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Series / Birds of Prey (2002)

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By 2002, The WB had bounced back from the loss of its flagship series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, by launching Smallville, chronicling the life of Clark Kent as he grows into becoming Superman. Seeing its success, producer Laeta Kalogridis decided to explore the life of another DC character. Since a young Man of Steel was proving popular, it made sense to explore his darker counterpart. However, since the topic of a live-action Batman was still an anathema due to the failure of Batman & Robin, the choice was made to instead loosely adapt the popular Birds of Prey comic series, focusing on Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer) as she deals with life following a personal tragedy.

Premiering October 9, 2002, and with co-production handled by Smallville co-producers Tolin/Robbins Productions, Birds of Prey is set in the city of New Gotham, twenty years after events heavily influenced by The Killing Joke, where the Joker shot and paralyzed Barbara. The series' backstory also features elements visually inspired by Batman Returns, namely the Batsuit and Catwoman's outfit.

The series established that Catwoman was killed in the Joker's sadistic crusade and something went down where he was captured and soon after Batman left Gotham. The series focused on the crime-fighting escapades of Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott), daughter of Batman and Catwoman, as per her pre-Crisis backstory; Dinah Redmond (Rachel Skarsten), a teenage runaway and estranged daughter of Black Canary; and Barbara, who now fights crime via Mission Control as Oracle. Most of the series revolved around the emergence of Meta-Humans, people who have extraordinary abilities. Helena and Dinah themselves are meta-human, Helena having enhanced senses and cat-like agility and Dinah having growing telepathic/telekinetic powers.

The Big Bad was Harley Quinn (Mia Sara), whose connection to The Joker was a rumor and she still operates as a mob leader while posing as a respectable psychiatrist. Alfred Pennyworth (Ian Abercrombie) is maintaining Wayne Manor and offers the Girl Posse help and advice from time to time, with some hints that Batman/Bruce Wayne is still keeping tabs on them. The By-the-Book Cop Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore) slowly starts to see the bigger picture of the Gotham underworld and finds himself attracted to Helena.

It was a modest success at first, riding the popularity of Smallville, but it was somewhat ahead of its time, which coupled with the still dubious feelings about any live-action Bat media led to rapidly dropping ratings and its cancellation on February 19, 2003, for a total of 13 episodes. However, unlike most instances, the ax fell early enough to where the show actually resolved its Myth Arc.

It was announced in September 2019 that Ashley Scott would reprise her role as Huntress in the Arrowverse's adaptation of Crisis on Infinite Earths, alongside many other actors from former DC television series. Her appearance also featured an uncredited voice cameo by Dina Meyer; surprisingly, Rachel Skarsten was absent despite being a regular in one of the shows involved in the crossover.

If you were looking for the 2020 film, go here.

Birds of Prey provides examples of the following tropes:

