Long ago, brave gargoyles were the vigilant guardians of epic strongholds across the seven continents. The strongest and bravest of them protected Wyvern Castle in Scotland, until Viking Raiders laid siege to their home. When they were not able to ward off their enemies and the castle lay fallen, they were cursed to spend a millenia in stone. They awoke in modern Manhattan a thousand years later, recognizing nothing about the new world that surrounds them, but knowing it is their duty to protect it.
Airing from 1994 until its cancellation in 1997, Disney produced Gargoyles was a dramatic animated series that combined mythology, science, literature, and action that resulted in gripping entertainment. The gargoyles of the Manhattan clan, lead by the noble Goliath, include fan favorites like Broadway, Brooklyn, Lexington, Burbank, and Bronx, all named after locations in NYC. They worked alongside streetwise Elisa Maza, a half African America, half Native American NYPD cop, who utilized their strength, stealth, and unique abilities to fight crime. Comprised of taught storylines, humor, and emotional depth, Gargoyles was a standout show above the line up of animated series. CBR has uncovered 15 dark secrets of the most famous dramatic animated series — and your most beloved afternoon escape — Disney has ever produced!
15. IT TOOK ON RACISM
In the third season of Gargoyles, rebranded as Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles, the public has now been made aware of the Gargoyles’ presence. They must learn to integrate into a society that is not at ease receiving them, dealing with a lot of prejudice and misconceptions along the way.
On the whole, the citizens of New York see Gargoyles as giant monsters, rather than noble protectors. It’s up to the Manhattan clan to change their minds, but it becomes no easy task when the Quarrymen, a racist group of gargoyle-hunters, appear to try and exterminate them. Wearing black robes and black hats, they bear an unsettling resemblance to the fascist Klu Klux Klan. The Gargoyles must reveal them for the hateful thugs they are and win the people’s trust.
14. IT WAS FULL OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES
Given the subject matter of Gargoyles, it wasn’t that far fetched for the writers to include all manner of supernatural creatures on the show, and even shed light into conspiracy theories. In the second season, Manhattan clan meets Nokkar, an alien from a top secret base on Easter Island, who befriended the natives and helped them construct the overly large heads that make the island infamous. He is reminiscent of the aliens purported from Area 51.
The Illuminati are even featured, thanks to antagonist David Xanatos, whose membership hinges on helping them force the gargoyles to join them and do their bidding. Avalon, of Arthurian legend, where the Wyvern Clan first began and King Arthur was laid to rest, is revealed to be home to the Third Race consisting of elves and fairies.
13. THE MAIN VILLAIN WAS PATTERNED AFTER A FAMOUS HERO
When creator Greg Weisman came up with the character of David Xanatos, he originally wanted to name him Xavier, but worried too many people would make comparisons to Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men series that was running at the same time. He chose the surname Xanatos after the Greek deity of death Thanatos, but chose to pattern his personality after Greek hero Odysseus, who had a reputation for tricking others.
The Grecian influence was pertinent considering that eventually Xanatos was revealed to be of Grecian descent, but the paradox of being patterned after both the deity of death and Odysseus helped to explain a character that wasn’t always bad and wasn’t always good. When Goliath saved his first born, he was compelled to begrudgingly work alongside the Manhattan clan for a while.
12. A CHARACTER WAS ALMOST INTRODUCED AS GAY
The smallest of the Manhattan clan packed a big punch of personality, and if the series had continued, Gargoyles would have revealed yet another side of it. Creator Greg Weisman said that eventually Lexington, the small, green, and fiesty member would have realized that he was gay. It wouldn’t have been openly acknowledged with some overt plot points, since Disney would have no doubt deemed it “inappropriate” for an animated series, but it would have been included in some sort of subtle way.
In the official comic book series that continues independent of the third season, Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles, published by Slave Labor Graphics, Weisman has hinted more and more on this point, revealing more and more about Lexington’s personal preferences.
11. A NUMBER OF STAR TREK VETERANS PROVIDE VOICES
Star Trek: The Next Generation was a popular show in the ‘90s, and two of its biggest stars lent their voices to Gargoyles: Jonathan Frakes (Commander William T. Riker) as the Gargoyle’s main villain David Xanatos, and Marina Sirtis (Counselor Deanna Troi) as Goliath’s former lover and renegade gargoyle Demona.
