The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Gargoyles Vs Batman the Animated Series

This is a post that I have had requested for a long time now. Frankly, I was very reluctant to write this one. I still am. With each key I press, I am tempted to just hit back and cancel the entry entirely. But, that would be the easy way out. People wanted to know why I like "Gargoyles" better than "Batman the Animated Series" so, I'm going to say why.

I suppose I will preface this by saying what this entry is not. It is not an argument about the superiority of one show, and the inferiority of the other. Objectively, both of these shows were the pinnacle of action drama animation in the 90's. Maybe still today. As a critic, I cannot weigh one against the other because they were both at the top of their game. They were certainly better than anything the rest of the competition was throwing out there at the time, especially Marvel.

Now, when I say "Gargoyles," it should go without saying that I mean the first sixty-five episodes and not the terrible "Goliath Chronicles." And when I say "Batman the Animated Series" I mean only "Batman the Animated Series" and not the disappointing "New Batman Adventures." No, I mean the classics. So, I think I'll break this up into a few distinct categories.

And one more caveat, yes I know that without "Batman the Animated Series," we likely wouldn't have gotten "Gargoyles." The success of "Batman" made Disney confident enough to try an action drama. I am grateful we have both shows and love them both. But that doesn't mean I can't like the one that came next better.

Please keep in mind, this one is entirely subjective, and not meant to be a critical swipe at any show. I know I write a lot of critical swipes, but this one isn't in the same category. In other words, this is the opposite of my "Terminator vs T2" post.

Voice Acting

I would say both shows are dead even here. Jamie Thomason and Andrea Romano are both star voice directors, and deserve all the praise they get. I think Romano gets more praise than Thomason, but many of Jamie's projects have not quite made the splash that Andrea's have.

I would say that Kevin Conroy as Batman and Keith David as Goliath are equally iconic at this point. Both are breathtaking performances that deserve even more accolades than they have been given. Likewise Marina Sirtis as Demona is every bit the revelation that Mark Hamill's Joker was. Both were known for playing goody two-shoes in the two biggest sci-fi institutions in pop culture... and it was fun to hear just how evil they could get.

Everyone was well cast in both shows, I cannot think of a single misfire off the top of my head. Both shows had David Warner turn in marvelous performances. Both shows made sure that their characters sounded like real people instead of cartoon characters.

I think this category is an honorable draw.

The Score

I love the music in both shows. Shirley Walker and Carl Johnson are geniuses. Both soundtracks are very distinctive and fit the mood of their shows so well. But, I'm going to give Batman the edge on this one. This has nothing to do with the quality so much as Warner Bros ponied up the dough to have each episode individually scored and "Gargoyles" did not have that luxury. Batman wins.

Art & Animation

At their best, both of these shows are gorgeous to look at. The character models, the colors, the way the mood comes off in just the art. Breathtaking.

I love Batman's art deco look, I love how the darkness reflects the nightmarish metropolis that is Gotham City. But I also love the colors in Goliath's Manhattan. While there is darkness and evil in his Manhattan, there is also beauty and hope.

The character models on both shows are also more streamlined than, let's say X-Men where all those animators had to keep drawing Wolverine's body hair over and over again. Both "Gargoyles" and "Batman" allowed for fluid movement and animation. They understood what action shows of the 80's clearly did not. They were both great. But, personal preferences come in and I think the character models on "Gargoyles" were a little easier on the eyes.

How about the animation itself, well both shows looked bad when animated by their worst studios. That being said, the best animated episodes of "Gargoyles" looked better than the best animated episodes of "Batman." Of course, the worst animated episodes of "Gargoyles" also looked worse than the worst animated episodes of "Batman". But, still, watch any episode animated by Walt Disney Television Japan, they were just gorgeous... just a couple of steps away from a feature film.

It's close, but I'm giving the point to "Gargoyles."

Writing & Storytelling

Quality wise, I'd say the writing skills on both shows were pretty dead even. Not surprising as they both had Michael Reaves and Brynne Chandler on their writing staffs. I cannot think of a single thing wrong with the writing on either show. Neither talked down to their audience. Both took their audiences seriously and made sure they could be something that both kids and adults could and would get something out of.

I think "Batman" had a few more clunkers than "Gargoyles." I don't even need to mention "I've Got Batman In My Basement," "The Terrible Trio," "Prophesy of Doom" or, well... thank god, Alan Burnett came on board. Not that "Gargoyles" didn't have episodes I didn't care for. I still don't care for "Mark of the Panther," "New Olympians" or "Bushido" all that much (although the latter did give us Yama in "Bad Guys").

Now we come to storytelling, and this one boils down to one thing. Do you prefer serialized storytelling, or stand alones?

