On Gargoyles

Another animated series I watched an awful lot of was Gargoyles, which featured many Star Trek alum as voice actors. According to Disney Insider‘s article, “What Made Gargoyles So Groundbreaking“:

On October 24, 1994, a show debuted in a weekday afternoon Disney Television Animation programming block that looked and sounded unlike anything that had come before it. At the time, animated series that aired on weekday afternoons were brightly colored, spiritedly paced comedies, and most of them were based on pre existing characters or properties. This new show had a wild mixture of influences (on the home video commentary track, executive producer Greg Weisman cites everything Disney’s Adventures of Gummi Bears to Hill Street Blues) and tones (oscillating between Shakespearean tragedy to Michael Crichton-style science fiction to buddy cop comedy in an instant). Its heavily serialized storytelling eschewed normal television animation, which reveled in the episodic nature of the format. This was Gargoyles, a series so groundbreaking that it feels a little bit like animated television is still catching up.

The premise for Gargoyles was deceptively simple: in medieval Scotland, there are a group of magical guardians tasked with defending an ancient castle. These are the gargoyles, who are stone statues by day and fearsome, winged creatures by night. In the pilot episode, their human confederates betray the gargoyles; many are lost and the remaining gargoyles are placed under a dangerous curse (they’ll be stone until the castle “rises above the clouds”). That happens … 1,000 years later, in our modern world, at the top of a futuristic skyscraper in New York City. Waking up in this shocking new world, the gargoyles are confused and angry, eventually taking it upon themselves to defend the castle (and eventually the entire city) once again.

From the word “go,” Gargoyles felt like something new. In its first season, the show aired once a week, but it debuted with a five-part arc that ran every day for an entire week. This was basically an afternoon animated series reconceived as a dramatic miniseries. This arc (known collectively as “Awakening”) employed an ingenious structure that allowed for extensive flashbacks to medieval Scotland and modern day action sequences to exist side-by-side. The moral center of the universe was Goliath (voiced by Keith David, who would later voice Dr. Facilier inThe Princess and the Frog), the leader of the clan of gargoyles, whose love Demona (Marina Sirtis) was killed in that initial attack and who consigned himself to the magical spell after returning to the ruined castle. After waking up in New York, he teams up with a tough cop named Elisa Maza (Salli Richardson) and investigates the mystery surrounding his awakening.

Both the look and tone were dramatically different than anything else on television, animated or otherwise. Aesthetically, it had a stark, hard look, with an emphasis on simple silhouettes over more complex character detail. There were heavy shadows and carefully choreographed action sequences. (The animation was produced by Disney Television Animation’s Japanese studio and the anime influence is pronounced.) The look was stunning and had more in common with big budget Hollywood action movies than the television animation that it actually was. There’s a moment in the second episode, when the gargoyles are finally hoisted to the top of the skyscraper and wake up, that is as gorgeous as any piece of fully produced feature animation: lightning crackles in the background, rain dots the gargoyle’s stone exterior, and when Goliath wakes up, he does so with violent shards of stone flying into the night sky. This was Gargoyles.

While auteur-driven television is now relatively commonplace, it wasn’t in the mid-‘90s and certainly not on afternoon animation blocks. But Gargoyles’ first season was written almost entirely by the husband/wife team of Michael Reaves and Brynne Chandler Reaves. Weisman, who shepherded the series through production, would go on to become the series’ spokesperson and in a candid series of internet posts, would let fans into the process and expose what would have come for the characters, had the series continued. (Gargoyles was one of the first shows where the creative principles behind the series interacted directly with the fans.) It was clear by watching Gargoyles that it was being guided by a dedicated and incredibly small group of creators who took the series very seriously.

