I’m sure I’m not alone when I sometimes look back at things that I loved as a kid and wonder if they hold up. Unfortunately many don’t. Some people look back at the X-Men Animated series or Spider-Man The Animated Series fondly, but there are only two show that I know of that are as good as you remember and hold up to this day: Batman The Animated Series and Gargoyles. We’ve talked and written about Batman The Animated Series A LOT here at World’s Best Media, because it fucking rules. Probably the best animated series ever produced. But believe it or not, Gargoyles May be damn worthy second.
This show has enjoyed a cult following for years and I’ve always been a big fan. But what prompted me to write about the show, was the entire series recently became available on iTunes. When the show was released on DVD years ago, Disney never released the whole show. This was at least 10 -15 years ago and due to demand from the cult following of the show, the final season was finally given a barebones DVD release a year or two ago. I think Disney put the show on iTunes because they’re thinking of using the property in some way and this one way to gauge audience interest. They’ve been remaking a lot of their animated catalogue into live action films lately and the show certainly lends itself to live action adaptation. It would make a pretty cool franchise if they skew adult. Or they could be doing another animated show? Or it’s just an iTunes release. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear some talk from Disney about a movie or something. As I said, done the right way it would make very cool franchise. It’s dark, complex, thought provoking show with great characters and an excellent mythology.
Allow me to refresh your memory on this excellent TV show and then I’m going to tell you why it’s still so good and groundbreaking: On the series, Gargoyles , like the stone statues you see in castles and churches, are a noble and intelligent race of warrior beings that turn to stones by day (almost like hibernating in a cocoon) and come alive at night. Though they cant outright fly, they have strong claws and wings that allow them to glide if they get high enough. Though mostly feared by the humans who see them as monsters, their nature is to protect life. I always thought the really cool monologue that played over the opening credits explained it well: 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. Betrayed by the humans we had sworn to protect. That gives you gist of it more or less.
Gargoyles begins in Scotland in 994 A.D Following a particular clan of Gargoyles that protect Castle Wyvern on the Scottish coast. Led by Goliath (voiced by Keith David) the story’s protagonist, the Gargoyles have an uneasy alliance with the humans they live alongside. In exchange for protection while they sleep during the day, vulnerable in stone form, the Gargoyles protect the castle from any attackers, including the that Vikings have begun to invade Scotland.
After one Viking attack is easily repelled by the Gargoyles, the humans (including the castle ruler, Princess Katherine) still look down on them as nothing but unnatural beasts. Princess Katherine’s chief adviser is The Magus, a young sorcerer who distrusts the Gargoyles. Demona (Marina Sirtis, Troia from Star Trek: The Next Generation), Goliath’s second in command and the human Captain of the castle guard (I don’t think he’s called anything but Captain) are disgusted at the way they were treated. After all, without the help of the Gargoyles, everyone in the castle would have been captured or killed by the Vikings. Goliath sees that it’s in the nature of humans to fear what they don’t understand and though bothered by it, shrugs the incident off.
Demona is also Goliath’s lover (they don’t really have marriage) and though she loves him, her hatred for humans has festered over the years. Demona and The Captain strike a deal with the Vikings, attack during the day and sack they castle taking their spoils and killing whoever they want. When the Gargoyles wake up, the humans will be gone and they’ll have the castle all to themselves. But the plan goes tragically wrong. Demona tries to get Goliath to take the entire clan and hunt down the Vikings and their leader Hakon, in the woods. Goliath thinks a small sneak attack with his old mentor, the battle hardened gargoyle Hudson, is a better idea. Despite Demona’s protesting, almost the entire clan is left vulnerable when the Vikings attack the next morning. Far too late Goliath, backing him up, realizes something is very wrong, but the sun rises and they’re far away from the castle during the attack. Though The Captain tries to stop him, saying this wasn’t part of the plan, helpless in their stone form Hakkon and the Vikings slaughter the entire clan.
