Jab’s Reviews: Gargoyles

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gargoyles

 

One thousand years ago, superstition and the sword ruled.
It was a time of darkness. It was a world of fear.
It was the age of gargoyles.
Stone by day, warriors by night, we were betrayed by the humans we had sworn to protect, frozen in stone by a magic spell for a thousand years.
Now, here in Manhattan, the spell is broken, and we live again!
We are defenders of the night!
We are Gargoyles!

 

GARGOYLES

This show probably goes down as one of my favorite overall TV shows ever to watch. In terms of Cartoons, it’s easily in the Top Ten, possibly the Top Five. The only cartoons that were consistently better were “Batman: The Animated Series”, “Justice League”, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Simpsons”, and I’d hazard a guess to put “King of the Hill” above it as well, but that’s about it. This show lasted so long, and was so consistently good for it’s whole run, that I can barely find major fault with it.

The story goes as such:

Gargoyles (and their dog-like cousins that are treated as pets) are a real creature that existed in medieval times, one-thousand years ago. They are super-strong “Defenders of the Night” who become stone by day, and warriors by night. Our heroes were Scottish Gargoyles, allying with a group of humans in their castle (which was on land the Gargoyles- protective by nature- had sworn to guard for all time). However, they were betrayed by an ally (who was trying to save them, but still betrayed his countrymen to the Vikings, and thus directly led to the death of nearly the entire Clan), resulting in all but a scant few of the Clan being killed. Further entrapped by a Magic Spell by a vengeful (but still nearly sympathetic) sorceror, the Clan was frozen in stone for a thousand years.

Re-awakening in modern times, they meet a tricky, manipulative rich boy named David Xanatos who does things out of curiosity, ego and desire for more money/power/immortality and getting his own way. They also meet an old ally in Demona, who reveals that she’s been alive this entire time. There are other recurring villains, many of whom are given an edge of pathos and sadness that defines many comic book villains.

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The Heroes:

* Goliath- A super-huge bad-ass Leader of the Clan, devoted to honor and defense. He used to be in love with Demona, but has since gained forbidden feelings for another.

* Hudson- The former leader of the Clan, Hudson is an old, bearded warrior who spends many nights watching television in their new home. Despite growing tired over the years, he is still a crafty, dangerous fighter.

* Brooklyn- The brash, hot-headed young hero, who slowly gains some maturity.

* Broadway- The Big Dumb Bruiser (though notably weaker than Goliath), who becomes obsessed with TV, entertainment, and a hatred of guns.

* Lexington- A really tiny Gargoyle that develops into the Brains of the group, mastering technology really quickly.

* Bronx- A “Gargoyle-Beast” that’s basically a big, slobbering Dog-like thing.

Their human ally is Elisa Maza, a biracial New York City Detective in Manhattan, who is both their link to the humans’ world, and their closest confidante. Together, they face off against Xanatos’ manipulations (events nearly always turn out going his way), Demona’s schemes, and fight Macbeth (the historical King of Scotland), The Pack (Fox and her canine-themed goons, most of whom become simple Mercenaries), Coldstone (a resurrected Frankenstein Cyborg of a Gargoyle), and various Children of Oberon (mystically-powered beings related to all-powerful Fairy Lords). The world is basically our own, but hides a considerable amount of magical creatures that were hidden for centuries.

Probably the best example of a long-running, arcing, plot-changing, evolving show I’ve ever seen, in that you can mark exactly where every episode lies based on who’s friends with whom, who’s shown up, and what the world looks like. Great voice acting (the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” cast did wonders, especially Johnathan Frakes as egomaniac villain Xanatos, so charming you had to love him anyways, and non-Trek actor Keith David was the mother of all badass leaders in Goliath. There were HUGELY epic storylines (HOW long were they lost in the Avalonian waters, travelling the world? A full season?), brilliant characterization, excellent dialogue (this show is REALLY quotable) and more.

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The villains were more amazing than almost any show ever. Xanatos was a perfect example, so evil at times it seemed, yet you bought his revelation and turning to the good side completely and without hesitation, based off of his weird sense of honor. Hell, he let the Gargoyles live several times based off of that, and yet he always seemed flawed in a realistic way, like his attempts to become immortal, or his horror when he fears the woman he loves will die. Demona was perfect as the cynical, aged warrior, way too hardened by a horrible life to ever be truly good again, and even her love for her own daughter was warped by rage and grief- she’s made all the more tragic when it’s revealed that EVERYTHING that has ever happened in the series is basically her fault. Macbeth was another brilliant angry, tired old king, too busy with thoughts of vengeance to consider his actions any longer. Hell, even the TOADIES were great. Owen’s whole story (especially the later revelation, and explanation for why he looked like the toady of Fox’s father) was terrific, and Xanatos’ reason for choosing a lifetime of service from Owen rather than one grand wish from the wish-granting Puck was an awesome character point for both characters.

