Ah, Gargoyles. The Disney Afternoon's answer to Batman: The Animated Series. Seeing all the critical and popular acclaim it was getting, Disney wanted to dip their toe into the dark and gritty action genre. Series co-creator and showrunner Greg Weisman mined the mythologies of the world, and some of Shakespeare's works, to come up with this saga of sorcery, science, immortal warriors, and evil billionaire industrialists.
Ya know what? Rather than me explain it, let's just have the legendary and kick-ass opening credits do it.
I was a fan back in the day. A big fan. It was my transition show. The first season was on during my final year of high school, and the second and final season run during my first year of college. In the computer lab at Augustana was where I first discovered the Internet, and from there, message boards, where I began reading the rampant rumours on upcoming episodes. In the early 2000s, the Family Channel was showing it in reruns, and I said to myself, "I'm going to tape every episode." And I did.
Then DVD came along. The complete first season was issued in 2004 as the "Tenth Anniversary Edition." Season 2, Volume 1 followed soon after. It looked like I'd be able to retire my VHS.
But then...tragedy. Disney announced that they wouldn't release Season 2, Volume 2 because sales of the first two DVDs weren't strong enough. NO!
But then...Disney has a movie club, much like the Columbia Record Club of yore. And Disney decided to release Season 2, Volume 2 as a Disney Movie Club exclusive. YES!
But then...self doubt. Did I really want to join the Disney Movie Club? I was in the Columbia Record Club as I kid. Did I really want to get roped into the long-term contracts and negative billing once again? NO!
But then...a message from a friend. He discovered an online store on Amazon.com that sells those Disney Movie Club exclusives without a Movie Club membership. "I'm ordering a bunch of stuff," he said. "Would you like me to get you Gargoyles?" YES!
(EDIT: June 6, 2015: Disney finally released a mass-market version of Season 2, Volume 2 back in January of 2015, so you can now finally get a copy at your local DVD Emporium.)
So, I've spent the past few weeks revisiting the adventures of Goliath and his clan of Gargoyles, as they do battle with forces of evil in 1990s Manhattan. Well actually, not in this batch of episodes.
Most of the second half of season 2 (and thus, Volume 2 of the DVDs) has to do with a storyline the fans came to dub "the World Tour." Following an adventure on the magical island of Avalon, Goliath, Elisa Maza, the gargoyle hound Bronx, and Angela, Goliath's long-lost daughter who'd been living in seclusion on Avalon, begin a quest, taking them to many different parts of the world. They run into magical beings, discover other Gargoyle clans that had been living in seclusion over the years, and, in the grand tradition of shows like Quantum Leap, undo wrongs all over the world. I remember discussing with my friends why the series did this for such a good chunk of its run. Just as things were getting good and a nice, Manhattan-centric mythology was being built, it was all tossed aside as things went in a new direction. But having read up on the series over the years, I now know that so much of that was done in the name of world-building. They were setting up stuff to be paid off in later seasons...they were trying to get a couple of spin-offs on the go...it was so much set-up that never got a chance to go anywhere.
For example, the episode Pendragon. During his adventure on Avalon, Goliath re-awakened the dormant King Arthur to help out in the battle. At the conclusion of the battle, King Arthur decided to set off and explore the new world himself. Enter the episode Pendragon, where he winds up in New York City looking to reclaim Excalibur. It was hoped that Pendragon would lead to a spin-off about King Arthur in the modern day, looking for the immortal Merlin, and recruiting knights for the new Round Table. But the spin-off never came to be.
Watching it again, can't help but feel how horribly trapped in the 1990s some of it is. This struck me watching an episode called The Green. Goliath, Elisa, Angela, and Bronx wind up in Guatemala, where they discover a tribe of gargoyles living deep in the rainforest. They find that the Guatemalan gargoyles have pledged their lives to defending the rainforest from those who are clear-cutting it for developments. Man o man, "save the rainforest" tales were big on Saturday morning in the 1990s. Also notable for a scene where the villains, who make a quick jaunt to New York to get a weapon to destroy the gargoyles, book their plane tickets online. In the early days of the Internet, back in the 1990s, they sure made a big deal about how you could book airline tickets online.
