Darkwing Duck: Introduction

Can we just take a minute to appreciate how deeply weird DuckTales is? How would you even explain that show to someone who’d never heard of it?

“Richie Rich if he was an old duck?” That’s not even a premise, that’s a meaningless Mad Lib. And yet, DuckTales was a massive, massive deal. It ran for one hundred episodes, kickstarted the modern era of high quality TV animation and spawned a veritable multimedia empire. What gives? How did a show with such a weird, clunky premise achieve that kind of success? I think it comes down to a few different factors:

  1. Carl Barks was given a job drawing funny little Donald Duck cartoons and decided to use that opportunity to write the Great American Novel. His duck universe cartoons were used as the basis of DuckTales and that’s some damn strong source material.
  2. Mark Mueller’s theme song is so insanely catchy that I can just type “Ducktales!” and your brain has already gone “Woo hoo!”
  3. Scrooge McDuck is basically the Doctor.

Here’s what I mean. The reason Doctor Who has lasted so long is that it’s an inexhaustible premise. There is an alien with a box that can go anywhere in time and space. You will never run out of stories to tell with that setup. In the same way, Scrooge McDuck has something almost as powerful as a Tardis: A metric shit-ton of money.

And this is why the show was able to run for 100 episodes. Scrooge is so rich he can basically buy his way in to any genre you can think of. Over the run they did space-opera, western, time travel, romance, pulp adventure, giant mech battles, horror. That’s the beauty of Scrooge McDuck; he’s a strongly defined character who nonetheless can slot into almost any kind of story. Case in point: the time they made him a superhero.

Right, so in Season 3 Scrooge gets so sick of the lying or “fake” news media making people think that the gold-loving billionaire is a bad guy so he decides to become a vigilante and wooooooow this hits different in 2021. Anyway, in order to improve his public image he becomes a superhero called the Masked Mallard.

Stop sniggering in the back, please.

Okay, fast forward a year after DuckTales ended and Disney are prepping a new reboot of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show only to discover that they don’t actually own the rights to Rocky and Bullwinkle.

“That story makes no sense.”
“Back in the nineties there were still things Disney didn’t own. It was nuts.”

So a hasty, last minute replacement had to be found and they decided on expanding the Masked Mallard concept into its own TV show. The Mallard was re-worked into “Darkwing Duck”, a fedora wearing, cloaked, nocturnal crime-fighter clearly modelled on…

“Don’t say Batman, don’t say Batman, don’t say Batman…”
“The Shadow.”
“Never doubted you.”

And so, as the first stop on our look at Disney cartoon animation for Shortstember, I’ll be doing mini reviews of four episodes of this childhood classic. Let’s get dangerous.

6 comments

  1. Another part of the history is that the original intention was to have a Great Mouse Detective themed show on Disney Afternoon but Jeffrey Katzenberg said that no one would remember that film. But he liked the idea of a detective series so he said “Do it with ducks” because of the popularity of Ducktales. As much as I love Darkwing, GMD is in my top 5 Disney films so I’ve always been disappointed as to what a TV series would have been like.

  2. I thought the story behind the spin-off was that, originally, they were going to do a spy pastiche starring Launchpad, which first came about as a backdoor pilot in the form of the DT episode “Double-O Duck,” but when they found out “Double-O” is trademarked by the Fleming estate or something, then the superhero stuff came in. Isn’t that why some episodes use DW as an agent of SHUSH far more heavily, because they were salvaging the original premise?

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