Elisa Maza is often compared with April O’Neil, and I have no idea why. I suppose if you’re channel surfing and spend less than a minute on “Gargoyles” and only take things in at their most superficial, you’ll see a normal woman hanging out with a bunch of gargoyles and make that leap. But that’s as ridiculous as saying Demona is just like Mystique or Xanatos is just like Lex Luthor. Elisa is so much more than that, and I will say it, she is one of the greatest animated heroes of all time. Notice that I didn’t say “greatest animated love interests” or anything like that. I don’t put her toe-to-toe with Lois Lane, Spike Witwicky from Transformers, or the aforementioned April O’Neil. No, I’m putting her toe-to-toe with the likes of Batman; any version of Optimus Prime; and yes, even the love of her life, Goliath.
Unlike April and Lois, Elisa is no damsel in distress (or, in their cases dumbass in distress). She can and does take care of herself and, while I haven’t counted, she’s rescued Goliath and the other gargoyles more often than they’ve ever rescued her by a significant margin… and all without making Goliath and his kin look like weak heroes in the process. Imagine a Superman show where Lois saved Superman more often than he saved her, chances are you’d have people complaining that they were making Supes look weak in favor of “girl power” or something. Not “Gargoyles.” Not Elisa Maza. “Gargoyles” showed us very early on that Elisa wasn’t going to be your typical gal pal when, in the fourth part of the five-part pilot, she takes down an entire squad of commandos single handed; commandos who were written as being competent instead of your garden variety moronic thugs that pop up in most cartoons.
A big point is made about how David Xanatos looks at his wife, Fox, as an equal. Fox even beats her husband in chess and judo sparring. Likewise, Goliath and Elisa respect each other and regard each other the same, a great reflection of Xanatos and Fox, I think. Again, one need only look at “Awakening Part Five” to see Elisa save Goliath’s life from Demona before he in turn saves her from the collapsing castle as Demona falls towards her… apparent death (at least we thought so for a moment). They are a team. They are partners. They are equals.
Elisa is also a woman who is very self-possessed. Growing up mixed race (the daughter of a Native American father and an African-American mother) was probably not always easy, but it’s clear to me that she grew up well-adjusted despite any hurdles she had to overcome there, never mind her succeeding in the police which is still, to this day, often considered “a man’s world.” She sees past appearances, choosing to see what is beneath the surface. Notice how quick she was to accept Goliath, strike up conversation with him, and get to know him. On the flip side, she didn’t trust Xanatos from the moment she met him, despite the fact that most fall for his charms and suave demeanor.
This isn’t to say she’s perfect, no one in real life is (and no fictional character should ever be written that way). She’s stubborn, she has acted selfishly, and she’s guarded. She’s tried to pretend her feelings for Goliath don’t exist and then even after acknowledging them, she briefly panicked and tried to run away from them. But this doesn’t weaken her as a character, quite the contrary, it strengthens her. She’s human, without being just the human friend, she embodies the best of humanity just as Goliath embodies the best of his people… and they really are perfect for each other.*
She’s a hero, as much as she denies being one, all while being human in the best sense of the word. Most pop culture heroes like Batman and Superman may as well be gods, or allegories for gods. They are larger than life, have amazing powers or abilities or resources, but they are too above us to ever truly be human. Elisa Maza might not be able to move planets, stop volcanoes and hurricanes, own a hi-tech suit of armor, be injected with a super soldier serum, be descended from gods, be a science experiment gone wrong, or be able to defeat any foe with enough prep time (she can’t even beat Demona in hand-to-hand combat at night), but armed only with her brain, her heart, her badge, her gun, family and true friends, she carries on and does the best she can and has even helped save the world without ever feeling like she was invincible in the process. Elisa Maza is the hero we can all be.
*This is also a great sum up of why Elisa should never be transformed into a gargoyle again.