitching a reintroduction of Batwoman and they said they were already doing it. I was briefly thrown, and had to shift gears or lose my momentum. I wrote a Batman one-shot, which they bought, and that got me the opportunity to pitch something for Huntress. That led them to step back and say, “Hey, we need a foundation for this character. We need a Year One.” I was very lucky to walk into that.
CMix: If you include the Helena Wayne incarnation of the character, Huntress has been around for over 60 years, with the Helena Bertinelli character about to hit her 20-year mark. What is it about the Huntress character that has kept fans interested for all these years?
IM: Paul Levitz introduced Helena Wayne, the Huntress from Earth-2, in 1977. I consider that the beginning of the character. Although there were other characters named Huntress, those others were unrelated. The original Huntress is the ultimate superhero; her parents are Batman and Catwoman. She’s a merging of two powerful archetypes. She’s Gotham’s finest, squared. I’m really delighted she’s coming back (in Justice Society Of America Annual #1 on sale in July). Maybe I’ll get a chance to write for her someday as well.
CMix: Helena Bertinelli’s Huntress has had what you might call a "muddy" origin. As a writer telling her year-one story, how do you tackle that?
IM: Greg Rucka already established several cornerstones of her origin, rewriting, but clearly inspired by the Joey Cavalieri origin. I used Greg’s work in Cry for Blood as my framework. I think after Huntress: Year One there won’t be any more questions about her origins. The questions will be about connecting the dots between her various eras and portrayals after year one.
I tackled it by reading every possible thing ever written about Huntress and her beginnings. I literally read everything Huntress-related up until a couple of years ago. Once you know it inside out, you can pick and choose what to focus on and what belongs in Year One. As I like to say, it was an honor to help shape “pretend” history.
CMix: What do you think of the “Year One” type of story telling that was originally developed by Frank Miller?
IM: I love the “Year One” concept. Frank Miller was such a trailblazer in 1987, seeing these characters as complex and worthy of cinematic or novelistic adult storytelling. I thanked him personally for Batman: Year One, since without him creating that sub-genre, I wouldn’t be writing Huntress: Year One.
CMix: How does your “Year One” story impact the character? Will we learn anything new about Helena that we didn’t all ready know?
IM: Absolutely. You’ll find out about her mentors, her first love, how she got the name Huntress and how she got her costume. You’ll also find out what brought her back to Gotham, what happened to the men who killed her family once she got ahold of them and how her personality was formed. All the stuff I always wanted to know about her as a fan, I was lucky enough to get to make up.
CMix: Will Batman or any other familiar Gotham heroes or villains be appearing in your story arc?
IM: That was intimidating to write, but I think it worked out pretty well. I had to very briefly show her powerful first meetings with Batman, Catwoman and the original Batgirl. While at the same time being mindful of the parallel history with the original Huntress from Earth-2 (where Batman and Catwoman are her parents). As well as foreshadowing recent history in the DCU, like her tension-filled relationship with Oracle (the original Batgirl). I think Batman and Catwoman fans will like it, although Batgirl fans may not.
CMix: How is it collaborating with Cliff Richards? How did you two come together on this project?
IM: Cliff is amazing. Wait until you see these pencils, unbelievable. It has that elusive quality of blending a photography look into a superhero comic in classic comic book style. He can show movement in a surreal way and also make it look like a still photograph. He finds the perfect balance of all these qualities. The ways that his images pop into the next panel are fantastic. I tend to like a more traditional layout but with some three-dimensional pop. By the end of the series, we understood each other completely. I want to work with him on everything now. He’s my guy. As much as I did not agree with my editor about the covers, I completely lucked out when she paired me with Cliff for the interior.
Also, Art Thibert did a fantastic job on the inks. As Cliff says, “What Art does is like an extension of my own hand.” It’s that seamless. They work together perfectly and Art doesn’t skip even a tiny crosshatch. He doesn’t cheat. He inks everything Cliff pencils.
And I was blown away by Jason Wright’s color. He did exactly what I was hoping for. It’s dark, moody, film noir, with a hint of only the most tasteful colors. He really knows how to coordinate a palette. He used subtle eggplant and very tasteful earth tones where real color was needed. It’s shadowy but it has full, pearly dimension where needed. I’m so glad Art and Jason knew what to do with Cliff’s pencils.
CMix: Have you always been a fan of comics?
IM: Absolutely. I went to buy them every week at the supermarket as a kid. Now I buy them at the comics shop and conventions. I’ve been going to conventions for years, and I love buying vintage stuff. Batman, above all else, has been a constant addiction for me as early as (and my Mom can verify this) age three. Oh, and I own an original Adam West self-portrait that hangs in my office, too.
CMix: Do you read comics weekly? If so, what are you reading right now and what other writers do you like?
IM: I did for most of my life, up until about two years ago. Now I am too swamped with work at redroom.com to read much. But I was in New York last month and (Vertigo editor) Karen Berger gave me a compilation of Jodi Picoult’s Wonder Woman, an advance copy of Jonathan Ames’s The Alcoholic and the first Y: The Last Man compilation. I read them all on the plane and promised myself when I finished writing Huntress: Year One, I’d catch up on the four-foot-high stack of comics that I’ve been collecting for the past two years because I’ve been too busy to read them. At the top of my pull list is anything written by Greg Rucka or Joss Whedon. As far as characters go, I love Batman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
CMix: What other DC characters would you like to work on?
IM: Of course, I always wanted to be Batman. So the closest I will ever come to that is to write him, after which I can die happy.
CMix: Tell me about RedRoom.com? How did you come up with the idea?
IM: I’m a writer but I’ve always also been a serial entrepreneur and a political activist. So, with redroom.com, I combined it all. It’s an online community for writers and readers. A social network and content management system to meet the needs that my friends have. Everyone needs an online presence to market their work and maintain relationships, as well as find old and new favorite writers.
RedRoom is the online home of many of the world’s greatest writers. I’m hoping that soon it will include comic book writers and readers, as well. Amy Tan, Clive Barker, Alice Hoffman, Daniel Handler, and James Patterson are just some of the mainstream authors on the site. We also have a lot of industry members including Gina Misiroglu, G. Willow Wilson, Danny Donovan, Troy Hickman, Trina Robbins, Hal Robins, Gerard Jones, Belle Yang, and Steven Ekstrom. We’re even designing special templates for comic book writers and magazine writers.
CMix: Finally, you’re a lawyer, a singer, you run a website, a writing school and a consulting firm. With all that going on, do you plan to continue working in comics after Huntress: Year One?
IM: Well, when you drop out of high school you have time to pursue a lot of career paths. I had to give up my singing to focus on comics. I also had to give up my consulting firm and writing school to focus on the website. I don’t practice law, but the training comes in handy in business.
Comics are a big part of my personality, so I can’t imagine not writing them. I’ll never give up believing in my heroes and wanting to write them. When I think of what I’m missing because I’m so busy, I miss reading comics. I hope to have a lifelong career in comics. I’d love to end up like Harlan Ellison and be writing Batman at age 70.
The first issue of Huntress: Year One is on shelves now. Issue #2 hits shelves this Thursday, May 29 (due to the holiday shipping schedule).
Writers interested in improving their skills alongside fellow professionals at all levels of the industry are welcome to visit RedRoom at www.redroom.com.