After a brief misstep with “Enter Macbeth,” Gargoyles gets right back on track with a pair of episodes that delve into character relationships and the history of the titular creatures, fleshing out the world of this series and the power dynamics of its cast. I mentioned allegory and social commentary as two of the key elements of this series last week, and they are both highlighted in “The Edge,” but history is equally important to the success of this show, making the flashback-heavy “Long Way To Morning” stand out.
“The Edge” sees a newly released David Xanatos attempting to shift public opinion against the Gargoyles by reviving the Steel Clan, a move that infuriates Goliath, who is already angry that his people have been exiled from their ancestral home. It’s a tense, beautifully animated episode with interesting things to say about how easy it is to misdirect the public in modern times, an idea that is especially relevant after the last few days, which saw the Ferguson police department engaging in character assassination in an attempt to justify the shooting of Michael Brown. The video of Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store justifies nothing, but it succeeded in changing the narrative for a brief time, just as Xanatos’ efforts force the public to turn against the Gargoyles.
Conflating a national tragedy and the events of children’s cartoon may seem like a stretch, but that’s what a lot of these series do: help children understand the reality of their world by presenting important issues in a way that keeps their attention and makes the education feel like entertainment. The plight of the Gargoyles is representative of the minority experience in America, particularly minority immigrants who find their way to the land of opportunity only to discover it’s not quite as promising as they expected. The Gargoyles are vulnerable because they are unfamiliar with how this new world operates, and their antiquated ways of thinking won’t work in modern times, where people like David Xanatos have the capability to attack in new, unexpected ways.
Rather than fighting the Gargoyles directly, Xanatos tries to get the NYPD to do his dirty work by reviving the Steel Clan and using his machines to frame the Gargoyles for robbery. Security footage is released that paints the Gargoyles as public menaces, giving Xanatos the opening to make the Goliath and his people an offer: Either they continue to live as fugitives outside of Castle Wyvern, or they can return to their former home and take refuge under Xanatos’ roof, a situation that surely comes with a fair share of strings attached. Goliath has three options—live in Xanatos’ captivity, run and face the force of the law, or fight and redeem the Gargoyle image—and of course he chooses the latter because he wants Xanatos to suffer for what he’s done.
Much of “The Edge” involves fight scenes between the Gargoyles and the Steel Clan. The first has the heroes falling prey to the Steel Clan’s advanced weaponry and their strong new leader in red, but once they make the Statue of Liberty their battleground, the Gargoyles get their act together and take out Xanatos’ forces. The animation is finally back to the standards of the season premiere in this episode, and the action is crisply detailed and very smooth, heightening the exhilaration of the aerial battles. Further enhancing the visual quality of this episode is the background artwork, which really pulls the viewer into each setting by providing meticulous representations of the New York City environment.
After destroying the Steel Clan, the Gargoyles corner the group’s leader, but he retreats knowing that he has no chance here. As I mentioned in my “Awakening” review, David Xanatos is part Tony Stark, and we see why when we learn that he’s the pilot of the crimson-clad Steel Clan leader. A goateed billionaire that flies around in a red suit of armor is basically a description of Iron Man, but the multitude of other influences on Xanatos prevents him from becoming too derivative of any one specific character. Ultimately, the events of this episode are all just a test Xanatos gave himself to see if he still has “the edge” after being in prison for six months, and after taking on Goliath—the world’s greatest warrior—and surviving, Xanatos knows the answer.
The other major development in “The Edge” is Elisa meeting her new partner, a conspiracy theorist by the name of Matt Bluestone who will take on a larger role in the series as it continues. Matt is intensely curious, which puts him at odds with Elisa, who is desperately trying to keep the Gargoyles a secret, something that is getting harder to do now that they live in the clocktower above the police station. Even after the Steel Clan is defeated and it becomes public knowledge that the Gargoyle burglars were indeed robots, Matt still holds on to his belief that he saw living winged creatures flying through the skies, and his dedication to discovering the truth will pull him further into the Gargoyles’ orbit.
Even as the episodes rotate focus to different members of the supporting cast, Goliath always plays a large role in the story. In the Lexington and Broadway spotlights, Goliath was the major muscle, and that trend continues in “The Edge.” Brooklyn’s episode put Goliath in danger to put the pressure on a different member of the team, and we see a similar plot unfold in “Long Way To Morning,” which puts Goliath in the middle of a clash between Hudson and Demona.
