Q: WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU TAKE BATMAN'S DAUGHTER, A WHEELCHAIR-BOUND COMPUTER WHIZ (WHO USED TO BE BATGIRL), AND A RUNAWAY TEENAGE MIND-READER? A: ONE DELIGHTFULLY CAMPY COMIC-BOOK DRAMA.
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Birds of Prey (2002 TV series)

Birds of Prey THE WB, 9-10 PM DEBUTS OCTOBER 9

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there’s a new superhero series featuring three lissome heroines using their various superskills to battle evil. What would be the one thing any of the crime-fighting gals could say that would make the comic-book geek within you sit up and take notice?

”I couldn’t breathe in my costume, much less fight! I mean, things were falling out of that thing!”

Bingo! Within five minutes of talking to Ashley Scott, the former model and Dark Angel actress who plays Helena Kyle (a.k.a. Huntress) in The WB’s Birds of Prey, she’s got you mesmerized with titillating wardrobe factoids like that. And she’s not just pulling your, um, leg: In the Birds pilot, Huntress (daughter of Batman and Catwoman), swings through New Gotham city, bashing bad guys in an outfit that looks like she’s fighting for truth, justice, and Victoria’s Secret. Unfortunately, that fashion statement is being tweaked. Or as costar Rachel Skarsten puts it, ”Ashley’s losing her bustier and going for more of a streetwise look.” Skarsten, a soft-spoken, cello-playing, watercolor-painting 17-year-old, portrays Dinah Lance, a ”metahuman” whose power is, well, as she puts it, ”’touch-telepathic,’ which means I can touch you and see what you’re thinking or see your past or your future. It’s not just one power; it’s a broad spectrum.”

Of course it is. Rounding out the Bs of P in this adaptation of the DC comic of the same name is Dina Meyer, whose character, Oracle (follow me closely here), is the daughter of Commissioner Gordon and used to be Batgirl, but is now disabled and zooms around in a motorized wheelchair, overseeing an all-seeing cyberspace command post. Meyer is already geek pinup material for her roles in Beverly Hills, 90210 (she played a professor’s sexy wife), Starship Troopers (as tough gal Dizzy Flores), and her upcoming appearance as a Romulan commander in the feature film Star Trek: Nemesis. Although Meyer knew diddly about the Birds of Prey comics before she got the role, ”I’m trying to stay as true to the DC [Comics] Oracle as I possibly can,” she says. Ah, more music to comic-book fans’ Spock-pointed ears.

But can this show appeal to people who don’t search out mint-condition, plastic-bagged copies of Batman No. 1? Sure. Notes Meyer, ”We’re not just going to be fighting crime; we’re going to be exploring relationships. When you think about it, look at comic books — they’re all about relationships. We’ll also have conflicts with each other.”

Yes, it turns out these birds are often squabbling magpies. The Huntress is a cranky crime fighter who, in the pilot, must be persuaded by the more rational Oracle that Dinah (who’s just arrived in town and, as a confused adolescent, has never met another person with superpowers) should join the Birds’ nest.

The series takes place in New Gotham city during a time when Batman himself has temporarily gone into an unexplained seclusion. Lest crime run rampant in the gloomy Gotham, the Birds, aided in domestic butlering by the Caped Crusader’s manservant Alfred (Ian Abercrombie), do his dirty but noble work for him. In the pilot, look for a brief appearance by Batman’s archnemesis the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill, just as he did in the terrific Batman cartoon series). You should also keep your ears peeled for amusingly campy dialogue, like this threat to an evildoer: ”I’m the Huntress and you’re the prey!” And take close notice of the therapy sessions between Helena Kyle and psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel (Mia Sara of Timecop and — coincidence? — ex-wife of Jason Connery, who plays Lionel Luthor’s lackey in Smallville; the mind reels, doesn’t it?). It’s not giving away a secret to say that this seemingly soothing caregiver is actually mad, madcap villain Harley Quinn, a Joker disciple. (In the original pilot, Quinzel was played by Twin Peaks’ Sherilyn Fenn, but the producers’ decision to expand the role led to scheduling problems for Fenn, and thus Sara stepped in.) Rounding out the cast is Shemar Moore as the cop who, Mulder-like, wants to believe that these Birds are anticrime crusaders rather than superpowered crooks.

There’s no denying that Birds is beak-deep in Batman lore. Exec producers Laeta Kalogridis and Brian Robbins freely admit that they took much of the grim visual look and exiled-Batman detail from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight comics miniseries. And although you’d think that Robbins — one of the guys who brought you Smallville’s hotsy Superboy — would be the main Prey expert, it’s actually Kalogridis (one of, as she wryly puts it, ”the 15 writers on the X-Men movie”) who knows her metahumans from her…well, actually, the producers don’t want to give away anything about the well-known foes the Birds will battle, but Skarsten does say that Dinah will ”be going to high school, and you can meet lots of supervillains in school.”

So how exactly have these gals prepared for their perp-pummeling roles? Scott boasts, ”I do all my own fight sequences, [having trained in] boxing, tae kwon do. And I do gymnastics, so I can do all the back handsprings.” Meyer’s chief goal at this stage is mastering Oracle’s wheelchair. ”It’s a challenge as an actress, and on a technical level, [being] in a power-driven chair, working that joystick and a motor. I have trouble hitting my mark at this point.” And since Dinah’s mental powers don’t require too many stunts, Skarsten is free to just kick back in her leisure time. ”I go home and paint,” she says dreamily.

Despite the always alluring Buffy-style chick vigilantism, there is one little issue that may have hardcore comics lovers flipping Prey the bird: You probably won’t be seeing Batman emerge from that exile. This series is all about the ladies. ”Hopefully the fans won’t be too upset that Batman isn’t going to be there,” says Meyer. ”[I hope] they won’t be like, ‘How can you have a Batman [-derived] show without Batman?!’ Give us a chance, I’d say to them.”

Fair enough, but only if you immediately rethink that whole costume overhaul.

Birds of Prey (2002 TV series)
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