Monday 2 April 2012

Series REVIEW: Birds of Prey

As a massive Birds of Prey comics fan, it was only a matter of time before I investigated this short lived TV series out of interest, despite its almost universal hate among the fandom. The Birds of Prey series aired in 2002 on The WB channel. Despite initially high viewing ratings, these declined sharply in following weeks and the series was cancelled after its first season. There were 13 episodes in total.

The series is set in the city of New Gotham, several years after Batman seemingly abandoned protecting it after his final battle with the Joker. As revenge against the Dark Knight, the Joker murdered Selina Kyle (formerly Catwoman), whom Bruce Wayne had a child with - Helena (played by Ashley Scott). The Joker also attacked Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Dina Meyer), leaving her crippled and wheelchair-bound. In Batman's absence, Barbara raised Helena Kyle, the two taking over his war on crime as Oracle and Huntress respectively.

The two are soon joined by Dinah Redmond (Rachel Skarsten), a young girl with psychic abilities who is in fact the estranged daughter of the legendary Black Canary. Aiding the Birds of Prey are Bruce Wayne's trusted butler Alfred, and  Detective Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore) - a Gotham cop who is thrust into the strange world of metahuman crime. But unbeknownst to them all, a figure is manipulating events from the shadows in attempt to carry out the Joker's work.

The Birds of Prey: Helena, Dinah and Barbara

Despite sharing a name with the comic book series, this adaptation can only be described as loose at best. The central character is in fact the Huntress of Earth-2 in the comic universe, where she was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Flashbacks of Batman and Catwoman in the show seem to tie back to the Batman and Batman Returns films aesthetic-wise, as well as Catwoman's status as a metahuman. Black Canary, a central Birds of Prey character, appears once in the show (and is fact the original Black Canary rather than the modern-era one), with Dinah being an all new character - other than sharing her name and mother with the comics Canary.

In all honesty, this show may as well have just been called "Huntress". The trouble about doing a series based on a team is that each character needs to have a relatively equal amount of focus and development in order for it to work, and this is something Birds of Prey doesn't have. Half-metahuman, her powers being heightened senses, strength and agility, Helena Kyle bears a grudge against the father she never knew and thus considers her methods very different to Batman's. As her relationship with Reese grows, her character becomes more human and accepting of her lifestyle.

Huntress displays a very different style of fashion to her parents, her wardrobe more akin to Alias or the Underworld film series than the DC universe. This is actually one of the more agreeable changes the series makes, as every time a character appears on-screen in the rubbery material used for the films it is really off-putting and doesn't fit with the style at all.

Oracle at work

Oracle is perhaps the closest to her comic counterpart, her origins similar to The Killing Joke as well as the look and feel of the character being spot on. While the show makes no reference to her father or her photographic memory (something that's key to her being so effective as Oracle), it does have some good throwbacks to her time as Batgirl and how she's grown into the persona of Oracle. Dina Meyer does a great job as the (albeit older version of) the character.

Finally comes Dinah, who is without a doubt the weakest link of the series. Instead of using a character who has been a member of the Birds of Prey from the beginning, the writers instead went in the direction of creating an entirely new character with the same name. The end result is a cliché teen "sidekick" with typical psychic/telekinetic powers and story lines filled with inadequacy, teen drama and jealous. Her shining moment is the fifth episode, titled "Sins of the Mother", and that is only because it features Black Canary. There literally is nothing to like about the character, but she never sinks into the background long enough for you to forget she's there.

Dinah Redmond: Unfortunately not Black Canary

Central antagonist Harleen Quinzel (or Harley Quinn if you'd prefer, played by Mia Sara) is also very different to her comic counterpart. Acting as Helena's psychiatrist through the course of the series while quietly calling the shots in the background, this is a far calmer, collected but furthermore ruthless Quinn. Her devotion and loyalty to the Joker remains, but in a way that's focused on his goal of absolute chaos rather than as a lovesick henchman. This is perhaps one of the more interesting changes Birds of Prey makes, as it displays Quinn in a manner like before she was corrupted by the Joker.

Not quite the Harley Quinn you'd expect

As previously mentioned, Batman and Catwoman both make cameo appearances in flashbacks, as well as the Joker (voiced by none other than Mark Hamill) and Barbara in full Batgirl attire. However the show also has a few other DC comics references up its sleeves, with episodes using both Clayface and Birds of Prey character Lady Shiva as villains. Unfortunately once again the similarities are pretty much once again in name only.

A blurred cameo appearance from Mr J himself

Birds of Prey makes a fairly decent, if slightly below average action series but it really is a far cry from the Birds of Prey comics. The show almost entirely revolves around Huntress, with Barbara (despite having some good character development in places) holding up the rear and Dinah failing to be character than anyone should care about. If you're the kind of person interested in a parallel universe style piece of storytelling this series might be worth checking out, but for any fan it's something that should certainly be buried and forgotten.

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