EP0076: Darkwing Duck Classics, Volume 1

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A look at the good old days of the Disney Afternoon and Darkwing Duck strips in Disney Adventure magazine.

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Transcript below:

Graham: Let’s get dangerous as we review Darkwing Duck Classics, straight ahead.

Announcer: Welcome to the Classy Comics podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise Idaho, here is your host Adam Graham.

Graham: Darkwing Duck was a 1990s superhero cartoon and a series set in the same universe as Duck Tales. So everyone in the world was an anthropomorphic animal with a predominance of ducks and dogs. Darkwing was very popular in the 1990s and 2010 got the first of two comic book reboots. The first, of course, being with Boom Studios. Later the series would have a run with Joe Books. However, during the brief time that Boom Studios had the license, they released a volume called Darkwing Duck Classics and this collected comic book material from the early days of Darkwing Duck on the air in the 1990s. So, we take a look at this out of print volume.
The book begins with Darkwing Ducks mini-series. It was a four part mini-series for Disney Comics that they really did envision becoming a longer running series but there were financial problems at Disney Comics and so that didn’t work out. The mini-series was based on the two part pilot episode for the series called Darkly Dawns the Duck and they actually made that the title of the first chapter in the four part series but they called the overall title of the book Brawl in the Family, which to me is just not as good a title, sounds pretty generic and could apply to a lot of things while Darkly Dawns the Duck sets the mood of this superhero story.
But at any rate, in the story Darkwing Duck is a crime fighter who has some pretty good success against small time criminals. The important thing to understand about Darkwing Duck, both in the comic and in the cartoon, is that he is a cartoon character in the true sense of the word. It’s a situation where if you drop an anvil on Darkwing Duck, he will be more likely to turn into an accordion for a second and then resume his normal shape as opposed to, well, dying as most of us would. With that said, Darkwing is a terror to criminals but he’s not a terror to big enough criminals to really earn a place of prominence and that’s something that Darkwing Duck wants and fortunately for him Taurus Bulba is plotting an evil plan that will allow Darkwing to gain some prominence. Taurus Bulba is a bull criminal and he’s locked up in prison.
However, he’s also running his evil base from behind bars just changing into his prison uniform when the warden is coming around and he wants his men to steal the Waddlemeyer Ramrod, a device with the power to alter the gravity of objects and with which he plans to commit a major crime wave and he manages to succeed in having his men steal the Ramrod because Darkwing does a lot of showboating while trying to stop them and it’s also during this time that Darkwing runs into Launchpad McQuack. Launchpad McQuack was a major character in the T.V. series Duck Tales but here he’s on his own and really a fan of Darkwing Duck and wants to be a sidekick, which I guess shows his ambitions of going down a notch since the days of Duck Tales when he was always wanting to be a hero. But at any rate, he tries to help D.W. Things don’t work out and Darkwing blames Launchpad for the failure but even with the Ramrod, that’s not going to allow Taurus Bulba to control it because he needs to get the codes and it’s thought that the codes actually belong to the one person who got the Waddlemeyer would have told his granddaughter, Gosalyn and so they set out to kidnap her from the orphanage but Darkwing is on their trail and kidnaps Gosalyn from them before they can get her away and interrogate her and they go ahead and run away from the criminals and emerge in Darkwing’s headquarters where he hides her out while he tries to figure out what’s going on.

And so essentially, the story is about Darkwing trying to prevent the Ramrod from coming under Taurus Bulba’s control but it’s actually a bit of a character journey for Darkwing. As the story opens he wants to be a major crime fighter but he is really full of himself. He’s not receptive or kind to Launchpad’s offer of help and has an attitude that he can do everything on his own and that he is amazing and that everyone needs to think he’s wonderful. However, as he spends time with Gosalyn, he really begins to like her and to care about her a great deal. So much that he’s ready to risk everything to save her and it is really a story about that journey to becoming a better and true hero and that sets up the T.V. series and makes him somebody that you can care about. Of course, some of the traits that Darkwing had would still be present. The tendency towards egotism, certainly that it is a part of his character but it’s a bit more restrained and he’s a bit more likable I’m more likely to see it as truthful.

The comic remains almost completely to the original story. I think the only thing that gets changed is the timing at which Darkwing realizes that Professor Waddlemeyer secretly gave Gosalyn the code and is able to decipher it but other than that they capture all the great moments and the emotion from the cartoon. It’s really, really nice Disney art. My favorite example in the story comes from a scene where Taurus Bulba is reacting to his men suggestion that they wait rather than stealing the Ramrod off a train. In the cartoon, he really goes through this motion where he seems to start out really calm about the prospect before getting furious at the stupidity of the suggestion of standing around and waiting to steal this until the army can take possession of it. The way they did it in the book and showed his changes in emotion was really clever.
It starts on a small panel at the top of page and then in the middle of the page is this panel with four versions of Taurus Bulba in four different shades of suit each with a different expression leading to the point of being furious and they do some just great things was shading and that is such a cool choice. I really like that. I like Darkly Dawns the Duck the T.V. episode and other than the family, I really enjoy the comic adaptation of it.

