Ian Brill Looks Back on "Darkwing Duck"

Courtesy of BOOM!, CBR shares the complete first issue of Brill and James Silvani's "Darkwing Duck"

He is the terror that flaps in the night. He is the batteries that are not included. But after a memorable eighteen-issues at BOOM! Studios, Darkwing Duck ended his current run in comics earlier this month, a run that had introduced a new generation of fans to the Disney Afternoon hero and offered fresh adventures in St. Canard to the twenty- and thirty-somethings who grew up with him. Created by Tad Stones, "Darkwing Duck" ran from 1991-95 and starred the egotistical Masked Mallard as he fought an unlikely series of villains. BOOM!'s "Darkwing Duck" series -- originally solicited as a miniseries but extended into an ongoing before the first issue shipped -- was written by Ian Brill and illustrated by James Silvani for its entire run, with Stones also contributing to an extra-sized Annual and "Epic Mickey" writer Warren Spector co-writing the crossover finale with "Duck Tales." The end of BOOM!'s Disney license necessitated the conclusion of "Darkwing" and other popular titles like "Duck Tales" and "Rescue Rangers." Comic Book Resources spoke with Brill for a look back at the series, reestablishing the character in the minds and hearts of fans, mixing humor and action, writing for all ages and more.

Before diving into a retrospective of his time with the Terror that Flaps in the Night, Brill found it necessary to address some comments made by former BOOM! editor Aaron Sparrow in a recent CBR interview. In that interview, which took place at New York Comic Con, Sparrow made comments that Brill (and others at BOOM!) felt overstated his role with the series -- comments similar to those Sparrow has made on other online forums. "It is baffling that Aaron would claim to have plotting credit on the 'Darkwing' stories. I plotted and wrote all the 'Darkwing' stories and he was my editor. The relationship was never anything more than just writer and editor: I would write the stories, plots and scripts, and he would do what an editor does. He put together the team, put together the book and saw it go out for the first three issues, before he was removed from BOOM!," Brill told CBR. Sparrow was the Disney editor when "Darkwing Duck" was announced and remained in that position through the third issue's solicitation. "He can take all the credit for editing the book, which is something he should be proud of. While we were working literally side by side at BOOM! -- I was also an editor -- he never brought up the fact that he felt he should have some credit for plotting it, he never brought the subject up to me, he had never made any claims of plot credits on any of his internet outlets, any of his social networks. That was only something that he unfortunately made false claims about after he had been removed. He just started making noise in some other places online. Christopher Burns, who was assistant editor under Aaron and then editor for 'Darkwing' after Aaron was removed in June 2010, went to Aaron to ask him to stop making these claims soon after he started making them. Aaron told him he would, but apparently has gone back on that word, which is very frustrating and disappointing to both Chris and me.

"It's not usually something I'd want to delve into, I don't really know how interesting it is to most readers. But I have too much respect for Comic Book Resources, its readers, and fans of 'Darkwing' for someone to lie to them. You guys are the site that does Comic Book Urban Legends, I figure we might as well stamp it out before Brian Cronin has to deal with it in five years."

Moving past behind-the-scenes drama to the behind-the-scenes planning that would lead to the creation of the "Darkwing Duck" comic series, Brill said he first broached the idea of reviving the character with then-editor Paul Morrissey, who is now at Archaia. "This would be around the beginning to mid-2009, when BOOM! had acquired what is known as the Disney Standard License, which is sometimes known as the 'Ducks and Mice' license," Brill said. "I brought up to Paul, 'Does this mean we can do "Darkwing Duck?"' Keep in mind the BOOM! staff is made up of a lot of people my age -- I was born in 1983 -- or a little older and a little younger, we had grown up with the show and have fond memories of it. And we already had the license -- this was just part of the license."

