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"Gargoyles' has some bark and bite

Parents who wish to get a head start on Christmas shopping for their children should check out Gargoyles, a new animated action series that joins the syndication wars today.

It's another collection of cartoon heroes begging to be transformed into toy-store staples in time for the holidays.

While they're getting gift ideas, adults also may find themselves interested in the origins of this new courageous crew _ spelled out in this week's ambitious five-part miniseries. Gargoyles may turn out to be another silly, repetitive kiddie crime show, along the lines of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but for now it's a thoughtful, Gothic fantasy, remindful of Fox's fine Batman: The Animated Series.

The saga begins in dark, brooding fashion as we witness the gargoyles _ grotesque statues that mythically guard a European castle centuries ago. The statues come to life when darkness falls, which makes them fearful to the humans living inside. Gargoyles makes some distinct, not too preachy, points about prejudice when the beasts save the humans from invasion.

Leading the gargoyles is Goliath, with his brave baritone and body by Tony Little. None of the others have his physique, or even a name of their own until late in the miniseries. They're ugly and malformed, with bat-like wings protruding from their backs, but their power-beam vision and gliding abilities are as important as their occasional comic relief.

Despite their aid to the humans, an evil sorcerer places a spell on the gargoyles that prevents them from awakening at sundown. The second episode begins with a 20th-century tycoon named Xanatos buying the castle and transporting it to New York, where the spell is broken and the gargoyles awake to contend with a new, more dangerous world.

By the end of the miniseries, Gargoyles hints that the modern life may not be as challenging for the heroes, or their creators. Future success will depend on how far they can take the gimmick without resorting to cliched mad scientists for drama. Visually, Gargoyles is closer to the ratchet-jawed animation of Space Ghost than the art-deco vistas of Batman: The Animated Series.

Yet there is promise in this week's introduction to Gargoyles; cheapo artistry in an overworked setting can be overlooked if fine storylines and underlying messages continue.

Gargoyles

Premiering at 4 p.m. today on WTOG-Ch. 44. Grade: B-.

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