"Let's get dangerous!"
Ah, the Disney Afternoon. Back in the early 90s there was no place better for a kid to get his daily dose of cartoon goodness. With shows like Ducktales, Rescue Rangers, and Talespin the animation block dominated the airwaves. Following the success that all three of those shows had, Darkwing Duck aimed to steal a slice of that pie.
Darkwing Duck found its home inside the universe of Ducktales. If you think of the show like a spin-off then you're on the right track. It didn't feature Scrooge McDuck, the nephews, or Duckburg, but somehow Gizmoduck and Launchpad McQuack made their way into the fold. Because it was a fresh take on a familiar concept (talking ducks, beagles, etc) the change in attitude felt a little disjointed.
Like many spin-offs Darkwing Duck never met the same level of popularity that its inspiration had. Maybe it had something to do with the different atmosphere or the fact that it catered towards a more adolescent male audience thanks to the overabundance of action. Unlike the widespread success enjoyed by the other Disney Afternoon shows, this one garnered more of a cult following. Whatever the case, the series stuck around for three seasons and 91 episodes.
Taking place in the metropolis of St. Canard (just next to Duckburg), Darkwing Duck follows the adventures of, well, Darkwing Duck. He's a crime fighting mallard who takes inspiration from Batman in more ways than one. From utility gadgets, to masked costumes, to a riffraff cast of villains, Darkwing sleeps in the day and fights crime at night. Yes, it's nothing new, and to be honest the concept wasn't very fresh back in 1991 when the show premiered. As part of the Disney Afternoon though, this one had some key elements that the other shows were missing.
Just like Batman (depending on which version you are watching), Darkwing Duck doesn't fight crime entirely alone. Sure he has a secret hideout at the top of the bridge leading into St. Canard and yes he has an alter-ego named Drake Mallard, but that's not nearly enough some days. Joining him in his quest for ridding the streets of scum and villainy are his adopted daughter Gosalyn and everyone's favorite Launchpad McQuack.
Almost every episode in the first season is episodic though there are a couple that span the course of two slots. The basic set up here is that some bad guy does something or another and it's up to Darkwing to swoop in and save the day. Anybody who would consider themselves a fan of comic books will appreciate the parodies at play in this show, because quite frankly, they are as blatant as you can get.
Darkwing's cast of villains is inspired by staple characters that true comic fans have known and loved for decades. For starters there is an evil organization known as F.O.W.L. (Fiendish Organization for World Larceny) that overshadows most criminal operations. There is a certain James Bond-like quality to their goals and inevitable insanity, though many are super-powered and self-centered.
In the first 27 episodes of Darkwing Duck you'll encounter all types of foes though there are a few that standout, especially for someone like myself who loves comic books. The first such villain is a big bull named Taurus Bulba who appears in two episodes in this set. He's a bulky bovine who reminded me of King Pin from the Daredevil comic. Another big boss of crime that Darkwing faces in these episodes is Steelbeak who is a rooster with a beak of steal. I found him to be a far craftier Jaws-like character, again ala James Bond.
Dr. Reginald Bushroot was a play on the character Ivy from the Batman series. He's a scientific botanist who mashes his genes together with a flower's and in turn becomes plant-life himself. Megavolt is a crazy rat character that uses electricity as a life force conduit and weapon similar to Spider-Man's foe Electro. In the "Just Us Justice Ducks" storyline an evil clone of Darkwing Duck comes into the picture known as NegaDuck. Each of these characters brings something different to the show, but unfortunately because they are so familiar and stereotypical, they also weigh down Darkwing Duck with clichés.
Between the a-typical villains and oft-overused plot devices, Darkwing Duck sometimes gets lost in its "me too" feeling. Don't get me wrong though, the series is enjoyable for what it is and it isn't without its charm. The show never takes itself seriously which is a very good thing. It often makes jokes and puns about everything and the violence is very slapstick in nature. In between the deadpan gags and forehead-slap-worthy storylines there are quite a few diamonds in the rough to be found in the first 27 episodes on this set.
I was particularly fond of two episodes that featured Bushroot. The first was "Beauty and the Beet" which introduced the character as he tries to gain acceptance from the object of his desire, Dr. Rhoda Dendron. Darkwing and Launchpad take on walking trees and man eating plants as they try to rescue the girl and save the day. In "Night of the Living Spud" Bushroot is at it again and tries to create a wife, but when his assistant messes up an ingredient he is left with a vampiric potato. The spud breaks free and begins reigning terror across the land by turning people into potato chip eating zombies.
Even though the story is an oldie but goodie, "Trading Faces" was a fun episode. In a freak accident Darkwing Duck's computer transfers his persona into Gosalyn's body and vice versa. Launchpad and Gosalyn's friend, Honker, suffer the same fate. Steelbeak and F.O.W.L. step forward with a devious plan and it's up to our heroes in their newly altered states to save the day. My other favorite from this set was the two-parter "Just Us Justice Ducks". When a group of Darkwing's foes get together and form the Fearsome Five (ala Sinister Six from Spider-Man) the good guys team up as the Justice Ducks.
Those particular episodes were pretty much my favorites from this set and there are plenty of other ones that are equally entertaining and definitely worth watching. There is a couple of what I'd call lesser episodes, but nothing that I'd deem "bad". From beginning to end the first volume of Darkwing Duck is a lot of fun. Yes it's cheesy at times and sure the concept isn't as unique as one might like, but that doesn't stop it from being a good watch. If you were a fan of the show or ever had a love of comic books you owe it to yourself to check out the adventures of Darkwing Duck.
Darkly Dawns the Duck (Part 1 & 2)
Beauty and the Beet
Night of the Living Spud
Apes of Wrath
Comic Book Capers
Water Way to Go
Easy Come, Easy Grows
A Revolution in Home Appliances
Hush, Hush Sweet Charlatan
Can't Bayou Love
You Sweat Your Life
Days of Blunder
Just Us Justice Ducks (Part 1 &2)
When Aliens Collide
Cleanliness is Next to Badliness
Smarter Than a Speeding Bullet
Like Rescue Rangers and Ducktales before it, Darkwing Duck is presented with a 1.33:1 full frame image that is only slightly better than VHS quality. The image is very soft and often grainy with a few bits of dirt and even aliasing here and there. Hardly any noticeable treatment was applied to the discs so if you have an old copy of the show lying around on tape consider this a slight upgrade.
Unlike the previews two Disney Afternoon sets Darkwing Duck actually gets a stereo presentation instead of a mono track. The sound is sparsely better in terms of technical arrangement but it's definitely a welcome addition. As far as the quality itself it is fair with nothing entirely impressive, though nothing altogether jarring. The sound stays pretty steady throughout but there were a few times where the audio came across as muffled or soft. English captions for the hearing impaired are also featured if you're looking for subtitles of a sort. A French language track is included as well.
Once again Disney disappoints fans with a release void of supplemental material. These sets feel more designed with the young new viewer in mind rather than an older audience member that used to be a fan.
While I didn't enjoy Darkwing Duck as much as I did Ducktales, this was probably my second favorite show on the Disney Afternoon block when I was younger. Surprisingly it holds up very well 15 years later, though I found myself shaking my head at many of the lame jokes and tired plotlines. I still had a good time with the 27 episodes (pilot included) that are featured here and found many old favorites that I had forgotten about. The audience for this show may not be as wide as some of its kin, but it has a certain charm that helps it stand on its own webbed feet.
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