Which brings us to the show’s tone, which was decidedly darker and more complex. Eight episodes into the first season, while things like character and mythology were still being established, one of the gargoyles accidentally injured the cop character. While he tries to cover it up, the rest of the gargoyles target local criminals they thought were responsible and set out to exact their revenge. Heavy right? It could have been preachy and insincere (this is, after all, a show about gargoyles that come to life) but its deft execution made it a powerful, emotionally riveting episode. But thought-provoking episodes like that was nothing compared to the complexity of the mythology that surrounded them; by the second season (where the number of episodes ballooned from 13 to 52) several characters had returned (some back from the dead), romantic subplots were introduced and the gargoyles had gone on a globe-spanning mini-adventure (dubbed, by Weisman, as “The Gargoyles World Tour”). It took on Shakespearean dimensions. And the mystery grew more insidious and multifaceted; villains were revealed to be sympathetic while characters who were seemingly altruistic showed their true nature.

Watching the series today, its startling design and storytelling is even more pronounced and profound. This was a series that embraced strongly serialized storytelling years before critical darlings like Lost, an animated series that unabashedly embraced the darkness and pushed the boundaries of both design and narrative. Quite frankly it’s hard to think of an animated series, in the past 20 years, that has broken so much new ground.

Additionally, IGN placed it at #45 for the Top 100 Animated Series because:

Disney had one hit animated series after another in the late ’80s and 1990s with the likes of DuckTales, TailSpin and Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers. However, the iconic studio went outside their usual style in a big way with Gargoyles. Far darker, stylized and serialized than the other Disney series, not to mention almost any other animated series of the era, Gargoyles featured mature characters, and references to Scottish history and Shakespeare, while telling an engaging story about the title characters — centuries old Gargoyles secretly living amongst humans in modern day Manhattan, who turn to stone during the day. The creator of the series, Greg Weisman (now the man behind The Spectacular Spider-Man), told a layered and intriguing story, refusing to write down to his audience. A decent success at the time, Gargoyles has maintained a strong cult following since it ended more than a decade ago, and the story has continued in comic book form.

Finally, according to livejounal INKANDPIXELCLUB post, “Why I Love Animation: Gargoyles – “The Edge”“:

With a series like Gargoyles where continuity is so important, selecting just one episode to discuss is no easy task. Like most Disney television series of the time, Gargoyles started off with a five episode origin story, so beginning at the beginning is out. Since Gargoyles is an ensemble show, many of the first season episodes are centered around one particular character as a way of exploring that character’s personality, setting up story arcs for the character, and avoiding a scenario where every episode is trying to cram in a good moment with every character. What makes the episode I have chosen particularly interesting is that it focuses on one of the series’ main villains: David Xanatos. It’s also a very well animated episode, which isn’t always a given on a TV series where multiple studios may take on the animation chores. The title – “The Edge” – might initially seem like it would refer to the edges of buildings where the gargoyles typically perch, or an individual’s breaking point, as in “over the edge.” But in fact, “the edge” is the advantage in a conflict, that one thing that can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Pretend that you have never seen an episode of Gargoyles before. (This will be easier for some of you than others.) You don’t know who the characters are, what they want, how they relate to one another. All you know is what you can see in the first scene. Based on that, what can you tell about the people you’re watching?

There are two men, one a tan brunette with a ponytail and goatee, the other pale and blonde. They’re both clothed in karate gis and the room their in has a mat on the floor and weight lifting equipment. So you can probably guess that this is not a serious life-or-death battle. Indeed, the “fight” is over in mere seconds, as the blonde man kicks the brunette and knocks him to the ground. The dark haired man, who we will shortly learn is David Xanatos, seems more surprised than angered at losing. As he mentions, he has never lost a match to the other man before. When his opponent, who respectfully refers to him as “Mr. Xanatos,” asks if Xanatos would prefer that he lose on purpose, Xanatos replies, with no hint of joking, that he would fire him if he did. Wanting to put the loss behind him, Xanatos tells his assistant to tell a certain emir he’s scheduled to meet with to be there an hour earlier.

