Warriors By Night!
I’m getting a leg-up on the oncoming wave of 90’s nostalgia, as the focus of that particular niche moves inexorably forward with the advancing age of its original acolytes. I’ll be upfront, while I am familiar with most of our current nostalgia touchstones (Transformers, GI Joe, Thundercats, et al.), I’m not really their target audience. I was just a little too young to have caught most of them in their prime, and the properties I formed a connection with belong primarily to the following decade. In what exposure I’ve had to the cauldron of pop culture discussion, from which springs our obsessions with the artifacts of youth, I’ve noticed a certain undercurrent of elitism among the hierophants of 80’s nostalgia. They tend to get a degree of tunnel vision, disregarding what came before and what came after their particular window of genre saturation as beneath analysis, added to by the confirmation bias of seeing their niche so well represented in today’s revivalist pop culture environment. This being the case, insomuch as I have observed, I sense a war of hegemony on the horizon. Like a broadband John Brown I predict flame wars that shall scorch the very tubes of the interwebz as Young Turks of the 90’s vie for position against the fattened referential hierarchs of the Reagan era. In preparation for this battle of thinly-legitimized infantilism, allow me to loose my colors and cry hosanna to one of the truly great things to rock Saturday morning.
In the early 1990’s the Fox network had managed to hit not just one but two spectacular home runs in the realm of youth programming, with Power Rangers and Batman the Animated Series coming out of almost nowhere to create media and merchandising powerhouses. The Walt Disney company wanted in on this. After all, this was Disney. Kid oriented stuff was the mortar of their empire. Moreover, the “Disney Renaissance” was just really getting its feet under it, and it was a time that rewarded experimentation. So, Disney put its chips down on an ambitious gamble. A gothic fantasy adventure series that sought to capture the ensemble dynamic of Power Rangers and inject it with the brooding, slightly mature melodrama of Batman. The result was Gargoyles, and it was absolutely freaking sweet.
I recently undertook to watch a good portion of the series, wearing the equivalent of two hats as I did so. On the one hand, I watched it with the unbridled enthusiasm of nostalgia. On the other, I did my best to evaluate it objectively as a critic. The verdict? Still absolutely freaking sweet. Gargoyles still holds up almost two decades later, and in a way that supports more intellectual weight than most of its forebears and indeed many of its contemporaries. Don’t just take my word for it, check it out!
No small part of this is owed to the fact that Disney did not screw around on this project. The animation is fantastic, leveraging the full weight of Disney’s legendary art studio. If you’ve got an eye for it you can catch the occasional recycled sequence or hastily celled frame, but these are overwhelmingly the exceptions to the rule of Gargoyles‘ memorable, dynamic, and highly articulated visuals. Then there’s the voice cast. Oh the voice cast. You know what, let me just link you to the freaking page. Go nuts. I’ll wait.
Then there’s the writing. While it’s not without some occasional dissonance, mainly stemming from the inevitable strictures placed upon ostensible children’s programming and the occasional mediocre filler episode. The show by and large remains very solid though, with more than a few digressions into some fairly heavy stuff. Discrimination and xenophobia are their preferred drum to beat, but other questions of man’s inhumanity to man abound. In the action sequences realistic firearms are commonplace, and in one particular “very special episode” there’s even an unexpected amount of blood. The plots run the gamut from science fiction to high fantasy to modern intrigue, a consistent tone and rich mythology being the only things that keep its otherwise schizophrenic premise from falling apart. That the show manages to function at all given its quirky premise, complex machinery, ranging story, and mosaic of plot devices is something of a small miracle in itself. Work it does, though.
Despite that, unfortunately, Gargoyles never really became the breakout hit it was envisioned to be. It did respectably enough, consistent if underwhelming ratings and some moderate merchandising, but it didn’t mount any serious challenge to the lords of television at that time. After three seasons, the second of which a mammoth fifty-two episodes and the third of debatable canon following the departure of much of the original writers, the show got the axe. To date only the first season and the first half of season two have seen a DVD release, but with the twentieth anniversary of the show looming and its cult following gaining momentum with the dawning of 90’s nostalgia culture, it isn’t unreasonable to think there may soon be a complete series set in the offing.
In the place where I would normally close with something witty I’m instead just going to say “Go watch this show. Seriously. Go do it.”