Now, that’s the first 100 pages of the book and there’s 160 in the book. So what is in the remaining pages? Well, they’ve actually gone ahead and collected Darkwing Duck stories from Disney Adventures. Now, if you weren’t a kid in the 1990s, Disney’s adventures was an incredibly cool magazine. I managed to get my parents to buy me a copy a couple of times and you would have a Disney character on the cover along with a celebrity and they’d have interviews and news on kids’ T.V. shows and movies and fun facts and then you would have comics with your favorite Disney characters in there. Darkwing Duck appeared in 35 of the strips and 4 of them are collected in this book. Due to the nature of Disney Adventures and the fact that generally one character would tend to have more pages in a book, the length of the stories are a bit inconsistent. We’ve got two stories essentially that are practically full comic book length and then there are two stories that are just 8-pagers. So, we’ll go ahead and just talk about these four stories, which are just a thrill to see in print.

The first story is Let’s Get Fiscal and here I’ll explain something about Darkwing Duck’s world. Darkwing Duck was not originally conceived of as a superhero. He was conceived of as a spy, a spy named Double-O-Duck. Then they decided to go with a superhero series but they kept a lot of the plots from the original story. So, you have kind of an interesting situation where there are two types of episodes on Darkwing Duck.
There are the typical superhero episodes that are set in St Canard, where he’s fighting regular super villains and then you have the episodes where he is working as an agent of the secret organization known as SHUSH and fighting their evil rivals, F.O.W.L, the fiendish organization for world larceny led by their chief agent Steelbeak and you have that same sort of bifurcation in this book as we have a story open with J. Gander Hooter, the head of SHUSH, assigning Darkwing to be bodyguard to a former accountant from F.O.W.L, who has come over to shushes side after Calculator was hit by a duplicator ray that F.O.W.L was experimenting on and endue the Calculator with the power to actually perform different operations such as multiplication, division, subtraction and addition. However, Darkwing is ambushed by Eggmen and the calculator is captured and falls into Steelbeak’s hands. It’s weird to talk about a rooster having hands but anyway it does and he is about to totally destroy Darkwing through a simple operation when he is suddenly shrank and it’s because the accountant has declared that he’s defeated Steelbeak with an audit.
OK, even by Darkwing Duck standards, the story was just nonsensical and to be honest, a bit dumb. On T.V. Darkwing Duck did quirky weird things and they were funny. Here, this is just kind of stupid. I don’t know what it means to do an audit and how all of that gave him magic powers, given the guy didn’t have the Calculator but this was only an 8 page story in this book. So, as bad as it is, it’s only 8 pages.

Then we have a Liquid Diet, which is more of a book length story and in it the Liquidator, who is Darkwing Duck’s liquid based opponent, has declared he’s going straight and he is selling a very popular brand of sports drink. However, Darkwing suspects something is up and goes to investigate. This story really did read like a mini-episode of the T.V. series and had a lot of the same beats and that, I think, does make it work as a pretty successful tie-in story. It was fun and has a few nice twists in it.
Turnabout is Foul Play finds Steelbeak ready to fire a beam at Darkwing to turn Darkwing evil and he fires and it works but it doesn’t quite work out how Steelbeak was expected because even though Darkwing Duck has turned evil, his evil actions are actually against facilities that are controlled by F.O.W.L. It’s a funny story. I do think the ending and the way that it’s resolved with Darkwing is just a bit abrupt but other than that, I thought that was a pretty fun story.

The Found World finds Darkwing pretty bummed out that the city of St Canard is actually going through a period of low crime and doesn’t need him. So Gosalyn suggests they go on a vacation and Launchpad, being a pilot, offers to fly them. However, Launchpad being Launchpad, he gets them dropped out of the plane and into the midst of a mysterious jungle. This story doesn’t do a whole lot but it is kind of cute with a nice little twist at the end. It was enjoyable enough and had a few really nice moments in it.

Overall, except for Let’s Get Fiscal, which again was just 8 pages of 160 page book, this book was really quite enjoyable. If you’re a fan of Darkwing Duck, I’d encourage you to find this wherever or however you can. It’s a must read and I’ll give that a rating of classy. Now, if you can’t get a hold of the whole book, if you go to the Internet Archive at archive.org, the comic collection Darkwing Duck: Capes and Capers, is actually available as something that you can check out for 2 weeks and read and it’s a giant sized comic book that collects 3 of the 4 stories that are in Darkwing Duck Classics plus it collects another story as well and so you can read these that way.

All right, well that will do it for today. If you do have a comment, send it to me classycomicsguy@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at classycomicsguy and be sure and rate the show on iTunes. From Boise Idaho, this is your host Adam Graham signing off.

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