Brill was not, he admits, an obvious choice to write the series. "I had written three stories for 'Zombie Tales' under then-Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid, so I wrote a pitch and from there BOOM! approved it, Disney approved it, and we were ready to go. We brought in the rest of the team, James Silvani, Andrew Dalhouse on coloring, Deron Bennett on lettering.

"I did not know what to expect. I had never written a full-length comic before. I had never written 22 pages of published comic book material, I'd only written 21 pages in total with all my 'Zombie Tales' stuff!" he laughed. "So I just went for kind of a go-for-broke mentality, I put in everything that I'd want to see in a 'Darkwing' comic book. Plus, I just had this idea that I wanted the story to reflect this feeling that fans might have, that Darkwing's been gone for a while and now he's back. So I had this story, he's retired and would be coming back out of retirement, and I had to think of why he would retire, what does that mean for his supporting cast, what does that mean for his villains. I came up with a corporation that would take care of everybody and make Darkwing obsolete; that corporation would also have villainous undertones to it. It's revealed that Taurus Bulba is behind it, he's a villain I wanted to bring back because he was the villain of the two-part pilot [episode]. We could use the other villains of St. Canard -- Megavolt, Quackerjack, the Liquidator -- you can play around with Launchpad and Gosalyn, you can play around with Darkwing's and Drake Mallard's superhero double life."

That relationship between Darkwing and his adopted daughter Gosalyn would be a key to "Darkwing Duck," Brill said, providing the book both with heart and an inescapable tension. "What's really interesting about him, which was a great idea that Tad Stones, the creator of Darkwing, had, is that he has a daughter. There are always stakes to his civilian life," the writer said. "A lot of times in superhero comics, you can go entire issues without seeing the superhero in his secret identity, because that's not really where the action is, there's not a lot of drama there. But here there's always going to be a kind of tension, because he's got a daughter, so he has to be a father, and she knows he's a superhero and wants to get in on the action. So there's that back and forth, the two worlds are always bleeding into each other, and I wanted to play with that a bit more with this four-part story."

When the book was announced at Emerald City Comic Con in 2010, "Darkwing Duck" was set to be a four-issue miniseries. "The reaction, when it was announced, was so great. BOOM! was so happy with the preorders that they decided to make it an ongoing series," Brill recalled. "What can I say? I was so grateful that fans supported the book and were so enthused about the book that they came out in droves. The first issue went to second printing, the second issue went to second printing, the third issue sold more than the first and second. People came to this book in a big way. I feel rewarded and humbled that they came back to the book after the first issue, after the curiosity factor, after it was more than seeing the name and the character Darkwing coming back. They were truly into the story."

It may have been nostalgic Millenials who poured their support into "Darkwing Duck" for those first few issues, but Brill said that the BOOM! series did its job in introducing a new generation of fans to the purple-clad hero. "At shows, we'd see multiple generations. People in their twenties and thirties who grew up on the show, and have a niece or nephew, younger cousin, or their kids. They would introduce this younger person to the book," Brill said. "I remember a professional colleague of mine say his girlfriend's son, who is five, his favorite book was 'Darkwing.' Kids would buy them at the show, and I'd sign the books for them. That is also just super, super rewarding -- and it's also a big responsibility -- to know that you're introducing a younger generation to this character, and likely you're introducing them to comics. It made me push myself to write stories that were accessible to everyone, stories that were clear and hopefully imaginative enough that it would work across the board."

Brill credits Silvani, who illustrated all 18 issues of the series and a story in the Annual, with bringing the cartoon's enthusiastic action and humor to the printed page. "It was fantastic to work with James to see the level of detail he would put in the work, his love of Disney and of these characters. He instilled this anarchic sense of humor and sense of fun, which was such a great thing about the show. When 'Darkwing' came out [on television], I don't think we had a seen a lot of cartoons with that old school, Chuck Jones-ish type of animation going. James continued that tradition brilliantly in the book. It inspired me that I could come up with big crazy concepts, big crazy jokes, that I knew he could pull off with aplomb."

