I’ll bet everyone from Joel Schumacher to Adam West is cursing Christopher Nolan. Even though he has made the most beloved Batman films to ever grace the silver screen, in a way he’s ruined the franchise for anyone else.
The 2002 series Birds of Prey is seeing new life thanks to the release of Nolan’s The Dark Knight. However, the hype machine that will undoubtedly sell some DVDs of this television series has set the bar of quality so high, it is impossible to measure up.
So, if you want to check out Birds of Prey, it’s not a bad idea. Just remember that this series was made before The Dark Knight, before Batman Begins and only a few years after Joel Schumacher ground the movie franchise into the dirt with Batman & Robin.
Birds of Prey has a relatively simple, and not undesirable premise – take the ladies of DC Comics and wrap an entire series around them. I, for one, have no problem watching sexy superheroines in tight leather. Ashley Scott stars as Helena Kyle, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. The Joker has killed her mother, and she’s taken in as a protege to Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer), who is in a wheelchair following another attack by the Joker.
Joining Helena and Barbara is a young runaway named Dinah (Rachel Skarsten). Borrowing from X-Men, they discover that Dinah is a full-grade meta-human whose powers include mind-reading and telekinesis. Together, they fight crime in New Gotham.
Birds of Prey has more in common with the superhero films of the 80s and 90s than those of the new millennium. It’s chock full of corny dialogue and some pretty weak plot devices. If you’re a die-hard superhero fan, Birds of Prey will do in a pinch, but with the grade of superhero flicks coming out now, it’s a bit tough to swallow.
In keeping with the “girls only” theme, we see some guest spots from other famous superladies, like Black Canary. It’s no surprise that Green Arrow isn’t mentioned at all in this storyline. Even the main villain, the Joker’s protege Harley Quinn (Mia Sara), is a woman. If you’re intimidated by these powerful women, you might be turned off. However, for the right guy, this is a great concept.
The only notable men in the series is Shemar Moore as a police detective that always looks like he’s come from a modeling gig. Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s old butler, serves as narrator. The only other men who cross the path of the Birds of Prey are villains intent on taking over New Gotham – and even then they are usually subservient to Quinn.
For as much as they mention Batman, there’s very little batness to the series. Rather, it centers on Helena as Huntress and Barbara as Oracle. She makes a few appearances as Batgirl, but generally serves as the puppet master to Huntress.
The DVD set includes all 13 episodes of the series. It also includes an unaired pilot which differs only in the introduction and the use of Sherilyn Fenn as Harley Quinn. I’m not sure why they went with Mia Sara rather than Fenn, but I preferred the pilot over the premiere episode.
While the series is mildly enjoyable for comic book fans, what I found more fun were the 30 episodes of the web-series Gotham Girls. This roughly animated short series followed the good girls and bad girls of Gotham in various silly and cartoony situations.
THE UPSIDE: If you’ve gotta watch mildly entertaining superheroes, they might as well be hot girls in tight pants.
THE DOWNSIDE: Closer in spirit to the first wave of Bat Films than the most recent ones.
ON THE SIDE: Look for some guest appearances by sci-fi icons Joe Flanigan and Mitch Pileggi.