Tuesday, August 8, 2017

'Gotham Girls' animated series review

"Gotham Girls" might be the best-kept secret that Warner Bros. Animation ever created. And it's been on DVD for many years now.

During comic-book conventions, it's amazing how many fans have given me the "Wow! I hadn't heard of that" response when I tell them about "Gotham Girls." How could they unless they have the sadly short-lived, girl-power TV series "Birds of Prey" on DVD and watched the extras? If you haven't, shame on you!

I have no proof of this, but I have to think this animated series (released as a "flash"-syle, web-series only) was the inspiration of the DC Comics series GOTHAM CITY SIRENS, written by Paul Dini and published for 26 issues starting in June 2009. The three seasons of "Gotham Girls" came out between late July 2000 and mid-November 2002 and both feature Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.

The web-based series in fact inspired DC to publish a five-issue GOTHAM GIRLS limited series, which remains very difficult to find. (I've only seen it once — and that's a full set by my buddy Jamie "Phat Daddy" Stewart.) Collectors should expect to pay a pretty penny for each issue; my rough guess is a vendor could charge upwards of $15 to $20.

I have yet to read the limited series and have to hope it's been collected in a trade paperback. If not, shame on you, DC!

Going against my better instincts as a critic, I will be recapping "Gotham Girls" as much as I will review it since my guess is many of you haven't had the pleasure of watching this gem of an animated series, which is done in the style of "Batman: The Animated Series" and its variations.
Each season consists of 10 episodes. Each installment generally is two minutes to about 3:15 long, although one episode in the first two seasons lasts 4:11. (That one ironically is about Catwoman who stumbles upon a time machine.) The finale of Season 3 clocks in at 4:18.

The character designs and animation style are based directly on the last season of "Batman: The Animated Series." Watching "Gotham Girls" on a TV underscores just how hurky-jerky the original "flash" production is, but that also could be as much about making each episode on a tight, YouTube-like budget as anything else.

As I also mentioned, the main characters are Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Harley Quinn although Batgirl is in nearly every episode, with the exception of two. Zatanna gets a solo story in Season 1 and teams up with Catwoman in "Hold That Tiger" from Season 2. Another character from "B:TAS," Detective Renee Montoya, is in the third season.

Once again, actresses Diane Pershing, Adrienne Barbeau and Arleen Sorkin respectively voice Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Harley Quinn. Pershing and Barbeau give their characters the femme fatale slant they need — and had in "B:TAS" — while Sorkin is as goofy and endearing as ever as Harley.

Tara Strong reprises her role as Batgirl/Barbara Gordon, who in the first two seasons is there to arrest some variation of the trio or foil their plans. Strong nails Batgirl and Babs so well it's hard for me to hear anybody else doing her voice.

OK, I'll call it — Tara Strong voices a definitive version of Batgirl, just as Barbeau, Pershing and Sorkin deliver un-toppable takes on their characters. Years and years from now, it will be hard to separate these characterizations from the four actresses' performances. In fact, when I read comics I hear Sorkin's voice as my preferred version of Harley as much as I do Pershing and Barbeau's sultry and velvet-y tones as Catwoman and Poison Ivy.

While "Gotham Girls" is focused more on the "baddies" than Batgirl, their criminal ways in no way are diminished. Harley and Poison Ivy (who are roommates) team up for no good and Catwoman is all about being a burglar and thief.

Barbara Gordon gets very little screen time. In the "Bat'ing Cleanup" episode, she is on the phone with her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, who is does his fatherly duty about reminding his daughter to keep exercising and eating her vegetables. (The commish doesn't know Babs is Batgirl; but really what other redhead is out fighting crime in Gotham City? Anyway...!) As Babs is talking to her dad, there's a flashback of her day's activities as Batgirl: Chasing thugs and Catwoman and facing one of Poison Ivy's oversized plants.

Not surprisingly, the only time male characters are in the episodes is as supporting characters such as security guards or Gotham City cops. The girls mention Batman a handful of times and Harley Quinn pines away for her "Puddin'" on occasion, but "Mistah J" only makes very brief cameos as a life-size, blow-up doll and wax museum figure in two different episodes.

Jim Gordon is only a "Peanuts" teacher-style voice in "Bat-ing Cleanup" and doesn't make a full-on appearance until about halfway through Season 3 — a 10-episode arc that focuses on the temporary disappearance of all men in Gotham City. And even then, he takes a backseat to Batgirl, Montoya, the interim commissioner, Harley, Poison Ivy and Catwoman.

In the first two seasons, each episode stands on its own and has a cute, unexpected twist. For instance, in "Miss Un-Congeniality" in Season 2, Batgirl ends up being the fourth, silent contestant fittingly calling herself "Mystery" in the beauty pageant-like contest of Gotham City's bad girls.

The opening title sequence changes for each season. Season 1 introduces each episode with the purple, Batgirl-centric "Gotham Girls" logo — complete with flapping wings (as seen in the photo at the top of this review). Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley are featured beside a purple version of the Batgirl symbol in Season 2. Season 3 (with the weakest stories of the three) invokes the first season of "B:TAS" with artwork reflecting the theme of that specific episode.

Season 3 is enjoyable, but the storyline would have been stronger had it been half as long and with a resolution with a better pay-off. Why not have two stories in one season? Given the length of each episode, Season 3 essentially is one episode that clocks in at about 30 minutes or so and is broken up into ten installments. You will get the most out of it by watching those ten episodes in one sitting.

Seasons 1 and 2 are the strongest parts of the series. "Gotham Girls" is at its most memorable and clever in episodic/one-shot form. No matter how you enjoy your dose of Gotham babes delivered to you, the series is a fun time.

Grade: B+

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