Batman was written so that each episode would be a twenty minute movie. It begins, it middles, it ends. It tells one single story within it's time frame and then it moves on. Aside from villain first appearances, you can pretty much watch any episode in any order and not miss a thing. It also helps that most of these mini-movies were pretty damn good.

"Gargoyles" on the other hand was weaving a tapestry and creating a myth. You had to stick with it, or else you would be lost. The plot developed and unfolded throughout each episode, and characters developed, grew and changed. It was very rich, and very deep, and everything mattered and was of consequence. Batman's method is much more casual viewer friendly, and much more easily accessible. But I won't lie, my preference in storytelling styles has always been towards serialized mythologies. It requires more of a viewer investment, but I get way, way more out of it.

The characters in "Batman" are, unfortunately, products more than characters. DC and Warner Bros has a vested interest in not pushing them too far out of their box, Joker is never going to stop being the Joker. Talia is never going to make a permanent choice between her father and her beloved. Catwoman and Batman will always have the same relationship. Even Harley Quinn will never come out of her "Mistah J" shaped box. Harvey Dent will never be cured. The cast of "Gargoyles" on the other hand were always developing, alliances shifted, friends became enemies, enemies became allies... and I think that's so much more real.

"Gargoyles" wins this category.

Overall

I'm still tempted to just delete this entry, but I came this far.

Which is more impressive? Adapting decades and decades of comic book stories with the benefit of hindsight or creating a new and original universe from scratch? Well... I'd say both are pretty close. Again, look at Marvel's animation output of the 90's and you can see they were just throwing stuff at the screen without examining what worked and didn't work about them.

Which show is better? I don't know. But I like "Gargoyles" better, for all the reasons stated above... and many, much more personal reasons. I'm friends with Greg Weisman, I've compared bling and smoked Cuban cigars with Keith David, I've dined with Marina Sirtis, and I (along with several others) share a tattoo with Thom Adcox.

I think both shows have their legacies, although Batman has cast a much, much, much larger shadow... especially animation wise. I think "Gargoyles" shadow was cast on bringing overriding mythologies and character development to the world of animation. I also tend to think that if "Gargoyles" got half the corporate support from Disney that Warner Bros gave Batman, we would have seen the same kind of legacy with all the sequels and spin-offs and direct to videos. Either way, the world of TV animation is much richer for having both in them.

22 comments:

  1. I'm going to have to side with Batman TAS.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Gotta say, Greg, this is easily one of my favorite posts that I've seen you compose on this blog. I'm quite glad that you decided to go for it.

    Now, while the savage negative criticism of entries like last week's are quite fun in their own way, I often find myself wanting of genuinely well-written praise in the modern world of the interwebz, and this post is a perfect example: a balanced, mature critical comparison that weighs the good with the bad and succeeds at demonstrating where each show genuinely surpassed the other, while at the same time never blowing each of their flaws out of proportion just to elevate the other.

    My grades essentially match yours in each category, with the caveat that I give B:TAS a slight edge in the animation department for consistency's sake (or perhaps "consistency" isn't quite the best word, but my point is, I think the gap between the best-looking "Gargoyles" episode and the worst is much wider than it is for "Batman"). That being said, both have wonderful styles in-and-of-themselves, and the sheer gorgeousness of "The Price" gives me chills to this day.

    But overall, yes, I do prefer "Gargoyles"...mostly because I place FAR more weight on the last of those categories than any of the others. Episodic storytelling has its merits, and much of B:TAS showed a complete MASTERY of that craft, but Greg W.'s patented combination of episodic AND serialized storytelling, with various overlapping arcs, simply appeals to me more on a visceral level.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I was really nervous about writing this one.

      Delete
  3. Agreed overall.

    And while I won't disagree on the last paragraph, I'd had to say that one thing that BTAS also had over Gargoyles to keep afloat longer was simply name recognition. Heck, I'm not sure of if the show itself is popular, but being part of the larger Batman franchise doesn't hurt.


    I've been meaning to ask this for a while now, and I suppose I'll do so since this blog entry is Gargoyles related. With some of the blog posts you've done for reviews, have you considered doing so for Awakening Part One to Hunter's Moon Part Three?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Batman definitely had greater name recognition. I don't blame Warners at all. But, well... anything with Batman is pretty much printing money. As bad as it was, even "Batman and Robin" made a profit.

      As for reviews of the episodes, well... I kind of already reviewed eleven of them a while back. I would have to think about that, and see if I have anything new to say about them.