  • 90% of Your Brain: Barbara claims that ordinary humans use only five percent of their brains, but metahumans far more. Dinah uses fifty percent, her scans reveal.
  • The '90s: The show's prologue is set somewhere in the middle of the decade.
  • Action Mom: The original Black Canary. Also Barbara in a Team Mom kind of way.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job:
    • Following in the vein of Batman Returns and Batman: The Animated Series, Selina Kyle is blonde instead of having black hair.
    • In the original, unaired pilot, Sherilyn Fenn as Harley Quinn retained her dark hair color, as opposed to the blonde. In the series proper, Mia Sara as Harley was still blonde. That being said the original Harley Quinn stated that she wasn't a natural blonde so this wouldn't necessarily be inaccurate to the character.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • Dinah Drake Lance becomes Carolyn Lance. Likewise, her daughter Dinah uses her adoptive surname Redmond instead of Lance.
    • Helena Wayne goes by Helena Kyle. Notably, the original Birds of Prey comic book series actually used the Helena Bertinelli version of the character, who wasn't related to either Batman or Catwoman.
  • Adaptation Species Change:
    • The show depicted both Huntress and Catwoman as Metahumans whereas they are Badass Normals in the comics and other media.
    • The original Black Canary as well. In the comics, she is a Badass Normal and it is her daughter and successor Dinah Laurel who possesses the Canary Cry.
  • Adaptational Superpower Change:
    • The second Black Canary's canonical power is her sonic scream. Here, it's straight-up Psychic Powers.
    • Both versions of Huntress in the comics were Badass Normals and thus were very skilled but ultimately human protagonists. The same is true of Helena's mother, Selina Kyle. In this series, they're made into Metahumans, and their heightened level of skill and senses is attributed to being a natural result of their powers.
    • Harley Quinn is more or less an Empowered Badass Normal in the comics, with a higher immune system, and slightly enhanced physical abilities over normal humans, as a result of a serum Poison Ivy gave her. This series has Harley use a machine to transfer Metahuman abilities into herself, giving her speed and strength comparable to this series' Huntress, as well as giving her Mind Rape abilities.
  • Adaptational Wimp:
    • Black Canary in the comics is one of the absolute best fighters and martial artists in the DC universe whose metahuman abilities only enhance her already superb fighting prowess. Here, Dinah definitely doesn't fit that description, and whilst her mother Carolyn does have the Canary Cry, she doesn't have the same level of skill to go with it.
    • Lady Shiva in spades. In a similar vein to Black Canary the comics version is one of (if not the) deadliest martial artists and assassins in the entire DC universe, explicitly being able to best Batman himself decisively. Here she's a thief who can't even beat a younger Batgirl in a fair fight and manages to get taken down by Huntress, and then Oracle each at the climax of her story arc. Whilst Huntress does have superpowers in this series, it's highly unlikely that would have made a difference to the comics' Shiva.
  • Age Lift:
    • In most stories, the Huntress note  and (the 2nd) Black Canary are usually of the same age. Here, Dinah is still in her teens while Helena is in her early to mid twenties.
    • Conversely, Barbara Gordon is the oldest member of the team here, whereas she would be at least younger than Dinah in the comics.
    • Lady Shiva is made into a childhood friend of Helena Kyle for this series, thus making her much younger than the woman who gave birth to Cassandra Cain in the comics.
    • As a result of Dinah's own Age Lift, her mother, the original Black Canary also receives one as well, being a younger and still-active crimefighter as opposed to long-retired.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: In the finale, Harley and her Mooks take control of the clock tower.
  • Alternate Self: Crossing over with Crisis on Infinite Earths (2019) made several cosmic coincidences of this, such as Dinah looking like the Earth-1 Beth Kane and Gibson Kafka resembling a mercenary named Vincent Le Mec on Earth-666.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: While fondling a handful of diamonds, Harley muses, "Think what I could buy with these: guns, bombs, shoes..."
  • Avenging the Villain: Harley Quinn's main drive is to avenge her Mr. J.
  • Badass Normal: Barbara, as both Oracle and Batgirl. Also Reese, though not as competent as Babs.
  • Best Served Cold: Harley's been planning revenge ever since the Joker was defeated.
  • Big Bad: Harley Quinn is the main antagonist of the show.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Dinah, Helena and Barbara respectively.
  • Broad Strokes: The series' backstory seems to imply a version of Batman Returns went down in regards to Batman and Catwoman, as they bear the same costumes from that film (with Catwoman's even having the more worn down and tattered look it had towards the end of the film), with Catwoman also explicitly having powers, something that was only implied in the film. The film takes this and adds in more elements from the comics' history such as suggesting a version of Cataclysm happened, as well as Joker being a living continued threat during that time.
