While the geek universe is speculating about just what a TV series set in the “Avengers” movie universe might look like, I realized that we’ve already seen an example in the “Birds of Prey” series.
Airing on the WB network in 2002, the series was a small-screen take on DC’s “Birds of Prey” comic book series. The show featured Barbara Gordon in her Oracle incarnation (in other words, after the Joker’s brutal attack on Batgirl in “The Killing Joke” that left her paralyzed) leading a small group of crimefighters including Huntress (daughter of Batman and Catwoman in this scenario) and Dinah, the daughter of the original Black Canary.
“Birds of Prey,” which lasted only a handful of episodes, was a fairly standard police procedural dressed up with rooftop chase scenes and “Buffy” style fighting. Ten years on, some elements of the series look cheesy (the dialogue is particularly rough). But the series was overseen by Laeta Kalogridis, who went on to write and produce “Avatar” and “Shutter Island” and had a properly comic-booky feel.
Although only a few episodes aired, all 13 are available on disc.
How can the producers of an “Avengers” TV spin-off learn from “Birds of Prey?”
The “stars” of the story were off-screen. Nobody expects Iron Man or Thor to show up on a weekly TV series. Not while there are big-ticket movies to be made. “Birds of Prey” dealt with the absence of Batman and Catwoman by deciding the former had stopped patrolling the alleys of Gotham (sound familiar, “Dark Knight Rises” fans?) after the death of his beloved (in this case, Catwoman). Bruce Wayne was never more than a silent presence on the other end of a telephone line during conversations with Alfred.
The show was made on a TV budget, not a movie budget. It helped, probably, that no one flew in “Birds of Prey,” although Huntress did a lot of diving off rooftops. Dark Gotham City streets, a couple of oddball metahuman characters and some futuristic weaponry helped achieve a comic-book feel on a budget.
The show didn’t make major changes in its universe. A TV series set in the “Avengers” movie universe isn’t going to make major changes to storylines or characters, that’s for sure. We won’t see Loki killed off or Iron Man retire. “Birds of Prey” had the same restrictions, of course, beyond the initial killing of Catwoman. With Batman out of town, the most dramatic event the series could give viewers was a climactic battle, in the final episode, between Huntress and Harley Quinn, the Joker’s looney moll. But it made for a nice little payoff for the series. What about how they killed off the original Black Canary in the “Birds of Prey?” Well, did you see a body?
The show didn’t betray familiar characters. It’s safe to say that SHIELD isn’t suddenly going to become a terrorist organization, nor will we hear that Black Widow or Hawkeye have gone back to their previous careers. “Birds of Prey” had to dance around major changes to the core Gotham City characters. One episode featured the return of a Batman protege and apparently the character was originally going to have been Robin/Nightwing. But because the guy goes astray, so a change of secret identities was called for.
Although it didn’t make much of an impression on TV audiences or the DC comics universe in general, “Birds of Prey” did show it was possible to mount a weekly TV series in a thickly populated comics universe without interfering with a big-screen movie franchise.