In honor of Indigenous Heritage Month, ComicsVerse would like to take a moment to spotlight cartoon icon and iconic woman, Elisa Maza. For those of you out there who remember the era of 90s cartoons, Elisa Maza was the lead female protagonist of the American cartoon series GARGOYLES. The show, which ran from 1994 to 1997, was created by Frank Paur and Greg Weisman.

The series revolved around this set of titular mythic creatures who were stone by day and came to life by night, living in modern-day New York City. The show centers on Elisa Maza, a member of the NYPD, who encounters these creatures and befriends them. While teaching the Gargoyles about the Modern World, Eliza fights alongside them, protecting the city from evil.

Elisa Maza

The series was set in the urban metropolis of New York. It soon after that became a cult classic for its fantastic fusion of literary themes, fantasy, and science fiction. Along with the dark, complex narratives and dramatic character arcs. The show was acclaimed for its inclusive sense of diversity, particularly in its protagonist, Elisa Maza.

Intersectional Heroine

Throughout GARGOYLES, Elisa acts as an emblem of kindness and strength. Within the show, Elisa Maza is both an accomplished police officer and a guardian to a group of mythical creatures. Elisa Maza provided an exceptional female protagonist in an extremely male-dominated realm of animation and media. She not only overtook that role, but she was also a Woman of Color, which made her impact even greater. Our realm of media critically lacks protagonists who are of color. Even if they are of mixed race descent, in that same retrospect, it is critically lacking.

READ: Want to learn about more female Indigenous comic book characters? Check out our take on Dani Monster here!

Salli Richardson: The Voice Actor Of Elisa Maza

In the early development of her character, Elisa had originally been designed as a woman of Latinx descent with the intended last name Chavez. When Salli Richardson, Elisa’s voice actor, was cast for the role the creators of the show had decided to adopt Elisa’s background to match her voice actor’s. This provided a greater sense of authenticity to Elisa’s background as both African-American and Native-American. The name Chavez was later delegated to Elisa’s police captain.

Elisa Maza
Salli Richardson who voices Elisa Maza

Multiple episodes of the series explored the various components of Elisa’s background. In “Mark of the Panther” Elisa visits her mother, a cultural anthropologist, in Africa exploring her Nigerian heritage. In “Cloud Fathers” the episode highlights her father, a police officer like Eliza, and his Hopi roots.

READ: Want to check out more Native American representation in comic books? Check out our take on EAST OF WEST!

In both episodes, the show demonstrates Elisa’s strong familial connections. On how family has influenced her to become the hero she is today. From both her mother and her father, Elisa demonstrates an eager thirst for knowledge, a well-developed sense of justice, and innate wonder at the world.

Elisa’s respect for various forms of folklore and belief systems helps to explain why she was so receptive to the Gargoyles. Elisa even recognizes them as fellow outsiders. Continuing from that point, this delves into a darker part of GARGOYLES…

Metaphor For Prejudice

Underneath all the cool adventures and the wonder of talking stone creatures, the show presents the gargoyles as a fascinating allegory for racial discrimination and prejudice. As seen in the first episode of the series, the Gargoyles were shown as a clan of protective warriors.

They defended their home and the people in it — both gargoyle and human — from harm. The humans were shown as less than appreciative of that. This allows the watcher to see that because of their physical appearance the Gargoyles were treated with mistrust and repulsion. They are later on vulnerable to a mass-attack that wiped out the majority of their clan.

As a Woman of Color from two marginalized backgrounds, it is very likely that Elisa’s heritage was the reason why she was so receptive and sympathetic to the plight of the Gargoyles. Their struggle may have mirrored that of her own and her ancestors. From state-sanctioned violence against African-Americans that built the foundation of this country that is still perpetuated today, to mass-genocide of individuals as seen in cases like the Trail of Tears and general erasure of Native American culture, Elisa is no stranger to prejudice.

Why Elisa makes for such a fantastic character is her desire to fight against ignorance and protect those in need of protecting. Within the episode “Reawakening” Elisa discusses her duties as a cop with the Gargoyles, to “protect and serve” the people. As seen throughout each portrayal of her character, Elisa has been shown to uphold these values to her heart. Often providing an excellent example of how a civil defender should act.

Room For Improvement

While the show has done incredible things regarding storytelling and inclusion of multifaceted, diverse figures, the show is still not perfect. From Medieval Scotland to modern-day New York, the Gargoyles have held the belief that they needed to exist within the shadows. Meaning away from the general public that fears them. The Gargoyles are still expected to protect this public.

READ: Think Western media portrayal of Native Americans is problematic? So do we!

This is especially noticeable in the case of Demona. As a Gargoyle and major character, Demona was often seen and presented as an antagonist. Within the series, Demona shows an intense fury towards humans. This often causes both the destruction of her family and her marginalization within society. Though her actions can be seen as questionable, her anger could be justified; it is shown as misplaced and irrational.

Elisa Maza
Demona from GARGOYLES

Ian Pérez from Bitch Flicks had pointed out various problematic points within GARGOYLES. Within the episode “Heritage,” Elisa encounters the chief of a struggling First Nation village. In the episode, it is noted that the chief is alienated from his identity. Elisa tells him off, dictating what he should do and calls him by a name that he feels culturally disassociated from.

One particular quote from Pérez from his GARGOYLES article stood out to me:

“GARGOYLES, with its ‘protecting a world that hates and fears them and has been fairly successful in enacting their global genocide’ premise, seeks to be about marginalized peoples. At the same time, it consistently centers and prioritizes the lives of the privileged over those of the oppressed, and places the burden of obtaining justice on the latter.”

A Hero to Remember

Elisa Maza

No one can deny that Eliza Maza is an excellent role model. She is driven, direct, and makes sure to protect her values and people who are closest to her heart. Her background as a woman of African and Indigenous descent has contributed to her understanding and acceptance of various peoples and cultures. This, in turn, influences her drive to combat prejudice, and fight to protect those suffering from it like the Gargoyles.

Are GARGOYLES somewhat problematic concerning marginalized people acting as protectors for a community that often fears and tries to attack them? Yes, it can be. However, GARGOYLES is still an incredible show that was forward thinking for its time. Even more so, it still is today, discussing dark topics such as discrimination, genocide, and gun violence.

All of this led by a multifaceted Woman of Color who represented hope for people who looked like her and have the same background as her. Elisa demonstrates the power of representation, of Indigenous characters shaping the world through extraordinary ways, becoming a truly positive role model.

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!