Robot 6

Collect this now: The Gargoyle

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.

(By the way, just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about this character. Or this one.)

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.

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Comments

16 Comments

Even though I liked the character in “Defenders,” I never knew about this miniseries until now. I’d be curious to see it collected, too.

Still, the UPC box with the Spider-Man face, that distinctive font of the “#_ in a 4-Issue Limited Series” header, and the 75-cent price all bring back loads of fond ’80s comics nostalgia!

Ah the good ole days when comics cost 75 cents and you could take a risk and try a book and still have money for that candy bar.

This series had great cover art too!

The Gargoyle was always one of my favorite characters. I remember the Marvel house ad for The New Defenders describing him as “a guy who looks like he fell off an old building.” I always found that funny.

And I loved DeMatteis’ work in Captain America (with Mike Zeck) and Spectacular Spider-Man (with Sal Buscema).

The Gargoyle was a central character in Universe X.

I’m pretty sure he showed up in a recent issue of Heroes for Hire as well, fighting alongside Paladin.

He’s been in Heroes for Hire, and also had a large role in Warren Ellis’ 1990’s Hellstorm series, which I know all of you have read half as much as I have.

By the way, my apologies about the lack of interior art, but the scanner isn’t working.

I always liked Gargoyle, I love that he’s popped up here & there recently, I hope he’s a part of The Mighty Defenders at some point …

I would love him to be on my Defenders dream team. No Hulk, Strange, Namor, or Silver Surfer. Just him, Nighthawk, Valkyrie, and Hellcat. MAYBE Moondragon, as long as there’s none of that “Dragon of the Moon” jazz ever again.

I have that mini series.
I’ve never really been a huge fan of Mark Badger’s art, but I thought he did a good job with this series.

This one was on those books that I was looking at on a spinner rack in a High’s Dairy Store and bought along with some ice cream. I’d liked the character in the Defenders so it was an interesting read but then Marvel decided to blow that whole group up to create X-Factor. Great character.

I remember buying that mini off the shelves and enjoying it. I really liked the Gargoyle. The New Defenders was a great series, especially since it had the three underused at the time original X-Men (Iceman, Angel & Beast). I still remember some of the storylines, including one where Iceman had to use his powers in a novel way: sucking the moisture OUT of a room in order to kill a plant gone amok.

After reading this feature I went to the local flea market today and bought all four issues of this for $.20 each. Hoping I’ll enjoy it!

I remember this series. I read it as a kid and just remember thinking it was incredibly sad.

Quick thought: since Gargoyle is a gargoyle, I think on the cover of #1 he should’ve been perched on a stone statue of Batman.

I never read New Defenders, but I still own my copies of this mini-series. I haven’t looked at in a decade or two, but I think it’s time for a revisit.

Thanks for the nice words, yeah I got away with murder for a couple of years in drawing comics for DC Marvel, I suspect those days are long gone. The editors at Marvel/DC kept asking me to draw like Gargoyle and I could never figure out how to do it enuff to make them happy.

Mark Badger
http://www.markbadger.org

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