Legal Eagle

harvey_birdman.jpgHarvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. 3
Birdman and the Galaxy Trio: The Complete Series

(Turner Home Entertainment)

When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “there are no second acts in American lives,” he obviously hadn't watched Adult Swim. The grown-up section of Cartoon Network's otherwise childish line-up has often given new leases on life to such career-dead characters as Space Ghost, who went from intergalactic superhero (Space Ghost and Dino Boy) to punch-drunk talk show host (Space Ghost: Coast to Coast). Clearly, Adult Swim has shown that there are second acts in American lives…if you draw them.

Whether that means F. would enjoy Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law as much as Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, we're not sure, though he probably would've appreciated how Turner Home Entertainment is making it easy to see both acts with these new DVDs.

Originally, Harvey was a Hanna-Barbera superhero who had a time-share on a late-'60s Saturday morning cartoon. Along with his faithful sidekicks Avenger and Birdboy, Birdman used his solar rays and solar shields to fight crime…and copyright infringement lawsuits filed by DC Comics on behalf of Hawkman. Not that any of the legal proceedings are chronicled in the two-disc Complete, which collects the show's one and only season.

Thirty years later, the good folks at Adult Swim resurrected Birdman by recasting the former crime fighter as a clueless lawyer for a show that's as surrealistically weird as it is simply funny. But what's made Harvey so genius was that his clients were fellow cartoon characters: Scooby-Doo and Shaggy were arrested for possession, for example, while Grape Ape was accused of using steroids to win the Laff-A-Lympics.

The hilarity, surrealism, and cartoon in-jokes continued during the show's third season, which is collected on the two-disc Vol. 3. Connected by a running gag about how his boss' daughter is also the Birdman-obsessed Birdgirl, it includes such episodes as “Free Magilla,” in which animal rights activists rescue the big ape, and “Return of Birdgirl,” which has Harvey going to the Supreme Court - er, Justice League - as Race Bannon fights Dr. Quest for custody of Johnny Quest.

As with the previous Attorney DVDs, Vol. 3 has some rather interesting extras. Besides eight deleted scenes and storyboards that show how an episode goes from simple drawings to simple drawings that have been colored, they've also included an on-screen comic book that shows how X The Eliminator became the obsessive compulsive criminal we all know and love.

Of course, even F. might wonder if releasing both shows on DVD so close together is a good idea. After all, wouldn't Harvey make Birdman look a little, well, dated? Actually, it's Birdman that makes Birdman look dated, though only if you didn't watch this very '60s cartoon when you were a kid and don't watch Harvey now. If you did watch it back in the day, it'll give you a kind of warm, nostalgic feeling, like when you watch an old Godzilla movie, while Harvey makes Birdman seem a bit more interesting, if only because you can see how his former colleagues and enemies also went legal and are now judges and lawyers.

It's enough to make F. rethink that quote of his. - Paul Semel

Purchase episodes thru iTunes

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Mr. Semel has written about cartoons for such publications as Huh, Bikini, Emmy, Metromix.com, and MSN.com.

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