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Crash log of the Singularity

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

19 Comments

  1. David Faggiani
    May 25, 2016 @ 9:35 am

    Look forward to following you on here, after a couple of years of following you at Vaka Rangi! Keep it up, your writing is terrific.

    Reply

    • Josh Marsfelder
      May 25, 2016 @ 2:26 pm

      Thank you! I’m thrilled to be here!

      Reply

  2. Jack Graham
    May 25, 2016 @ 10:34 am

    Fascinating, as ever. And I love the little potted take on Batman: The Animated Series, one of my favourite shows ever.

    Reply

  3. Ian McIntire
    May 25, 2016 @ 1:52 pm

    “There was also an animated Broadway musical of sorts a few years later about some fish people that gets credit for turning the industry around…”

    Ah yes, the somewhat obscure “Nuzzink Can Stop Me, Even Though I Want To Get Off The World”.

    Reply

  4. Sean Dillon
    May 25, 2016 @ 1:56 pm

    You put the last line in there for the last Star Trek movie, didn’t you (a film that goes so far into doing everything the fans want that it’s almost Robert Holmesian in how much it pisses them off with the things they want the most)?

    Reply

    • Josh Marsfelder
      May 25, 2016 @ 2:29 pm

      Actually I was intending to reference Gargoyles itself (because they themselves are “cursed”), but that does work, yes 🙂

      Reply

  5. Gavin Burrows
    May 25, 2016 @ 5:20 pm

    ”I am at an utter loss to explain why boys have to have lurid ultraviolence and killing in order to get invested in drama, or why they gravitate so frequently to insular and solipsistic stories about brooding, loose-cannon antiheroes. Why they hate ensemble stories and utopianism. Because they do: You can’t tell me the turn to voyueristic grimdark and lone-wolf noir narrative isn’t tied up in some way with reactionary masculine fundamentalism.”

    This is probably crassly reductive, and at best only the bare bones of a theory but…

    Patriarchy is a double whammy of oppression, in that it privileges through both age and gender. But boys not only get just a single whammy, but a whammy they’re dimly aware will one day end. Just wait, in time you get to be the patriarch. So there’s the temptation to vote with your feet, go and live in the desert and refuse to abide by society’s norms, until such a time as it benefits you to go back again. Exile can seem appealing when you know not only will you one day return, but time it right and you get crowned king.

    I think it was like that for me as a boy. That’s why I identified with Marvel characters like the Hulk so much. That’s why the Avengers, who ended up fighting each other so often you wondered why the villains bothered showing up, seemed more compelling than those goody two-shoes in the JLA.

    Reply

  6. John
    May 25, 2016 @ 6:59 pm

    While I like the description of Gargoyles as a grimdark version of Gummi Bears, which has some truth to it, this is such a fundamentally weird take on Gargoyles that I’m not sure what to make of it.

    You use Gargoyles as a launching pad to comment more broadly on “voyeuristic grimdark and lone-wolf noir narratives” and “lurid ultraviolence and killing” and “insular and solipsistic stories about brooding, loose-cannon antiheroes”. You say that in it “a lot of people get lacerated and have their skulls kicked in”

    And, I mean, I don’t think any of these things is an even vaguely accurate description of Gargoyles. While obviously there’s some sense in which there are “grimdark” elements in Gargoyles, it remains a weekday afternoon children’s animated program from the mid-90s, and there was only so much you could get away with what you’re describing. And Gargoyles mostly doesn’t try to.

    It’s certainly not about anti-heroes in any sense: Goliath is a pretty standard issue hero-hero, as is Elisa. The trio are light comic relief with some traditional coming of age story stuff. There are certainly anti-hero characters in the show – Macbeth, definitely, and at points Xanatos and Demona also fill those roles. But it’s worth noting that what the show is doing is turning the villains into anti-heroes, not the heroes. And the idea that there’s any lone-wolf elements, or that the show deprecates ensembles, is just totally ridiculous.

    To lay my own cards on the table, I was 14, I think, when I first saw Gargoyles, and I was almost instantly enthralled. I’d watch it after school whenever I could, often with my mom and my sister, who was 11 at the time. My mom, I should note, is just about the last person I can think of who would be into “grimdark” Liefeldianism (or Alan Moore-ism, for that matter, really), and she also greatly enjoyed the show.

    I always loved Batman: The Animated Series, too, but I remember being much more taken with Gargoyles just on the grounds that I had no idea what to expect from it. The first set of episodes I really remember seeing is the one which was mostly a retelling of Macbeth from Macbeth’s point of view. And it just blew my mind that a week day afternoon cartoon show was doing a revisionist take on early medieval Scottish history.

    And it seems pretty clear that the reason that Gargoyles has garnered more critical/cult acclaim than earlier Disney shows from the same time period is mostly that it was, you know, aimed at an older audience. The kind of kids who grew up with Gummi Bears and Duck Tales in elementary school (as my sister and I did – we really loved Gummi Bears) were a bit older now, and Gargoyles gave a more “grown-up” and sophisticated version of those shows – one with explicit literary references and sympathetic anti-heroes and the like.

    Is there something to the idea that Gargoyles was explicitly aimed at boys, where Duck Tales, et al, weren’t? Maybe, although Gargoyles had a lot of interesting female characters. But the idea that it’s some kind of exemplar of 90s grimdark is patently ridiculous.