The next night Goliath heads back to find the castle burning and his clan dead. Besides Goliath and Demona, only five other gargoyles from the clan survived. Three young, male Gargoyles, Brooklyn, Broadway, and Lexington, Bronx a different breed of gargoyle that’s more like a dog, and Hudson (The modern names are explained later in the film length first episode). Demona, ashamed and horrified at what she’s done, allows Goliath to believe she died in the massacre. The Vikings kidnaped the Princess, The Magus, and some of the villagers. Hakkon plans to ransom the Princess to her Uncle, The King. But Goliath is out for blood.
The Gargoyles find the Viking camp and Hakkon and The Captain run off with the Princess. While the other Gargoyles finish off the Vikings and save the villagers, Goliath goes after Hakkon. When he finds them near cliff overlooking the ocean, Goliath is horrified that The Captain, a man he believed to be his friend, betrayed him. A fight ensues and Hakkon and The Captain fall to their deaths, but even after all he’s been through Goliath saves the Princess from falling as well, robbing him from a more satisfying revenge.
Back at the Viking camp, the Vikings defeated and the villagers free, The Magus mistakenly believes that Princess Katherine was killed in the conflict between Goliath, Hakkon, and The Captain. In his grief, he casts a spell on the Gargoyles that turns them to stone permanently, day and night, seemingly forever. When Goliath returns with The Princess, The Magus sees that he’s made a horrifying mistake. The book that could reverse the spell was burned by the Vikings and the spell was designed so the Gargoyles would “Sleep until the castle rises above the clouds…”
After bringing each of his remaining stone Gargoyle friends back to the castle, Goliath does not want to live in a world where he is truly alone. He asks The Magus to cast his spell one more time and Goliath joins his surviving fiends in a never ending stone sleep. As for Demona, well you’ll just have to watch the show…
One Thousand Years Later…
Castle Wyvern. Present Day. The Castle and everything inside (including the still intact stone Gargoyles) have been bought by American billionaire David Xanatos, voiced perfectly by Jonathan Frakes AKA Ryker from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact one of the best things about the show is the phenomenal voice work and the excellent talent they managed to attract. The people who wrote the show must have been big Star Trek: The Next Generation fans because a lot of actor from that series play characters on Gargoyles. In fact, this would be a great time to point out the incredible voice talent the show attracted. Well known voice performers, fantastic character, actors and few bigger names make up the cast that includes: Keith David, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Ed Asner, Brent Spiner, Matt Frewer, Bill Fagerbakke, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, Tim Curry, David Warner, Thomas F. Wilson, Kate Mulgrew, and Jim Belushi just to name a few. That’s a hell of a cast and that isn’t even all of the notable voice actors.
Anyway, Xanatos is definitely one of the most interesting characters on the show. He’s kind of a mix of Lex Luthor, Tony Stark, and a little bit of Doctor Doom. He’s extremely intelligent, machiavellian, and charming. He’s the guy who’s 10 steps ahead of everybody else in the room. He may not be completely trustworthy , but he’s such a cool, likable character that you can’t help rooting for this guy a little bit, despite how shady he is. He’s one of the richest and most powerful men in the world. A self made man, who built one of the largest corporations in the world. With defense contracts, cutting edge robotics, genetics, and much more.
He’s kinda, sorta the “villain”, but things aren’t that black-and-white. Which is another excellent thing about this show. It doesn’t talk down to its audience with characters that are clearly all good and clearly all evil. The entire cast includes well-rounded, interesting individuals with complex personalities and motivations. None of the characters are all good or all bad. This kind of moral complexity shows the maturity of the storytelling.
The New York City skyscraper that’s both his home and company headquarters is tallest building in the world. As part of an astronomically massive project, Xanatos has Castle Wyvern taken apart piece by piece and reassembled atop his New York skyscraper. Which just so happens to be high enough that it’s above the New York clouds. As the spell says the Gargoyles will “Sleep until the castle rises above the clouds…”
You’re probably asking yourself exactly why he’s doing this. Why would he want to break the spell? What does he have to gain? He has multiple reasons that play out across the series, so I don’t want to say too much, but it’s not out of sheer curiosity. You’d have to be 100% certain that magic and all kinds of other crazy shit is real before even thinking about doing this. Let’s just say you don’t fly a castle from Scotland halfway across the world and rebuild it onto a skyscraper without a pretty fucking good reason.
