He sits perched on a gargoyle overlooking a dimly lit alleyway. Below him, several figures in masks are loading bags from a jewelry store into an unmarked van. He readies the zip line on his utility belt. He keeps a smoke bomb gripped in his left hand. Its part of his psychological arsenal. After all, theatricality and deception can be powerful agents when battling evil doers. By day he’s the mild-mannered Drake Mallard, but during the night criminals – a superstitious and cowardly lot – call him Darkwing Duck!
Today, with all we know about the politics of Warner Brothers, Disney, DC and Marvel, its almost unimaginable to think a cartoon so closely linked to Batman’s archetype could be released by a rival studio, but none of that mattered to the creators of Darkwing Duck back in 1991.
It was Batman’s look without the excessive darkness, Batman’s gadgets without the violence, Batman’s detective work but at a third-grade level. It was every child’s introduction to superheroes.
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It was perfect.
The smash hit spin-off of Disney‘s DuckTales very nearly took a different direction entirely.
Originally, Disney’s management had fallen in love with he idea of “Double-O-Duck”, as a take on the classic James Bond films; but were forced to abandon the idea after it was discovered the name “Double-O” was copyright protected.
The swing away from from the 007 mythology brought legendary cartoonist Tad Stones back to a darker mysterious superhero theme. Darkwing’s home of St. Canard would be a direct parody of DC’s Gotham City. Far from trying to hide the show’s connections to the Batman mythos, the creators were embracing it with both hands. Stones had already been responsible for such hits as Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers and Disney’s Adventures Of The Gummy Bears.
After launching in 1991 as part of Disney’s Saturday Afternoon and Saturday mornings on ABC, Darkwing Duck received Emmy nominations in both 1992 and 1993 for Outstanding Animated Programming.
Despite Stone’s creative genius, there is little doubt today that the magic behind Darkwing’s popularity was renowned voice artist Jim Cummings. Cummings had already voiced roles for a Scooby-Doo movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, as well as the DuckTales animated series, when the opportunity presented itself to voice Darkwing Duck and several other reoccurring characters on that show. He would go on to voice Winnie The Pooh, Tigger and dozens of other world famous characters.
Darkwing Duck ran for three seasons and 91 episodes, but would live far longer in the hearts of a generation of fans, who would never forget its iconic lines, music or personalities.
So popular did the show’s legacy prove that Boom! Studios brought back Darkwing Duck in 2010 for a four issue mini-series called The Duck Knight Returns.
Many of today’s Batman fans will groan at the obvious pillaging of another treasured piece of their hero’s mythos, but sitting down for a few hours of Darkwing Duck re-runs is a sure-fire way to calm their rage.
The series is treasured not because it perverts Batman’s identity, but because it communicates it joyfully to a younger generation of fans; children who immediately fall in love with its formula of comedy and adventure.
Darkwing Duck is the story of someone (some duck) who badly wants to be Batman, never quite gets it right, but somehow manages to come out on top every time. He’s dressed to kill, armed with catchy lines, and just barely competent enough to be a hero.
What could be more magically geeky than that?
If only, Mr. Cummings. If only.
This website feels that the magic of Darkwing Duck has been absent too long from our screens; though, for at least one generation of fans, it will always be with us in spirit.
He was the terror that flapped in the night…
He is the hero that flaps in our hearts…
He is… and always will be… Darkwing Duck!
Bring him back!
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