Archive for category Childhood Revisited

Gargoyles – “High Noon/Outfoxed”

Gargoyles "High Noon" and "Outfoxed"

Welcome back, Kevin! Thanks, Kevin!

It’s good to finally get back into Gargoyles recaps, especially after a great, four-part saga. “City of Stone,” as I mentioned before, won me over to the Gargoyles fandom. The first season was a bit shaky, but the second season, while awkward at points, at least had the kind of forward momentum that one looks for in shows like this. I can finally say that I understand what people see in this show.

Or, at least I did.

Continuity really wasn’t a thing in the 90s, really, especially in cartoons. There were no DVRs or Youtube to catch up on missed episodes or recap current narrative threads. I might be rehashing this, but this is actually an important point, especially after watching “High Noon” and “Outfoxed.” In the era of Separate TV, when shows were watched weekly or daily, making sure an episode stood on its own wasn’t just optional – it was paramount. Overarching narrative threads are nice and all, but it’s important to remember that such threads have to be planned in (ideally) excruciating details. My point is, as detailed as Gargoyles is, I have severe doubts that Greg Weisman planned the entire run of this show with the level of detail that his fans may think.

When I was in LA, I spoke with a contemporary of Weisman. He was particularly adamant against shows being so beholden to continuity, because, in classic TV, that kind of planning was really nonexistent, except for large scale dramas. There’s a lot to be said of the narrative connections between Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited, but let’s be clear, only a certain percentage of it was planned. (It helps that comic vets worked on the Marvel Animated Universe, a group known for connecting past works with apparent ease). The contemporary alluded to the fact that Weisman and his crew were more or less scrambling to tie up loose ends more than prepping future story reveals. It just was a different approach to story telling in the 90s. And while “High Noon” felt right, moving forward with an intriguing followup to “City of Stone,” “Outfoxed” is a prime example of that scramble to tie up loose ends, taking a step backwards, both visually and narratively.

“High Noon” shares little with the movie that hosts its name. It’s the story of Elisa, really, a woman who’s lack of sleep in this episode masks a more internal struggle of a person simply tired of it all. Between Derek, the gargoyles, Xanatos, Demona, Macbeth, and a host of other crazy people, Elisa, understandably, just wants it to end and return to a normal life. Early in the episode, Elisa tells a now-literate Broadway and Hudson that she chose the badge because she knows what’s right; she’s no hero, she’s just doing her job. It’s a bit on the nose but it’s something that needed to be said – after all the insanity, Elisa is hanging in there because it’s the life she chose, the life she has to live with.

The gargoyles struggle to return Coldstone back to his former self, with the three souls stuck inside Coldstone’s body back in “Legion” due to science and magic. The internal struggle inside Coldstone continues to fall flat, especially since we know so little of his lover and the third evil gargoyle, who is apparently just swooping down on occasion to disrupt the lovebirds? There’s no meat here, and if the writers were scrambling to tie up anything, this should have been one of the top priorities.

As the sun rises, Elisa tracks some strangers in the police station downstairs, only to discover they’re Macbeth and human Demona. They knock her unconscious and fly off with “the package.” Things are really weird here. What package? How did Macbeth and Demona discover the gargoyles home turf? Why did Demona, with a perfect opportunity to destroy the stone gargoyles, not do so? Why in the world are they working together? Of course, we know it has something to do with the Weird Sisters. The question is what, and how far? This is starting to approach “Xanatos-gambit” levels of control, but at least the Weird Sisters have shown their abilities and insight to be way beyond mortal souls. That being said, there aren’t any real parameters given to the sisters’ magic powers, so it’s hard to really get a bead on why they’d enact their plan in such a fashion. More on this later.

Right now, though, Elisa tells the gargoyles what happened – that they took Coldstone – and the team goes after him. The animation here continues to be gorgeous; the fight scenes are top notch, but Demona’s human/gargoyle transformations are the real highlight. There’s a real sense of foreboding and tension as the gargoyles explore Macbeth’s spooky mansion (especially knowing how well Macbeth can set traps). And while it seems the team gets the upper hand, it’s revealed that they were fooled all along when Coldstone – in the possession of the nameless evil gargoyle – betrays them. In all honesty, this should have been a Coldstone episode. We should have been focused on the resuscitated gargoyle and given clarification on who his lover and rival are. Instead, we’re presented with an uncomfortably clingy Coldstone who has no motivation to gain control of his body, until his lover (in no small part helped by the Weird Sisters) talks him into it. Again, though, since we haven’t learned a lick about these characters since “Legion,” this just feel forced.

