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.
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.
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.
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.