Although both of kaboom’s remaining licensed Disney comics released their last issues today, I come to praise Darkwing Duck, not bury it.
A little over a year and a half ago, I debated whether or not it would be worth $3.99 a month to follow the new comic book adventures of Drake Mallard. Here was a property that as a child I loved immensely, but there’s been no shortage of nostalgia comics in the past few years, and I wondered if Darkwing would be any different. Was it a comic designed solely to help fans relive the glorious cartoon, or could it actually reinvent for a discerning older audience some of the spark that made Darkwing feel so fresh and interesting to a 9-year old?
From the beginning, kaboom’s Darkwing grabbed my attention and held it. The series managed a task that most all-ages entertainment aims for but few get right — it worked for kids and for grown-ups. Darkwing also set it sights on a third, more specific audience by targeting a lot of its humor directly at comic-book fans. Who but the weekly comic-buying public would find funny something called “Crisis on Infinite Darkwings”? By the same token, how many kids would get a Mad Men joke or want to hear about the effects of the Great Recession on the Duckberg economy? But that kind of stuff killed me because it combined the wacky, haphazard humor of the original cartoon with things that my (slightly more sophisticated) brain now recognizes and enjoys.
But although Darkwing Duck‘s packed with all this texture that 20-something (and up!) readers can dig into, at its heart it’s a strong, all-ages adventure story that holds appeal for everybody. Its core’s fueled by values of friendship and family. Additionally, it doesn’t just make light of comic book tropes, it embraces them with open arms. I can imagine Darkwing Duck singlehandedly making kids more comic-literate, and that’s an awesome thing. When I was a wee one, my first conscious exposure to alternate universe stories came in an episode of the Darkwing Duck cartoon where a television producer character from a more realistic world “overhears” Darkwing’s adventures and turns them into a pop-culture phenomenon. That kind of metatextual winking’s a clear homage to Silver Age Gardner Fox stories, but what third grader knows who Gardner Fox is? I just knew Darkwing expanded how I thought about fiction, and the kaboom comic continued that excellent tradition.
Unfortunately, it seemed like a reasonable bet when Disney acquired Marvel that their comic licensing wouldn’t last very long at other publishers, and it looks like for Darkwing (along with the much shorter-lived Ducktales) the bell has tolled. The two books go out with a bang, though; as much as I contend these comics hold appeal for anybody, there’s no way that kids who voraciously devoured the Disney Afternoon every day did not dream of this story. Darkwing Duck and Scrooge McDuck team up to take down Magica DeSpell, the Phantom Blot and a mystery antagonist who intend to turn St. Canard and Duckberg evil — and, of course, steal Uncle Scrooge’s number one dime. Put simply, the finale’s awesome; both these issues are full of action and tons of delightful moments. They manage to tie up a number of the threads left dangling from the Darkwing series (so much so that all 18 issues seem like one continuous story), and about midway through the second part of these books there’s also a really great use of another classic Disney character whose presence makes this story feel really special.
The quality of the storytelling here’s due in large part to Darkwing writer Ian Brill, who turned in all 18 issues plus a fantastic annual. Ian’s a stand-up guy, and he was kind enough to grant me an interview over at my day job earlier this year. He’s someone who knows how and why comics work, and there’s no doubt that whatever project he moves on to next will be just as worth reading as Darkwing.
Series artist James Silvani, too, is a stud. It must be kind of difficult drawing Disney comics sometimes, since there are obviously very strict house style guidelines to adhere to, but still Silvani went above and beyond what was necessary, packing all sorts of fun details and jokes onto every page. The aforementioned “Crisis” story is a smorgasbord of references; I think you could stare at that book for two hours and not get bored.
Bottom line, I’m really sorry to see these books go, especially Darkwing. It’s totally possible they’ll be resurrected at Marvel, but without Brill and Silvani on board I doubt the books can maintain the same excellence. Still, I’ll happily hold on to my (complete!) run of kaboom’s Darkwing Duck, which if nothing else embodies an “all-ages comic” better than any other book I can think of.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more