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Gargoyles: Season 2 – Volume 2

Gargoyles:  Season 2 - Volume 2 (2013)

Gargoyles: Season 2 – Volume 2 (2013)

It was a long wait for fans of Disney’s Gargoyles in between DVD releases.  Volume 1 of the second season was released back in 2005 in an attractive three-disc set.  Apparently the sales for the set were not up to Disney’s standards and volume 2 of the set was either pushed back or outright cancelled.  Volume 2 was only recently released this past summer, nearly six years following the release of volume 1 and it was done in a quiet fashion.  Now Disney has its own movie club which it uses as a vehicle for delivering to people DVD sets of their less popular shows as movie club exclusives.  These sets are cheaply done but for fans of the obscure it is currently the only avenue for them to get a physical copy of their beloved programs.  Such was the fate of volume 2 for Gargoyles.  The movie club exclusive contains a minimalist jacket with a gaudy yellow border.  The DVD case itself is like that of a standard DVD with a larger central tab where all three discs are stacked one on top of the other.  The only insert is an ad for the movie club and a number to register the DVD with.  The actual DVDs contain no bonus features of any kind, just the episodes and a mostly ugly DVD menu.  It’s about as bare-bones as it gets, but for fans waiting six years for the episodes, I suppose it’s better than nothing.

The set contains the final 26 episodes for season two.  It starts with the episode “Monsters,” which if one were to look at an official episode list for the show, should have been the final episode of volume 1.  Instead, the episode “Kingdom” was moved to volume 1 for pacing issues with “Monsters” getting pushed back.  That’s because these episodes comprise the World Tour section of season 2 where Goliath, Elisa, Angela, and Bronx are being sent to all parts of the world by the island Avalon for unknown reasons.  As a result, much of season 2 does not include the other characters such as Broadway or even Xanatos.  Often times, Goliath and co. will encounter a villain from back home while on their travels but just as often they’re paired with someone new.  They also encounter many new gargoyles as Goliath gradually learns that gargoyles are alive and well all around the globe.

Angela is added as a member of the main cast in the second half of season two and plays an important role in the development of the Goliath character.

Angela is added as a member of the main cast in the second half of season two and plays an important role in the development of the Goliath character.

Because of the World Tour format, the second half of season 2 is even more episodic than the first half, meaning the episodes function mostly as stand-alone stories.  I suppose one could argue there’s an overall plot since it’s Avalon that is sending them to these destinations, but it’s a fairly loose one.  Having the setting change each episode is an easy way to inject variety into the show, but the format grows stale.  The stories often feel like filler, and as a viewer I just wanted the group to get back home or for Avalon to finally unveil it’s true intentions.  Not all of the episodes follow the Would Tour group, as there are a couple that take place back in Manhattan.  In one such episode, “Pendragon,” the legendary King Arthur and the gargoyle Griff, two individuals encountered by Goliath and co. during their travels, wind up in New York and interact with the remaining members of the Manhattan Clan.  The World Tour basically lasts for 17 additional episodes of volume 2, with the two-part “The Gathering” representing its conclusion.  It’s far too long, and getting through those episodes started to feel like a chore for me (hence why it took me so long to get to reviewing this set) which is never a good feeling for television viewing.

Thankfully, the remaining handful of episodes are pretty interesting, as is the two-part “The Gathering,” though it’s not as grand as some of the series’ other multi-part arcs.  In that story, the god Oberon is attempting to steal the newborn son of Fox and Xanatos for he possesses some unusual abilities for a mortal.  It is interesting to see Xanatos and the gargoyles take on a god, though the resolution felt a little too neat and tidy for my tastes, but I can’t deny the alternative would have worked much better.  We learn some interesting tidbits about some of the supporting characters of the show, which is one of its great strengths.  The writers never miss an opportunity to focus on a secondary character and add importance to it.  As a result, just about any character who ever had even a minor role in a prior story returns at some point, including one background character viewers likely never noticed in “Vendettas.”  This type of writing helps make the show feel more rewarding for loyal viewers and it does add depth to what would otherwise be shallow characters.

The production values for volume 2 are largely the same as that for volume 1, though the DVDs this time around are of a lower quality.  The colors aren’t as rich and sometimes the image can be grainy, but that’s expected considering this was done on the cheap.  There are still episodes where the animation is of a noticeable lower quality, while others more resemble the quality of season one.  The A+ animation is largely reserved for the bigger stories, but even a stand-alone episode here and there (like “Future Tense”) is given a more striking look.  The score remains excellent as well and the voice acting is the usual high quality Disney output.

