After a several year absence, February sees “Darkwing Duck” make his return to comic book stores, in the form of a “definitively dangerous” edition which collects the much-loved BOOM! Studios series. An incredibly popular run of comics, the series followed a retired “terror who flaps in the night” as he settled into more conventional life as a father. But life as a superhero never truly ends, and sure enough Darkwing found himself dragged back into a new mission when he least expected.
When Disney bought Marvel in 2009, it was believed that any collection of “Darkwing Duck” would come out through Marvel Comics. Instead, a new ongoing series is to be published later this year by Joe Books, an imprint which has landed a number of Disney licenses.
To get a better look at the modern world of Darkwing Duck, CBR News spoke with series artist James Silvani and writer/editor Aaron Sparrow about the new, remastered collection, where Darkwing’s future adventures will take him and the road they travelled to make our hero’s comic book return a reality.
Note: As part of this interview, we asked about the involvement of original writer Ian Brill, whose script has been reworked for this collection, but the team declined comment on the matter. You can find Brill’s statement here.
CBR News: As far as comics go, “Darkwing Duck” was thought gone, but then came the news that his stories are to be collected in a new omnibus later this month. Can you tell us a little about what’s been going on behind the scenes over the last few years, to get to this point?
Aaron Sparrow: It’s no secret that we felt we had more stories to tell with these characters. Likewise, the fans were not quite ready to let the series go. Disney has this great back catalogue of properties — but even as expansive as the company is, there are only so many projects they can have in development at once. Of course, fans want to see their beloved characters in new adventures. So driven by those factors, and the fact that we’re too dumb to quit — we kept banging on doors, knocking on windows, hiding in bushes and taking blackmail photos — whatever we had to do to get to work on “Darkwing Duck” again.
James Silvani: We were also lucky that the Darkwing comics made enough of an impact at Disney that we both were able to stay on the company’s radar since the series ended. I’ve been working on Muppet story books and comics for the European market, and Aaron has kept his hand at editorial. During that time, we would always put it out there that we would love to do more DW stories.
For a time, everyone assumed it would be resurrected at Marvel, but they have enough of their own properties on their plate. Finally, through a fortunate series of events, Joe Books came through with the license, and one of the first things to be discussed was a Darkwing collection and new ongoing.
How have you found it, working with Joe Books — a relatively new publisher, I believe — on the project? How important has their support been to getting Darkwing back in action?
Sparrow: The support of Joe Books has been instrumental. Shortly after they locked down the license, they asked us to pitch for the new series. And, of course, we jumped at the chance.
The great thing about Joe Books is that we already knew most everyone involved. I worked with Joe Books’ publisher Adam Fortier previously, and a bigger Disney geek you will not find. Our editor, Jesse Post, was my liaison at Disney Publishing during the previous run. So the entire process has been pretty painless, because we skipped the whole feeling out process.
The omnibus is described as having been remastered to better complement the style of the show — how has the process of revisiting the comic been?
Sparrow: It’s been a lot of fun. The great thing about James’ art is that it’s so fun, that there is always something to play off of. Darkwing’s world is also very flexible — it lends itself to all kinds of different jokes and gags. Sometimes it’s serious, but mostly it’s funny and ridiculous. At times, he knows he’s in a comic book and breaks the fourth wall, and other times it’s played straight, but the situations he’s in are patently ridiculous, so the humor comes from there. Not to mention, there’s always things you want to go back and tweak, even if it’s something as seemingly inconsequential as a background item that’s mis-colored.
We’re not reinventing the wheel, here. Everything you loved about the series is still in there — it’s just been kicked up to 11. And there’s plenty of new things to discover even if you’ve already been on this journey with us once before.
Silvani: When I first started on the series, there was very little reference material that still existed. I was having to rely on YouTube videos for character and background designs. I look back at some of those early issues and cringe. Thanks to DW creator Tad Stones and the nice folks at the Disney Archives, I was eventually able to gather more reference and tighten the character models.
Still, those first dozen or so issues, especially when it came to the Gosalyn and Morgana art, really nagged at me. When we started discussing the omnibus my first question was, “Can I go back and fix some of the characters to make them more on model?” I think as long as I didn’t go full-on “Star Wars Special Edition” with the visual changes, it would really give the readers a sense that this was indeed a continuation of the show that they grew up with.
Sparrow: You did add all those Dewbacks to the backgrounds though. And now Negaduck shoots first.
What were your goals for this edition? What did you want to bring out and emphasize more with this presentation of the story?
Sparrow: Definitely the comedy. The mileage you can get out of Darkwing and Steelbeak bickering alone — I think readers are really going to enjoy it. Also, I think there’s an advantage of having the entire story back in print in one edition at an affordable price. As a huge comics nerd, I’ve found I like having storylines in one huge trade. Maybe I’m getting old — I’ve begun to forget details waiting a month in between issues, and in a collection like this, it’s easy to see all the connections that the creators are weaving into their narrative.
I’m a big fan of Marvel’s omnibus program. My office shelves are bowing under the weight of them, so hopefully having the entire series bound in an all-new edition will please previous readers, as well as grab new ones who will be discovering it for the first time.