Demona teases Elisa to come to a certain locale at high noon to save the captured gargoyles, which seems insanely out of character, but there’s a purpose to it all. Here is where Elisa bears her soul, her desire to just get away from it all. An officer named Morgan helps to regain her sense of purpose and duty – a long running theme of the show – and while this approaches “magical Negro” levels of schmaltz, I’m willing to let it go. She rushes to the location and has a one-on-one fight with human Demona, who she beats by doing the same move twice. Meanwhile, Coldstone – the real Coldstone – is convinced to regain control of his body, forces Macbeth and Demona to run away, and then scurries off himself to achieve the victory of his internal struggle. I assume it involves learning his lover’s and rival’s names? [Okay, maybe not names since they don’t have them, but can we at least learn something about them?]

As Elisa finally gets her sleep, Demona and Macbeth break down their real spoils – the Grimorum, the Eye of Odin, and Phoenix Gate. It’s here that they finally become self-aware, confused as to the full extent of their plan and even why they’re working together. They’re just about to kick each others’ asses before the Weird Sisters show up, freezes them in place, take the spoils for themselves, and warp everyone away. Yes, it was all their hugely, wild manipulative plan to ultimately get their hands on the goods. This is important I presume. The Sisters are not a Greek chorus, a group of symbolic Fates who work to affirm or deny personal stakes and desires. They have a specific objective in mind, powered by their control of Macbeth and Demona, and a bit of solid manipulative apparition. But what is the full extent of their powers? Considering all the things they can do, is this really the best plan they could come up with?

I suppose it doesn’t matter. Elisa gets her beauty rest. She earned it.

“Outfoxed” hurts a little. It kinda seems stupid. It’s definitely the most forced episode of the run so far, creating by far the most ludicrous setup and ham-fisted metaphor in the show’s run. Remember back in “Awakenings,” when Xanatos fooled Goliath and Demona to attack Cyberbiotics’ flying Fortress, and Demona destroyed because she hates everyone in the world? Well, Cyberbiotics has a new Fortress running. Goliath “thinks” Xanatos may attack it, so he follows the thing, all exposed and everything. Cyberbiotics leader, Halcyon Renard, a creepy guy copping Professor Xavior’s hovering wheelchair, sends a legion of robots at him, besting him in a really terribly animated aerial fight, and capturing him.

Then begins a series of speeches on responsibility and accountability. This is just really, really awkward. I mean, I get it. I really love it when a piece of entertainment acknowledges the full extent of its setups and developments. (Almost Human never calls attention to the fact that its police officers routinely kill its criminals in cold blood, which implies a Judge Dredd-like dystopian worldview but never comments on it, while Sly Cooper 4 brilliantly called out Sly’s bullshit – he can rob from all the evil criminals he wanst, the fact is that he’s still a thief). It’s clear that’s what they’re doing here. But watching Renard just lecture Goliath about taking account for his role in destroying the Fortress is a prime example of telling, not showing. It doesn’t help that the animation by Hong Ying Animation is subpar, with really wonky perspective shots and off-model poses. Without anything really motivating it, like say, a cliched but entertaining thirst for revenge, it comes off petulant and whiny. Oh, speaking of whiny:

Renard: “No excuses, creature. Learn to take responsibilities for your actions, and stop whining!”

Goliath: “A gargoyle doesn’t whine. He ROARS!”

Yeesh. That’s a cringe-worthy exchange from a show that’s rather on point with its dialogue.