I should take this time to point out that a Scottish castle atop a cutting-edge New York skyscraper could be the coolest fucking headquarters of any villain or hero in all of fictIon. That’s some badass shit. Once the castle is completely reassembled back in New York, the Gargoyles are brought back to their posts on the castle towers and Xanatos waits for nightfall. He is not disappointed. The spell is broken and the Gargoyles awaken. Xanatos tries to explain what’s happened and how long it’s been, even though Goliath knows that by the very nature of his situation the world he’s woken up to will probably be a different one, nothing can compare prepare him in the other Gargoyles for seeing New York City below them instead of the Scottish coast. Adding to an already bad situation is the realization that people of the modern world have almost completely forgotten about magical and supernatural creatures. Xanatos tells them they’re the last of their kind, Gargoyles are essentially extinct except for Goliath and his Clan (fortunately, we find out later in the series, that may not be true).
Shortly after the Gargoyles have awakened into this strange new world, we meet police detective Elisa Maza. Goliath and the other Gargoyles meet Elisa after some crazy shit goes down at the castle. After everything that went down a thousand years ago with The Captain, Goliath is reluctant to put his trust in any human again. But he knows he’ll need to trust someone in this modern world for his clan to survive and he’s smart enough to know he’s better off with Elisa than Xanatos. As the series unfolds, she becomes like family to the Gargoyles and develops a profound and deep bond with Goliath in particular.
Eventually when it’s clear that living in the castle with Xanatos isn’t safe, the move to a closed clock tower above the police station Elisa works out of (conivently the night shift). From their new home in the clock tower the Gargoyles view New York City as their new castle. It’s in a Gargoyle’s nature to protect and they intend to do just that in their new home. As time goes on, Elias’ part of the Clan for all intents and purposes. As the rest of Gargoyles begin to acclimate to life in 20th Century New York, we begin to get to know them a bit more. Goliath was unusual when it comes to Gargoyles, the humans of the Castle gave him a name, but typically Gargoyles don’t have names. In keeping with this new life, in this new world they live in the rest of the gargoyles all pick modern names. Like the 3 young Gargoyles: Brooklyn: a natural leader, Broadway: friendly and loving the different foods of the modern world, Lexington: who becomes fascinated with computers and electronics. As well as their experienced, but past his prime mentor Hudson, and their guard dog Bronx. I wanted to give a deeper exploration of the rest of Goliath’s clan, but if I take the time to describe each one this article would be way too long. So for now, at least you have the bare bones of who the rest of the Goliath’s clan consist of.
Probably the most important relationship on the show is between Goliath and Elisa. The show has a great ensemble of characters, like the other Gargoyles, villains, and allies, but Goliath and Elisa are the heart of the show. They’re kindred spirits. Their values are the same, but just like real people, they waver at times. I would be so easy for either of them, and all of the Gargoyles for that matter, to be consumed by the darkness and death that has been such a large part of their lives. Ultimately, they believe in fighting for justice in a world that they know is broken, but they continue the good fight every day (or night) anyway. They may seem different on the outside, but they’re both protectors at their core and the bond that grows between them goes beyond the physical. Also, Elisa is another great example of how this show was ahead of it’s time. She’s a smart, tough, interesting character. Even though she find herself constantly in situations where she’s fighting WAY out of her weight class, she’s never a damsel in distress. She’s also mixed race, her mother is African American and her father is Native American. Though her cultural heritage is touched upon in important ways several times in the show, her race doesn’t define her. We don’t have enough of these types of characters in our pop culture today, it’s even more impressive her character existed almost 25 years ago. I think the fact that she wasn’t just another stock white, cookie cutter, female protagonist isn’t only more compelling to watch, but it also informs her relationship with Goliath and the other Gargoyles. Hating someone just because of who and what they are is a big theme in the series. Racism and sexism are both very real problems in American today and it would have been much worse 25 years ago. From their very first meeting forward, the relationship between Goliath and Elisa deepens because they see so much of themselves in each other.
