Gargoyles

3 out of 5

Co-Created by: Greg Weisman

covers seasons 1 – 3

If you’ve trawled the alleyways of animation fandom, surely you’ve hard whispers of Gargoyles’ greatness. Or perhaps you actually watched the show back in the day, remarking on its visual similarity to Batman, and then quickly got wrapped up in its ever-evolving lore, recognizing the show was “different” but, at a young age, perhaps not being able to exactly explain why.

The reputation is, I’d say earned: Gargoyles – even allowing for its sometimes ignored third season – is quite different from kids’ cartoons of the time, sticking to its generally darker tone and remaining mindful of plot beats and side characters, and allowing storylines to stretch for multiple episodes. For its 13-episode first season, it remains striking and effective, 20+ years on, working in a more grounded, patient style than one would expect to see from action oriented cartoons, while also not sacrificing that latter bit, delivering lots of fisticuffs and drama and imaginative baddies for big ol’ showdowns. Plus: gargoyles were just a cool choice for main characters – great silhouettes, and uniquely positioned as something that felt tied to mythology as opposed to makeshift mutants or robots.

Moving into its 52-episode second season, though, while there are absolutely some fantastic concepts and arcs, it also becomes a more “regular” show, and a bit less loosely focused; right past the midpoint, when it drops in some intriguing and complex additions to its in-universe history, it rather starts to spin its wheels, doing a “world tour” style set of episodes for quite a long while. The quality of bits and pieces remains, and there’s still some great twists and additions in store, but you can feel the show trying to find its way to something a bit more streamlined, and the conclusion of the season almost starts to feel like a different show.

…Which it was, in its third season, with a different station (ABC) and mostly a different creative and production crew, and a subtitle: The Goliath Chronicles. It truly becomes a ‘something of the week’ style series at that point, with a bit more consistent humor and shifting characters into stricter archetypes. But it’s not a reboot: the new crew does keep circling around the pieces that were put into play in the previous seasons, and – though hardcore Gargoyles fans might hate me for saying so – I actually enjoy this season’s light feeling after the occasionally wandering trudge of the former’s latter half. Whether or not you include it in your official Gargoyles canon, though, I’d still say that all of the show’s most wowing elements are balanced out by that second season bloat, which starts to overuse forced character conflict as plot motivators – Goliath acts petty; gargoyle boys squabble over girls. If the show hadn’t taken such strides to establish more maturity in its cast early on, this stuff would be the norm for most cartoons, but it’s a backstep for Gargoyles, once it’s regularly employed.

Gargoyles’ posits a titular race of beings who are charged with protecting mankind. They turn to stone during the day, but break free anew each night. In the year 994, a clan of Gargoyles are cursed to remain as stone; 1,000 years later – 1994, the era of our show – a man named Xanatos has found the way to break the spell. Goliath and his clan awake, and must discover Xanatos’ intentions, and occasionally tussle with the police, all while also finding their place in the modern world. This leads to lots of intertwining relationships and subplots, learning whose on who’s side, and eventually exploring the gargoyle’s history, adding to it in surprising ways. The cast is like a list of every classic VA actor, alongside an amusing amount of Star Trek actors, and this gives further legitimacy to the weighty scripts, and appreciatively moody art style. I’ve loosely outlined above how it starts to slip into more traditional models as things go above, but that doesn’t mean – as I began – that the reputation the show now has isn’t, on the whole, justified, and it’s absolutely worth traveling through all three (two?) seasons to experience, or reexperience that.