    Reply

    • James Gauvreau
      May 4, 2018 @ 4:56 am

      It’s unclear to me whether Josh has actually watched the cartoon, or just skimmed the Wikipedia article.

      Reply

  7. Ross
    May 26, 2016 @ 12:29 am

    I didn’t really cotton on at the time to why it was, but I kinda think you’ve got your finger on why I never quite got into Gargoyles back in the day (You’d think it was just because I was aging out of that kind of show, but I don’t recall that ever stopping me before).

    It’s weird. At the time, I remember there being a very dominant meme in the ’90s about men becoming more touchy-feely and “in touch with their feelings’ and “sensitive new age guys”.

    But looking back now, it seems very obvious that the ’90s were a period of a particularly toxic view of masculinity becoming increasingly dominant and lionized. I can’t quite reconcile the disparity in my mind between “what it seemed like when I was there” and “what it seems like when I remember it”. (I have a similarly hard time reconciling how incredibly homophobic the ’80s were with the way that everyone dressed)

    (Also, I am bummed to find that comments still aren’t available via rss here, since this site is inexplicably blocked by my work firewall)

    Reply

    • Daibhid C
      May 26, 2016 @ 8:40 pm

      ICBW, but my recollection is that “sensitive new age guy” was mostly a punchline, so what the media was actually doing was mocking the idea of being male without toxic masculinity.

      Reply

  8. Froborr
    May 26, 2016 @ 12:58 am

    I got worried when I saw you covering this, Josh, as I do whenever you cover something I’m planning to tackle for Near-Apocalypse. Fortunately, this piece is excellent but not remotely close to what I’d cover.

    Anyway, excellent piece, and I agree with Jack that the quick description of BTAS is spot on.

    Reply

  9. Sean Dillon
    May 26, 2016 @ 1:20 am

    My relationship with Greg Weisman, creator of the show in question, is a bit odd considering that my major memories of his work come not from works he was show runner of (though I recall liking his Spider-Man more than the films and, along with the 90s series and Amazing Friends, is more impactful on my take of the character) but rather from his one off episodes of The Batman.

    Also yes, he does Shakespeare about as much, if not slightly more so, as Meyer. (Said Spider-Man series has a sequence that cuts back and forth between a fight and a performance of A Midsummers Night Dream)

    Reply

    • Josh Marsfelder
      May 26, 2016 @ 2:02 am

      Interesting thing about Weisman vis a vis this show is that for all intents and purposes he had effectively nothing to do with it. He pitched the basic concept as a comedy, but the idea was then shopped around to a bunch of different creators before it emerged in this form, bearing next to no resemblance to the original idea. He only describes himself as “one of the creators” of Gargoyles

      Reply

      • John
        May 26, 2016 @ 1:11 pm

        Wasn’t Weisman the showrunner for at least part of the run?

        Reply

      • Jack
        October 25, 2016 @ 7:57 pm

        Pretty sure Greg himself (and a quite a few other people) would disagree with the assessment that he had “nothing” to do with the show.

        Reply

      • Lucy
        November 7, 2016 @ 12:18 am

        I wouldn’t call that an interesting fact, so much as I would call it a blatant mistruth. Greg Weisman had EVERYTHING to do with Gargoyles. To say he didn’t is like saying Stan Lee had nothing to do with Spiderman

        While it is true that the original premise of the series was a comedy, you make it sound as if that idea was ripped right from Greg’s arms and he was then completely shut out of the writing process. That is not true. He worked together with those writers and helped make the show what it was. He was involved in the production from beginning to end(the good ending)

        If you want further proof, I suggest you go to Greg’s forum, Ask Greg, which he’s had in operation for nearly 2 decades, where Greg himself as answered hundreds of questions regarding Gargoyles and other series he’s worked on, expanding the lore of the show further, as well as giving numerous rambles of his own time working on the show, including behind the scene production notes. Again, saying he had nothing to do with what he considers to be his proudest work is both inaccurate and downright insulting

        Like the rest of this article you seem to be happy to make false assumption in order to sound intellectual. You know what is really intellectual? Researching what you’re talking about before opening your mouth

        Reply

  10. Daru
    June 14, 2016 @ 8:34 am

    Welcome to this site again! I still find it a shame right no that I can’t keep track of comments, but glad you are under Phil’s banners!

    I have never heard of Gargoyles at all, so this was one of those great little eye-epening articles. Not sure if I would go and watch it but interesting the whole thing had passed under my radar. The reason might be that I simply didn’t have a TV around then (though I had some access), nor had a computer, so I just wasn’t keeping up with TV or too interested in it – apart from reruns of Trek shows. Sounds interesting for how Frakes and Sirtis were playing things but the whole grimdark element would certainly turn me off now.

    Reply

  11. B
    November 7, 2016 @ 3:29 am

    This is not a very good review. For starters, the description of the backstory is inaccurate. There was not a war between humans and gargoyles that was ended when the humans found a spell to turn the gargoyles to stone. And while there is magic in the show, gargoyles are not themselves magical creatures any more than humans are (stone sleep is a biological process).

    I would think it appeals to girls as much as boys. The show is an ensemble show focused on character development and plot arcs, and is not grimdark and has no lurid ultraviolence. In fact, no one gets killed in it onscreen after the premiere. Not only do most episodes end on a positive, optimistic note with the heroes victorious, sometimes laughing and/or slinging jokes, it has an anti-gun episode.

    The shows it’s most comparable to are Buffy (though that has more violence), Babylon 5 and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

    Reply

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