When I first heard that Slave Labor Graphics was going to publish new comics stories featuring Disney’s Gargoyles, and that these stories were going to be written by series creator Greg Weisman, I could scarcely believe my good fortune. This was going to be no mere licensed derivative work. I was confident that this was going the greatest superhero comic on the market.
How did I come to this conclusion? Well, in 1994 my favorite television show was an action cartoon by the name of Gargoyles, and for a children’s action drama, it was far more sophisticated than it had any right to be. It chronicled the adventures of Goliath, a noble warrior of a race of monster-men known as the Gargoyles. He led a small clan of what were presumed to be the last of his people. Warriors from medieval Scotland, they found themselves living in modern-day Manhattan, protected and befriended by a police detective named Elisa Maza.
I was twelve when the show came out, and I was highly impressed by the material. It was filled with gun fights, and sword fights, and robots, and monsters, and magic, basically all the stuff I, at that age, felt a good story should have. While I loved all the explodo, what really blew me away was the fact that the stories were never “The good guys fight the bad guys because the bad guys are bad”. All the supposed bad guys had complicated reasons for their gun battles and their robots and their magic. Even more impressively, everyone’s actions had consequences that carried over from one episode to the next.
I had never seen a show like this before. Beneath the action was a story about learning to trust after being betrayed and about how actions have consequences. As the show progressed, all the characters, major and minor, changed as a result of the choices that they made. Although a children’s program, it offered more dramatic punch than most shows for adults.
The show was canceled in 1996 after 65 episodes, but it stuck in my brain. There was so much left to explore. The series had ended at several turning points for the characters. The clan had been outed to the public. They had formed an uneasy truce with their greatest enemy. Best of all, Goliath and Elisa, our star-crossed protagonists, shared an interspecies kiss. It was an ending, but an ending that left many fans hungry for more.
One would usually expect a ten-year defunct kids’ show to stay dead and buried. In this case, however, Greg Weisman, the show’s executive producer, has spent the past several years actively searching and campaigning for a venue to tell more stories about his Gargoyle characters. The fact that his characters are wholly owned by Disney has made this a difficult task.
So now that we’ve got the first six issues of the series collected in Clan Building, a new trade paperback, the question remains, are the new stories any good? If you are already a fan of the cartoon the answer is unequivocally affirmative. They have everything one could want in a superhero story: fights, scheming, mysteries, romance, character development, evil twins, clones, and, of course, flying electric cat-men. This book is an immensely satisfying read. Of course, to any new readers that are not well-versed in the cartoon, it is almost impossible to follow.
During the final scene of the cartoon one of the characters quipped “And so it begins: Gargoyles Chapter Two. Or is it three? I’ve lost count”. Starting cold with the comic book is very much the same as trying to start a novel in the middle. To frustrate matters further, only 60 percent of the program has been released on DVD, making it hard for those interested to get all of the backstory. Weisman, mindful of the complicated backlog of the series’ history, tries to provide plenty of recaps and flashbacks. However, a new reader won’t have a solid understanding of the characters’ complex relationships and equally complex motivations.
Frankly, at points it almost feels as if Weisman is taking the book’s impenetrability and rubbing it in the collective face of the readership. The story in this first volume heavily involves the most complicated of all secret societies, The Illuminati. Several members of the books’ supporting cast are members of this society, and their handlers within The Illuminati are playing them off of each other. With all this cloak and dagger, most of our characters are lying about their goals or lying to further their goals or both. This is engaging, satisfying stuff, but only if you have a good gauge of what their goals actually are. It is all frustratingly unclear to the uninitiated.
At one point in the comic, Elisa and Goliath are unexpectedly saved by a guy named Vinnie who seems to have a relationship with Goliath. In fact, Vinnie’s life has repeatedly intersected with Goliath’s, but when Elisa asks Goliath who he is, Goliath can only answer “Honestly, I was never quite sure”. That’s what Gargoyles, the comic without Gargoyles, the cartoon feels like. The theme of Gargoyles is making choices and dealing with the consequences of those choices. The consequence of making such a complicated piece of serial fiction is that no one is going to want to start in the middle.