      Delete
  4. Great article Greg, though I think it's kind of demeaning to call "The New Batman Adventures" terrible in the same vain as "The Goliath Chronicles". To me it's like calling a C/D student dumb when he's standing right next to the retarded kid at the same time.
    Don't get me wrong I agree that the writing on that "sequel" series was nowhere near as great as B:TAS. But I don't think it was anywhere near as bad as some make it out to be. JMO

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I admit that was probably more than a little harsh. I could re-word it, maybe should, but I just wanted to make it clear that I was including neither of those sets of episodes in this analysis.

      That being said, I would choose to watch a "New Batman Adventures" episode over a "Goliath Chronicles" episode any time. If I were ever forced to. I own "New Batman" on DVD, but even I won't buy "Chronicles" if that ever comes out.

      Delete
    2. .... and re-worded. "New Batman Adventures" is now "disappointing."

      Delete
  5. Alan Burnett came up with the story for "The Terrible Trio" episode. But I do know that he deserves credit for helping B:TAS, as per Greg Weisman and Paul Dini's book Batman Animated. Heck, Burnett even saved The Batman series.

    I used to not like "Bushido", but after moving to Asia, it has grown on me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alan Burnett was Bruce Timm's PARTNER on Batman TAS, and he doesn't nearly get as much credit as he should.

      It would be like Frank Paur being the one getting all the credit for "Gargoyles."

      Delete
  6. Which episodes did Akom animate? For the life of me I can't remember which ones they did. Hell I remember their work on which B:TAS episodes they did just by how bad it was.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think they animated "Enter Macbeth," "The Cage," "Kingdom," etc.

      Delete
    2. "Enter Macbeth" was animated by Wang. "The Cage" and "Kingdom" were Toon City. Akom did animate a couple of TGC episodes (the ones with the "Mini-Eyrie"!), but they never did any of the regular episodes.

      Regarding voice casting, I can't say anything about B:TAS, having never watched the show, but on Gargoyles, I can think of one misfire (from my point of view, anyway). Lawrence Bayne as Raven didn't really cut it for me. Too obnoxious for a trickster. I cringe when I hear him calling Natsilani "boy".

      Spen

      Delete
  7. I've been rewatching Gargoyles on Disney XD in Canada and while it's easy to see why the show has such a devoted fanbase interested in it's mythology (a whole convention's worth), it's also extremely inaccessible -- I'm at the mid-way point of the world tour on my dvr and if I weren't watching episodes in 2-3 chunks I'd probably be lost.

    It's also... I don't want this to sound harsh, but it's a little too in love with itself, if that makes sense. Every character is connected to someone else -- that guy working for Company X in episode 4? He's the brother of Character Y, who's part of that company owned by Character Z's family. There's no coincidence -- some character connected to someone else just happens to be connected to something else. It comes across very incestuous and manufactured as a result.

    Granted that was by design if Greg Weisman's comments are any indication, and much of it came about because of how much he liked something else and wanted to expand on it. But still, even when I was young watching it the first time around this bugged me.

    But hey, it's still an impressive show, especially one coming from the mid-90s Disney Afternoon. That said, for me it's Batman. Better music, more consistent animation (either stunning fluid, or stiff and lifeless); I'd even give them an edge with the writing -- I freely admit Batman had some terrible, terrible episodes, but when it clicked, man, did it click. Gargoyles did some fine work with the long-term plots, but, like I said, half the time it felt contrived and obvious, and even when it didn't the dialogue was still a little too "on the nose" (a problem I have with Young Justice, where the animation is really nice, but the writing is a little too precious for it's own good).

    But hey, I'm just some guy on the internet giving his opinion on 90s cartoons. And for what it's worth, I think the Gargoyles cast holds it's own against the Batman cast. Keith David is terrific and on par with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. I probably appreciate his performance now more than I did back in the day because of how nicely understated and emotional it is.

    Have a good day.
    John Cage

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Personally I find that continuity, even a heavy amount of it doesn't necessarily mean complicating/inaccessible. It's just a matter of executing it properly, which I'd say Gargoyles did well at.

      I for one missed a good number of episodes before watching others and had no trouble getting into it. Missed most of Leader of the Pack for example, yet later episodes with Coyote didn't confuse me.

      Heck, The Reckoning was pre-empted in my area the first time it was suppose to air, and my enjoyment of Hunter's Moon wasn't affected a bit.

      Delete
    2. Gargoyles never struck me as an incestuous show. Rather, it was doing what many long-form stories do, which was gradually bringing together a large cast, and also making sure that important characters simply didn't disappear, but continued to play roles. None of the coincidences felt contrived or out of nowhere.

      Nor did I have the impression that it was chuckling over its own cleverness. Gargoyles feels very earnest, very honest in its presentation, instead of trying too hard to be clever.

      Plenty of live-action shows go into syndication while they have continuity, and I think it's just a hazard of television to write an arc-based show, and take the chance that it will become scrambled in syndication.