So what do we know about David Xanatos, just from that scene? We know that he is the guy in charge. The other man – Owen Burnett – is his employee. He commands enough power to be meeting with emirs. But he isn’t the kind of boss – or the kind of villain – who sends his minions off to fight his battles for his while he watches from a safe distance. Even if what we’ve seen here is just some harmless sparring, he clearly isn’t afraid to get into the fray himself if he sees the need, a point that will be important later on. He also isn’t the sort of person who needs to have his ego stroked constantly. He doesn’t want to be told how strong or smart or wonderful he is, especially when it’s not true. He would rather lose the match and deal with the consequences than have his opponents pretend to lose to him. That isn’t to say that Xanatos isn’t troubled by this development. His problem throughout the episode will be his fear that he is losing his edge, his ability to stay on top. So what does he do to deal with his frustration? Throw a tantrum? Take it out on his underlings? Hardly. If Xanatos is going to push anyone around to reassert his dominance, it’s not going to be assistants who already respect him. David Xanatos pushes emirs around. He is not the stereotypical “Curses! Foiled again!” kind of villain. He is an entirely different animal.

But enough about Xanatos, for now. The next part of the story deals with Elisa Maza, the gargoyles’ only human friend. And what do you know; Elisa’s “edge” is under threat too! To Elisa’s mind, her ability to function as a cop – and to keep the existence of the gargoyles a secret – depends on being able to work alone. But her boss has just decided that Elisa needs a partner. Why? Because Elisa has been recuperating after being shot and, despite her protests that the shooting was accidental, her boss thinks she needs someone to watch her back. (The shooting really was accidental; the result of one of the gargoyles failing to understand how dangerous a loaded gun can be.) This is one of the greatest strengths ofGargoyles and other shows which use continuity to their advantage: actions have repercussions. Whether she likes it or not, Elisa now has to deal with her new partner, Matt Bluestone. To make matters worse, the guy is a conspiracy theorist, just the sort of person who might take notice of a couple of gargoyles flying around overhead.

Oh that’s right, there are gargoyles in this show! The series may be named after them, but in this episode, they’re the last to show up to the party. Even when the episode in question focuses mainly on one character, managing a large cast is still a balancing act. In this case, the gargoyles and their concerns get introduced last. This particular story has so much going on that we don’t even see the gargoyles awakening from their stone sleep. Previous episodes made a point of showing this, since it is a very important part of what makes the gargoyles unique. But “The Edge” is already a jam-packed show with little time to devote to something that loyal viewers have already seen several times. So when Elisa manages to ditch her new partner to go and visit the gargoyles, they’re already up and about.

Viewers who have been keeping up with the series know the gargoyles well by now. Most of them have already had their own feature episodes. But even newcomers can pick up a little bit about who these characters are by observing what they’re doing. Senior gargoyle Hudson is napping in his chair. (Except for Goliath, the leader of the clan, none of the gargoyles had names in the tenth century. They chose names relating to locations around the city after they awoke in the present day.) Broadway, the food lover of the group, is working on some culinary concoction. He pauses to help Elisa with the television she has brought as a gift for the gargoyles, hinting at a sensitivity towards others that we’ll see more of in future episodes. Lexington, the clan’s resident technophile, is playing with a remote controlled toy car.

Elisa heads over to the library, where Goliath is catching up on some of the books that have been published in the last thousand years. Goliath’s idea of a little light reading? Dostoyevsky. This, along with Goliath’s rather formal diction (as heard in the deep, rumbling vocals of the incredibly talented Keith David), clearly tells new viewers that Goliath is no uncouth barbarian. He’s smart, surprisingly well educated for someone from his time.

The next part of this scene is a good example of storytelling problem solving. Goliath and Elisa are discussing Goliath’s choice of reading material. But for the story to progress the conversation needs to move on to Xanatos and the clan’s current situation. How to get from here to there without just changing the subject abruptly? A large window in the library provides a convenient view of the castle atop a skyscraper that was, until very recently, the gargoyles’ home. But why would Goliath take notice of this view now and not earlier? The solution is to get Goliath and Elisa’s attention with the sound of a helicopter passing by. This gives them a reason to look out the window, see the castle, and get Goliath thinking and talking about what’s bothering him. It’s a small and seemingly simple moment, but a good story requires dozens of clever solutions like this that make the character’s action feel natural and not merely driven by the needs of the plot.