  • The Cameo: In the pilot, The Joker is voiced in flashback by Mark Hamill.
  • Canon Foreigner: Jesse Reese doesn't exist in the comics. Amusingly, the series doesn't downplay this as much as you'd expect, since he seems to serve as an Audience Surrogate of some form, being a Gotham cop who has never heard of Batman.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Barbara's career as a physically active crime fighter came to a scratching halt thanks to The Joker. Subverted after she creates a device that enables her to walk again for a short period of time, but donning the tech is treated as a Dangerous Forbidden Technique.
  • Civvie Spandex / Coat, Hat, Mask / Not Wearing Tights: Huntress's outfits could be interpreted in several ways.
  • Clark Kenting: Deconstructed late in the series. Barbara points out to her protege Helena in a late episode that she ought to wear a mask. Because she doesn't, anybody who meets her as both Huntress and Helena easily realizes they're the same woman. This isn't so much a problem with her Love Interest Detective Reese. It's a huge problem with her psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a.k.a. Harley Quinn.
  • Clock Tower: Serves as the Power Trio's base.
  • Coconut Superpowers, though almost every metahuman gets at least one flashy use of their otherwise practical power
    • The Power Trio has very inexpensive powers — Huntress fights really well, Dinah touches things and winces to create Flashback sequences, and Oracle is smart and has a big computer.
      • Huntress' most expensive powers consist of a Stock Footage eye effect and some wirework.
      • Dinah's telekinesis is explained as being very premature, justifying why she rarely causes a spectacle.
      • Barbara's most impressive bit of tech that can compensate for her spinal cord damage, allowing her to walk. This is a brace with a blinking light, which was used a grand total of twice.
      • The original Black Canary also is very barebones in terms of how she is depicted, more or less simply as a kickass fighter.
    • Clayface and his son get their powers revamped because their comicverse and animated powers would be too expensive, especially since they appeared near the end, when it was clear the show would not continue. Clayface is not shown doing any extensive re-forming but only turns into other humans and needs to use mundane weapons to do battle though it only took him a very small crack in his cell for him to be able to pull a jailbreak — something comic Clayface probably couldn't have done. We of course don't see him do it. Meanwhile, his son can turn his victims into clay (harmlessly immobilizing them at first, but he then gets an upgraded version of the formula that lets him shatter victims). In the comics, that's based on a Clayface successor whose "claythings", as both the show and comic incarnations call them, actually become very mobile minions.
  • Code Name: Oracle/Batgirl; Huntress; Black Canary (referring to Dinah's mother only; Dinah herself is never really referred to as Black Canary, despite initial publicity for the series suggesting otherwise).
  • Comic-Book Movies Don't Use Codenames: In relation to the above, Dinah was never called Black Canary in the show despite the promotional materials doing so.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: The first part of finale sees Huntress consult Clayface when the latter's son is causing problems and plans to outdo his dad. However, in exchange for his help, Clayface asks Huntress to recall the night her mother, Catwoman, died, mostly because Clayface is the one who killed her.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique/Hour of Power: Barbara develops a technology that enables her to walk again. However, the technology only enables her to walk for a short period of time, and the more she uses it, the more it makes her condition worse.
  • Dating Catwoman: Inverted, Helena operates as an Anti-Hero sometimes verging on Sociopathic Hero and finds herself attracted to the good cop Reese.
    • The romance between Batman and Catwoman is a major aspect of the backstory, given that Huntress is their daughter, and is referenced in the opening credits.
  • Death by Origin Story: In the backstory, Catwoman is dead and Batman is gone. And in the episode where the original Black Canary appears, she dies.
  • Disappeared Dad: Batman was this to Helena. In his defense, he didn't know she existed.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Past tense, in universe — Harley went from being Joker's lover to being the new mob boss of New Gotham.
  • Doom Doors: The clock tower's secret entrance use this.
  • Dutch Angle: In villain lairs, much like the original Batman series, but more briefly and subtly.
  • The Faceless: We never got a clear shot of Batman's face. Same with the Joker.
