The Secrets of Isis

Mallory Archer and her ad hoc family on Archer will no longer work for ISIS, thanks to a certain bunch of a-holes who are using the same name to rain death and destruction in the real world. Sad as I am about that, I can’t help but remember that Archer wasn’t the first pop culture use of the name Isis.secrets_of_isis

I had only the vaguest memory of The Secrets of Isis, and the corresponding Viewmaster slides that I once owned. It’s about a teacher, Andrea Thomas (JoAnna Cameron) who possesses an amulet belonging to the Egyptian goddess Isis. The amulet allows her to channel the goddess and fight for justice. Andrea/Isis also appeared in DC comics in the late 70s but the TV show came first, rounding out the Shazam!/Isis Hour on Saturday mornings on CBS. She’s said to be the first female superhero to star in a live action TV show. Continue reading

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Batgirl Mini-sode, 1967

Arrow seems to be rolling out another DC character practically every week now. I don’t watch the show regularly, even though I keep hearing how much it’s improved since its cheesy debut season. I just can’t stay interested, maybe because Laurel and the sister look the same to me, or that every action sequence takes place in the dark with super-fast cuts, so I have idea what’s going on. Still, it’s hard, within the geek community, to miss the spoilers. Everybody’s talking about this show. Possibly it’s the introduction of juicy new characters that keeps the buzz alive.

This all brings up two questions for me. The first is, how the hell did Birds of Prey not succeed? The other, a broader and more agonizing question is, why are all the female comic book characters in supporting roles? Much has been written about feminism as it relates to comic culture, so I’m not going to delve into that. I am, however, going to take you back to what may have been the first attempt to spin off a female comic book character into her own TV show.

Although not technically a pilot, this “mini-sode” was made in 1967.

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Arrow and Revolution

It’s official. Bows and arrows are the hottest accessory for fall. I don’t know if Darryl from The Walking Dead started it, or if we can credit Katniss Everdeen, but two of the fall pilots screened at Comic-Con last night heavily featured this handy but rustic weapon.

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Wonder Woman

The Wonder Woman series had a few false starts before the 1975 TV movie, which spawned the well-remembered Lynda Carter series. Even when it finally got off the ground, the show — full title, The New Adventures of Wonder Woman — only lasted one season before it was retooled and moved to another network (CBS).

In recent years, other attempts at bringing the DC Comics property to the small screen have failed, including one led by Joss Whedon. You could hardly escape last year’s debate about Adrianne Palicki’s pants. Why is bringing the Amazonian princess to life such a challenge? And what did the 1970s series get right that others missed? Continue reading

Birds of Prey

With excitement building for the Wonder Woman reboot this fall, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some other DC Comics heroines, the ladies of 2002’s Birds of Prey.

In a nutshell, a blonde, a brunette and a redhead live together looking hot and fighting crime. The pilot is the story of how they got together. The show, or at least the pilot can be appreciated at face value, if the viewer has no previous knowledge of the characters. It could even be accused of ripping off Charmed, with its story of three powerful women joining forces and a suspicious cop on their trail. But there is ton of back story—at least 40 years worth of comic book lore.

Alfred, of Batman fame, narrates the opening. The story is set in New Gotham, and Batman has disappeared from its crime-ridden streets. The voiceover lends a storybook feeling, a bit like the tone of Pushing Daisies.

Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer), formerly Batgirl, is confined to a wheelchair since The Joker shot her. She now lives in a clock tower—a set that looks like the same one Smallville used—surrounded by computers. By day she works as a school teacher. Living with her is Helena (Ashley Scott), the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. She was raised by her mother, killed by a henchman of The Joker while her daughter stood by, helpless. She has grown up to be The Huntress, a hero who runs across building tops by night, fighting crime while The Oracle oversees from her tower. In the comic world, The Huntress had completely different
origins, but did turn to heroism following the murder of her parents. (This according to The DC Comics Encyclopedia.)

As these two women experienced their personal tragedies, a third girl dreamt their pain. She is now teenage Dinah (Rachel Skarsten), and she has travelled to New Gotham to seek out the women from her dreams. On her way to find them, she witnesses a man being hit by a bus. She runs to his side and, when she touches him, she sees a vision of him being attacked by rats. Her power, it seems, is the ability to share people’s thoughts or fears. The comic book Dinah became The Black Canary, though that name isn’t mentioned in the pilot.

The man’s death sparks the women’s investigation into a series of related murders disguised as suicides, which leads them to some dockyards and the lair of the killer. Among the three of them they get to combine supernatural, or metahuman powers of an X-man with the high tech gadgetry of Batman.

As the women investigate these deaths, the police are also on the case. Detective Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore) is one officer who believes that something bigger is happening beneat the surface. He’s the “the truth is out there” character of the show. Sums up what may be the message-of-show with the awkwardly worded adage, “Myths are just the truth a few generations later.”

Another significant introduction in this pilot is that of Helena’s psychiatrist, one Harleen Quinzel (Mia Sara – remember her, Sloane Peterson from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?), whose name reveals that she’s an enemy-in-waiting.

With its roots in death and destruction, this pilot promises a fairly dark show. There are small doses of humor, with lines like, “This place is supposed to be a secret. That’s the whole point of a secret lair.” Barbara and Helena argue about lighter things, too, like being out of groceries. There’s also a quick Superman/Smallville reference: “There’s been some really weird stuff with meteor showers.”

This pilot does a nice job of tying together the episode plot with a longer-term plot, when Harleen interacts with the episode villain at the end. There’s both resolution and reason to keep watching.

UPDATE 2/17/2012: In case you’re a big fan of the Black Canary character, you may like to know that Katie Cassidy has been cast to play her in the forthcoming Green Arrow series on The CW. And, in case you haven’t been paying attention, that Wonder Woman reboot never happened, but I’ve since blogged about the pilot of the 1970s series.