Wing and a Prey

KEVIN WILLIAMSON

, Last Updated: 5:56 PM ET

At this point, we are probably just weeks away from a Tom Hanks-produced, 120-hour HBO mini-series about Green Lantern.

If you haven't noticed, Hollywood is crazy about comic book heroes.

Not that you can blame them.

Consider Spider-Man's grosses ($400 million in North America) and the success of Smallville -- not to mention the box-office bonanza expected for forthcoming film versions of the Hulk and Daredevil as well as the X-Men sequel -- and the closest thing these days to obtaining a licence to print money is receiving permission to bring The Astonishing Ant Man to celluloid.

Certainly there's no other reason for Birds of Prey -- a Batman spinoff from the creators of Smallville -- to exist other than to bolster Warner Bros. coffers. (The series airs on The WB and the characters are all Warners-owned.)

If, however, you ignore its obvious commercially-minded origins, the result is enjoyable, propulsive, four-colour fun.

Slick and sumptuously-filmed, it stars three evil-battling babes: Ashley Scott as the Huntress (Batman and Catwoman's illegitimate daughter -- the Dark Knight must've been out of Bat-condoms); Dina Meyer as the now-wheelchair-bound Batgirl (she was shot by the Joker); and Rachel Skarsten as Dinah Lance, who, comic geeks will know, is the alter-ego of the Black Canary. Here, Lance is a troubled teen with psychic powers who goes to Gotham City, plagued by visions of the other crime-fighting females.

Unlike Smallville -- which never sees its star, Tom Welling, don the red cape of his Kryptonian character -- Birds of Prey doesn't skimp on the costumed slam-bang action. In tonight's series opener, even the Caped Crusader himself makes a brief cameo in flashback.

Moreover, the computer-generated Gotham skylines make for a far more spectacular setting than the prairies of Clark Kent's hometown.

All of this -- the production values, the charismatic kick-ass leading ladies -- makes Birds sound like a soar-fire winner, right?

Maybe, but word from behind-the-scenes would have a certain other hero's spider-senses tingling.

The producers have reportedly re-jigged their debut, making changes to the pilot that critics screened and to which this review refers.

Out is Twin Peaks' Sherilyn Fenn as villainess Harley Quinn. In is Ferris Bueller's Mia Sara. Out, too, is the dark, moody tone of the original pilot. And in? Well, Meyer put it this way when describing the new creative direction: less "Tim Burton-esque" and more "Joel Schumacher-esque."

Holy bad judgment, Batman!


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