What makes Goliath a hero isn’t that he fights bad guys. It’s the fact that he’s face genocide, betrayal, and loss on a scale that would be hard to imagine, but in spite of all that he still fights to do good, to protect. The darkness of the story is never swept under the rug. Goliath and the rest of his clan are forever haunted by the massacre at Castle Wyvern and it informs many of the choices Goliath makes throughout the series. This certainly isn’t the type of deep material you’d expect on the old Disney Afternoon. In a Season 2 episode, Xanatos comes to Goliath asking for help when Fox, a woman Xanatos is truly in love with, is in mortal danger. Goliath and Elisa consider are very reluctant to help because they know how untrustworthy Xanatos is, after all this could be some kind of con. But Goliath ultimately decides to help, saying “If Xanatos is telling the truth… If someone like him can love, perhaps there still is some hope for this world.”. That’s one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite episodes of the show. It tells you a lot about Goliath, how he sees the world, and his belief in the power of love and redemption.
Gradually, Goliath and Elisa clearly fall in love with one another. Out of all the Gargoyles, he looks the most human. Almost like a muscular man, it reminds me of Hellboy and Liz Sherman. They may be different species, but anatomically I get this sense that Goliath and Elisa could have sex, but definitely not biological children. The fact that show goes there at all is another testament to the quality of this incredible story. By the end of the series, they move past their physical differences that they felt kept them from being together. Though it’s not explicitly spelled out for us, they share a moment together toward the end of the show that tells the audience that their relationship has fundamentally changed. They seem to acknowledge their love for each other and it’s strongly implied that moving forward they’re together as a couple.
Watching this show as a kid, I was blown away. It goes in so many interesting directions, incorporating mythology, folklore, sci-fi, and even Shakespeare to build a universe unlike anything else I’d seen before or since. So many of the things that I love today are concepts I was first introduced to by watching Gargoyles. If you do check out the show (and you should), I cant even begin to describe how the world and mythology of the show becomes so much bigger that what I’ve written about here. Any given episode could have the Gargoyles facing Cyborgs, Artificial Intelligences, Aliens, Hybrid monsters created through genetic engineering another episode could find them facing Odin and other pagan gods, The Loch Ness Monster, Dark Elves, and even King Arthur. It may sound crazy, but it all works in the best way. Probably my favorite creation of the show is the concept of “Oberon’s Children”, “The Third Race” of the planet after Gargoyles and Humans. They’re dangerous beings of pure magic that play an intricate part in the series.
Much like Batman: The Animated Series, it’s hard to think of exactly who the audience for this show was. In fact, Gargoyles gets away with WAY more than any animated show I can think of that wasn’t explicitly made for adults. For example, the characters get the occasional minor swear in. In one of the first few episodes, when Xanatos is having the castle taken apart in Scotland, his assistant comments that it was difficult to find workers for this project because the locals believe the castle to be haunted. Xanatos replies “Pay a man enough and he’ll walk barefoot through Hell”, “that may not seem like particularly strong language, but even that is extremely unusual for a show like this.
The level of violence shown on screen is much higher than you would expect as well. Most cartoons never show anyone actually dying, but people get killed left and right on Gargoyles. Pretty brutally in fact. Full on medieval battles are shown. People get stabbed and shot. One guy has his face set on fire followed immediately with his head exploding. It’s not just the deaths that were brutal either. In one episode Demona maims a kid’s face with her claws just because he gets in her way. All of this adds up to a very unique and captivating show that is absolutely worth revisiting.
While the first season is a strong set up for things to come, it’s really the second season where the show becomes something incredible and the narrative becomes incredibly ambitious. Regardless, definitely give Gargoyles a try if you’re curious. If you liked it as a kid, it absolutely holds up and it’s very cheap on iTunes. As always, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this look back at Gargoyles!
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