The Life & Times of an Auteur.

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

Friday, September 13, 2013

Elisa Maza Is a Badass


While I muster up the constitution to watch Jackie Brown, I think I'll talk about one of the, sadly, unsung great heroes in the realm of animation. I was musing the other night about how I should write an essay on her, and then after being told by a friend that I had to do this, well, this is what you're getting.

Elisa Maza is often compared with April O'Neil, and I have no idea why. I suppose if you're channel surfing and spend less than a minute on "Gargoyles" and only take things in at their most superficial, you'll see a normal woman hanging out with a bunch of gargoyles and make that leap. But that's as ridiculous as saying Demona is just like Mystique or Xanatos is just like Lex Luthor. Elisa is so much more than that, and I will say it, she is one of the greatest animated heroes of all time. Notice that I didn't say "greatest animated love interests" or anything like that. I don't put her toe-to-toe with Lois Lane, Spike Witwicky from Transformers, or the aforementioned April O'Neil. No, I'm putting her toe-to-toe with the likes of Batman; any version of Optimus Prime; and yes, even the love of her life, Goliath.

Unlike April and Lois, Elisa is no damsel in distress (or, in their cases dumbass in distress). She can and does take care of herself and, while I haven't counted, she's rescued Goliath and the other gargoyles more often than they've ever rescued her by a significant margin... and all without making Goliath and his kin look like weak heroes in the process. Imagine a Superman show where Lois saved Superman more often than he saved her, chances are you'd have people complaining that they were making Supes look weak in favor of "girl power" or something. Not "Gargoyles." Not Elisa Maza. "Gargoyles" showed us very early on that Elisa wasn't going to be your typical gal pal when, in the fourth part of the five-part pilot, she takes down an entire squad of commandos single handed; commandos who were written as being competent instead of your garden variety moronic thugs that pop up in most cartoons.


A big point is made about how David Xanatos looks at his wife, Fox, as an equal. Fox even beats her husband in chess and judo sparring. Likewise, Goliath and Elisa respect each other and regard each other the same, a great reflection of Xanatos and Fox, I think. Again, one need only look at "Awakening Part Five" to see Elisa save Goliath's life from Demona before he in turn saves her from the collapsing castle as Demona falls towards her... apparent death (at least we thought so for a moment). They are a team. They are partners. They are equals.

Elisa is also a woman who is very self-possessed. Growing up mixed race (the daughter of a Native American father and an African-American mother) was probably not always easy, but it's clear to me that she grew up well-adjusted despite any hurdles she had to overcome there, never mind her succeeding in the police which is still, to this day, often considered "a man's world." She sees past appearances, choosing to see what is beneath the surface. Notice how quick she was to accept Goliath, strike up conversation with him, and get to know him. On the flip side, she didn't trust Xanatos from the moment she met him, despite the fact that most fall for his charms and suave demeanor.

This isn't to say she's perfect, no one in real life is (and no fictional character should ever be written that way). She's stubborn, she has acted selfishly, and she's guarded. She's tried to pretend her feelings for Goliath don't exist and then even after acknowledging them, she briefly panicked and tried to run away from them. But this doesn't weaken her as a character, quite the contrary, it strengthens her. She's human, without being just the human friend, she embodies the best of humanity just as Goliath embodies the best of his people... and they really are perfect for each other.*



She's a hero, as much as she denies being one, all while being human in the best sense of the word. Most pop culture heroes like Batman and Superman may as well be gods, or allegories for gods. They are larger than life, have amazing powers or abilities or resources, but they are too above us to ever truly be human. Elisa Maza might not be able to move planets, stop volcanoes and hurricanes, own a hi-tech suit of armor, be injected with a super soldier serum, be descended from gods, be a science experiment gone wrong, or be able to defeat any foe with enough prep time (she can't even beat Demona in hand-to-hand combat at night), but armed only with her brain, her heart, her badge, her gun, family and true friends, she carries on and does the best she can and has even helped save the world without ever feeling like she was invincible in the process. Elisa Maza is the hero we can all be.


*This is also a great sum up of why Elisa should never be transformed into a gargoyle again.

6 comments:

  1. Ugh, April O'Neill. When I was little, my brother and I would play Ninja Turtles with the kids next door and I was always stuck being April because I was the girl. "The girl" - that's all she was. I hated it - I wanted to be Raph!

    We never played Gargoyles, but I bet I wouldn't have resented being Elisa. I agree with every word you wrote, Greg. I just finished my review of "The Silver Falcon" and while I criticize Elisa a bit, it's also a good episode for her, showing how she stays cool and thinks on her feet. I love how she's this smart, tough cop, who is also kind of a loner, without some tragic backstory showing that she's emotionally damaged somehow to make her that way. She's not damaged - she's who she is.

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    1. To be fair, April is a much better character in the 2003 and 2012 series' than she was in the 80's. Still no Elisa Maza though, but it's best not to expect her to ever reach those heights.

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    2. I just wish more people would talk about Elisa.

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    3. Why don't more people talk about her? At least, the people who watched "Gargoyles". She was the deuteragonist of the series.

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  2. Elisa is great, and you've outlined the reasons why.

    Furthermore, she's a good reminder that a character's gender, or their role in the storyline, is no excuse to skimp on giving them a personality. Especially if they're a regular, care should be taken with all characters, to create a rich cast.

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  3. Elisa is great. Often she is kind of outclassed or stuck as a bystander, but she does the best a "normal" human can expect to. And what she lacks in strength is cleverly balanced by the fact that she can go places the Gargoyles can't and do things they can't do. And of course without her how well do the Gargoyles adapt to their 20th century surroundings? The reading of her as a genuine partner is spot-on.

    I think her greatest showing was in "High Noon", where it's just her challenging Demona and MacBeth during the day to save the day. Does she go anyway? Damn right she does, and she holds her own. But more than that, the episode shows just what a trooper she is. She's tired, worn down, burdened by the thought of what her life could be like if it were "normal"...but she perseveres and toughs it out. That demonstrated such immense strength of character.

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