Excluding Gargoyles, Darkwing Duck was always my favorite part of the Disney Afternoon. I always felt that although Disney is great at showcasing their many properties, Darkwing got the shaft. Sure, it got an NES game, but when the cartoon ended, so did the franchise. Darkwing fell into obscurity, only to become a piece of nostalgia years later.
But what a show it was. Funny and filled with adventure, it acted as the way lighter comedy counterpart to Batman: The Animated Series. It had plenty of character to go around. Not only with our egomaniac mostly-competent hero, but they stole the best character from Duck Tales for the sidekick role and the youthful ward seems to have more gusto than the title character himself. If a superhero is defined by his villains, then you can see the reason the show was so great through the likes of Darkwing’s rogues gallery. Except for that one walrus guy. He kind of sucked.
I never expected to ever see Darkwing again. Whenever a new Kingdom Hearts game came out, I’d half-heartedly hope that maybe we’d get some kind of return appearance, but no. He doesn’t rank with the feature film big shots. Alas, he’d only live on in Toon Disney reruns.
That is, until BOOM! Studios announced a Darkwing Duck miniseries. I was jazzed! Eventually, the idea became so popular among the masses that the company turned it into an ongoing. I was more jazzed! Then I read the first issue. That made my jazz flux levels go even higher! I even got to do an interview with writer Ian Brill one time! My jazziness… it… I… I was pleased, okay?
Darkwing Duck has finished up its first year via twelve issues (three story arcs) and an annual that featured a short story by the series creator Tad Stones. The main series is written by Ian Brill with James Silvani killing it on art. In a time when my favorite characters like Venom, Deadpool, Juggernaut, Booster Gold and Luke Cage have their own fantastic comics going on (by “Deadpool” I mean Uncanny X-Force. Sorry, Daniel Way), I can still tell people with a straight face that my favorite comic series being released today is Darkwing Duck. I get a lot of skeptical looks, but I stand by my claim. With those twelve issues plus one released, I’ve found myself blown away thirteen times in the past year.
For one, the series is completely true to the cast. Brill gets it. The beauty of doing a comic based on a cartoon is that you can actually hear the old voice actors in your head. For instance, look at this scene.
Right there, I hear Dan Castellaneta clearly. Or how about this Quackerjack bit?
That’s definitely Michael Bell I hear. It clicks. At one point I posted a couple pages on a forum to show the series off and the scene involved a lesser-known Darkwing villain named Paddywhack. Someone noted that even though Paddywhack was in only one episode that he hadn’t seen in over fifteen years, the way he came across on the page brought back the memories of how creepy his voice sounded.
Of course, it isn’t just the tendency to be true to character that makes the series work. The problem with the cartoon and countless many like it at the time was that there were never any real developments. A lesson may be learned and a villain may be defeated in each episode, but everything just continued with the status quo. The only exception is the introduction of new characters to the fold or the developments of creating the Justice Ducks/Fearsome Five teams.
Darkwing Duck does a great job of using those 91 existing episodes and using it as groundwork. The cartoon is merely a starter kit and you can toss Duck Tales into that too. Playing up Launchpad’s natural inclusion, we also get appearances from the likes of Gyro Gearloose, Scrooge himself and even Magica De Spell. The idea of teaming Magica up with Negaduck as a counterpart to Darkwing’s relationship with the sorceress duck Morgana is outright brilliant.
Getting to my point, there is no strict status quo to the comic. Sure, we’ll get closure, but things are constantly on the move. Darkwing’s dynamics with his loved ones go in different directions. His adventures have repercussions. Future plot points are hinted at issues ahead of time and in the end, everything seems to tie together. For instance, Quackerjack appears in the first arc as having more of an enraged edge to him. By the time the arc ends, we’ve been given a glimpse into an explanation of what could have driven him over the edge. He’s also put in prison as the story wraps up. In the second arc, although he has no role, a quick scene of Darkwing talking to an imprisoned Megavolt subtly shows the reader that Quackerjack has escaped from his cell without anyone noticing. Then in the annual, he returns in a story that gives some more background as to why he’s become so extra hateful with an ending that brings a little closure and takes him off the board for as long as the writer needs, even if that means permanently.
