No. of Seasons: 3
No. of Episodes: 78
Production Company: Walt Disney Television Animation
Distributed By: Buena Vista Television
Original Release: October 24, 1994 – February 15, 1997
Seeing as I’ve spoken of not one but three different characters from this show, a princess, a hero, and a villain respectively, I think that it’s high time that I say my whole piece on one of the greatest animated television series of the 90’s if not all of time.
The basic premise of Gargoyles can be summed up entirely in its opening sequence which is a short but eloquent narration by the main protagonist Goliath, leader of the Manhattan Clan of gargoyles who tells the tale that centuries ago, in an age where sword and superstition still ruled, he and what little of his clan was left following a short but no less horrific massacre were cursed to sleep in stone for over a thousand years. Now alive again in this modern world, the gargoyles must try to adapt as enemies, new and old alike, await them in the moonlit shadows…
When I say new and old, I mean that in every sense of those respected words. There are villains of this modern world such as mafia bosses arming themselves with the highest grade of military weaponry, mutants derived from gene splicing to make artificial adaptations of the gargoyles and other mythical beasts, cyborgs that are more machine than man (or woman as the case is), and even freaking evil clones of the Manhattan Clan.
From the old we get ancient spirits whom were once revered as gods, spirits of the dead and damned cursed to remain on this world for their crimes, and mystical artifacts that could, and have, spelled the damnation of all life on Earth if they were to fall in the wrong hands.
Science and sorcery, two aspects of fiction that, until this show, did not blend together in a proper fashion as most shows, including newer ones like Voltron: Legendary Defender, have gone the route of “science so advanced it’s perceived as magic.” While Gargoyles does push the boundaries of what is and isn’t possible with science, at least at the time of this review, none of it is something that is, again at present, wholly inconceivable.
While we certainly don’t have handheld laser canons or any such variation as of yet, such weaponry is in development as well as gene splicing though not to the degree of creating literal chimeras. If I recall correctly, there are some goats that have been spliced with spider DNA so that their milk can produce the protein used in spider silk. Don’t believe me, look up “BioSteel” and tell me otherwise. Even cloning and cyborg implants are no longer works of an imaginative mind though not necessarily to the point of near-mirror copies and robotic limbs toting more weaponry than should be possible.
As to the sorcery, well, it’s actually rather interesting how magic is utilized in Gargoyles. Most spells and enchantments have a means of being broken but the way to do so was, at the time of that spells creation, wholly inconceivable my any mundane means. The curse that was afflicted upon the Manhattan Clan is one such example as they were cursed to remain in stone until such a time as their home, Castle Wyvern, had been raised above the clouds.
Cue a thousand years later and one obscenely rich and powerful man named David Xanatos purchasing and placing said castle atop one of the highest towers in Manhattan and voila! Spell is broken and gargoyles now roam the skies of the Big Apple.
The series itself begins in a five-part saga known simply as “Awakening.” It, and many other such future episodes, is par for the course for Gargoyles as most episodes, even those that stand alone, will eventually come back to play a pivotal part later on in the series. This opening saga touches upon all the major points of the series, at least those pivotal in the first season. We see that gargoyles, as a species, sleep as stone statues during the day only to come to life the moment the sun has set, and they all have a fierce protective instinct to guard what is their, including those whom otherwise show no respect towards them.
One of the primary villains in the series, David Xanatos, is introduced to us and shown to be equal parts Tony Stark, Lex Luthor, and a dash of Bruce Wayne. Out of any villain I’ve seen, he is one of the few whose endgame I can never fully figure out and who has demonstrated a level of intellect that is frightening to behold.
He has plans within plans within plans and it is exceedingly rare to see him display his true colors. Yet, for all his misdeeds, there is something honorable to him though that is in turn a stretch of the word and will gladly own up to his mistakes though oftentimes when it’s far too late to fix them.
We are also introduced to one of my other favorite characters in the series but I’ll discuss her in further detail later this week.
While “Awakening” is certainly an excellent way to start the series proper, the episode I would choose to demonstrate a taste of what’s in store for new viewers would be the fifteenth episode of the second season, “The Price” wherein we find that Hudson, following a brief but short skirmish with MacBeth (of the Shakespearian play no less), does not awaken from his stone sleep. As the rest of the Manhattan Clan searches frantically for a way to cure Hudson, we find it to be a ruse created by Xanatos who wishes to use Hudson as a test subject for his latest scheme.
Thankfully, Hudson proves that despite his advanced age, his is still no less a worthy adversary to Xanatos and makes his escape. Though disappointed, Xanatos does not appear to be entirely distressed at the loss of a subject as his chief assistant Owen, steps up to the cauldron containing the concoction that will provide life “as long as the mountain stone.” Upon dipping his arm into the brew, the potion reveals itself to be quite literal in its description turning Owen’s arm to stone.
What makes this really noteworthy however is Owen’s lack of a reaction, merely adjusting his glasses as he tests the hardiness of his arm by tapping it against the cauldron. Even Xanatos himself is surprisingly relaxed at this reveal, lamenting at the spell being so literal before thanking Owen and dismissing him for the day.
“The Price” is not my favorite episode, as that one will be discussed in further detail in the next review, but it does show how deeply the Manhattan Clan care for one another and just how far Xanatos can and has gone to get what he wants. Yet, do you want to know something well and truly frightening, my dear readers? Xanatos, while a primary villain for most of the series, is not the worst adversary that the Manhattan Clan faces.
Overall, while there are elements to Gargoyles that have, unfortunately, not withstood the tests of time, there are moments involving computers and other such devices that make one groan as they recall a time where such phrases as “an Internet” were considered proper grammar, the stories and characters do not. Each episode is an epic in and of itself with most being far too great to contain in a single episode. Though the gargoyles have gone to rest for now, with the recent rise in nostalgia among the masses, who can say that they won’t awaken again in the near future?