The alternate future depicted in "Future Tense" is one of the more fun stand-alone episodes in volume 2.

The alternate future depicted in “Future Tense” is one of the more fun stand-alone episodes in volume 2.

While from an episode quality standpoint I enjoyed this set less than the previous two, there are still some excellent stand-out episodes.  I mentioned “Future Tense” already as being a stand-out in terms of production values, but it’s also a really fun story that looks at an alternate future for Manhattan.  “Sanctuary” is one of the better World Tour episodes as it includes MacBeth, Demona, and Thailog.  Thailog also makes an appearance in another strong episode back in New York, “The Reckoning,” which contains the long anticipated confrontation between Angela and Demona.  The Goliath, Angela, Demona triangle is an anchor in a few stories, and the tension between Goliath and Angela over her lineage is done well.  I don’t think it’s giving away anything to reveal that Angela is the biological daughter of Goliath and Demona, but the writers do a good job of explaining Goliath’s and the clan’s view on children, which is that all gargoyles are children of the clan.  Angela, having been raised by humans, has a human’s perspective when it comes to parents and longs for Goliath to acknowledge her as his daughter.  She has similar feelings towards Demona, though they’re obviously complicated by the fact that Demona isn’t the most likable person/gargoyle.

The Goliath/Elisa relationship is handled quite tastefully by the writers of the show.

The Goliath/Elisa relationship is handled quite tastefully by the writers of the show.

Another tension of the series is the obvious affection Goliath and Elisa feel for each other that largely goes unstated between the two.  The conclusion to the set, “Hunter’s Moon,” addresses it for the first time in a very satisfying way.  It’s hard to write such a relationship because it takes care to make it believable that an attractive woman like Elisa would have romantic feelings for Goliath.  The writers sell it well though, and while I’m not sure they could have ever pulled off a full-on romance for the two, they did find a way to get the point across.  That conclusion, by the way, is a three-part story that actually brings everything full-circle for the gargoyles.  It would have been a fine way to end the series, but a thirteen episode season 3 was picked up by ABC for their then Saturday morning block.  Series creator Greg Weisman wrote the premier for that season, dubbed The Goliath Chronicles by ABC, but had no involvement in the remaining twelve episodes.  As a result, they are not considered canon by Weisman and the series actually continued in comic book form years later.  I may look into checking out those comics but I need to know more about them first and if they’re worthwhile.  I’m pretty happy with “Hunter’s Moon” as a conclusion, as I don’t expect a season three set, and I may choose to just leave Gargoyles with how season two ended.

As for this set, it is what it is.  For those who just want the episodes, it’s the only option save for bootlegs that are probably even worse quality.  When it was released last summer, it was available for a short time on eBay through Buena Vista’s store but once those copies were gone the movie club and secondary market were the only options.  The movie club is actually worth looking into for those looking to start a Disney collection.  For those (like me) who already own a ton of Disney DVDs and Blu Rays, it doesn’t make financial sense.  Very quietly though the set moves to the traditional Disney Store website and is available there for twenty bucks.  The secondary market has yet to adjust, it would seem, as the copies are still routinely priced in excess of forty dollars.  Even so, this is likely not going to be produced in large numbers so if you’re a fan of the show it’s probably a good idea to get it while it’s relatively cheap.  Bland set or not, it’s still 26 episodes of a pretty strong show for twenty bucks and if you already have the first two it’s basically a must-have.  Gargoyles is among the elite action cartoons of the 90’s, and for me it ranks among Batman and X-Men as the best of the best.


Gargoyles: Season One

Gargoyles - The Complete First Season (2004)

Gargoyles – The Complete First Season (2004)

In the early 90’s, Fox cornered the market when it came to television shows for young demographics, particularly boys in that 7-12 age group.  They had hit shows with Batman The Animated Series, X-Men, and Power Rangers and their Saturday morning programming was unrivaled.  Batman, in particular, ushered in an era of cartoons where the writers didn’t feel like they had to dumb-down the show to please its audience.  The stories were mostly grounded within the fantasy world the show created, while X-Men wasn’t afraid of creating serialized episodes that asked more from its viewers.  These weren’t stand-alone episodes with the same throw-away clichés prevalent in most children’s programming.  And while the shows were, first and fore-most, children’s shows they didn’t make adults feel like idiots for watching.