That original "Darkwing Duck" arc, "The Duck Knight Returns," invoked some familiar comic book tropes, some of which should be suggested by the title. The follow-up, "Crisis on Infinite Darkwings," would include still more. But, Brill said, he does not consider the stories parodies. "I wanted to take these big superhero concepts and see what they were like when you put them in the world of 'Darkwing,' with these characters, with that great domestic triangle of Darkwing, Launchpad and Gosalyn, with the big wacky world of St. Canard with all its villains," he said. "It's interesting to me to see how the world of 'Darkwing' reacts to something like parallel dimensions, as in the case of 'Crisis on Infinite Darkwings.'"

"Crisis" featured Negaduck as the prime villain, a character who, like the Reverse Flash's relationship with the Flash, is an evil opposite for Darkwing. "Negaduck is such a great, iconic villain. A lot of times when I'd mention that I wrote the 'Darkwing Duck' comic, people would have this glint in their eye of recognition that's so great to see and they'd say, 'You know what I loved? Negaduck!' I think the image is so powerful -- he looks exactly like Darkwing, but the colors just say 'villainous.' Tad Stones said the colors are based on poisonous frogs," Brill said. "To see him and Darkwing side by side, facing off, it just sticks with you. The original Negaduck episode is something I remembered years and years after I'd originally seen it, so I wanted to bring him back in a big way.

"From there, Darkwing's ego is such a fun thing to play with, I decided to see what would happen if he dealt with the superhero equivalent of copyright infringement, with all these alternate Darkwings coming in," Brill continued. "I also wanted to bring Morgana back, especially as she is an opposite number to Magica. When looking at these stories, especially early on, I was putting in a lot of stuff because I wanted to come up with all these story ideas I could bounce around, keep the book exciting."

Brill's push to load up each issue with characters and action and big events reflected several factors, some related to his development as a writer and others influenced by the comic market as a whole. "Keep in mind, when 'Darkwing' first started being written, this is when the talk of books being $3.99 was starting to get really heated. I knew 'Darkwing' had to be $3.99 just because of where the comics industry was and where a small company like BOOM! had to price their books -- that was what had to be. So I wanted to make sure that every book was worth $3.99, that there was a lot of story going on -- you'd have to sit down and read it," he told CBR. "I wouldn't say this was an influence in terms of content, but Howard Chaykin's 'American Flagg' was a book that's packed with info and packed with fun and dramatic stuff to look around and see. So I guess, spiritually, that's an influence because I wanted to pack in a lot of stuff.

"Looking back, I don't feel the only way to give readers their money's worth is to pack in a lot of stuff, but it's one way, and certainly, starting out and building myself as a writer, that was definitely something that was important to me," Brill added. "That's another reason why there were multiple villains to each story, main characters with different agendas. 'Darkwing's' not a team book, but I filled it with just as much story content because I was interested in packing a lot in."

BOOM!'s year and a half of "Darkwing Duck" concluded this month with the final part of a crossover with "Duck Tales," another long-dormant Disney afternoon property that found new life in BOOM!'s publishing line-up. "I was intimidated, because I'd been watching 'Duck Tales' longer than I'd been watching 'Darkwing.' It debuted first. That was how I was introduced to Scrooge McDuck and all those great Carl Barks characters -- like a lot of people who grew up with that show, I saw them first on 'Duck Tales,' then went back and read the books," Brill said. "Just as 'Darkwing' was such a responsibility, so was the 'Duck Tales' stuff. But what I found as I was working with James and Warren Spector of 'Epic Mickey,' as we all jammed on the story, was that Uncle Scrooge is such a fun character to write. To have him and Darkwing play off each other was even more fun than I expected it to be. It really surprised me how they became a little bit of a comedy duo, these heroes of Disney Afternoon."

