The nineties were a peculiar time. The comic book industry was coming out of the huge success of Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” while a bunch of young artists formed Image Comics and gave us a slew of new superheroes and avengers, all of whom were dark, bloody, brooding, and hairy. All the clean cut awe of Superman and Captain America went out of style giving way to a decade of muscle bound heroes with pouches, giant guns, massive swords, and a lot of angst that came with their back story. Even a very nineties hero like Spawn was made even more nineties being transformed in to a gun toting bad ass in his own movie. For a decade where superheroes were all doom and gloom, Disney seemed to play off of that trend by offering up a goofy satire called “Darkwing Duck.”
Twenty five years ago, “Darkwing Duck” premiered on television and had a good time not only playing up the dark superhero tropes, but lampooning it as best as possible. “Darkwing Duck” was the duck version of “The Shadow” basically who, by day, was a single father named Drake Mallard. By night, he’s a dark, theatrical, and self serious superhero who begins every crime foil with his mantra of “I Am the Terror that Flaps in the Night…!” What was to be a play on James Bond eventually became a satire of superhero tropes with “Darkwing Duck” celebrating the golden age of superheroes and comics, as well as pulp heroes like “The Shadow.” Though the continuity was very loose, “Darkwing Duck” was a part of Disney’s obsession with ducks and mice that took them from “Duck Tales” to “Darkwing Duck” and right in to “Mighty Ducks.”
The writers of “Darkwing Duck” were well ahead of their time with the narrative, as their series featured a look in to the life of a single dad who raised an adopted daughter. Though he brought her up in a traditional suburban background, alongside neighbors of the typical nuclear household, Drake was an unconventional parent. What’s more, Gosling, his daughter, was an unconventional child whose spunk and sass made her not only Drake’s daughter, but Darkwing Duck’s recurring sidekick and straight man. Almost always, Gosling was pulled in to Darkwing’s adventures, and he always had to bring her along or save her from whatever devious foe he faced that week. The series had the advantage of voice work from the legendary Jim Cummings and the late great Christine Cavanaugh, both of whom gave spirited turns as the lovable father and daughter thrust together by fate and circumstances.
“Darkwing Duck” is often linked to “Ducktales” by fans of both series, but the creators insist the latter is from an alternate universe, much in the way “Talespin” works in another universe from “The Jungle Book.”* That doesn’t stop the show from featuring two of the most likable supporting players from the aforementioned series: Launchpad McQuack and Gizmoduck. The most striking redo was Launchpad McQuack who became the kato to Darkwing’s Green Hornet. He manned Darkwing’s jet and often aided him in his quests, serving as a much more competent aide than we originally saw in “Ducktales.” Launchpad McQuack has always been one of the most underrated animated heroes of all time, and here he’s just as charming and funny, and given a larger platform and bigger screen time than “Ducktales,” which was more concerned with spotlighting the child heroes.
“Darkwing Duck” was only one in many animated shows that didn’t talk down to its audience and offered up some fun action and comedy with references that would appeal to broader audiences. There’s even one entire episode that serves as an homage to “Twin Peaks.” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” all wrapped in one fun package. “Darkwing Duck” along with its colorful title hero brought with it a ton of fun super villains and rogues that made Darkwing’s life interesting. There was even a bizarre Darkwing called Nega-Duck, who was the evil equivalent of Darkwing. The show was also never afraid to get meta, as one episode sees Darkwing warped in to an alternate universe filled with humans where “Darkwing Duck” is a fictional series and popular toy line. Teamed with “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” “TaleSpin,” and “DuckTales” weekday afternoons were something of an event as Disney often offered up some bang up entertainment for kids before the Warner takeover in 1995.
It’s not a surprise that “Darkwing Duck” is a series that continues to be in demand by nineties kids alike, since the character and his universe is so colorful and fun while also tapping the nostalgia sweet spot so many of us nineties kids love. It’s also a testament to the quality of Disney programming that the series still holds up to this day and is still consistently funny, charming and exciting. Jim Cummings has such a distinctive and memorable voice, but still makes Darkwing Duck one of his most unique heroes whose thirst to thwart evil often compensated for his over the top theatrics and melodramatic manta. In a decade filled with doom and gloom superheroes and comic books that were not only the norm, but were celebrated, “Darkwing Duck” is still such a great antidote.
* Many fans are currently disputing these claims.