If any of the characters has real cause to feel like he has lost “the edge,” it’s Goliath. In the previous episode, he was forced to realize that the battle for control of the castle was not a fight he could win in this day and age. He and the rest of his clan reluctantly abandoned the home that was all they had left of their former life and took up residence in the clock tower at the top of a building housing both a library and the police station where Elisa works. Goliath is still unhappy about this turn of events, particularly the fact that he was powerless to stop it from happening. Xanatos seems to have every advantage and even Elisa and the law she serves are unable to stop him. He is a master at the game while the gargoyles are just figuring out the rules. Goliath wishes aloud that he could make Xanatos feel as Goliath feels now, not realizing that Xanatos is actually going through some very similar feelings.

It has been previously established that television is a twentieth century invention that the gargoyles like, so Elisa’s gift of a TV set for their new home makes sense. But like most TVs in television shows, this one has a knack for broadcasting important information at just the right time. In this case, it’s a news story about Xanatos donating a priceless gem called the Eye of Odin to the Museum of Modern Art. This only confirms Goliath’s feeling that Xanatos had all the power in this world. Seeing Xanatos looking happy and comfortable while the media fawns over his generosity is too much for Goliath to bear. He roars in frustration and runs off.

But mere seconds later, Xanatos is having a much tougher time than Goliath would ever suspect. The reporter who’s interviewing him turns to talking about his conviction for receiving stolen property, a result of the events of the series’ first five episodes. This is the closest Xanatos ever gets to seeming angry or flustered. He never loses his cool or his TV friendly smile. But he’s clearly not happy that his prison time is still hanging over him. “Would you rather I kept the Eye?” he asks before leaving with Owen for his next engagement. While he wasn’t exactly grilled, Xanatos is likely used to having the press wrapped around his little finger. To him, this is just another sign that he is losing the edge.

Now that all of the characters’ problems have been laid out, it’s time to up the ante. Elisa’s issues with her new partner come to a head when they are called to investigate a robbery in progress at the Museum of Modern Art. They arrive just in time to see a large, bat-winged figure leap from one of the museum’s windows into the night sky. Before Elisa can stop him, Matt pulls his gun and fires.

Fortunately, the bullet bounces off the figure’s side with a metallic “ping,” revealing to Elisa that the culprit is not a gargoyle. Elisa thinks fast enough to tell Matt that she tried to stop him because whatever it was he shot at might have exploded. But the problem that having a new partner poses for Elisa is clear. She isn’t willing to reveal the gargoyles’ existence to anyone else, partly since it’s not her call to make. But if she doesn’t trust Matt with her secret, he could end up killing one of her friends. If Elisa is going to work alongside Matt and protect the gargoyles, it’s going to require her to come up with many such excuses for her actions.

But Elisa and her friends have bigger problems. The museum’s security cameras caught a shadowy winged figure making off with the Eye of Odin. Now reports of “gargoyle” sightings are coming in from all over the city. Fake gargoyles committing brazen crimes could make it very difficult for the real gargoyles to avoid public attention, which is one of their main goals right now. One of the interesting aspects of the show is that the gargoyles don’t immediately set themselves up as the city’s new protectors after waking up in Manhattan and getting out from under Xanatos’s thumb. That decision won’t be made until later. For now, the gargoyles aren’t really heroes; they’re survivors, battling whatever life throws at them and trying to stay alive.

Based on the fact that Elisa heard Matt’s bullet hit metal, the gargoyles figure out that the thief was probably a “Steel Clan” robot, one of the mechanical gargoyles that Xanatos had built when it became clear that the gargoyles weren’t going to take orders from him. Hudson points out that the heist doesn’t make sense; why would Xanatos want to steal the Eye of Odin when he himself donated it to the museum? Goliath is past caring. Xanatos’s plan means trouble for the gargoyles. That’s all Goliath needs to know. As we learned before, Goliath’s inability to keep the gargoyles from losing their home weighs heavy on him. He’s not going to let Xanatos push his clan any further. It’s time for a direct confrontation.