      The battle of arc-based vs. episodic will never be resolved since both are equally valid. I prefer arc-based, for all the reasons Greg has said, and more.

      Delete
    3. Re: A.J. Wells -- I disagree. Gargoyles went beyond bringing together a large cast of characters to tying every single character to every single other part of it's mythology. It makes for a richer mythology that you, and others, have obviously enjoyed, but it just makes the seams all the more apparent for me.

      Example (to prove I'm not just pulling this out of my ass and have been catching the reruns): Cyberbiotics, the company the Gargoyles are fooled into attacking in the pilot turns out to be owned by Renard, the father of a one-time villain married to the series' "Big bad" Xanatos, while Renard's assistant turns out to have been the physical template for Xanato's assistant who's really part of the same immortal race as Renard's ex-wife, who's also a scientist involved with creating a nanotech lifeform.

      It certainly makes for more involvement on the viewer's part trying to piece all of the connections together, but it also comes across very artificial to me, that there's no coincidences in that world, that everyone they meet has some connection to someone else, who's connected to someone else.

      But like some folks have noted, they really dug all that stuff. I just found it gave the show an incestuous feeling, that nothing happened by chance, and instead of opening that world up, it made it smaller.

      I don't mind some connections between characters or elements you wouldn't expect -- the Fox/Renard connection, however obvious it felt coming as a Canadian who knew some french, was a nice, unexpected addition. The other business tying Owen to Vogel, and making Fox's mother an immortal, less so.

      Again, this is just some guy giving his opinion on the internet. If you feel differently that's cool. And hey, like I said, much as this bugs me about Gargoyles there's still a lot to enjoy about the show. I wouldn't be dvr-ing the reruns if I outright hated the bloody thing.

      Have a good day.
      John Cage

      Delete
    4. I would argue that Vinnie is exactly the kind of coincidental character you want. By sheer coincidence, he lost two jobs and his driver's licence because of gargoyles... and then he hunted down Goliath and got some revenge. To this day, even after he later saved Goliath's life from Castaway in the second issue of the comic, Goliath was never quite sure who this guy was.

      Tony Dracon and his mob don't seem tied to any other aspect of the mythology either.

      On the other hand, ever played six degrees of Kevin Bacon? Everyone IS connected in the real world...

      I thought Fox's heritage and Owen's true identity were brilliant.

      Delete
  8. John Cage> Different strokes for different folks I suppose, personally I always loved the crazy tapestry like interconnectedness of the Gargoyles Universe. Makes everything feel like one ever evolving saga.

    I guess it boils down to Greg. B's point about serialized vs stand alone storytelling. Both shows are very good at their respective styles, and which show you prefer is going to depend mostly on which style is more to your personal taste.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I've thought about this for a while. I like Gargoyles's style better, but it can get confusing. For example, I missed Avalon the first time through, so when I saw a world tour episode I had no idea who Angela was- my first thought was that they were introducing a new love interest for Goliath. I also had a great deal of trouble whenever Coldstone showed up- I could never quite figure out how his personalities related. I understand it now, but I've seen all the episodes by now.

    It might be fun to do a similar comparison of Gargoyles with Avatar: The Last Airbender. Both shows have fairly strong continuity. The main difference is that Avatar has a single Big Bad and a well-defined linear quest for its entire length. It's divided into arcs, but there's never any doubt that the main motivation is to defeat Ozai. Gargoyles, on the other hand, never had a single objective (besides vague thematic concerns like "find acceptance"), but rather had multiple parallel stories running simultaneously. In each tier there'd usually be a Xanatos episode, a Demona episode, a Coldstone episode, a Pack episode, a mutate episode, a Dracon episode, etc. The multiple different stories were all running in the background and occasionally intersected with our heroes, but the stories didn't run in the same linear fashion as Avatar. Harry Potter might be another example that, like Avatar, has a single linear quest broken up into episodes.

    Batman, on the other hand, had neither, and I think it suffered for it. I would have liked to see Two-Face's character evolve and his relationship with Bruce or with his fiancee continue. Instead, he basically became Rupert Thorne with a coin. Likewise, I would have liked to see Harley's relationship with the Joker change. There was Harley's Holiday, but eventually she ended up right back where she started. Ra's Al-Ghul is the only villain I can think of who sort of evolved over time, but not very much. I've been watching the show again through Netflix lately, so this is fresh on my mind, and it's an interesting topic.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I just wanna spread the word here: I've created this comparison video of the Batman-Story "Mad Love", I've basically put the animated series and the comic in one video, did a lot of pans and zooms to make it look good and hope that people will like it: http://youtu.be/OxCEdg2NiJ0
    Enjoy!!!
    >MartinGro131<

    ReplyDelete