Author: Cary Ashby
Monday, July 21, 2008

Diehard Batman fans and collection completists will finally be able to get their hands on “Birds of Prey: The Complete Series.”

The premise is a combination of the graphic novel “Batman: The Killing Joke,” the Earth-2 DC Comics universe, “Batman: The Animated Series” and the “Birds of Prey” ongoing comics series.

After Batman defeats The Joker, the villain sends a henchman to murder Batman’s “one true love,” Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman), whose death is witnessed by her daughter Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott) — Batman’s love child. About the same time, The Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) visits Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer) and shoots Batman’s protege at point blank range when she answers her apartment door.

Barbara eventually becomes the legal guardian of the orphaned Helena. Seven years after Batman has exiled himself, Barbara fights crime in New Gotham as the wheelchair-bound computer genius Oracle with Helena (aka Huntress) and Dinah, a runaway girl who can see into people’s minds.

Warner Home Video, in its April press release, touts the 2002-2003 series as bringing in 7.6 million viewers each week and calls it “the largest audience in the 18-34 demographic for the (WB) network at that time.” I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those same audience members were men since the series stars Meyer, a classic redhead with a restrained sexuality, and the sultry Scott, both of whom are very easy on the eyes.

“Birds of Prey” certainly doesn’t neglect what seems to be its primary audience — women, since the series focuses on the adventures and relationships of three heroines. There’s one subplot of Barbara, formerly Batgirl and now a high school English teacher during the day, who has difficulty developing a relationship with a guidance counselor because of her devotion to being a crime fighter.

There are many parts of the series for fans to appreciate. There have been some nice touches of humor that don't go overboard. (Gordon: "Hey, time out! There will be absolutely no use of superpowers to settle domestic disagreements!" or Huntress greeting Gordon and Dinah: "Hello, superfriends.")

As always, Batman’s butler Alfred (Ian Abercrombie, who looks suspiciously like Michael Gough from the “Burton/Schumacher” BATMAN film franchise) attempts to keep the women grounded. Alfred also is a great way to remind fans the series is related to the Batman universe. It's a hoot to hear Barbara tell him he was sounding "superior" when giving advice.

It’s an interesting twist to have Dr. Harleen Quinzel, The Joker's former lover and now secretly New Gotham’s criminal mastermind, also be Helena’s psychiatrist. (FYI: The portions of the unaired pilot, an extra on the fourth disc, featuring Sherilyn Finn as Quinzel were reshot exactly like the original with a much more psychotic Mia Sara. The new pilot compresses the background story and inserts a scene establishing Barbara as a teacher.)

I have enjoyed seeing the dysfunctional “working” relationship develop between Huntress and Detective Jesse Reese. There's an ongoing homage to the Batman-Commissioner Gordon dynamic with Huntress disappearing when Reese is talking to her or not looking. It’s “fanboy cool” to hear Barbara extol Batman training her and all three Robins when Huntress bristles at being in “the family business” of crimefighting. Another nice touch is revealing Dinah to be the daughter of Black Canary (aka Carolyn Lance in this continuity), who is one of the actual Birds of Prey in the DC series.

There are several aspects that are hard to take or understand as a Batman fan.

First and foremost, there’s no wayTthe Dark Knight would ever abandon his city — ever. It’s almost as equally unlikely that Batman, no matter how attracted he is to Catwoman, would ever father a child with Selina Kyle, a devoted thief. Thirdly, there’s been no mention so far after four episodes of the fate of Barbara’s father, Batman’s ultimate advocate. Lastly, Huntress is a partial metahuman, but there is no explanation for how Batman’s estranged daughter got the gene to be DC’s equivalent of a mutant.

Despite its shortcomings, “Birds of Prey” is oddly satisfying. GRADE: B-

Maybe the biggest treat are the extras — every episode of "Gotham Girls." Originally an Internet exclusive series, it's a fairly light-hearted look at Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Batgirl. (Zatanna is even in one!) Each episode is only 2 to 2 1/2 minutes long, but retains the style of previous BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES incarnations and the voice cast. GRADE: A-

BOF contributor Cary Ashby writes a twice-monthly comic book column for the "Norwalk Reflector." He is the newspaper’s crime reporter. Cary has an extensive collection of Batman comics and has been an avid fan for nearly 30 years. He can be reached via e-mail at cashby@norwalkreflector.com.

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