Xanatos got a little bit shaken up by the reporter who mentioned his criminal record. So how is he going to deal with a very large, very angry Goliath getting right in his face? Exceedingly well, actually. The series often contrasts Goliath appearance and the expectations that come with it with his actual character. Goliath looks like a huge hulking monster, but he’s sitting in the library reading a book. Here, the show plays on our expectations of how heroes and villains act. Instead of the hero remaining calm and in control while the villain rants and raves, Goliath roars and breaks light fixtures while Xanatos keeps his cool and talks like the calm voice of reason. Scenes like this also make the characters that much more believable. Even if Goliath has every right to be angry, his ability to lose his temper is one of his flaws. Xanatos may not be someone you’d trust with…well, anything, but you still can’t help but admire his smarts and his grace under pressure.

We’ve seen how the Gargoyles crew handles minor story problems, like getting Goliath talking about losing the castle to Xanatos. Now we get a glimpse of how they deal with a much bigger issue, a whole series problem: how do you make both the heroes and villains of your show seem strong and competent? In some TV series, it’s a given that the heroes will always triumph and the villain never will. This can work; the show can cycle in new villains or make the drama how the heroes will defeat the villain’s evil scheme this time around. But Gargoyles needs Xanatos to be a constant, credible threat who viewers won’t write off as someone the gargoyles will stop at every turn. He may not be in every episode, but he is one of the series’ main villains. What keeps him from looking like a permanent loser? His goals.

In many animated TV series, the villains have one or two simple goals: kill the heroes, take over the world, control the ultimate power, etc. For the most part, these are goals that can never be attained because they would mean the end of the show. So the villains end up losing all the time. Most of Xanatos’s goals do not pose such a threat to the continuation of the series. Xanatos never really wanted to kill the gargoyles. He wants to have control of the gargoyles. While Xanatos achieving this goal certainly wouldn’t be good for our heroes, it wouldn’t be nearly as final as their deaths. There would still be the possibility that the gargoyles could regain their freedom. This particular goal is both something the audience could see Xanatos achieving and an explanation for why he doesn’t simply kill the gargoyles to keep them from interfering with his schemes. It also explains the existence of the Steel Clan. If Xanatos can’t have the real gargoyles working for him, he can make his own.

Xanatos’s current plan to regain control of the gargoyles is to use his robots to draw attention to them. The sightings and crimes will eventually lead to the real gargoyles being discovered and hunted down. As an alternative, Xanatos offers to house the clan at a facility of his upstate. The gargoyles escape from a panicked Manhattan and Xanatos has power over them once again.

Though he may be smart, Xanatos is a little lacking in the empathy department. From his perspective, Goliath is now faced with a logical choice: keep his clan in the city and risk eventual capture and death, or take Xanatos up on his offer. He considers the fact that he himself caused the public panic over gargoyles to be irrelevant. When Goliath angrily points this out, Xanatos calmly responds, “If you want to be picky, we won’t get anywhere. Let’s try to focus on the big picture.” Xanatos’s arguments do nothing to sway Goliath. His anger, his pride, and his general distrust of Xanatos will not allow him to accept the offer of a safe haven. After losing the castle to Xanatos, Goliath is not about to be forced into choosing between two bad options again.

As the gargoyles leave the castle, Goliath is at a pretty low point. As Goliath sees it, Xanatos clearly has the edge and is about to force him into giving up the clan’s freedom just as he was forced to give up the castle. He’s in such a foul mood that he even snaps at Brooklyn, one of the three adolescent gargoyles who accompanied him to the castle, when he asks Goliath what happened. And things are about to get worse from our heroes. They are soon under attack by three Steel Clan robots, two standard grey ones and one red one, seemingly a new model. Goliath gets blasted out of the sky and the fight is on.

If Xanatos has his own gargoyle robots, why does he still want to bother with the real gargoyles? The Steel Clan was originally intended as a replacement for Goliath and his clan. But Xanatos is only going to be satisfied if he knows that his “clan” is superior to Goliath’s. As we saw way back in the first scene with the karate match, Xanatos isn’t going to lie to himself and pretend that his metal gargoyles are better than the real thing if the facts say otherwise. Since the gargoyles destroyed the original Steel Clan robots in battle, the facts say otherwise. Throughout the course of the series, Xanatos will continue trying to build a better clan through various methods, none of which turn out quite as he expects.