  • Fan Disservice: The first episode shows Barbara in a Shower Scene, which quickly leads up to her fateful encounter with the Joker.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Barbara's wound when the Joker shot her wasn't shown, but the graveness of the injury is visualized with High-Pressure Blood.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Joker, even though he's only seen in flashbacks and his current whereabouts are said to be locked up in an area far from New Gotham. Due to crippling Barbara Gordon, hiring someone to kill Helena's mother, and Dr. Harleen Quinzel attempting to take his place as the head of crime in the city because of their past relationship, the Joker is indirectly responsible for the conflict in the series.
  • Handicapped Badass: Barbara/Oracle, in the beginning. She's paralyzed from the waist down due to being shot by the Joker, but still quite capable of kicking ass, even if not at the same level anymore. Barbara's shown here knocking bad guys down with weapons right from her chair.
  • Heroic Bastard: Helena never knew who her father is until her mother's death.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: The few people that know about Huntress think she's a criminal.
  • High-Pressure Blood: After the Joker shoots Barbara, we then see her bleed excessively.
  • I Am Not My Father:
    • Huntress has little to no love for her father. That said, she still protects Gotham in his absence.
    • Also Reese's attitude toward his father Hawke.
  • Identical Stranger:
  • In a Single Bound: Huntress, as well as Harley Quinn and Oracle in the final episode.
  • In Name Only:
    • Lady Shiva is nothing like her comic book counterpart. In the comics, she's one of the absolute best martial artists in the entire DC Universe, one of the deadliest assassins on the planet, and the mother to Cassandra Cain (who, along with Shiva, is one of the few people capable of beating Batman in a one-on-one fight). In the series, she's a petty thief, who wants revenge upon Batgirl for the accidental death of her sister, a former classmate of Helena Kyle and can barely hold her own against Barbara Gordon (whilst in her prime) or Huntress. Oh, and strangely enough for this series, she wears a mask.
    • Dinah also has none of the powers of the classic Black Canary character, though her mother shows up and does have the Sonic Scream.
  • In the Blood: Huntress is constantly fighting between the influence of her superhero father and supervillain mother.
  • I Owe You My Life: Dinah gets involved with the group after Helena saves her from an Attempted Rape.
  • I Work Alone: Huntress early on, though she does learn to get over this over time once Dinah becomes a field agent.
  • Left the Background Music On: In the pilot, Helena turns off a radio when investigating a home, turning off the background music with it.
  • The Masquerade: In an odd twist on the typical story, no-one in modern New Gotham knows that Batman even existed, with all prior confrontations with his Rogue's Gallery being a "secret war". This narrative decision becomes even more strange when later episodes confirm that Batman had trained all of the first three Robins (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Time Drake etc.) prior to the series and that he had the typical relationship the character has with Jim Gordon (including the implication of the existence of the Batsignal).
  • Meta Origin: Several characters, including some who were normal humans in the comics, including Catwoman and Helena.
  • Monster of the Week: The Metahuman freak of the week.
  • Mythology Gag: At least once per episode, given the premise.
    • In the first episode, Mark Hamill, who voices The Joker in most modern-day animated Batman productions, gets to overdub the uncredited actor (Roger Stoneburner) glimpsed playing the villain.
    • From his appearance in the opening credits, Batman's costume resembles the one from the 1989 Tim Burton film.
    • Likewise, Catwoman is dressed as in Batman Returns, with her hair wildly poking through her mask.
    • The entry into "No Man's Land" bar uses a bust of Shakespeare to open a bookcase ala Batman (1966).
  • New Neo City: Gotham here is called "New Gotham City". Based on comments and references to "Old Gotham City" something akin to the events of Cataclysm happened before Batman left.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Dinah starts out in the series with limited telepathy, which she can use by touch or via dreams. She displays mild telekinetic abilities midway through the season, but not anything she can control. Then in the final fight of the last episode, she is able to project telekinetic force blasts (which knock mooks flying across a room) with complete control over them and no explanation as to where they came from.
  • No Ending: Avoided. After the cancellation was announced, the producers were allowed to film a final episode that wrapped up the storyline.
  • No Flow in CGI: Helena's Badass Longcoat looks great in person, but in the Stock Footage shots of her rapidly traversing the rooftops of Gotham it moves with the elegance of a steel plate.
  • Nom de Mom: Even after finding out who her father is, Helena still goes by her mother's surname.