“Long Way To Morning” is all about the power dynamics within the Gargoyle clan, flashing back to the moments that led to Hudson relinquishing his leadership duties to Goliath in the past while Demona tries to assume control of the clan in the present. To accomplish this goal, Demona goes after Elisa, shooting her with a poison dart that would kill her in 24 hours if her police badge wasn’t in the perfect location. In hopes of convincing Demona to give up her vengeful crusade, Goliath and Hudson meet her at the Old York Opera House, but Demona isn’t interested in compromise. She wants power, and she’ll do anything to gain it, even if it means killing her former love.
Of all secondary character spotlights, “Long Way To Morning” is the most substantial, showing us what Hudson was like in the past and how his character has changed since then. He’s the old man of the Gargoyles, but once upon a time, he was their brave leader, and diving into those events brings a lot of depth to Hudson, who has spent most of his time in front of a TV at this point in the series. He’s a fiercely loyal, intensely courageous creature with overwhelming empathy for those around him, a perfect leader for the Gargoyles if he wasn’t so old. Hudson sets a positive example for Goliath, who is portrayed as a much softer figure in the flashbacks thanks to a dramatic shift in Keith David’s vocal quality, but Demona just views him as the antiquated old guard that desperately needs to be replaced if Gargoyles are ever to assert their dominance.
In the flashback, Castle Wyvern’s Prince Malcolm is poisoned by the Archmage, leading Hudson, Goliath, and Demona on a quest to find the antidote within the pages of the Grimorum. Despite the scary stories Malcolm tells his young daughter (creating the prejudice that she’ll hold on to as an adult), the prince and Hudson are good friends, and Hudson will do anything to protect his friends, even if it means risking his own life. The battle with the Archmage ultimately costs Hudson his eye and proves to him that he’s getting too old to properly lead the Gargoyles, but those are acceptable losses if it means that Malcolm gets to spend more time with his daughter.
We can assume that Malcolm’s poison is the same one Demona attempts to administer to Elisa, making this conflict especially personal for Hudson. And when Demona injures Goliath with a laser gun (perhaps one of the weapons that Dracon stole back in “Deadly Force”?), Hudson is given even more stake in this fight as he tries to protect his protégé until the sun comes up and Goliath can be healed. Hudson knows that the only course of action is to run, and he’s able to keep moving long enough for his plan to come through, teaching Demona that patience is a quality that can turn the tide against an opponent that is smarter, stronger, and younger.
Ed Asner is an exceptionally skilled voice actor as evidenced by his work on TV shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited and his heart-wrenching performance in Pixar’s Up, and his talent captures all the emotional beats of the story. His jovial behavior with Malcolm is a sharp contrast to his more melancholy attitude in the present, and you can really hear the sadness in Hudson’s voice during lines like, “Just dreaming old dreams.” Hudson is fascinated by the wonders of this new world, but he misses the land that he spent the majority of his life in. He’s too old to go through the process of making new friends and exploring a brand new environment, which explains why he’s primarily decided to park himself in front of the TV.
The animation takes a bit of a dip in “Long Way To Morning,” but it’s nowhere near as bad as some of this season’s previous installments. The action isn’t as slick as in “The Edge” and there’s some inconsistency in the character models, but it’s still a visually engaging episode that benefits from the juxtaposition of past and present events. By returning to the flashback structure of “Awakening,” Gargoyles brings considerable substance to a story that would have otherwise been a slightly modified rehash of “Temptation”, and the show’s quality will only improve as it ventures deeper into the history of these characters and their world.
- Who cleans up all the rocks when the Gargoyles awaken and break out of their stone shells? Does that mean that it rains pebbles in front of the police station every day at sundown?
- I absolutely love the claw swipe transition that this show uses far too infrequently. It’s a visual touch that yells “CHILDREN’S SHOW” at the viewer.
- Visually, Matt Bluestone reminds me a lot of Jim Corrigan, the red-haired cop that becomes The Spectre in DC Comics.
- The Scottish accent on young Katherine is rough. Luckily, she doesn’t have very many lines.
- The Fugitive was so popular in the ’90s that even Gargoyles had an homage to the film’s classic dam jump scene.
- Awesome Keith David line-reading of the week: “No, Elisa! No more hiding.”
- Guard’s reaction to Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is probably what most adults feel when looking at the painting: “You and me both pal.”
- “I can tell working with you is gonna be gooood aerobics.”
- “I can face her. I just can’t beat her.”