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So does anyone out there remember the Gargoyle?
I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t. Even in an era where every comic character is allegedly somebody’s favorite, and even though he put in a couple of appearances in various Civil War: The Initiative books, it’s not like the Gargoyle has that huge of a fan base.
Anyway, the Gargoyle was a C-list character on a C-list team, better known as The New Defenders (though he was also a member of the old Defenders for a while). Created by writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Don Perlin, the Gargoyle was an elderly man, a.k.a. Isaac Christians, who was trapped in the body of a monster; an inadvertent superhero who, despite his ability to fire “bio-mystical” energy bolts, seemed more interested in trying to work things out through a healthy discussion rather than fight. It was no doubt many of these aspects that kept the character from gaining wider readership, but those same traits endeared him to me.
Obviously DeMatteis was a fan of the character as well, since, after passing the Defenders torch on to Peter B. Gillis, he wrote a four-issue miniseries delving into the Gargoyle’s back story, with art by Mark Badger.
Now, a bit of a confession is in order. At the time, I was a huge fan of DeMatteis’ work. I mean huge. To my 14-year-old self Moonshadow was on a par not only with Maus or Watchmen but Vonnegut. Blood: A Tale was nothing less than genius. To say he was an influence on my writing would be an understatement.
I’ve since tempered my love a bit. As the years wore on DeMatteis’ tics (the constant asides, the overwriting, the New Age spiritualism, the over-the-top sincerity that often spilled into sentimentalism) became more obvious, pronounced and … irksome to me. All that being said, I still look upon his best work (Brooklyn Dreams, the aforementioned Moonshadow) with fondness, and if Gargoyle doesn’t quite measure up to those works, it — like a lot of DeMatteis’ writing at the time — helped shape my teen-age sensibilities and interest in comics as much as Little Nemo or Peanuts did.
The miniseries has Christians coming a cropper of the original Gargoyle, whose spirit is now housed in Christians’ human body. Christians switches bodies with him, largely in the hopes of re-connecting with the spirit of his long-lost (and recently deceased) love Elaine. Of course, the original Gargoyle was pulling a double-cross all along, and it’s up to Christians and a centuries-old druid to stop the monster from turning humanity into a bunch of weird-looking pagans. Along the way there are lots and lots of flashbacks into Christians’ past as we learn about the guilt and shame that drives him, along with his need for closure with Elaine (confronting his inner “demons” as it were).
Honestly, it’s all a very emo affair, but one of the things that makes the comic work for me is Badger’s art. Never a conventional Marvel artist, Badger’s style eventually verged about as close to abstraction in works like The Score, the Martian Manhunter mini-series (another collaboration with DeMatteis) and Instant Piano, and still tell a story. Here he’s just representational enough to keep from annoying the fan boys. When dealing with the interpersonal relationships, Badger keeps things relatively normal. But whenever the action starts, Badger lets his panels literally explode in a variety of Ditko-esque swirls, slashes, zig-zags and diagonal lines. It’s rather thrilling stuff and makes me wish that mainstream comics had been more encouraging to idiosyncratic artists like Badger.
If I’m being honest, there’s a strong nostalgic drive on my part in wanting to see this series (which, as far as I know, has never, ever been collected) reprinted in a trade. Despite its flaws, however, I like to think Gargoyle holds up rather well, both in the art and story department and deserves a closer re-examination.