  • The Nth Doctor: Al Hawke was played by Stephen McHattie in his debut in "Sons of the Mother" and the episode ends with him badly burned. "Nature of the Beast", he's played by Mitch Pileggi and it's explained he got plastic surgery.
  • The One Guy: Alfred is the only male member of the team.
  • Parental Abandonment: Helena, with her mother dying and her father suffering a Heroic BSoD sever enough that it made him leave Gotham.
  • Powers in the First Episode: The first episode heavily deals with Dinah discovering the extent of her powers.
  • Power Nullifier: Black Canary was strapped with one that is shaped like a collar.
  • Present Absence: The Joker only appears in two flashbacks but his actions drive most of the series. Avenging him is Harley's main goal and it was he who paralyzed Barbara.
  • Promotion to Parent: Barbara to Helena after Selina's death and Bruce's disappearance. Later to Dinah as well, especially with her biological mother's Uncertain Doom.
  • Rapid Aging: Guy in "Three Birds and a Baby", who keeps growing older every time he goes to sleep. It's suggested that he's the son of the Joker and Harley Quinn, though the reason for his "symptoms" is not given beyond a simple Hand Wave.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: Harley Quinn is commonly dressed in a black trouser and a red top.
  • Re-Release Soundtrack: The series, produced as it was in the early 2000s shortly before home video DVD releases became de facto expected for every series and being little more than a critically-lauded cult hit at the time, spent years in Keep Circulating the Tapes limbo because the music couldn't be cleared. When the pleas of fans continued for several years, Warner Bros finally relented and released it to DVD, but had to compromise and replace some of the music, which is noted on the back of the DVD packaging.
  • Secret Identity: All three of the Birds of Prey. That is if you consider, not bothering to wear a mask or any kind of disguise whilst letting people see your face a secret. Huntress explicitly states she has a secret identity, yet she is shown working in a bar, then fighting crime with only a change of wardrobe. No mask, glasses, change in hair coloring, change in skin tones, change of voice, no Clark Kenting at all. Whether Huntress has a secret identity if she doesn't wear a mask was actually discussed by the characters at one point. Alfred weighs in and neatly summarizes the issues in a way that leaves the others unsure whether he just insulted Huntress or complimented her. (Something Oracle says is a "British thing".)
  • Secret-Keeper: Alfred, of course. Also Reese after "Reunion" and Wade after "Feat of Clay".
  • Shout-Out: During the pilot episode, Huntress mentions that meteor showers are a likely source of metahuman abilities. She also calls Dinah "Junior Supergirl" a few moments later.
  • Shower Scene: Barbara in the pilot before The Joker guns her down.
  • Sitting on the Roof: Once per Episode, usually Barbara and Helena.
  • Spear Counterpart: Darkstrike was basically a male Huntress. This was even Lampshaded.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye:
    • Huntress to Reese all the freaking time.
    • Even Alfred does this to Reese at one point, prompting him to say in exasperation:
    "Come on, not another one."
  • Stealth Pun: The character Cassius, who is the successor and son of Batman villain Clayface. Cassius Clay is the birth name of Muhammad Ali, arguably the most famous professional boxer ever.
  • Storming the Castle: In the finale, Harley and her Mooks take control of the clock tower. The heroes then have to assault their own base to stop her.
  • Superhero Origin: The pilot features Huntress's and Dinah's takes the first several episodes.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: The Team has a no killing policy, and they keep reminding audiences that. Every. Single. Week.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Helena is the seductress, Barbara is the wife and Dinah is the child.
  • Truer to the Text: Barbara Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth are the only characters in the cast to be faithfully portrayed from the source material.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Inverted. Ian Abercrombie and Shemar Moore were the only male cast members of the predominantly female cast.
  • Uncertain Doom: The original Black Canary supposedly dies in an explosion, but we and the characters Never Found the Body to rule her death as official.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: One problem of the show was it never addressed what on earth happened to Batman, Wayne Tech, Commissioner Gordon, and most of Batman's Rogues Gallery. The closest to any answers is Harley saying Joker was being held in a prison somewhere and Bruce calling Alfred at the end of the finale, revealing that he's alive.
  • White Shirt of Death: A variant. Barbara was wearing a white bathrobe when The Joker gunned her down, complete with a scene showing her bleeding badly.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Given that the show focuses on an Amazon Brigade, this is inevitable.
  • You Killed My Father: Lady Shiva hates Barbara/Batgirl after the latter accidentally killed her younger sister.

Alternative Title(s): Birds Of Prey