One of the reasons I decided to discuss “The Edge” is because of its high quality animation and the fight scenes with the Steel Clan are among the best in the series. The characters all stay on model, even as they swoop and dive around in combat. The well-rendered reflections on the Steel Clan’s metal bodies make it clear that they’re robots, but you can tell which characters are living creatures and which are machines simply by the way they move. The Steel Clan mostly fly in straight paths with their metal wings rigid and motionless. The gargoyles’ movements, such as Broadway flailing through the air as he dodges the laser blasts aimed at him, are far more organic. They change direction faster and more frequently than the robots and the movement of their wings reflects these aerial maneuvers.

If we didn’t already know that Xanatos isn’t trying to kill the gargoyles, it becomes clear when the three robots just hover above the gargoyles after literally dropping a ton of bricks on them. Goliath admits what he was unwilling to tell Brooklyn earlier: that Xanatos wants to dominate the clan. So why bother attacking them at all? Why not just wait and let the public hunt down the gargoyles until Goliath has no choice but to accept Xanatos’s offer of sanctuary? Goliath figures that Xanatos has sent the robots to discover the clan’s new home, which would give him even more of an advantage over them. This is another aspect of Xanatos that makes him a formidable adversary: he almost never has just one plan in mind. If Goliath won’t play ball, Xanatos can find out where the gargoyles are spending their days and either cart them off in their sleep or use the information to force Goliath’s hand. And in the meantime, all the laser fire up in the clouds is attracting a lot of attention on the street level, increasing the locals fears about gargoyles and the danger they pose.

Arriving on the scene are Matt and Elisa, who has not been having a good day. She couldn’t convince Goliath to lie low instead of taking off to confront Xanatos. Her new partner insists on coming with her while she tries to follow the gargoyles to Xanatos’s skyscraper. Owen Burnett, who had previously allowed her to enter the building and visit the gargoyles whenever she pleased, turns her away for lack of a warrant. It certainly fits with the episode’s central theme of losing your edge, but why is it necessary to keep cutting back to Elisa and Matt following the gargoyles? One reason is so that Matt can have an opportunity to look through a pedestrian’s binoculars and see two groups of gargoyles flying away. The other reason comes later.

Once again, Goliath’s options are not looking good. The Steel Clan robots are far tougher than the ones the gargoyles battled before, particularly the red leader. They can’t return to their new home without giving its location away to Xanatos. They can’t continue the fight here; the top of a building in the middle of Manhattan is far too public and a crowd is already gathering down below. On top of all this, dawn is not far off, meaning the gargoyles will soon turn to stone and be helpless against any adversary. Goliath decides that the only solution is to move the fight to a more secluded location. He and the other gargoyles lead the robots out to the Statue of Liberty. (If you’re writing a story about heroes based in New York City, you’re pretty much required to have a fight there.)

If there is a hero of this next fight scene, it’s Broadway. In so many cartoon shows, a big, heavyset character like Broadway would be slow, dumb as a post, and mainly used for comedy relief. While Broadway and his brothers do provide some of the comedy in the series, all three of them are shown to be capable warriors, though for some reason, this battle is Broadway’s time to shine. He is fast enough to outfly one of the robots and pull up at the last second while the robot crashes into Lady Liberty’s tablet and smart enough to grab a claw from the destroyed robot and throw it at the other one, causing its electronics to short out.

The three younger gargoyles rejoin Goliath, who has been battling the robot leader. Realizing that the other two robots have been destroyed and the odds are now four against one, the red Steel Clan robot flies off in retreat. Before the real gargoyles can decide whether or not to pursue their foe, a helicopter arrives on the scene. The gargoyles depart before they can be discovered.

Why was it important that we know that Elisa and Matt were following the gargoyles? So that there appearance in the helicopter that arrives after the battle doesn’t come as a surprise. The only evidence left at the scene of any gargoyles, real or robotic, is the remains of the two Steel Clan robots. The two cops have brought the reporter who interviewed Xanatos earlier along with them. Elisa later tells Goliath that the public has been reassured that the “gargoyles” were actually robots. The reporter’s presence on the helicopter answers the question of how that happened.