Silvani: We always hoped the fans would see the comic series as an extension of the show, but once we found out we had the opportunity to go back and make some fixes to the book, our main focus was to make it like an actual lost season. Aaron was able to go in and fix some of the inconsistencies with the story and tone of the show, and I was able to add previously unseen art to enhance the new narrative
The story in the omnibus starts with Darkwing retired, basically, having left the limelight for an office job. What’s your take on the character, as he is throughout these sixteen issues? What motivates and drives him?
Sparrow: The great thing about Darkwing is that he’s incredibly flawed. He’s insecure, yet at the same time he’s got an incredible ego. And yet, he’s redeemed through his love for his adopted daughter, Gosalyn. When we meet him at the beginning of “The Duck Knight Returns,” he’s had an experience that’s put fear into him. He’s put aside his need for glory and adulation and focused on being a good parent and giving Gosalyn’s a “normal” life.
The problem with that is, his spirit is crushed — he’s a shell of his former self, and Gosalyn recognizes it. And it isn’t long before the crazy world in which they inherit comes crashing in, reminding him you can’t run from your destiny.
Silvani: Kind of like us
Sparrow: By the end, of course, Darkwing has had this nice arc where he’s regained his confidence (read: bravado), and the new epilogue really sets the stage for his next adventures.
With some of the influences for the series coming from quite dark material like “The Dark Knight Returns”, how do you approach the idea of making sure the series works as an all-ages title?
Sparrow: With “Duck Knight,” we never set out to do more than just parody that story title. I mean, sure, I commissioned James to do the famous “lightning bolt” cover, and Drake Mallard being “retired” from crime fighting is an obvious nod to that story — but it was never more than a fun marketing ploy to get people to check out the series. In the story, he’s only been out of action for a year — but for readers, it had been almost 20 years since they’d seen the daring duck of mystery. I just knew it would resonate.
The plan was always just to produce an insanely fun book that had a little bit of pathos and a lot of heart. We just wanted to bring the character back to the fans, and introduce new ones to the wonderful world Tad Stones and his team at Disney had given us. The blueprint was already there. All we had to do was bring all the awesome adventure and alliteration that “Darkwing Duck” is known for.
Silvani: I mean, after all — it is a duck in a cape. As much pathos and heart as the character contains, we’re not doing a story about a tragic hero with severe childhood trauma. Our story is about a waterfowl that flies around in a plane shaped like his head and fights a 1.21 gigawatt rat.
You’re both firm advocates for all-ages comics. What do you think is the key to making a series which is enjoyable for everybody, adults and younger readers?
Sparrow: My biggest influence when it comes to all-ages material is the way Pixar handles their stories. There are some very heavy topics covered in the first 15 minutes of “Up” — but it’s handled so brilliantly that a lot of it flies over kids heads while their parents are sobbing. Not that we’ll be doing anything that heavy in “Darkwing,” but Pixar hits that sweet spot of being entertaining to children while not talking down to them, and giving their parents plenty to enjoy as well. That’s the sweet spot I’d like to hit.
Silvani: Not to give a shout out to the competition, but what I loved about the old Looney Tunes was they worked on two levels so brilliantly. As a kid, I loved the comedy, and as an adult I appreciate the subversiveness. I think the original “Darkwing” cartoons were the first Disney cartoons to embrace that sensibility. If we can capture even a pinch of that style of storytelling, I think everyone will love it.
On that note, what are your favorite aspects of the series as a whole, personally? What do you like most about the world of Darkwing Duck, and writing/drawing his adventures?
Sparrow: Tad once told us that Disney didn’t buy the show until they came up with the wrinkle of “What if Batman had to raise a little girl?” and added Gosalyn. I think about that as we craft these stories. I love finding ways for Gosalyn to complicate Darkwing’s life, and not necessarily in a “My daughter is in peril!” kind of way. She gets in trouble, sure, but she’s this amazing tornado of a character and is more than capable — in many ways, more capable than her father. That relationship is a really great dynamic to play with.
Silvani: I’ve never made any secret of my admiration of Carl Barks and what he did with the Disney Duck comics. It worked on every level. I feel so lucky that at this point in my career, I also get to play in that universe; Ducks on grand adventures. But what really sweetens the pot for me is that the ducks I get to play with are super heroes and over-the-top villains that hit each other with over-sized mallets and get smashed with anvils.
The collection will also feature new pages of work from you both. Am I right in thinking this will be in the form of an epilogue? Is the idea to bridge the gap between this series and the new series which’ll be starting next year?
Sparrow: There’s a 3-page intro we produced for the German publisher that’s never been seen in the U.S. There’s also some supplementary material, and yes, an all-new epilogue that wraps the series and gives some threads that will lead into the new monthly. We’re actually really excited about it. You won’t need to read the previous series to understand the new series — but if you do pick up the omnibus, there’s some things in there that will just add an extra layer for you as a reader.
Silvani: There’s a very subtle change to DW in the epilogue that I think the fans will enjoy. It was actually suggested by Tad in some of the doodles we all do when we get to hang out. I have a feeling that when the fans will see this presented in the omnibus, they’ll agree with us that it makes sense in moving forward with the new adventures of the Terror That Flaps in the Night.