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Birds of Prey

DC Direct
by yo go re

When DC Comics wants to farm out its titles, it usually turns to Warner Brothers. Of course, making a statement like that is akin to saying that Marvel produces its action figures through ToyBiz; just as Marvel and ToyBiz are one and the same, DC and Warner Brothers are both subsidiaries of AOL. This means that every cartoon, TV show or movie with a DC character is likely to turn up first on The WB (or Cartoon Network, but live-action shows are seldom found there).

Sometimes this partnership can create something great. The reimagining of Superman into the hit series Smallville, for instance, is an idea that sounds like it should never have lasted a single season, let alone become a headliner show. But sometimes the partnership seems limiting, since DC can never shop around for the best talent. And sometimes it just falls flat on its face.

WB's latest effort was Birds of Prey, a pseudo-"girl power" series adapted from the chick-centric comic of the same name. While the comicbook is great, and has strong ties to the world of Batman, the show made several drastic changes that, while not actually impacting any of the characters greatly, did alienate some fans.

Before the show aired, DC Direct announced that they would release a set of figures based on the comicbook versions of the show's three stars: Black Canary, Oracle, and Huntress. Of course, production and shipping times meant that the set wouldn't reach stores until the show was off the air, but they're still three good figures.

Daughter of a superhero, Dinah Lance has followed in her mother's footsteps, trained as a superb athlete and master of judo, as well as a super-powerful hyper-pitched "sonic cry." With grace and agility, Dinah Lance is a fearless force against evil as the stunning Black Canary.

For the show, Black Canary became a psychic teenager named Dinah. Fairly big change. In the comics, though, she's one of the DC Universe's elder statesmen (despite being neither "elder" nor "man"). She's a founding member of the JLA, took over her mother's role in the JSA, and eventually teamed up with Oracle to form the Birds of Prey. She was once sort of a professional hostage, and a reason for Green Arrow to get his bowstring in a knot, but thankfully she's moved beyond that, now.

Though she's had several costumes over the years, this figure represents her most recent look: she's replaced the fishnets, bustier and high heels with a padded two-tone blue bodysuit, perfect for kicking ass and beating on badguys like the bongos. Her blonde hair falls around her shoulders, though it would probably make more sense to have it pulled back somehow; that can't be very good in the middle of a fight. Or maybe the short-cut hair she had when she first adopted this look.

Canary stands about 6" tall and has 12 points of articulation - knees, hips, waist, elbows, neck and balljointed shoulders. Her belt is a separate, floating piece, though mine was put on upside down.

Barbara Gordon was once the caped hero known as Batgirl until the Joker ended that career with a crippling bullet. Undeterred, Barbara remade herself into the all-seeing Oracle with an unsurpassed network of information spanning the internet and the globe.

Oracle was the character most like her comicbook version. Former Batgirl, crippled by the Joker, now a techno-whiz. Solid.

Though the Joker held the gun, it was Alan Moore who really pulled the trigger on Batgirl. For his unique take on the dynamic between Batman and the Joker in The Killing Joke, he needed to show just how evil Joker could be. Rather than be consigned to limbo, however, Barbara became one of comics' strongest and most inspiring heroes. I really could go on at great length about Oracle, because she's such a great character; I'm just happy that she's showing up in a monthly book.

Babs is wearing civilian clothes, of course: jeans and a teal t-shirt, and shoes with a completely impressive sculpt. She's got her red hair tucked behind one ear, and her glasses are a separate (though non-removable) piece. Oracle is just about 4⅝" tall (she is in a wheelchair, after all), and moves at the neck, shoulders, biceps and elbows. I think a balljointed chest would have helped, since she's permanently bent over, looking down.

(Actually, a quick aside: all three of these killer princesses are looking down. Maybe they're all looking at Babs' computer screen, but they just look shy when standing alone. Balljointed necks would have helped that. Back to Oracle!)

The figure and wheelchair are one piece, to dissuade any "miraculous recoveries." All four of her wheels turn freely, and the front two even spin like a shopping cart. Just as in the comics, her chair doesn't have handles (she doesn't like to be pushed), though the seat seems a bit rigid; wouldn't it just be leather or cloth stretched over the metal frame? Shouldn't it flex under her weight? It should, but it doesn't. Oh well. Babs comes with a nice laptop, which suits her mobile status. Would have been even better if they'd put something on her screen, though - Maybe her Oracle icon?

Helena Bertinelli's mobster father was gunned down, along with the rest of her family, by rival gangsters. Sent to live with relatives in Sicily, Helena learned martial arts, how to wield a crossbow, and knife throwing in preparation for her return to her native Gotham City, where she hunts down criminals as the Huntress.

Got all that? Good. Now forget it. On the show, Huntress was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman (a throwback to the pre-Crisis version of the character, before she got re-written) and had some sort of superpowers. Radical departure, and one of the things that got the fanboys so up in arms. Because they are a superstitious and cowardly lot. Or maybe they just fear change.

This Huntress is based on one of her recent comic costumes (the most recent, designed by Jim Lee, makes her both more religious and more bat-like [and shows off her tightly toned abs, too --ed.]). She's clad in purple and black, and has a golden cross hanging at her neck. Her black hair is hangs down her back, and she has a non-removable vinyl cape.

Helena's main weapons are her crossbows, and she comes with two - one molded to her thigh, the other a separate accessory that can be held in either hand. She's 6" tall and has the same 12 points of articulation as Canary, which means she does have a waist, but only her shoulders are balljoints. The designers did a good job replicating Huntress' knee-high boots without impacting her movement.

All three figures come displayed in one box. The backdrop for the figures is the interior of Oracle's clock tower, a setting for both the comic and the show. They look quite nice packaged, but really, this isn't a set to keep closed. The set comes with two oval display bases and four tiny pegs. Each base has ten holes, allowing you to set things up however you like. It would have been nice if the clock and a section of floor were an actual base, though.

While I have customized my own Black Canary and Oracle before, it's nice to finally get official figures of the characters. I'm not crazy about Huntress (she's not in the comic, and was included in this set only as a sort of agent "X," a service to the show), though she is a solid toy offering. Now all we need is a nice modern Nightwing to put next to Babs.

This June, a new creative team takes over the Birds of Prey comic: Gail Simone, one of the funniest women behind a typewriter, teams up with manga-influenced artist Ed Benes to deliver 20-some pages of XX-chromosome action every month. Simone's writing does a great job of blending action and humor, so her BoP is sure to be great; if you miss it, you'll all be sorry.

-- 04/09/03

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