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But first, a moment of glee. It's 'Gargoyles'! In a comic! By Greg! For real! Magnificent! Big, big, big thanks to all the people who made it happen.
I think I always kind of overlooked 'The Journey'. I always liked it, but it was always a bit of an odd duck, stapled onto the front of a season I didn't care for, a second ending after 'Hunter's Moon' which was an immensely satisfying conclusion. So now it's been many, many years since I saw the episode and although I can still rattle off most of the lines by heart, I'm still coming at it with something of a fresh perspective and, to some extent, seeing it as a creature in its own right rather than 'the last one before TGC' or 'the one after the Hunters'. A few things strike me.
Most obviously, 'Nightwatch' is really very dark indeed. Well, obviously. But there's no talk of journeys or Vinnie's redemption at this point, and read with David Hedgecock and Will Terrell's gloomy take on the city, it really does feel much more oppressive than the optimistic world Elisa introduced Goliath back in '94. It also puts the world tour in perspective a little for me, as seen against the long period where the show had been becoming much brighter and more optimistic than it had been before - the clan isn't alone! Goliath has a daughter! Heroes are awakening to their destiny! - the darker turn seems fitting and I'm interested to see how everything develops once the initial shock fades.
Right now in this issue there's a sense that the walls are coming in. No Faeries or robots or magic or many of the more fantastical elements of the show. No grand romantic statements from the leads, just affection in small ways - comforting each other. And the story says a lot about humans, and humans under fire. Fear, knee-jerk panic, anger, prejudice. It's very raw - especially since we don't have the balance offered by Vinnie's decision yet. It's also a little eerie to return to this story for the first time since some of the major terrorist attacks of the last few years: the story is, after all, in the wake of a major attack on a New York building, and I think the script captures that heady uncertainty of a long, dark night where the news is on loop and the world's turned upside down and everything doesn't seem quite so safe any more.
Despite what might have been a very choppy narrative, all the plots are beautifully intertwined: the newsreaders, the Quarrymen, the cops, the gargoyles, Xanatos and Elisa. Most of the supporting characters have only a couple of lines but each suggests a completely different take on "the gargoyles issue". The people investigating it, the people hiding the gargoyles, the people concerned for their families, the people hunting the gargoyles for vengeance, for pleasure, or worry, for a sense of social activism, out of a concern about science, the gargoyles wanting to keep a low profile, wanting to go about their business, and so on. Different characters, different viewpoints, different loyalties and agendas and levels of information - it's just incredibly sharp stuff. And the people who seemed to be comedy extras in past episodes are now active and outspoken and shaping events: in fact, thanks to the Nightwatch framing the gargoyles are presented as intruders into their life stories instead of the other way around as it's seemed in the past. It's intricate and marvelous.
The Hedgecock/Terrell Gargoylesverse feels a little murkier than we're used to. Part of this is the less distinct backgrounds in places, the more sketchy style; partly the colouring. It's a great interpretation of this script which fits the post-'Hunter's Moon' New York: a little stunned, a little on edge, a little depressed. But I can't help but think back to 'Awakening' and Elisa's comments on the beauty in the city. Although this episode is very bleak, I hope that at some stage when the shock of the gargoyles revelation dies down we'll get to see New York in a context that's a little less 'Gotham'.
But it's still lovely. The colours are moody and ominous, the art revels in the small scenes - I love Matt & Chavez and Elisa & Cagney; and the emotions of the characters in their normal conversations. The action seems to be very tightly framed with lots of close-ups, which gives the emotional stuff a lot of clout (which I love), though the fight scene felt perhaps a bit cramped in places and in the 'louder' scenes the characters seem slightly exaggerated in places.
All in all, I was very impressed by how much 'Nightwatch' got under my skin, even all these years after having seen 'The Journey'. While I always liked the episode, I would definitely rate this issue alongside my very favourites from the first two seasons for its sheer complexity and ambition and its sense of fear and confusion and hurt and a hundred emotions jumbled up.
- Adapting 'The Journey' works really well as a starting point. There's a lot going on in it and I wasn't sure it wouldn't become overwhelming to a new or casual fan of the sort I'm trying to hook on the comic. But I think most of the roles are pretty obvious (benefactor, cops, etc.) even if you're just looking with no pre-conceived ideas. A couple of the continuity references might be more of a stretch (I wonder what people who haven't seen 'Vendettas' will make of the banana cream pie!). But we only really see much of Goliath and Elisa at this point, and the social situation the gargoyles are being flung into is well-realised and a compelling entry point.
