Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Darkwing Duck, Season One, Episodes One & Two: "Darkly Dawns the Duck"

We shall treat these two episodes as one, since they're very closely linked--far more so than any Ducktales serial (okay, "The Golden Goose" comes closer than the others, but it's still not in the same ballpark).

I actually read the comic version of this story (as reprinted in Boom's Darkwing Duck Classics)--quite intentionally--before viewing the episodes. I thought it might be interesting to see what my reaction was after seeing/reading them in the non-traditional order. The verdict: they're very similar, but I would give the nod to the teevee version, if only because the action lends itself better to animation than to comic panels. There's only one major difference between the two: in the episode, Darkwing figures out the launch code pretty much immediately after Gosalyn teaches him the relevant lullaby, whereas in the comic, he doesn't figure it out until the last minute, when she's falling to her presumable doom and singing the lullaby for some sort of comfort. I see the reason for the change--you could argue that it makes for a more balanced narrative to not have the lullaby thing pay off until later--but I'm still going to side with the episode: let's face it, even if HE doesn't recognize it immediately, WE do (and seeing it written out makes this even MORE likely), and it just makes him seem a bit slower on the uptake.

These episodes featuring Darkwing meeting up with his co-conspirators, good ol' Launchpad and Gosalyn Waddlemeyer, the orphan girl whom he adopts at the end; while this is going on, he's also battling Russian-accented criminal mastermind Taurus Bulba (a way more sophisticated reference than the sort you'd find in the average Ducktales episode) and his henchcreatures.

Man…where to even start? With Ducktales, at least the comics formed sort of a pre√ęstablished knowledge base from which to begin, but here, there's nothin.' The show is certainly more action-based than its predecessor, and here you see what seems like a fundamental difference between the two: DD is more intentionally absurdist than DT, which was mostly was only "absurdist" due to authorial incompetence. There are several times where Darkwing with not even a desultory explanation fails to die when he obviously should die--but the show's constructed in such a way that you readily accept that. Likewise, the setpieces--a train robbery, a plane-chase--don't necessarily make sense in a strict narrative sense, but again, you don't mind, because it's more about manic goofiness than it is about plot, really. Or at least, these episodes are.

(Okay, I'll concede that I may have raised a skeptical eyebrow at the fact that, for no apparent reason, Darkwing has a kitchen designed to inflict grievous bodily harm on users. That seemed a bit much.)

As for the characters, Darkwing himself has a similar sort of self-conscious theatricality to Gizmoduck, only more so. And a tendency to refer to himself in the third person in his frequent bits of self-narration. It's early to make any definitive pronouncements, but I like him. Launchpad is Launchpad, although a bit bulkier for whatever reason. It will be interesting to see how he's ultimately distinguished from the DT version; so far, he certainly seems more engaging than the somewhat lackluster version that inhabited the later DT episodes. Why he's suddenly hanging around a completely different city goes unexplained.

As for Gosalyn…well, it really wouldn't have taken much for her to be eighty-seven billion times better than Webby, but the fact remains, she is. Possibly even eighty-eight, though I'd hate to be accused of hyperbole. In fact, she makes Webby look even more useless than she already did. I was--and still am, to an extent--a bit trepidatious about her, since precocious kids can slide very easily into the "intolerably irritating" category, but I like her so far, and I'm not gonna deny it: the bits of her bonding with Darkwing are fucking adorable--as opposed to the occasional Scrooge/Webby bonding bits, which were just barf-inducing.

The real test here is going to be how consistent the series is able to be. There were a fair few great Ducktales episodes, but the median level of the show was substantially lower than that. But for now: this pilot is pretty great. I counted a grand total of zero egregiously stupid moments. Hey, I understand; stupid happens on occasion--but if the show can keep such things to a minimum, it's not gonna have much trouble blowing Ducktales out of the water.

Stray Observations

-I notice that the show is more--well, "mature" probably isn't the right word--but there are two explicit references to death in the episode, something Ducktales always shied away from, and Taurus dies, or at least appears to die, at the end, which, once again, was a DT rarity.