Writing this up right now and looking at the issues, I’m even picking up another set of clues as to what the future holds. Although the Gizmoduck armor has become a part of the plot and an old newspaper photo of the character has been shown, there’s been nothing said about the usual Gizmo-host Fenton Crackshell. One of the covers for issue #12 shows Launchpad and Morgana side-by-side in a parody of the famous Days of Future Past cover. Among all the wanted posters behind them is a half-obscured portrait of Fenton with “MISSING” over him, even though everyone else has joke descriptions (ie. “LEAF ROT” for Bushroot and “CHOKING HAZARD” for Quackerjack). Maybe I’m looking too far into it, but I’d have to think that this is part of the big picture.
Another example of fun callback is the second arc, where one of the stories involves Darkwing Ducks from other realities being hypnotized into destroying St. Canard. While there are a lot of who’s who knockoff appearances like Darkwing as Darth Vader, Chun-Li, Rorschach, Calvin, the Goon (with Launchpad as Franky) and so on, there are also alternate Darkwings based on specific episodes of the show. There’s Dark Warrior Duck (from a story where Gosalyn visited a dystopian future), Arachnoduck (from the time Darkwing grew extra arms), Darkwing Dubloon (from an episode that reimagined the characters as pirates) and Quiverwing Duck (originally a Green Arrow-style alter ego for Gosalyn named Quiverwing Quack). Why do I remember this crap?!
With Quiverwing Duck, while it’s Drake Mallard under the mask instead of Gosalyn, a little backstory is given about how this came to happen.
Jesus. In an all-ages Disney book, they show you a dead little girl. Not only that, but it’s heavily insinuated that Gosalyn is dead in every single reality except the main one and even then, she’s on borrowed time. This is a bit of misdirection on the writer’s part and it twists what we’re to expect, but damn. That’s messed up. But good! Darkwing Duck has a level of unexpected darkness to it that works.
It’s fitting to me that of all the alternate Darkwings to use, Brill went with the archer in terms of losing his daughter. Over the past few years, we’ve seen two archer characters in Ultimate Hawkeye and Arsenal lose their children and become overly whiny, sulky, unlikeable and self-destructive in light of it. For Quiverwing, it ends up strengthening his resolve. He isn’t defined by his grief. He’s merely inspired by it.
The recap there helps build the idea that, yes, death can happen. Being cartoon characters does not make them invincible and unkillable. Even the story endings bring a feeling of doom and gloom that help shape the comic. At the end of the first arc when everything seems wrapped up? A big cliffhanger splash page that reveals that Negaduck and Magica are up to something. The second arc? Despite the city being saved, Darkwing’s found himself to be publically despised. The third arc? Well… I don’t want to spoil the last page, but it’s a doozy. Even the Quackerjack story from the annual is sadder than it has any right to be. Not to mention his creepy, rabid hatred of Negaduck in the first story. After a police robot even mentioned that villain’s name, Quackerjack went on a bare-handed rampage, stood over the metal remains and this happened.
Nightmare material, folks.
Luckily, the comic is hilarious and extremely fun to offset all that. This is the most important part, you see. There are a ton of laughs to be found here. From Launchpad’s short-lived stint as the Rescue Rangers’ pilot to the continued inclusion of a sentient purple bowling ball with a fedora to the bizarre incident where Darkwing’s wacky neighbors are turned into possessed worshipers of Duckthulhu, there’s so many gags that hit the mark.
The action is just as well done. Silvani pulls off some excellent, crisp sequences, regularly adding more excitement than you’d usually find on the cartoon.
It helps that each four-issue arc features its share of subplots, rather than possibly bore you with one thing. While they all tie into each other, the amount of situations going on add to the unpredictability of what the final issue will even be about. Even the Duckthulhu storyline, which should be the most predictable of all, ends with a very unexpected finale.
The whole thing’s a nonstop blast. So yeah, it’s fun, just dark enough, capitalizes on previous world-building and comes off as true to character. There’s no better example of these elements than this sequence where Quiverwing Duck crosses paths with Dark Warrior Duck.
I know I’m not alone in digging this series. I don’t know a single person who’s been turned off by it and its success has allowed the existence of comics for other Disney Afternoon favorites like Duck Tales and Rescue Rangers. Keep it up, is all I’ll say. I hope this old duck’s got some new tricks for a long, long time.