- The Art & Lois scene is new to me and it's very effective. It's funny because I saw the previews for this which ended with Goliath flying into a rage and although I was excited to read it, I had no preconceptions about what might follow. I just didn't really think about it, I wanted to wait and see it 'for real'. But somehow I found myself pleasantly surprised by Goliath's solution. It's not a new solution for him ('Deadly Force' and other episodes obviously spring to mind), but it's an effective one, a peaceful one, a dignified one, and it really gets to the nub of Goliath's character at a very early point. I like that even after feeling I've known the character for a decade, he can still pleasantly surprise me by, literally, his grace under fire.
- The monstrous Quarrymen-designed gargoyle amused me. Didn't the TGC version have an actual replica of Goliath or something? I always assumed Jon Canmore had it for some reason, or the Illuminati had provided it or something along those lines, but it seems more credible that the Quarrymen mock-up would just be a plain old scary monster. So now I'm guessing they used Goliath in the TGC version to save the cost of drawing up a new stone model? It also explains why the Quarrymen didn't recognise Goliath on the rooftop later (though Banquo ought to have, I'd have thought).
- Grigori, not Gregorino? Or is Vinnie just assuming an alias in case the Quarrymen are as unsavoury as he seems to fear even at this early stage? In any case, I like the name Grigori. It's got the in-joke, but it's not intrusive.
- Speaking of the Quarrymen, I always had trouble making out the line "no way you're fighting this hard if stone-face weren't the real thing..." in the cartoon. It sounded like "heart of stone" something. I think I worked it out eventually (or perhaps through Blaqthorne & Crimson Fury's transcript) but it's nice to see it in the text. And Banquo nearly said 'whore'. I guess this scene was one of the punch-to-the-face moments that was possible in S2 but which TGC got stopped from doing.
- The titles took a long while to grab me. I now quite like 'Nightwatch'; it seems to resonate on a lot of levels. 'Clan-Building' is kind of dull still. I admit, the traditionalist in me would kind of like it to be "The Journey" Part 1 & 2... 'just like 'real' episodes!'. Going to have to get used to the fact that it's a comic now. 'The Journey' was one of my favourite titles in the series, and although I realise it would probably not make much sense for #1 (since it's only really explained right at the end), I still really like it. I hope Part 2 is called 'The Journey'. Also, the nerd in me misses the nice, blue title font - it always gave me that 'new episode buzz' in the good old days, especially when a "part one" or something popped up after the first titles, and so it has a strong sentimental value. Okay, okay, I'll shut up about the titles now.
- Greg Guler's cover is ace. The colours are wonderful too. Deep and crisp and gorgeous.
- Also, on the colouring front, I especially liked the transition from day to sunset to night, with a darker twilight than the show sometimes had. There's a lot more red used in the comic as a whole than I remember of the cartoon and that gives a different flavour to scenes like the Quarrymen mob scene especially - maybe it makes it a little too on-the-nose, I'm not sure. I kind of liked my recollection of it with cool colours predominating -- the banality of evil or something like that.
- I felt the sweatdrop on Art was a bit on the cartoony side. I think 'Gargoyles' works best when it's kind of understated.
- I really love the page where Goliath flies over the head of Vinnie. A really memorable, iconic image. The original cartoon did this sort of thing a lot but with cuts and silhouettes and odd angles; the shape of an animation frame obviously isn't really useful for this sort of thing. This image is to me a nice encapsulation of... well, the series. Gargoyles trying to live their lives watching over humans who are blundering around uncertainly in the dark.
- One thing that I'm unsure about is the portrayal of Castaway, just in terms of artwork. He's very animated here - his hands-on-hips introduction, his psychotic expressions. This is where it's a case of me being used to one interpretation (the cartoon's) and suddenly questioning what I had assumed: how stable is Castaway? He's obviously not such a fruitcake that he puts off scared citizens from joining a violent organisation, but then again he set up the Quarrymen in the first place. Jon Canmore seemed to keep things close to his chest and then snapped. Does Castaway return to Canmore's very repressed attitude, or will his anger always be as close to the surface as some scenes here? My memories of the cartoon are quite different from the tone of the art here; the latter much angrier and more forceful and animated, the former slicker and more comforting. Incidentally, this is one of the best and most powerful speeches in the series. I just love the way the theme of community and 'aloneness' is threaded through the series.
- And one bare-faced quibble on the 'About Greg Weisman' page... it's 'Talespin', not 'Tail Spin'! Grr! :)
I just hope that by the time this post reaches the front of the queue the comic is a runaway success! Keep up the great work. :)
OMG, did I write "Tail Spin"? Hold on... Yep, it's in the comic. Let me check what I sent to SLG... DARN!! Yes, this is MY fault. <grrrrr>
Anyway, Ed, thanks for (otherwise) making me sound really good!