The wrap up portion of the episode switches from showing how various characters feel they have lost their edge to showing how they get it back. The battle with the Steel Clan has restored Goliath’s self-confidence. It isn’t just that he and his clan were able to destroy the two robots. Far more importantly, Goliath was able to stop Xanatos from discovering his clan’s new home and foil his plan to force the gargoyles to return to him. It may be a small victory and it doesn’t mean that the long-term safety of the gargoyles is assured. But it’s just the reminder Goliath needs that he is not helpless to protect his family and that Xanatos is not an invincible foe. As Goliath reasons, they bested Xanatos once and they can do it again.

Not everyone’s problems are resolved though. Though most of the locals are now convinced that all of the gargoyles they saw were robots of unknown origin, Matt isn’t buying it. He maintains that he saw living creatures through the binoculars and he’s determined to find out exactly what they were. Even if no one else believes Matt, it’s clear that Elisa will have her hands full keeping the gargoyles a secret from her new partner. This is one of many story arcs that will play out over the course of many episodes. It isn’t always the main focus of the story, but the bits and pieces of this and other arcs we see from episodes to episode help to enhance the feeling of a large, interconnected world and keep fans of the show tuning in regularly.

But this is a Xanatos spotlight episode. So how is Xanatos taking his failure to either force the gargoyles to accept his hospitality once more or learn where they’ve been spending their days since leaving him? Quite well, even more remarkably so when you consider the fight he’s just been through. The episode’s big reveal is that that red Steel Clan robot is not a robot at all, but a robot suit worn by none other than David Xanatos. Far from being upset at his losses, Xanatos considers the day a win for him. He has the Eye of Odin back, but still retains all of the public relations benefits of donating it, since no one know that he was the one who stole it. The test of the suit – which he calls a “prototype battle exoframe” – was successful. And like Goliath, he has his confidence back. He may not have won the fight, but simply being able to go wing-to-wing with Goliath – who he acknowledges as “the greatest warrior alive” – and hold his own proves to Xanatos that he hasn’t lost his edge.

Another characteristic of Xanatos that makes him such a strong villain is that he doesn’t just have multiple plans for any given scenario; he has multiple goals. Because of this, the show can have stories where the gargoyles may stop Xanatos on one front, but Xanatos claims victory on another that our protagonists may be completely unaware of. Returning the Eye of Odin to the museum was never a priority for the gargoyles. Remember, they aren’t true heroes yet. The exoframe test? The gargoyles never even realized that it was Xanatos and not another robot. Goliath had even less way of knowing that he was inadvertently helping Xanatos through a crisis of confidence and even if he had somehow known, I doubt he would have avoided or thrown the fight simply to keep from giving his enemy an ego boost. Throughout the series, Xanatos has scenes like this last one where he claims victory even as it seems that the gargoyles have won. This episode is crucial in letting the audience know that Xanatos isn’t the type of person to just convince himself that he has gained something just to avoid having to admit defeat. We now know that Xanatos will not lie to himself that way. If he can find success in what looks like failure, it’s genuine.

Who is David Xanatos? He is an extremely wealthy man and a very smart on as well. He is accustomed to getting what he wants, but he isn’t the type to lose his cool when things aren’t going his way. He’s a man with a plan, and a backup plan, and probably an additional plan in case the backup fails. He can appreciate his successes even if he has failed in other areas, but he’s no hopeless optimist. Even if he isn’t quick to admit them to others, he takes what he sees as his personal failings and won’t stoop to soothing his wounded pride by belittling his foes or underlings. He is more than willing to fight his own battles, but he’ll take the necessary steps to insure that he comes out on top. Great adversaries forge great heroes and with Xanatos as a foe, the gargoyles repeatedly rise to the occasion whenever they clash with him. Thanks in no small part to Xanatos, Gargoyles can easily claim its place as one of the greatest animated series of all time.


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