To wrap up two series -- the crossover also marked the end of "Duck Tales," which Spector had written for its six-issue run -- Brill had to test the limits of his "pack stuff in" approach. "That crossover, 'Dangerous Currency,' might just take the cake for how much stuff was packed in. When I knew the series was ending, I put in the big story elements that I wanted to do, and that was to have the Phantom Blot take on Darkwing, that he has this substance that turns people into villains, that this substance is the remnants of Negaduck from his last appearance in 'Darkwing Duck' #8, and that Negaduck and Morgana were stuck in this alternate world, this wasteland and that Darkwing would have to make a choice," Brill said. "Speaking of the tension between Darkwing's superhero and civilian life, I really wanted to touch on that in a big, dramatic way as we closed out this book. We gave Darkwing a choice: both his girlfriend and his greatest villain were away, and he could only bring both back or neither -- he couldn't bring back just Morgana. The choice is whether the best thing and the worst thing of his life were going to come back. Is he going to have this dramatic life of these great highs and horrible lows, or is he going to choose to put both those things at bay and perhaps live an easier kind of life. Based on the experiences he's had in the series and discussions with the older and wiser Scrooge, the only choice he could make is to bring them both back.

"James did an excellent job on that spread in 'Darkwing'#18, where Darkwing pulls Morgana back and Negaduck is holding on to Morgana. When we were planning the second year of 'Darkwing,' I knew that was how we were going to end the crossover," he said.

Working on a childhood favorite like "Darkwing Duck," especially so early in his writing career, gave Brill plenty of proud moments. "I really liked the first issue because I think that set the tone of the book well. I'm really pleased with how successful the Annual was and I'm proud of the way the story I wrote came off, as well as the story that Tad Stones wrote, featuring the new villain Chronoduck," the writer said. "My story with Quackerjack -- I know Tad Stones in interviews had said he wanted Quackerjack to be more menacing than he ended up being in the show. I used that as a jumping off point to get more into his character. I'm interested in the psychology of what would make someone a villain, someone who chooses selfishness and greed and goes to such absurd behavior based on a selfish, immature outlook. Quackerjack seemed perfect for that. When this company, Quackworks, took over St. Canard, he had a shot at a normal life, but his ego would not let that happen. We see behavior in real life where people have an outsized sense of entitlement that leads them to take more than their fair share. I think that's at the root of a lot of villainy. Seeing a villain making the wrong choices that lead him to become a villain to me is interesting." Brill said, though, that some fans wondered if the story was too dark for a kids' comic. "I don't think so. I do hope people still find something funny in it, the Mr. Bananabrain stuff, telling jokes with Darkwing and Honker and Gosalyn -- I wanted to make sure there were still jokes in it, and all the villainy was wacky, people turning into toys and stuff," he told CBR. "But I never felt I should shy away from the psychological aspect of it just because this is a book that would reach children. I know I enjoyed lots of film and cartoons -- especially some of the stuff in 'Batman: The Animated Series' -- that looked at villains in this way. Growing up, I loved the 'Heart of Ice' story in 'Batman: The Animated Series,' I think that was an influence on me doing 'Toy With Me.' I enjoyed those stories as a kid, so I thought it was perfectly fine. Sabrina Alberghetti, Lisa Moore, and Deron Bennett -- artist, colors, and letterer -- also did a brilliant job. It was very rewarding to see them do such wonderful work on a story of mine." Brill added that he was also very pleased with the final issue #18.

"Looking back on 'Darkwing,' I feel as a writer I'm always seeing ways to do things better, ways to improve myself. But I am proud of what we did, because I think this is something people didn't expect," he concluded. "You see a bunch of material that's aimed at a younger audience with the feeling of, well, if it's all-ages material, it doesn't have to be as deep as other comics; this was a comic where I felt -- and thankfully my collaborators agreed -- that because this was truly reaching all ages and because the characters are so great, we should do as top-notch a job as any book. Looking at 'Darkwing,' we lived up to that."

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Tags: disney, boom! studios, darkwing duck, james silvani, aaron sparrow, ian brill

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