-"I got a whole scrapbook of your newspaper clippings! 'Course...it's not a very big scrapbook..."

-"I'm sorry, Darkwing. If they hadn't caught me, you wouldn't have risked your life." "Gos--before I met you I didn't have a life risking!" Okay, okay--so that may be pouring it on a bit thick. And come to think of it, Darkwing's transition from loner to family-man-with-sidekick is a bit abrupt. But certainly not a dealbreaker.

-"He probably sleeps with a boy scout handbook under his pillow!" Really, show? How could you possibly not have taken the opportunity to make a Junior Woodchucks reference? Making our hero a former Woodchuck would've been just about the coolest thing ever.


  1. Hey Geoff, in the comics version the reference IS to the Woodchuck guidebook (...which we then see Darkwing reading: "I'm sure glad I hung onto THIS!"

  2. Thanks--how'd I forget about that? It's an obvious improvement.

  3. According to Wikipedia, Darkwing Duck was specifically inspired by "Double-O-Duck."

    One major difference between Ducktales and Darkwing Duck is that In St. Canard, the Laws of Cartoon Physics apply. In Ducktales, if you get smacked on the head you get knocked out or at least get a bump. In a Cartoon Physics world, little birds or similar objects circle around your head. In Darkwing Duck, smacking into a wall can change your shape like modeling clay.

    Well, if you'll forgive a spoiler... Bulba only APPEARS to die at the end of the episode. He'll make another, rather changed appearance later on. He was going to recur more, but the series was cancelled. But Bulba IS one of the few villains to actually commit murder.

    In several comics in Disney Adventures, it became clear that Launchpad commuted between Duckburg and St. Carnard. He did not move, so much as set up a second career. It's stated in the comics universe that Ducktales and Darkwing Duck occur concurrently.

  4. Forget my first line of my previous comment. I missed your earlier post. Sorry.

  5. In the episode "Tiff of the Titans", Launchpad says that him and Fenton "USED to work for the same guy" implying that he's been away from Duckburg for a while.

  6. One thing DTV learned was that two-episode pilots could get the job done for a series. There had been a gradual scaling back on multi-parts after DuckTales. Chip 'n Dale had a five-part intro (like DT), but no multi or two-parts after that. Tale Spin had a four-part intro (that was perfect and quite dark by the end) with a few two-parters. Although the DT pilot was awesome, I felt a lot of the five-parters (as you've observed) stretched their material an episode or two too far.

    After DW, Goof Troop would have a two-part intro, as would Bonkers with very few (if any; my memory is a tad foggy) serialized episodes. Not sure what came of the series after Bonkers. I didn't follow any of them very closely.

  7. A few years ago, I did decide to check out "Gargoyles." (How did I miss that series the first time around?) I think it had a four or five-part kick-off that was quite good. Anyway...there you go.

  8. The DuckTales and Rescue Rangers pilots were decent enough, but they got incredibly muddled (especially the former) trying to cram in too many plots and going off on too many tangents. They felt a bit like four or five episodes awkwardly joined together with a big setpiece showdown at the end. It was just a little clumsy, like the writers couldn't decide what story to do.

    The later pilots are shorter but they're a lot more focused. MUCH better to have a solid 40-minute story than a 2-hour story that meanders all over the place. The Talespin pilot is long, but because it stays on topic it's a lot more streamlined than the DT or RR pilots; it almost feels more like a feature film than a pilot. Man I love that show.

    (Okay, I'll concede that I may have raised a skeptical eyebrow at the fact that, for no apparent reason, Darkwing has a kitchen designed to inflict grievous bodily harm on users. That seemed a bit much.)

    I actually LOVE the idea that he's set up his kitchen as a training course that he tests himself with every morning. It shows that Darkwing is actually a huge dork in his own way; he can't even make his breakfast without doing his whole over-the-top superhero routine. Very nice bit of characterisation, I thought. Although I'm not convinced we had to see it THREE TIMES.