This should have been a lesson that Goliath learns on his own, if he should have learned it at all. Having Goliath stuck in a cage and lectured at is insane. Maybe, just maybe, he could have visited the various humans who was hurt in the first Fortress crash and saw their pain and suffering as being innocent victims to a vicious attack. After all, Goliath isn’t Demona. He KNOWS that humans, while flawed, are suspect to the same emotions as their own kind. It’s quite possible he may understand this in theory. SEEING that kind of pain and limitation in humanity would allow Goliath to understand a new, tangible truth to the fragility of humanity, and how his actions, no matter how manipulated, led to it. But no, “Outfoxed” take the “Shame on You” route via an inane, consistent lesson force-fed to the gargoyle before he finally swallows. And suddenly, Renard and Goliath are friends. This would never work on humans; I doubt the quick-to-anger gargoyle clan member would be so susceptible to it.

The real point of this episode is filler and more setting up. There’s Renard’s assistant, Preston Vogel, who resembles Owen so much that it can’t be a coincidence. Brothers? Clones? The episode doesn’t say, but I’m sure we’ll get to it. The real story lies with Fox, who we learn is Renard’s daughter and with child. The best part though is witnessing Xanatos and Fox work. Their relationship still functions perfunctorily, two machines continuing to wheel and deal sans any passion between them. Xanatos’ blase response to his wife’s pregnancy (and Fox’s own stoicism) is creepy but perfect, as is their plan to sabotage the second Fortress via Vogel, ruin Renard, and take over Cyberbiotics. Vogel proves to be more loyal to Renard in the end, assisting to save the Fortress and confessing to his treachery. This leads to a slightly-less-but-still-ham-fisted conversation where Goliath convinces Renard that Vogel’s confession proves that humans still possess the kind of integrity that Vogel believes his species has lost. Again, I understand what the show is going for, and it’s something worth learning, but “Outfoxed” fails to make that theme work.

That theme is put at the forefront when Fox and Renard talk, revealing their disturbing relationship. It’s clear Renard’s obsession with integrity and accountability stems from his daughter’s demeanor, who would rather forcibly take over his father’s company instead of inheriting it. It’s definitely a strange thing but on par with what we know of Fox. With a little bit of tweaking and rearranging, this could have been a stronger episode with a more resonant theme, but as it is, it’s a lot of posturing and lecturing, and no one likes to be lectured to.

“High Noon” A-/”Outfoxed” B-


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 Kim Possible encompasses the true meaning of datedness: it’s not its early-2000 slang dialogue (“What’s the sitch,” “So not the drama,” etc.), and it’s not it’s sense of style. It’s how it views the treatment of its characters.

I began watching Kim Possible because my interest was piqued after a few random Tumblr/Vine/Twitter references crossed my way. I was in college at the time when it aired on Disney Channel, a channel that Dartmouth did not receive (this was before streaming and torrenting and my general interest in cartoons in general). There wasn’t a sheer onslaught of referential “memes” out there, but there were enough of them to make me think that Kim Possible may have been an underrated gem. It was a show that, along with The Proud Family, came out at the tail end of the “Girl Power” era, which was dotted with various 00s feminine icons, from Brittany Spears, The Spice Girls, Avril Lavigne, The PowerPuff Girls, My Life as a Teenage Robot, Totally Spies, and so on. So I preceded to watch this show, eager to take stock of the hidden gags and interesting character work about a teenage girl who is also a superhero.

My initial confusion over the first two or three episodes slowly became immense frustration by the end of the first season. At first, I was confused as to why Kim Possible rubbed me the wrong way; it was in “Tick, Tick, Tick” that it hit me: for all the good, exciting, comical goodwill Kim Possible possesses, it simply could not escape the void of annoyance that was Kim Possible herself. She was, and still is, perhaps the most aggressive killjoy I have ever seen on any TV show, ever. Kim Possible seems like a cartoon that just does not want to be a cartoon, and Kim herself drew my ire for practically every single episode, an ire based on far more than her odious dated slang.

Kim Possible logo

The first two lines of the theme song represents everything tonally off about Kim Possible: “I’m your basic, average girl / and I’m here to save the world.” Since when, even in the magical, idealistic, hyper-reality of animated fiction, is world-saving an attribute of being average? The thing about most superhero kids is that their heroism is couched in being special and unique; to use my own dated language, this shit don’t jive. Kim Possible adds an extra layer to it – her heroism is not secret but public knowledge – a choice that allows for ironic laughs but absolves any sense of personal stakes, responsibility, or conflict. It’s a different approach to the trope but it greatly exposes why it doesn’t work all that well.