What began as a coincidence soon turned to Gargoyles frontrunners actively seeking out Star Trek alum to appear on the show. This included Brent Spiner (Next Generation’s Lt. Commander Data) voicing the fairy Puck, Michael Dorn (Next Generation’s Lt. Commander Worf) lending his voice to the cyborg gargoyle Coldstone, Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager’s Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager) portraying Titania, and Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura) portraying Elisa’s mother. The producers wanted to ask Patrick Stewart, aka Next Generation’s Captain Jean Luc Picard, to lend his voice to a character but couldn’t summon the courage to ask.
10. IT WAS ALMOST TOO DARK FOR DISNEY
Gargoyles was Disney’s first dramatic animated television series, and it tackled a lot of surprisingly dark material. Sadly this wasn’t because Disney was trying to be edgy, but because cartoon shows targeting little kids under age 12 couldn’t legally show more than 10 minutes of commercials. This meant that by making the target audience 13-16 year olds, the show could bypass that rule applying to more “educational” content. Greed, not innovation allowed us to get the gritty version of Gargoyles we know and love.
A muted palette of colors and serious adult themes like murder, revenge, death, and violence ensured that even with its fantasy elements it would be very much grounded in reality. It was often compared to another ‘90s cartoon, Batman: The Animated Series, though creator Bruce Timm wasn’t thrilled with that.
9. IT FEATURED AN EPISODE THAT GOT CENSORED
All of the gargoyles in the Manhattan clan have different personalities and interests. Broadway, the overweight and kindly member that is often denigrated to the comic relief, has a love of old westerns that sadly leads to tragedy. After viewing one, he wants to play with police woman Elisa Maza’s handgun. Sadly, his curiosity leads to accidentally shooting her. Unaware Broadway is behind it, Goliath tracks down various gangs in the city, leaving Broadway to attack various arms dealers out of penance for what he’s done.
Though the episode that included Elisa’s shooting began innocently enough, it quickly turned into a dramatic tale of violence and horror. “Deadly Force” was initially pulled from rerun syndication, appearing with numerous edits to make it more PG, with special attention paid to removing as much visible blood from the episode as possible.
8. THE VILLAINS WERE SYMPATHETIC
Gargoyles themselves are often perceived as villainous due to their frightening appearance, but their role is anchored in defense, never attack. Any gargoyle that reneges their duty to protect a domain is a renegade operative and not under the protection of the clan. For all the compassion and bravery of most gargoyles, the villains portrayed on the show often had legitimate reasons for their vile ways, which are explored and received with understanding by the Gargoyles.
For instance, John Castaway, leader of the nefarious and fascist Quarrymen, hates all gargoyles because a renegade gargoyle named Demona savagely killed his father. David Xanatos, the main antagonist, begins the series wanting to force the Gargoyles to be instruments in his many wicked plots, but after Goliath saves the life of his newborn son, he has a change of heart and even helps them on occasion.
7. THE GARGOYLES AREN’T CONSIDERED MAGICAL
Most people assume that gargoyles are supernatural creatures, existing in a long passed fictitious reality alongside unicorns and dragons. Their turning to stone is always the result of an ancient curse that ties them to a dwelling that they must vigilantly protect in perpetuity. In Gargoyles, they are simply unusual creatures considered more prehistoric than preternatural. Gargoyles’ abilities are a part of biology and natural selection, thus rendering their transformative nature merely the result of a protective layer of organic tissue.
They turn to stone as a defense mechanism associated with camouflage, not unlike an iguana changes color, or a puffer fish secretes poison. They can even gain energy by absorbing sunlight. Because gargoyles have much longer life spans than humans, they breed at a comparatively slower rate, with females laying one egg over several decades.
6. THERE ARE DIFFERENT BREEDS OF GARGOYLES
While the first season of Gargoyles dealt primarily with the Manhattan clan, the second season saw them traveling all over the world looking for their relations. This brought them to several other continents where they discovered that not only were there other clans of gargoyles, but they all looked completely different.
