A lot of attention has been turned towards the direction of Disney’s acquisition and production of Star Wars with The Force Awakens, but many have forgotten Disney managed to receive a second wind in the early 1990s, fueled by an explosion in afternoon animated programs. One of the most underrated and underpromoted Disney cartoons during this time was a daily program modeled as a spoof of the ultra-popular Batman franchise, Darkwing Duck.
Hardcore Darkwing Duck fans are quite familiar with this now-cult cartoon classic, featuring the exploits of Drake Mallard and Launchpad McQuack, the bumbling pilot hero of the far more popular Ducktales. Darkwing Duck is set in the fictional coastal city of St. Canard, which bears a suspicious resemblance to Gotham, but is drawn more cartoonish so as not to alarm the Warner Bros. legal team. Drake, of course, morphs into the title character whenever danger threatens his beloved hometown, signaling his intent with the classic catchphrase, Let’s Get Dangerous.
In an era with myriad slapstick oriented (Tiny Toon Adventures), syrupy sweet (Adventures of Winnie the Pooh) and movie-inspired (Batman: The Animated Series) programs, Darkwing Duck appealed to more teen-oriented comic sensibilities and struggled to really stand out, especially as it was often the back side of the Disney programming block on most stations of the 1990s. It was, in many ways, the most underrated series of the 1990s for that reason, along with these five things which really set it apart from others of that era.
Truly hilarious and capable villains: Most cartoons of the day were known for either fearsome villains, or incompetent, bumbling idiots with the intellect of a common house ant. Darkwing Duck faced villains who, at the very least, were capable, but in a comedic way. Chief amongst these were the members of the so-called “Fearsome Five,” featuring Megavolt, The Liquidator, Bushroot, Quackerjack, and Darkwing’s arch-nemesis, NegaDuck. Each of these baddies had a certain power, with the exception of NegaDuck, who simply was malevolent and dark – a cartoon Moriarity of sorts. Despite their solo-act stupidity, these villains were surprisingly formidable as a group. NegaDuck, being the most ruthless and cunning of all and essentially the anti-hero foil to Darkwing, was the greatest threat. The most underrated, however, may have been the Liquidator, whose uber-salesmen approach to the use of lethal water attack made him both exceptionally annoying and, when combined with Megavolt’s occasional moment (and they were admittedly rare) of bad-guy genius, genuinely lethal. Quackerjack and Bushroot appeared to be little more than the respective Joker and Poison Ivy of the troupe, only far more annoying and less capable. Still, these villains were funny for one reason – their plans were often foiled not by anything Darkwing himself did, but by their own insufferable arrogance.
A USEFUL Launchpad McQuack: In Ducktales, Launchpad was a total rube behind the stick. His classic line of “If it’s got wings, I can crash it,” was intended as comic relief but, in a show full of schtick, grew tired really fast. Thankfully, the writers at DD gave Launchpad a new lease on life with genuine piloting ability, a really snazzy super-plane (shaped like a duckbill, of course), and an occasional moment where he would actually outdeduce Darkwing. He also demonstrated a marked maturity, with genuine restraint and control, where DW wanted to leap into action without looking. As a superhero sidekick, McQuack turned into a quasi-hero all his own, and has moments of glory where he truly upstaged DW, a rarity for most superhero/sidekick series of the day.
The Family Factor: Leave it to Disney to give DW an adopted daughter with an attitude…no wait, spirit! Gosselin Mallard, introduced along with DW in the pilot as the annoying foster child who managed to screw with uber-villain Taurus Bullba’s plans, turned into a regular…well, kid. Because of this, DW went from being the Bruce Wayne billionaire dark “duck” to something far more engaging; a single dad who cared for his daughter, loved his friends, and defended his city with his life. He even had a boy genius oncall with Honker, who crushed near relentlessly on Gosselin, and who was the son of semi-dimwitted, “Wilson”-style neighbor Herb Muddlefoot. DW, in this regard, was a true renaissance man.
A hilarious love story with adult undertones. It’s not often that a kids show features a regular guy hero with no genuine powers crushing on a woman whose repertoire featured, among other things, the ability to raise the dead, speak to ghosts, conjure stuff, shape shift and make a crazy-ass looking creature spazz out like, cat like, at the slightest thing. Morganna Macabre, who featured the best-ever name for a Disney kids show heroine, was, beyond a doubt, the perfect romantic foil to Darkwing. Funnier still, was how she demonstrated the power of supernatural “bitch slap” on Darkwing whenever he got out of line or, worse still, behaved like a…gulp!…a guy.
And of course, the best we a saved for last…
The Self-Intros. Darkwing’s now famous introduction line of “I am the terror that flaps in the night,” usually followed by a contradictory obscure pop-culture reference, was the stuff of legends. “I am the terror that flaps in the night… I am the weirdo that sits next to you on the bus!” The best, by far, was when he appeared to..nobody. That prompted this gem. “I am the terror that flaps in the night…I am the jailer who throws away the key! I AM (looks around a moment)…feeling REALLY STUPID! I hate it when I’m early.”
Some other great Darkwing intro lines…
“I am the terror that flaps in the night, I am a special news bulletin that interrupts your favorite show. I am Darkwing Duck!”
“I am the Terror that flaps in the night, I am the raspberry seed you can’t floss out. I AM DARKWING DUCK!”
“I am the terror that flaps in the night,I am the wrong number that wakes you at 3 am.I am Darwing Duck!!!”
Of course, one could argue that DW’s ripoff of Batman was what doomed this cartoon to obscurity. With the advent of the far-more popular Gargoyles, Darkwing Duck quickly faded from the Disney lineup. Fortunately, Disney and internet have kept this series and hysterical take on dark heroes available to the fandom.