Disney, by contrast, had seen its viewership decline.  The once popular Disney Afternoon programming was mostly content to keep things the same.  Duck Tales and Tailspin were successful early on, and Darkwing Duck was Disney’s own answer to Batman but with a comedic core.  If Darkwing Duck was supposed to reel in Batman viewers then Disney missed the point.  Putting a cape and mask on a character and having him fight crime isn’t what people tuned into Batman for.  Those viewers wanted to see the show take itself seriously, present real threats, and overall just make it a credible show.  Disney needed a show that matched Batman’s tone and not his costume, so they turned to comic book writer Greg Weisman and from that relationship came Gargoyles.

Gargoyles could be described as modern fantasy mixed with Greek tragedy.  Stylistically, the show is reminiscent of the aforementioned Batman and X-Men with similarities to contemporary cartoon Jim Lee’s Wild C.A.T.S.  The color palette is muted with lots of deep violets and blues and plenty of black.  The first season has a split setting between modern-day New York and turn of the first millennium Scotland.  The gargoyles, lead by the hulking Goliath, are a humanoid, bat-like race that spends the daylight hours encased in stone and owns the night.  In 994 Scotland, they’re protectors of a castle inhabited by humans that, for the most part, view the gargoyles in an unfavorable light.  When the gargoyle clan finds itself betrayed by those it trusted, most are smashed to death during the day while the few survivors are magically encased within stone until the castle they inhabit rises above the clouds.

The Manhattan Clan (left to right):  Lexington, Brooklyn, Goliath, Hudson, and Broadway.

The Manhattan Clan (left to right): Lexington, Brooklyn, Goliath, Hudson, and Broadway.

The existence of the extraordinary gargoyle race is all but wiped away from history, but one noted wealthy individual by the name of David Xanatos, is well-aware of their past.  It is he who purchases the castle along with the gargoyles and moves them to Manhattan where he places it atop a massive skyscraper, thus ending the spell placed upon them.  The rest of the first season deals with the gargoyles coming to terms with what happened to them a thousand years ago and finding a way to relate to this new, modern world and find their place in it.  Themes of tragedy, isolation, trust, family, and acceptance help frame the show.  In this there are many similarities to X-Men as both the gargoyles and mutants find themselves as unwelcomed protectors of humanity.  Their isolation, seemingly alone in this world with the exception of their one human ally, Elisa, helps evoke the Batman similarities.

Detective Elisa Maza heads the short list of allies for the Manhattan Clan.

Detective Elisa Maza heads the short list of allies for the Manhattan Clan.

The remaining gargoyles, now known as the Manhattan Clan, are a small group of varying personalities.  Goliath is the unquestioned leader.  He’s noble, proud and a bit stubborn at times.  He’s always learning and isn’t immune to mistakes, but he does everything with purpose and conviction.  Hudson is the elder statesman of the clan and its former leader.  He prefers to stay on the sidelines and leave the fighting to the younger gargoyles.  Brooklyn, Broadway, and Lexington are the younger members of the clan and rookery mates, which is gargoyle speak for siblings.  Brooklyn is a curious sort who seems to model himself after Goliath while Lexington is consumed by modern technology.  The gluttonous Broadway is sometimes relegated to comic relief though the show mostly avoid slapstick and jokes.  Rounding out the clan is the dog-like Bronx who is the only gargoyle incapable of speech and lacking in wings.  Detective Elisa Maza is the sole ally of the gargoyles in season one.  She’s a strong-willed character who is able to give the gargoyles leads on the goings-on of their enemies while also sometimes acting as almost a mentor to Goliath.

Much like the clan itself, the rogues gallery for the show is kept fairly compact for the first season.  It’s dominated by Xanatos, who poses as an ally early on to the clan but is soon revealed as duplicitous and self-serving.  His main weapons are cunning and money, but he also possesses some high-tech weaponry including his own cybernetic army of gargoyles.  He splits time as the main foe for the clan with Demona, Goliath’s former lover who was complicit in the destruction of their clan a thousand years ago.  While her intentions were without malice, her persona is consumed with a bloodlust for humanity as she blames them for their near extinction.  She is the Magneto to Goliath’s Charles Xavier.  Other villains include the sportsmen MacBeth and the television actors turned criminals The Pack, a group of men and women who fashion their personas after wild canines.