In Guatemala they discover the Mayan Clan living deep within the ancient pyramids, who were no doubt the inspiration behind the ancient Mayan deities with their reptilian appearance and feathered wings. In London they encounter gargoyles that look like the traditional mythological creatures of the Middle Ages like unicorns and griffins. In Japan, they encounter the Ishigura Clan that lives in an old temple. Descendants of the original Wyvern Clan live on the mysterious island known in Arthurian legend as Avalon.
5. THERE ARE CYBORG GARGOYLES
David Xanatos, main antagonist of the Gargoyles, seeks to create his own versions of their kind when they refuse to do his nefarious bidding. Together with renegade gargoyle Demona, he takes a broken and crumbling gargoyle that was smashed during a Viking Raid of the Wyvern Castle in Scotland and uses an amalgamation of science and magic to bring it to life. It is dubbed Coldstone, and is the first cyborg gargoyle.
Though Xanatos was hoping to get a mighty enforcer, what he got was a mighty enforcer with a personality complex. When it becomes clear that Coldstone was not made from one smashed gargoyle but pieces of three different ones, he begins to switch between the personalities of Desdemona, her lover Othello, and treacherous Iago. When it’s clear they cannot reside in the same gargoyle, they all get their own bodies.
4. IT SPAWNED A NUMBER OF GARGOYLE COMIC BOOKS
Since its initial release in the mid ‘90s, Gargoyles has inspired a computer game and several comic books. Initially, the comic book began as tie-in serials in the anthology Disney Adventures available in supermarket checkout stands everywhere. Eventually, Marvel would publish its own series featuring the Manhattan clan, which unfortunately had a run of only eleven issues. While the Disney Adventure comics tied into the show, the Marvel comics dealt with all new adventures featuring David Xanatos trying to create his own gargoyle clan.
Eventually show creator Greg Weisman developed his own bi-monthly comic. Published in 2006, it ignored the third season’s rebranding of Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles and focused on themes like former villains coming together and fighting the Illuminati.
3. IT WAS ALMOST A COMEDY
Though the premise behind Gargoyles always centered around a group of gargoyles living in Manhattan, the tone and feel of the series was intended to be more light hearted. According to series creator and writer Greg Weisman, a thousand or more years ago the gargoyles were living creatures that didn’t turn to stone, but instead plagued the human populace with their overbearing pranks and hijinks. Much was made of their hilarious interactions with peasants and royalty alike.
Due to the fact that producers wanted to feature as many commercials as possible, therefore sidestepping the educational content parameters and capitalizing on an older demographic of teenagers, the comedy aspect was scrapped. The darker tone was favored for drawing in a slightly older audience, eschewing small children that were looking for a more slapstick heavy show.
2. IT HAD ITS OWN CONVENTION
As Disney’s most popular animated series, fans became inspired to host gatherings connected to it, and beginning in 1997, hundreds of aficionados gathered to share their affection for Gargoyles in and out of costume. Following the rise in popularity, Disney released the series to DVD format as their first animated series to be given the special treatment, and included footage of the 2004 convention as part of the DVD bonus features.
The fan convention was called The Gathering of the Gargoyles, and it entailed fans sharing episode theories, fan-fiction, and costumes with one another. The convention lasted from 1997, until 2009, when it was officially discontinued. It travelled from its origin city of New York to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, and many cities in between.
1. MUCH OF IT WAS INSPIRED BY SHAKESPEARE
The original creator of Gargoyles was a huge Shakespeare nut, having acted in many of the playwright’s adaptations, so much of the series was inspired by the work of the olde bard. Influential plays he utilized most frequently were Macbeth, Hamlet, and Midsummer’s Night Dream. This inspired certain characters to appear in the series like Macbeth, Oberon, Titaniam and Puck.
Goliath and several of the gargoyles not only speak with a stentorian elocution, but many pieces of dialogue are taken from the famous stage plays. For instance, the gargoyles created by the villain Xanatos, Coldsteel, Coldstone, and Coldfire are directly derived from the play Othello. Greg Weisman had plans to introduce many other characters from Shakespeare plays before the series was cancelled, including The Tempest.
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