The following quote appeared on my twitter feed: “Anyone giving you shit for being “weird” is severely overrating the breadth of their experience. This goes for you, too.” This quote points to the core of why Kim’s “attitude” comes off more grating than probably intended. This girl, who has been all over the world, who met so many weird and wonderful people, cops an annoyed attitude at the weird antics of her friend and partner Ron, for no particular reason. She cops this attitude at her parents, her brothers, her principal, and other characters who come in and dare to challenge her perfect world. To its credit, Kim Possible on occasion showcases Kim being kind of stuck-up. But the show rarely sticks the landing with its tonally off setting, especially since her character is solidly in the realm of young WASPy perfection. She tosses out judgements left and right, which constantly maintains her unlikeability.

Let’s break everything down here. Kim is a beautiful high school student who is brilliant. She comes from a wildly wealthy family – her mother is a brain surgeon and her father is a rocket scientist, which is supposed to be a one-off joke but damagingly has to become a long-term attribute. She’s the captain of the cheerleader squad. The skills she learns from this makes her an extremely effective fighter. She has privileged access to so many things, yet the show tries to guide viewers into relating to her extremely petty concerns. It tries to connect us to her frustration at her genius brothers, despite the fact they literally do nothing to her until late into season three. It tries to connect us to her embarrassment at her parents, despite, you know, them being damn-near Rhodes Scholars. She doesn’t learn to appreciate her grandmother until she reveals herself to be a former ass-kicking spy (“The Golden Years”). It wants to show how utterly ashamed she is at working at the in-show fast food placeholder Bueno Nacho (“Bueno Nacho”), or how, god-forbid, she has to spend a few weeks working with the school janitor (“Job Unfair”). Could Kim perhaps learn the value of low-pay, menial work, or at the very least learn to appreciate those who do work at our oft-ignored, blue-collar workers? Not here. Kim drops the Bueno Nacho job after she gets her silly jacket (her relationship to fashion is wholly inconsistent – some days she’s absolutely obsessed with the latest fashion trends, and other days she’s utterly above it all); she learns to appreciate the janitor ONLY when he’s revealed to be a super secret spy – you know, just like her.

That’s the real problem with Kim. She rarely, if ever, learns lessons or changes for the better. It’s the world that changes for her. The most glaring example is in “Number One.” One of the ideas that Kim Possible tries to divulge as a “character flaw” is that Kim is TOO dedicated to the various jobs she involves herself in. So here she tries to tackle coming up with a new cheer routine while busying herself assisting another crime-fighting group known as Global Justice. She struggles with balancing the two jobs, which her constant rival Bonnie tries to exploit, working to undermine Kim’s captain position by providing new uniforms, raising money, and ultimately turning the team against her. The show then allows Kim to acknowledge that she indeed may be overwhelmed, and that Bonnie, despite their rivalry, is honestly in the better position to captain the squad. It’s a nice moment, adding a dimension and a level of growth to Kim that was sorely needed, the two finally coming to an understanding.

And then they fucking dropped it.

It’s never made clear whether Kim still was officially the captain after that or not, but it’s a moot point, since ostensibly she was: she still led the team, came up with new routines, ran the practices, and so on. Kim possibly being in any way subservient to Bonnie was absolutely off-fucking-limits. In fact, Kim being subservient to ANYONE was off-fucking-limit. Anyone and anything that could undermine Kim’s “Kim-ness” was removed. Global Justice made for an intriguing separate entity for Kim to work with or against – the SHUSH to Darkwing Duck, the UNIT to Doctor Who’s the Doctor. But they hardly factored in Kim’s life at all, and soon completely disappear from the show. Early on, Kim mentioned she was obsessed with these Beanie Baby knockoff toys called Cuddle Buddies, which hints at Kim’s geekier past pursuits, or at least her formative years. You best believe that was tossed out (save for a few minor callbacks). When Monique is introduced as a female friend, Kim pouts and bitches when Monique expresses interest in wrestling. So, surprise, surprise, Monique no longer is interested in wrestling – just the cute guys and top-of-the-line clothing that Kim is also (randomly) into. IN FACT, the show hilariously tries to suggest that someone like Kim would lack friends. It certainly isn’t above the show to suggest that someone like Kim, in her position, would be so wildly busy that making friends would indeed be difficult. But Kim isn’t a shut-in workaholic. By all accounts she’s social and friendly and approachable, so the onus is on the writers, who fail to suggest that people outside of Kim’s purview even matters, or even exists. Why we don’t even get names of the various (hot and perfectly-bodied) gals in the cheerleading squad is a mystery, let alone anyone else in the school.

