Extraordinary Villains: Demona

I wanted to take a break from ranting about the writing for the final season of Game of Thrones, but thinking about Cersei Lannister got me thinking about my favorite female villains, and I started making a list. The first on my list was Demona, from Disney’s Gargoyles. I got distracted while writing up this list browsing various other sites’ lists of best female villains and was dismayed to discover that Demona is not getting her due. Out of 367 names submitted to Ranker, Demona was not even mentioned once. I went through google’s first page of results for ‘best female villains’ with no mention of her at all from anyone, until finally she appeared on an article from The Mary Sue about the best animated female villains.

At least someone out there besides me remembers and appreciates Demona! Gargoyles itself is a show that does not get its due, in my opinion. It was a bold show for Disney to put on the air back then – a blend of fantasy and sci-fi, with heavy references to Shakespeare throughout, including actual characters from Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. it had high quality, pretty animation for the time. It featured voice actors from various Star Trek series. One of the show’s main protagonists was a mixed-race female cop, Elisa Maza (black & native American). Both Elisa and Goliath, the leader of the titular gargoyles, were voiced by actors of color.

I found the show riveting. It was my favorite thing on television as a teenager. Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi from Star Trek: TNG) voiced Demona, a gargoyle and Goliath’s one-time lover. Her story arc, unfolding over the course of the series, proved to be one of the most interesting parts of the entire show for me. Demona seems to be motivated by a desire for power, on the surface, but as her story is revealed we see that a large part of what motivated her initial search for power was a fear of human prejudice and aggression – the gargoyles were often treated as monsters to be destroyed, at worst – second-class citizens, at best.

Her actions, spurred by fear, suspicion and hostility, backfire significantly and bring bad consequences to the very people she loved and wanted to protect. Rather than engage in honest self-evaluation, and take responsibility for these consequences, Demona descends further into a bitter spiral of hatred and destruction, lashing out at anyone she perceives as the enemy – and eventually Demona perceives almost everyone as her enemy. Underneath the anger and the bravado, though, Demona is extraordinarily lonely, another motivating factor for decisions that often end badly for everyone involved, including Demona herself.

Gargoyles was not a perfect show. But the writers were given an extraordinary opportunity and ran with it, offering urban fantasy before urban fantasy had become a familiar genre. They created a nuanced, complicated female villain whose story was carefully woven into the tapestry of the show’s plot. She was a genuine threat, clever, conniving, physically strong, vicious and intimidating, while still appearing, sounding and acting feminine. I got the impression the writers liked and respected her as a part of the show, and that Marina Sirtis enjoyed voicing her.

I’m sorry Demona is not more well-known, as she certainly deserves a spot in the pantheon of best female villains, animated or not.

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