He is the terror that flaps in the night. And come June, the Masked Mallard will once again get dangerous in a new four-issue miniseries from BOOM! Studios. Announced Saturday at Emerald City ComiCon, “Darkwing Duck” will be be BOOM!’s latest Disney property to make the jump to comics, courtesy of writer Ian Brill and artist James Silvani. The purple-clad hero’s cartoon launched in 1991, spinning out of the popular “Duck Tales” starring Scrooge McDuck and Huey, Dewey, and Luey, and was unusual among Disney series in that it did not feature any “classic” Disney characters. “Darkwing Duck” was a superhero adventure with a strong vein of parody running throughout, as even the hero’s catchphrases and soliloquies appeared to comment on themselves. Darkwing, aka Drake Mallard, is the sworn protector of St. Canard, but must balance this great power with the great responsibility of raising his adopted daughter Goslyn. They are joined by sidekick Launchpad McQuack, a carryover from “Duck Tales.” CBR News spoke with writer Ian Brill, who is also an editor at BOOM!, about bringing back the duck.
“With ‘Darkwing Duck,’ show creator Tad Stones blended three types of animation very well. The show was in the superhero genre for one, then it had the great Disney characterization we’ve come to know and love, and third it had a livelier visual feel than most shows,” Brill said of the original “Darkwing’s” appeal. “Characters got smooshed, stretched, went all bug-eyed and more. It was more, for lack of a better term, ‘cartoony’ than something like ‘Duck Tales’ or ‘Chip ‘N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers’ (shows I also love).
“At the same time the stakes were often times as drastic and serious as any superhero story,” the writer continued. “In the first storyline, ‘Darkly Dawns the Duck,’ Taurus Bulba wants this superweapon from Gosalyn’s grandfather, which results in the grandfather’s death (which is also how Gosalyn becomes Darkwing’s adopted daughter). The villains were charismatic and funny, but they also meant business. ‘Darkwing Duck’ was able to provide both great adventure and great comedy. I think this is all due to Darkwing, Launchpad, and Gosalyn being compelling and well-rounded characters. Have any one of them on screen for thirty seconds and you know who they are. With the show centered on such great characters, it could do anything.”
For readers who may be meeting Darkwing and crew for the first time in this comic, Brill ran through the characters’ relationships and what makes them tick. “I think the central dynamic of the show is Darkwing depending on Launchpad and Gosalyn. He depends on them to temper his ego,” he said. “Darkwing’s genuinely dedicated to justice but he rarely questions himself. Gosalyn and Launchpad, in their own respective ways, bring him back down to Earth. At the same time, Launchpad needs Darkwing to give his life the sense of purpose he wants and Gosalyn needs Darkwing to keep her in line, since she’s a pretty rambunctious kid.”
As the new series opens, though, Brill said that “we find that dynamic broken.” “Drake Mallard has given up being Darkwing to get a job in a cubicle. He and Launchpad are not speaking to each other. Gosalyn’s in a school that’s suffocating her. There are lots of external adversaries that challenge this new status quo and reminds our three heroes how important they are to each other.
“There are a ton of villains in these four issues, too. Darkwing has such a great rogue’s gallery, I couldn’t pick just one. By the time you get to the end of the first issue you’ll see four, and then there are only going to be more as the series progresses. All the villains’ lives have been changed, too. There have been big changes in St. Canard and everyone’s dealing with them in their own way. This series has the familiar characters you want but given new situations that we hope gives a sense of vitality to the stories.”
Brill’s role at BOOM! has primarily been in editorial, where he is responsible for such titles as “28 Days Later,” “Farscape,” and “Die Hard: Year One.” The opportunity to write “Darkwing Duck,” though, gave him an excuse to get back to the other side of the editor’s desk. “BOOM Kids! Editor Aaron Sparrow and I were having conversations about our favorite Disney characters and pretty soon Darkwing came up,” Brill said. “We started thinking of what you could do with the character and felt pretty confident we could craft a story worth telling. Things snowballed from there and I’m honored to have the power of the mighty BOOM! machine behind this book.
“Writing is something I’ve always done. I’d been lucky enough to have my fiction published before signing up at BOOM! Studios. While here, I wrote some ‘Zombie Tales’ stories, as well. I do keep the two worlds separate, though. When I’m editing that’s where all my concentration lies and then the off-hours are for writing.”
“Muppet King Arthur” artist James Silvani will be illustrating Darkwing’s adventures in the initial miniseries. “I’ve reviewed his pencils for the first issue and the guy knows how to nail a joke like a master,” Brill said. “He makes everything feel dynamic, from the facial expressions to the environments the characters live in. The entire feel of ‘Darkwing Duck’ is going to be alive in this book, and he deserves the lion’s share of the credit.”
Despite the enthusiasm for “Darkwing Duck” among those who grew up with the cartoon, the fact that the series has been out of syndication for ten years now means that that the unique characters will not be familiar to the current generation of young readers. Brill said, though, that retaining those elements that made the original cartoon fun should also grab the attention of today’s kids. “I watch the original shows now and I’m amazed that it is so true to itself. If they wanted to do a show that’s a whole parody of ‘Twin Peaks’ (‘Twin Beaks’), they did!” Brill said. “When I watched that episode as a kid I didn’t know what ‘Twin Peaks’ was, but I knew I was watching something cool and weird. I didn’t think, ‘they’re referencing something I don’t know…I feel left out.’ I thought, ‘Darkwing has to go to this weird town and Bushroot’s dead husks get wrapped in plastic and thrown down a river? This was worth finishing my homework early!’
“That’s an extreme example, and there aren’t a lot of references to pop culture in my story. The point I’m trying to make is that as long as you tell a cool and interesting story a kid will go for it. Hopefully they’ll see this character on the cover that’s Donald Duck-meets-Batman, get interested and enjoy the book. It won’t talk down or pander to them, it’ll just promise and deliver a fun ride. I don’t worry about the demographics of the audience, I worry about hitting those primal feelings that make a story meaningful: adventure, a sense of family, a desire for justice to be done. Hopefully if I get those ideas across well people will be on board, no matter what age.”
As to why the time is right for Darkwing’s return, Brill said, “BOOM! Studios and BOOM Kids! truly appreciates having access to this treasure vault of Disney characters. Everything the company does is about bringing excitement and wonder to characters in a new way, even if you may have seen them a million times.” Brill noted that, though most Disney series are published through the BOOM Kids! imprint, “Darkwing Duck” will be under the central BOOM! Studios umbrella. “Part of that plan is bringing a property back that is primed to entertain today’s audience. We have a generation who grew up watching ‘Darkwing Duck’ and then went on to read two decades worth of great comics. I’m part of that generation! So we crafted a book that lives up to the show and also deserves to sit next to today’s superhero comics. It’s going to have more jokes than a regular superhero comic (plus, y’know, characters who are ducks) but the story is told in that same brio as a modern-day superhero genre comic.” Brill said that the miniseries could be followed by more stories if there is enough reader interest.
“I hope the pace, the drama and the action in this comic works just as well as anything else on the stands. Plus it should also make you laugh. That’s the bar I set for myself anyway. What can I say? I love a challenge!”