The bottom line is that we never, ever get to laugh at Kim. She is an straight-girl anomaly in a world of wackiness, constantly sighing, eye-rolling, scoffing, and snarking at the wacky behavior of others. “God, these people,” she says with her facial expression towards people who are rocket scientists, brain surgeons, sidekicks, superheroes, and secret agents, and she is insufferable for it. She never feels part of the crazy world that’s developed here, which is so discordant that it creates an emotional uncanniness with every passing moment. “Cheerleaders never get detention.” When is this remotely true? The insanity of this idea isn’t explored narratively nor visually, so we just go along with the utter embarrassment of the pretty elite having to spend time being in trouble, made even more uncomfortable as the other students in detention leer at her. (BY THE WAY, there is something… disturbing about watching a teenage girl with triangle boobs run around in skimpy cheerleader outfits and bearing her midriff). “I’ve never seen a cheerleader here before,” says a clueless mouth-breather in detention hall, who we never hear from again (and you can be sure Kim befriends them, because she’s perfect like that.) Because cheerleaders are absolved of all sin? Bonnie, the one cheerleader who seems adept as causing quite a bit of trouble, has never been educationally detained? Get the fuck out of here.

Yet, despite my severe criticisms, Kim Possible isn’t actually a bad show. There are a lot of strong elements here, most notably the comical relationship between Shego and Dr. Drakken. Here the show breathes much needed wackiness into a comically hostile give-and-take between the two, what with Drakken’s world-takeover plans reaching Pinky and The Brain levels of ridiculousness, and Shego’s smartass remarks breaking down said ridiculousness. There are some unrefined elements here, though – it takes about three seasons to actually clarify what Shego’s power really is (and even then, it’s debatable), and I found it odd that Shego took pleasure with fighting Kim despite never winning (which approaches “shipping” levels of enjoyment). Still, they remain the best part of the show. Monkey Fist works because he took his plans seriously, despite his appearance; he frequently gave the show its most darker edges. Other villains – DNAmy, Duff Killigan, Dr. Dementor, Motor Ed – have their moments but are mostly forgettable. The weakest villains are the Senors. The idea of them were sound – a father and son failing to bond as they engage in villainy – but the characters themselves just don’t click.

And then there’s Ron.

At this point, I have to believe that, while Disney mandated a show about an ass-kicking, do-it-and-know-it-all, “relateable” teenage girl, the writers ACTUALLY conspired together to make it the Ron Stoppable Show. First of all, Ron is a great role model. Even though he has a lot to learn, he’s confident and self-assured, not afraid to ask questions (no matter how stupid) and is ridiculously loyal. The show makes Ron a real character; we learn about his fear of camps and his hatred of monkeys. He’s given a real backstory.  He’s given a fun, separate story in Japan, which is part of a (admittedly-awkward) long-term arc. He’s given a younger sister. He loves wrestling, video games, and being the school mascot, AND has a sense what’s cool and hip (even though he’s not always on board with it), which raises the question on why they never bothered to do any of this with Kim. He’s a good cook. We even learn that he’s Jewish! If you watch these episodes carefully, you’ll notice that most of them start out being about Kim, but slowly become about Ron. This happens clearly in the “So the Drama” movie, which ought to be about Kim coming to terms with her feelings about Ron, but ends up being about Ron’s feelings towards Kim (and Ron, you can do so much better). This happens in the series finale “Graduation” as well. Kudos to Ron being above all the bullshit because the show has a weird relationship to Ron, what being referred to a loser all the time, which borders on sick cruelty. When Kim and Ron start dating, the show struggles to contextualize it (since it’s pretty clear they should NOT be dating). My heart sank in “Ill Suited,” when they made Ron a starting running back, less because of his character and more because Kim COULD NOT POSSIBLY date a mascot (god, fuck her). And there is a weird vibe in “Clean Slate,” where, upon Kim getting amnesia, everyone dismisses or tosses aside attempts to remind Kim that Ron and she are dating. This episode tries to play it for laughs but Holy Christ does it come off so fucking mean. That’s the show in a nutshell – ideas that seemed cute and funny on paper, but come off utterly vicious on the screen.