So much of this show was so ragingly cool you couldn’t help but love the whole deal. All the side-characters in Fox’s Pack getting used later regardless of how ‘throwaway’ they initially seemed, with Jackal and Hyena becoming thieves & mercenary cyborgs, Wolf merging with his Viking ancestor (and prior Gargoyle enemy in their past), and Dingo becoming a hero. Macbeth’s eventual turnaround and respect for the Gargoyles (and King Arthur). The Gargoyles allying with Xanatos to save his son from Oberon, because even they would never allow a father to lose their child, no matter how powerful the enemy. All the varying arcs intertwining (sure Oberon & the gang were later additions, but suddenly it’s revealed they’ve been A PART OF IT ALL ALONG, and it was so fluid and made such sense you never doubted they had planned it that way, instead of just forcing it). Angela, Goliath & Demona’s daughter, being thrown in, and even SHE didn’t seem tacked on; she had real issues (raised by humans to view parenthood a different way, she didn’t see the Gargoyle societal thing of ‘you’re the children of the Clan’ in a positive light, and wanted a real father/daughter relationship).

gargfoyles

The voice acting is beyond fantastic here for the most part. Many of the characters are noticeably understated instead of being over-the-top and hammy like most Disney shows (hell, most CARTOONS)- of the main Clan, only Broadway was a big ham, and with him it was a big part of the character- Young Hotshot Brooklyn was downright calm and coolly-sarcastic at times, and Elisa was done very well by Salli Richardson. But this show is all about three guys: Johnathan Frakes (Will Riker from “Star Trek”) as David Xanatos, Keith David (a big voiceover guy, and the voice of numerous documentaries, like that good one about Jack Johnson, the early-20th-century boxing champ) as Goliath, and Ed Asner (Lou Grant from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, and numerous cartoon voices) as Hudson. Frakes brought an egomaniacal glee to Xanatos, without making him a raving ass-clown. David was EPIC as the brooding, snarling Goliath, who wasn’t afraid to keep things light. And his VOICE… SO MANLY!! And Ed Asner was phenomenal as the tired, snide Hudson, who was “too old for this” but maintained the wisdom of an elder statesman.

Other great things: Elisa being hot (OK, I just had to get that out there- even Keith David notes it on commentary, joking about how awesome it is that Goliath gets to hold onto her while he flies). Brooklyn eventually becoming a fierce fighter in his own right, acting like a valiant young warrior, though still making mistakes. Hudson being such a dour, humorless old codger, but still wily and brilliant in his own way (escaping from Xanatos by using his own stone-skin as a weapon, and lasting a full night against Demona’s fury), and voiced in such a great way by Ed Asner. The sheer bad-ass-ness overload of Xanatos in the uber-Gargoyle armor.

There are only a tiny handful of flaws:

Eventually, the main villains got so over-drawn (and so many of them turned good) that there was almost nowhere else to go with them (it made for a GREAT series, but I can’t imagine what they’d do afterwards short of inventing a whole new crop of guys). Some of the show’s morals also come across a little cheesy, especially when Broadway goes on about the “magic of reading” (keep in mind that he’s voiced by Patrick Star). While most of the voice acting was amazing, some of the cast was really hammy (I always found Deanna Troi’s reading of Demona to be over-dramatic, not to mention the weird sneer that Jackal always used). They also got WAY too up their own butt with the Time Travel (to the point where I get major headaches just thinking about the origins of The Archmage, and just how Xanatos got wealthy), which was neat at first, but got used over and over again.

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The “Avalon World Tour” arc just went on way too long– the show’s appeal was it’s great supporting cast, and while I agree than Angela needed her own long introduction arc to become a fully-formed character and the whole “Travelling the World” thing is a great part of many TV shows (Dragon Ball & Avatar both did this very well), this was just too much- we were left without the rest of the Gargoyles for MONTHS it seemed like. I would’ve prefered to see the larger cast involved more often. While the occasional one-shot of Griff or Anansi were great, I missed seeing the whole gang instead of just a small three-person cast (plus a Dog… thing).

But altogether, one of the best cartoons in history, and a GREAT, really long story.

fdg

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