My generation of geeks is pretty familiar with Disney’s anthropomorphic duck known as Darkwing Duck. For those who are unfamiliar with him he is a masked crime fighter inspired by the likes of Batman, the Shadow and others. He defends St. Canard and is fame hungry and egotistical a lot of times. Darkwing’s secret identity was that of Drake Mallard and he lived with his adopted daughter Gosalyn next door to the Muddlefoot family. He is aided in his crime fighting by Launchpad McQuack of Duck Tales fame. They operate out of a portion of the St. Canard bridge and fight dozens of rogues including NegaDuck, Megavolt, Quackerjack and more.
While the series had many great episodes none came close to the debut pilot episode(s): Darkly Dawns the Duck. These two episodes did more than told an excellent story, it crafted the kind of superhero debut that should be the envy of any superhero launch. Brimming with laughs, drama, action and suspense the two-parter is damn near perfect in every sense.
Darkly Dawn the Duck was penned by show creator Tad Stone (can’t find a singular director credit as there were multiple animation directors and others involved) and follows the titular hero looking to protect the city while pursuing fame. However no matter how many thugs he brings in no one seems to care. He seemingly gets his chance when attempting to stop a train robbery by goons of a criminal mastermind Taurus Bulba, who is already serving time in prison. During his investigation he, on chance, meets Launchpad McQuack who is one of his only fans. Darkwing also rescues an orphan girl named Gosalyn. Gosalyn is the granddaughter of a scientist who built the device Taurus has now secured. However Taurus needs the passcode to operate it and he believes Gosalyn may know it.
The story moves quick in the two episodes and while the meeting with McQuack is a little too coincidental it doesn’t jar the quick chemistry the two have. The way Darkwing interacts with the varied characters of importance is important to how well these episodes deliver. The scenes with Gosalyn, with the two hanging out in his secret headquarters is a moving scene. The first meeting between Bulba is another great sequence as you see just how outclassed and rather silly Darkwing is in the presence of a true criminal. Darkwing is defined through out these episodes but his ego and his chemistry with these characters and credit has to be given to voice actor Jim Cummings for his excellent delivery and range. Darkwing goes through more range of emotions in these two episodes than any other and Cummings nails it. He is joined by a wonderful cast with Terrence McGoverns wonderful work as Launchpad, a perfect sidekick for Darkwing. Also the phenomenal Tim Curry as the larger than life Taurus Bulba and the late Christine Cavanaugh whose Gosalyn is both spunky and incredibly innocent.
I love seeing Launchpad come to break Darkwing out of prison-he wants to help him and he won’t be deterred. The two working together to go save Gosalyn and stop Bulba. The final fight sequences build and climax are still some of the most exciting superhero stuff I’ve seen. I actually still get choked up thinking about how they delivered a sequence that makes you question the outcome. That’s the thing about superheroes-you know they rarely die and Darkwing was not going to die in his second episode yet the way it played out was brilliant. This made the last scene a beautiful cap off. It just left me with a warm, happy feeling. Its the kind of opening that makes you want the next adventure.
Going back and watching it, the animation is very similar to most of Disney’s cartoons. Few had the cinematic quality that Gargoyles tried to emulate, so it does have a dated feel. That does not take away from the character designs or the excellent flow. They did a great job of capturing the St. Canards grand feel. The artists (layout, background, etc) understood the importance of the city. While its over the top and typical of these cartoons its very effective both at night time. I remain a fan of with the bridge, which for me is the true centerpiece of the city as its where DW is based out of. I love the scene where he motors out of his base (one of the towers of the bridge) and the jump takes him in front of the moon before racing down the bridges thick coil. Its a classic DW image. I’d say this show, Tail Spin and Gargoyles had my favorite sets of the Disney TV cartoons I watched at the time.
*DW has the best cartoon opening theme. Fight me.
*DW’s bike is still one of the illest.
*I’m still amused by Bulba operating out of the prison. Its a common plot device, especially in superhero fiction, but Bulba goes the extra mile by having his cell fashioned into a cushy office with his assistant and goons working directly with him. He just flips the switch or puts some curtains up when the warden and cops come around to make it look somewhat like a basic prison cell. “Its a shame to leave a hideout as perfect as a prison.”-Taurus Bulba
*Gosalyn is one of all time favorite kid characters. Loved that she got on Darkwing to wear a helmet with his bike shortly into knowing him.
*The breakfast challenge is crazy.
*The over the top intros DW does for himself are the best.
*”Maybe this costume clown can still be a hero.”-Darkwing Duck
Below are the episodes as well as a MV I made for it years ago.