Likewise, everything they do with Wade is just the pits. I’m not sure if there were plans in the works to build Wade up into something more, but, again, there’s something off-putting about a ten year-old child genius confined to his room (you know, like your nerds do since they’re scared of outside and shit), completely subservient to maintaining Kim’s website and geeky magic research, a defacto plot device to keep the story moving. And I won’t even touch the idea of a small black child constantly assisting a pretty white girl, no questions asked. What makes this stranger still is that Kim’s brothers, the Dweebs, are genius as well, and at times will help Kim out, and even save the day. So maybe this is the burgeoning writer in me, but wouldn’t it have been dramatically more interesting to have the Dweebs as Kim’s tech assistants? They would be both helpful and annoying, create an internal but real conflict, and go a long way to give credence to Kim’s displeasure in their appearance. It sure as hell wouldn’t be a waste of a VO paycheck for Smart Guy’s Tahj Mowry. (Note: Wade doesn’t even have a last name.) The first time Wade really emerges from his room for a full episode, he’s essentially a villain and comes off rather rapey (“The Cupid Effect”). Once again, an idea on paper fails on the screen.

In the end, for all the successes and failures, the core of the show’s misery lies with Kim. Kim Possible is a goddamn Mary Sue. Kim Possible is what you create when you misunderstand what a “strong female character” supposed to be, and you take the concept of a “strong female character” in the completely wrong direction (In fact, I’d question this show as any sort of feminist statement – why develop Kim’s father so much but hardly do anything with her mother?). She is what comedians refers to as “holes,” people who actively suck the punch out of every comedic moment. She is the Frank Grimes of animation, positioned in every episode. Kim Possible is an abject lesson in the importance of creating a lead character, a character who seems part of the world you created – or, at the very least, tolerable of it. Instead, almost every episode is centered around Kim meeting or running into someone, and essentially hating them because they DARE challenge her. She seems flustered at the world, at weird people, at nerds, at jocks, at her parents, her goddamn cheerleading squad, her brothers, her job, her life. How much so? When she meets people who seem to share her interests, but then show the slightest interest in other things, she inexplicably gets upset and tunes them out. I don’t think I’ve ever had utter contempt for a fictional animated being in my life, but here you go. You know it’s out of control when episodes rightly focus more plot AND character development on Ron, Dr. Drakken, and her father. Hell, there’s more going on with Rufus! Plus, the show, with its focus on Kim, struggles to escape her shadow, becoming more and more inconsistent. Moments where it seems like Kim out to be able to fight her way out of a situation stagnate when she suddenly seems trapped and immobile. But she’ll always win, because plot, which goes for A AND B plots.

In the finale, “Graduation,” the quadriplegic character Felix wins valedictorian. Congrats? Of course not. He goes and asks Kim to give a speech at Commencement for no reason. Even in the end they couldn’t give someone else the spotlight for one minute. And even though Ron is the real hero of the day, it still has to be about Kim. Kim Possible has all the makings of an entertaining show but is forced to deal with the abhorrence of Kim, making the show a potentially exciting universe trapped in the black hole of the teenager herself, from which no fun can escape.


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Tumblr Tuesday – 12/03/13

The Thanksgiving holiday kept me busy, but Tumblr Tuesday is back for the next three weeks!

— 4chan’s /co board creates the perfect red-haired female character:

— I wrote about the lackluster appeal of today’s action cartoons:

— There’s apparently a cult dedicated to Gadget Hackwrench in Russia:

— Why The Incredibles is brilliant, in one great character moment:

— And a great GIF-set that explains the martial arts origins of the various bending styles in Avatar: The Last Airbender:


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