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BIRDS OF PREY: THE COMPLETE SERIES
"Pilot," "Slick," "Prey for the Hunter," "Three Birds and a Baby," "Sins of the Mother," "Primal Scream," "Split," "Lady Shiva," "Nature of the Beast," "Gladiatrix," "Reunion," "Feat of Clay," "Devil's Eyes"
GOTHAM GIRLS: THE COMPLETE SERIES
"The Vault," "Lap Bat," "Trick or Trick, Part 1," "Trick or Trick, Part 2," "A Little Night Magic," "More Than One Way," "Precious Birthstones," "Pave Paradise," "The Three Babies," "Gardener's Apprentice," "Lady-X," "Hold That Tiger," "Miss Un-Congeniality," "Strategery," "Baby Boom," "Cat-n-Mouse," "Bat'ing Cleanup," "Catsitter," "Gotham Noir," "Scout's Dishonor," "I'm Badgirl," "Ms.-ing in Action," "Gotham in Pink," "Hear Me Roar," "Gotham in Blue," "A Cat in the Hand," "Jailhouse Wreck," "Honor Among Thieves," "No, I'm Batgirl," "Signal Fires," "Cold Hands, Cold Heart"
by Ian Pugh The most that can be said for the execrable "Birds of Prey" is that, five years beforehand, it predicted the disaster of David Eick's unfortunate "Bionic Woman" remake: owing its creation to the popularity of a similarly-themed show ("Smallville" being the analog for "Battlestar Galactica" in this instance), it transforms an already-overblown superhero premise into an ill-conceived soapbox to peddle some artificial feminist claptrap. And, like "Bionic Woman", it attempts to capture the atmosphere of its forebears while betraying zero understanding of what made them successful in the first place. Unlike many of the show's detractors, I don't really care that "Birds of Prey" is a Batman series without Batman's literal presence; I do, however, care that it basically removes any hint of pathos from the setting and, in the classic tradition of the now-defunct WB television network, replaces it with the superficial whininess that teenagers frequently use to get attention. It's The Dark Knight Returns without the nostalgic melancholy. The Killing Joke without the sick, mind-bending tragedy. No Man's Land without the goddamned earthquake.
As the show opens, the Dark Knight has long abandoned his post as the resident vigilante of "New Gotham," and Helena Wayne (Ashley Scott), his illegitimate child by Catwoman, has taken up the mantle of "Huntress" in his absence. Her trainer and mentor is Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer), the former Batgirl, now confined to a wheelchair thanks to a run-in with the Joker. As is the habit of such selfless personalities, the two take in a teenaged runaway, Dinah Lance (Rachel Skarsten), who has plenty of abilities involving telepathy and telekinesis just ill-defined enough to act as an all-purpose deus ex machina. Each night, our heroes drape themselves in black leather from head to toe and kick the crap out of whatever criminal scum happens to be wandering the streets at the moment. Sisters are doing it for themselves, you see, and find in that generic statement the lengths to which "Birds of Prey" is willing to go in terms of anything resembling feminism. More to the point, because the girl-power attitude ultimately feels like window-dressing to cover up someone's catfight/leather/bondage fetish (fight sequences are never orchestrated as anything other than the fulfillment of an orgasm), it actually approaches something anti-feminist.
Mind you, it's not the lack of complexity that makes "Birds of Prey" so offensive, but the willingness to reduce these women to the most banal, immature generalities. You've got the young one, the conflicted one, and the crippled one, and they compulsively talk about their feelings--who would have thought it would be so difficult, trying to strike a balance between saving the world and maintaining a romantic life? It's like the "math is hard" debacle that plagued Teen Talk Barbie back in the '90s: the "no shit" quotient is a bit too high to ignore the sexism of the statement. What little else there is to chew on in this enterprise is probably best described as the work of comic-book writers trying too hard to look sophisticated: superpowered beings as a tortured metaphor for racism; cliché character developments (all three major players are confronted with practically identical opportunities to murder the villains who ruined their lives--no points for guessing what choices they make); and light mysteries that are always worthy of the ever-dreaded comparison to "Scooby-Doo". "Birds of Prey" died a quick death--and we're better off for it.
Also included on Warner's "Birds of Prey: The Complete Series" DVD is "Gotham Girls", thirty-one webisodes produced back when animators were still experimenting with Flash as a viable medium. Pre-loader games and other minor interactive features have been jettisoned for this release, but the cartoons themselves remain intact: drawn like their "New Batman Adventures" incarnations, Harley Quinn (voiced by Arleen Sorkin), Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing), and Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) team up to commit various misdeeds that are occasionally foiled by Batgirl (Tara Strong). The first twenty-odd episodes primarily consist of one-note jokes--the kind of obvious, outdated material you'd expect from the Sunday funnies (a lot of "why didn't you say so"s and "now you tell me"s), not one of the most influential animated TV shows of the last fifteen years. The third "season" finally dumps the random-gag generator in favour of a ten-part plotline that could have conceivably appeared in those later episodes of "Batman": Gotham City's male population mysteriously disappears thanks to technology stolen from Mr. Freeze (?), and Batgirl sets out to unearth the culprit. It all delves into feminism about as deeply as "Birds of Prey" does, but it's automatically preferable simply because it doesn't impose the same pressure to exclusively distinguish itself by the mere fact of its female cast. Of particular interest is the uncommented-upon, pseudo-domestic environment that Harley and Ivy share.
"Birds of Prey" boasts a 1.78:1 widescreen presentation whose sleekness hardly compensates for its inexcusable lack of anamorphic enhancement; the image falters besides by being a touch too dark and succumbing to motion blur more often than it should. (Conversely, the fullscreen "Gotham Girls" is way too bright, although that comes with the Flash-based territory.) Attendant DD 2.0 Surround audio tends to avoid much depth in the back channels until the fight sequences, which blast your ears to kingdom come. Aside from "Gotham Girls", spread out across the first three of four discs, the only other special feature is "Birds of Prey"'s alternate pilot (confoundingly mastered in 16x9). It's virtually indistinguishable from the version that aired, save that a flat, emotionless Sherilyn Fenn plays the season's BigBad, Harley Quinn. Outside a five-second voice-only cameo from Mark Hamill as the Joker, replacing Fenn with the more feasibly psychotic Mia Sara is quite possibly the only good decision anyone ever made in bringing "Birds of Prey" to the screen. Oh, and did I mention that the premiere was directed by Brian "Norbit" Robbins? (Also on board for an episode: Shawn "Cheaper by the Dozen" Levy.) A booklet containing a rather perfunctory introduction from DC Comics president Paul Levitz wraps things up. Note that a few pop songs that played during the original broadcasts (most infamously, "All the Things She Said" by t.A.T.u.) were apparently replaced with generic soundtrack cues. Originally published: August 7, 2008.
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