Disney churns out television shows of uneven quality, to say the least. I have noticed that most if not all of their live-action TV shows are not very good, to say the least. Yet in contrast most if not all of their animated TV shows are quite clever. I have also noticed a lot of humor in many animated Disney shows would be lost on the target demographic (children) but would not be missed by their parents, making me wonder who the shows were really aimed at. I’m guessing parents stuck watching cartoons with their kids. This does not make the shows any less enjoyable and in fact makes them more enjoyable (at least for me as I got older and started to understand the pop culture references that made my parents laugh).
“Darkwing Duck” was aired sometime in the early 90s after “Ducktales” was on the air (there were a few crossover characters). The show, like many animated Disney offerings, was chock full of puns and pop culture references, many of which I didn’t get when I originally watched the show. Now I can re-watch the show and it’s even funnier. The dialogue also features some of the best one-liners in any show ever (even Joss Whedon’s shows).
DW: Fortunately, we have a psychological advantage.
LP: Because we’re sane, and he’s not?
The show is about, clearly, Darkwing Duck. Darkwing Duck is a cross between the Shadow and Batman, with a healthy dose of Iron Man’s egoism. He dresses almost exactly like the Shadow but relies on all sorts of duck-themed gadgetry to fight crime.
Princess of Oilrabia: Are you crazy?
DW: Well, maybe a little manic-depressive on weekends.
His sidekick is Launchpad MacQuack, from “Ducktales,” the affable pilot who can’t land a plane and sometimes crashes the Thunderquack, which has V-tol capability. Darkwing is the protector of St. Canard (which is hilarious if you know French) and fights criminals that are certainly reminiscent of Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery but also has a touch of James Bond thrown in (he occasionally works for S.H.U.S.H. [acronym never revealed], whose head is of course J. Gander Hooter [of course; because kids in the early 90s will totally understand that reference]). Darkwing’s real name is Drake Mallard (of course) who is not a millionaire but nonetheless has enough money to make his gadgets. In the pilot episodes, he ends up adopting a red-headed and headstrong orphan named Gosalyn (of course) who often accompanies him even though she’s not supposed to. Drake/Darkwing also has the misfortune to live next to the Muddlefoots, who are a very stereotypical 1950s suburban family, although their son Honker, who is very smart, also accompanies Darkwing on adventures.
The Rogues’ Gallery features such characters as Quackerjack, a deranged clown, Bushroot, a deranged plant-duck, Mega-volt, a deranged living conductor, F.O.W.L. (the Fiendish Organization for World Larceny), which is clearly SPECTRE and features, I kid you not, Eggmen (of course; kids in the early 90s will completely miss this reference but wonder why their parents are laughing so hard). Steelbeak is a stand-in for Jaws with all the style of a 1920s mobster. His arch-nemesis is Negaduck and his love interest/femme fatale is Morgana McCawber, a sorceress from a creepy family who occasionally uses her magic for evil ends.
The whole series is pretty much a parody of pulp superheroes. St. Canard itself bears a not coincidental resemblance to Gotham City. Being of course a parody of pulp comics, it does try to touch on all the major comic book themes. Time-travel episode? Check (more than one, actually). Villain origin story? Check. Alternate universe? Check. Alien invasion? Check. Rival super-powered hero who shows up to make the title hero feel inadequate and jealous? Check. That’s “Ducktales” Gizmoduck, if you were wondering, who is basically Iron Man although his secret identity is much nicer. Affable if slightly bumbling sidekick? Check. Plucky if annoying sidekick? Check (and possibly a parody of Speedy and/or Arrowette).
I love all the puns and pop culture references, many of which I get in the re-watching of the series. The title of pretty much every episode is a pun. Even the bit character’s names are often puns (such as the Dr. Rhoda Dendron).
DW: Oh great. Another pun-obsessed supervillain.
I love Darkwing’s unabashed egoism. His stealthy entrances might work a little better if he didn’t loudly announce his presence (“I am the terror that flaps in the night!” I am a metaphor that isn’t totally relevant to the situation!). I love Launchpad’s amiable sidekickiness and Gosalyn’s pluckiness and Honker’s sadly often un-listened to voice of reason. Actually, pretty much everyone except Darkwing is a voice of a reason. I also love how meta the series is. Darkwing makes not infrequent references to the unbelievability of cartoon physics while being subjected to them. Occasionally he even talks to the camera. Heck, there’s one episode where he’s trying to write his own comic book. When it’s rejected, he says he’s going to take his comic to Disney so they can make it into a cartoon. The whole cast displays this genre awareness sometimes as well. There’s an episode in which Darkwing and Goslin go back in time and as Darkwing prepares to stop a crime, Gosalyn stops him and says, “Haven’t you ever seen a time travel movie?” Or there’s this brilliant quote from Gosalyn – “Forget it Dad. Who would want to watch you on TV for half an hour?”
If you love Batman, the Shadow, Robert Downey Jr.’s take on Iron Man, superhero/pulp parodies, clever dialogue and puns galore, this is the show for you.
DW: Let’s get dangerous!
LP: Do we have to get that dangerous?