Batman Secret Files: Huntress #1 Blends Horror With Character Drama
Sayantan Gayen
The current run of Detective Comics, spearheaded by writer Mariko Tamaki, sees Gotham City being overrun by an alien, fungal parasite that craves violence. Together with multiple Eisner award-winner David Lapham, Tamaki explores the aftermath of the events of Detective Comics #1039 and the effects it had on the Violet Crusader in Batman Secret Files: Huntress #1, a new one-shot. The creative team behind the issue puts The Huntress center stage and humanizes the woman behind the mask even as she exacts her vengeance upon the wicked.
Batman Secret Files: Huntress #1 opens with Helena Bertinelli, aka The Huntress, making her way home, having escaped from the hospital she was admitted to. She gets some rare downtime from her crime-fighting ventures and tries to piece together the events of the past few days, starting with her team up with Batman, which led her to get infected with a rabid brain parasite that took control of her body and made her violently act out against her ally. Still reeling from the effects of the parasite, Helena dozes off when suddenly, in her sleep, she starts seeing people running away terrified. She quickly realizes that the infection, even though cured, has left her with a side-effect wherein she can witness events through the eyes of Vile's victims. Using the visions in her head, The Huntress narrows down the locations of the infected to stop them from claiming more victims.
Tamaki is renowned for her relatable coming-of-age stories portraying the anguish of teenage girls as they go through the motions of life, but with Batman Secret Files: Huntress #1, she takes on a more mature character and explores what makes her tick. The one-shot takes a breather from Detective Comics' main storyline and feels like a natural companion read with its steady pacing. The story progresses through Helena's point of view, using first-person narrative boxes to explore her inner feelings and resolve. Even though the lack of a strong antagonist is evident, Tamaki does well to keep the central theme revolving around the concept of taking back control, giving her profanity-spewing, hard-boiled character a solid arc of her own.
This is not Lapham's first foray into horror and it is evident from his bold line art, which creates an eerie atmosphere throughout the issue. Although it is nowhere near the levels of horror he usually indulges in, the grotesque body horror and attention to detail -- coupled with Lapham expertly capturing the terror in the eyes of the victims as the parasite oozes out of every crevice of an infected's face -- make this book one of a kind. Veteran colorist Trish Mulvihill doesn't shy away from using bright colors, the dichotomy of which add a sinister undertone to the one-shot and emphasizes the horror elements even more.
Batman Secret Files: Huntress #1 is a character-driven narrative peppered with some horror and a healthy dose of action. While the story ends abruptly on a major cliffhanger, the issue reads like an essay on the central character's mental fortitude and self-belief. It is evident that Tamaki has a strong grasp on the character. Readers can expect Huntress to be back in action in the next issue of Detective Comics.