And sadly, thanks to the World Tour, at the end of the season, we got precious little time back in New York City and returning to plot lines that had since been forgotten. And again, they introduce some new concepts that they never get to explore more. Such as the episode Turf. Angela is having a tough time adjusting to life in New York...mainly as the three gargoyles Brooklyn, Broadway, and Lexington are falling over themselves, displaying all kinds of machismo, trying to impress her. Seeking Elisa's council, Elisa tells Angela that it's because Angela is, quite literally, the first woman they've seen in 1000 years, and that she's mature enough to settle this herself. The moment where she's had enough of it and finally tells the three to back the fuck off is a highlight in the character's history.
But it all builds up to its final episode, the 3-parter Hunter's Moon, which has to be one of the series' finest. For generations, the Canmore family has hunted the immortal evil gargoyle Demona. The vendetta has been passed down from father to son for more than 1000 years. And now, the latest Canmores, calling themselves the Hunters, arrive in New York to take down not just Demona, but all the Gargoyles. When Angela is gravely wounded by the Hunters in their first encounter, Goliath becomes blinded with vengeance as he swears to make the Hunters pay. Complicating things is that Elisa begins falling for her new partner, further complicating her already complicated relationship with Goliath. Complicated! What makes this so good is the character arc that Goliath goes through. The fear of losing his love and his daughter...his growing rage and thirst for vengeance. It's just fun seeing this character go to a dark place.
I guess I don't need to mention all the Star Trek stars that showed up in guest appearances, do I? That was always part of its charm. The big ones, of course, were Jonathon Frakes as the Gargoyle's arch-enemy Xanatos, and Marina Sirtis as the evil gargoyle Demona. I really have to give props to Sirtis for the voice of Demona. It's very similar to her voice for Troi, but it has this wonderful undercurrent of evil to it. And then, showing in guest spots, we had Michael Dorn as Coldstone, the cyborg gargoyle. Colm Meaney (O'Brien) popped up as hardworking Irishman when the World Tour stopped in Ireland. When the world tour took Goliath and company to Africa, LeVar Burton was there as the spider god Anancied, along with Nichelle Nichols as Elisa's mother. A quick stop in Easter Island, and we see those giant heads were modeled on an alien sentinel, who had the voice of Captain Sisko, Avery Brooks. In the dual role of Titania, queen of the magical beings, and her human alter-ego of Anastasia Renard, Captain Janeway herself, Kate Mulgrew. And as her servant Puck, Brent Spiner.
I remember the question was posed to Greg Weisman on those Gargoyles message boards back in the day. With so many Star Trek stars, why didn't they get Patrick Stewart to voice Oberon, the king of the magical beings? Said Weisman, "We wanted to, but we couldn't afford him."
It was fun, spending this time revisiting Gargoyles. It's still a fun show that holds up pretty well, and I'm just glad to finally my collection complete. Well, I guess it's not really complete, as there's still The Goliath Chronicles.
The quick history: so, Gargoyles fulfilled its order of 65 episodes and came to an end in the spring of 1996. But then, Disney bought the ABC Television network, and was about to launch a Disney-centric Saturday morning line-up. 13 new episodes of Gargoyles were quickly ordered for Saturday mornings, under the title The Goliath Chronicles. Weisman was already moving on to other projects, so he wrote the first episode of this new series, and provided the new creative team with an outline as to where he planned to evolve the characters. While his first episode was used, the new creative time quickly disregarded his outline and did their own thing.
For example, Xanatos. Following the birth of his son and Goliath's help in protecting the young boy from Oberon, Xanatos feels he owes Goliath a debt. In the final episode Hunter's Moon, after the Gargoyles had been outed and made public, Xanatos offers them sanctuary in his building, and allows the Gargoyles to move back into their ancestral castle now perched upon Xanatos's skyscraper. In The Goliath Chronicles, this sparked Xanatos's reformation and redemption, as he became a staunch ally and defender to the Gargoyles. In Weisman's original outline, Xanatos was going to remain evil, and things between him and Goliath was going to be more like an uneasy truce.
And so, a lot of the fans like to close their eyes tightly and wish that it never happened. But still, I remember watching it, and there was some good in it. So maybe Disney will complete the set.