Demona, Goliath's former lover, is one of the primary antagonists for season one and beyond.

Demona, Goliath’s former lover, is one of the primary antagonists for season one and beyond.

The show opens with a very ambitious five-part mini-series titled “Awakening” (it was also released direct-to-video as Gargoyles:  The Movie) that sets up the series.  Right from the start, viewers are able to get a sense of the large-scale story-telling the show is aiming for while also being able to take in the peak of the show’s production values.  The animation quality is a grade above the usual afternoon cartoon fare, making it possibly the best looking cartoon of the mid 90’s.  The score is also exemplary and the voice acting contains notable actors such as Keith David (Goliath, various voices) and Edward Asner (Hudson) as well as numerous vets of various Star Trek programs.  Following the five-part debut, the show mostly settles into stand-alone episodes that also call upon happenings in previous ones.  Each gargoyle, with the exception of Bronx, is basically given his own episode to star in which helps the viewers get better acquainted with each one individually.  It’s similar to the tactic utilized by X-Men in season two and is an effective way to flesh out an ensemble cast.  There are thirteen episodes in total for season one, and pretty much all of them are good.  Some standouts include “Deadly Force,” which stresses the importance of gun safety without being ham-fisted (possibly created because main character Elisa is shown wielding realistic weaponry as opposed to fantasy, laser type devices).  “Her Brother’s Keeper” helps define what family means to the gargoyles and how it’s not so different from what it means to humans.  “Reawakening” is the bookend for the season and is a satisfying conclusion for the show’s first major arch.

Xanatos would be the other main foe for the gargoyles.

Xanatos would be the other main foe for the gargoyles.

What I appreciate most about the show is its commitment to realism.  This is a show starring unreal creatures but it takes them very seriously.  Their culture is defined as is their biology when Goliath points out early on that they can’t fly, merely glide on air currents.  As previously mentioned, Elisa is armed with a realistic handgun as are most of the police force.  Many of the villains do use lasers and other such fantasy fare but they come across as credible, in part due to a willingness to throw around phrases like “Die!” at their targets.  And when it’s called for, the show is not afraid to show blood which helps add severity to a scene.  The show also wasn’t afraid to be a little progressive as it’s revealed (casually) that Elisa is of mixed-race, having a white father and black mother.  And if you’re a fan of keeping movies and television as they were, you’ll be happy to know that the numerous shots of the New York skyline have not been edited to remove the twin towers.  Recent shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Beware the Batman have mostly empty city streets and lifeless scenery, it was refreshing to watch Gargoyles with its fully realized and very much alive New York.

The DVD release for season one is fairly basic.  There are animated menu screens depicting the gargoyles emerging from their stone prisons accompanied by music and sound effects.  The transfer is of good quality for this type of release and the case is a standard DVD case with a hinged insert for the second disc.  Bonus features include the original show pitch by Weisman which is worth a look just to see the original designs of the gargoyles.  There’s also a brief feature on The Gathering of the Gargoyles, a convention that used to be held in the US for fans of the show, that I suppose is worth a look though it’s basically just a bunch of fanboys and girls gushing over the program.  There’s also audio commentary on the fist five episodes, but I have yet to check it out (and probably won’t as it’s just not my kind of thing).

The show did not shy away from placing its characters in real danger.

The show did not shy away from placing its characters in real danger.

Gargoyles felt overlooked during its hey-day and today feels kind of like a forgotten series.  This is due, in part, to Disney’s stubbornness over releasing the entire series on DVD.  Season one was released in 2004 with the first half of season two following in 2005.  The rest of season 2 was in limbo until recently when it was released quietly as part of the Disney Movie Club.  Still remaining are the thirteen episodes from the abbreviated season three, rebranded as The Goliath Chronicles .  While fans would likely appreciate having those thirteen released, all but the season premiere were done without Weisman and thus are not considered canon by him for the show’s storyline, which lived on in comic book form for a short while following the show’s cancellation.  Unlike many cartoons from my youth that I have chosen to revisit, Gargoyles still holds up and impressed me a great deal.  I would love to see Disney revisit the show with Weisman for either a short fourth season or direct-to-video movie to provide additional closure.  Expect to see more of Gargoyles from me as I make my way through both volumes of season 2.


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