Rebelle Re-views: Darkwing Duck

By: Rebelle Summers
Apr 19, 2024

Our current cultural landscape loves a reboot. One 90’s nostalgia fan favorite that’s been in and out of the headlines for the past few years is Darkwing Duck. The “terror that flaps in the night” has been perpetually making a comeback, whether it’s been talks since 2020 about a new series on Disney+ or the revival comics that began coming out last year, there seem to be plenty of folx out there ready and waiting to get dangerous. Earlier this year, when I was looking for a comfort show to nap to, my go-to policy for escaping the horrors, I remembered the bumbling resident hero of St. Canard and thought, perfect. Having not watched it since I was a literal child refusing to nap (foolish), I was delighted by the fact that I somehow remembered most of the lyrics to the theme song and intrigued to find that The Masked Mallard was not the typical hero of the super or anti variety. He’s just a guy constantly at odds with trying to find that thing we all strive for: work/life balance. 

Drake Mallard and his partner Launchpad McQuack are often caught in the endless cycle of how to stay on top of your work, navigate relational dynamics, while also raising their gosling Gosalyn. In fact, writer of the revival Dynamite series Amanda Deibert mentions parenthood as a major focus of the comic, telling Brandon Schreur at CBR in 2022, “I grew up with Darkwing in the 1990s and now, like Drake Mallard, I’m a parent myself and have to grapple (pun intended) with my superhero life and my life as a mom.” The fun and challenges are seemingly endless especially with a kid like Gosalyn who, “… is as brilliant and feisty as they come, a combo that is every parent’s simultaneous dream and nightmare,” and her polar opposite BFF and partner in cute crime, Honker. It’s enjoyable viewing watching a generally more relatable dimension of a caped crusader character. 

For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s a tale as old as time. A dramatic and egomaniacal duck with a savior complex and a propensity to dress like a villain, meet-cutes with a tall, sweet, and handy enabler quickly U-hauling it and adopting a spunky orphan all in the same episode. Though the relationship between Mallard and McQuack isn’t explicitly romantic, it was the 90s after all, the relationship does feel less like a superhero and his sidekick trope and more like a sitcom marriage where kids and shenanigans are the name of the game. According to the show’s creator, Tad Stones, this heart-centered family dynamic setup was what got the show picked up by Disney in the first place. “I wanted it to be as wild as a Warner Bros short but it had to have Disney heart, and that’s where Gosalyn came in… as far as Disney heart it was very important to me that Gosalyn is going to be a wild character too. She’s not going to be the old fashioned Webby, she is closer to Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes. She should be fun. They are going to get on each others nerves, but it is very important that they will say they love each other. They will hug, they will make contact, which was very rare in cartoons.” That rare quality also adds a certain depth to the episodes and a connection to the characters that can often go missing from other superhero or spy-driven stories. Where the stakes are a little bit higher because the care the characters have for each other influence the audience’s care for their safety and ability to stay together.

Darkwing Duck, 1991

Upon rewatch of the series, the stakes rarely feel too high, though as the laws of Loony Toons assure every exploding stick of dynamite and strike by falling anvil is survivable conjunct the silliness of the villainry adding a lightness to even some of the heavier plots. (At least for the ~40+ episodes I rewatched). The episode “Dead Duck” for instance, grapples with consequences, mortality, and navigating grief where the harder emotions and declarations of love are not shied away from and ultimately buoyed by a second chance at life. The show is also brim-filled with puns, a majority of which point to a love of pop culture and storytelling of all varieties. The episode titles are entertaining in and of themselves: “All’s Fahrenheit in Love and War” (S1 E26), “Toys Czar Us” (S1 E32), “Dry Hard” (S1 E36), and “Twin Beaks” (S1 E44) to name a few. Like with many animated series, there is a lot there for kids and adults alike. Goofy hijinks for the young ones, jokes that go over the heads of the former for the adults, and characters that both demos may relate to and identify with. 

As I keep rewatching the series, I am continually astonished by the quality and creativity of the content of the this program and many others that were just in the ether at the time I was growing up. There will rarely be any project that doesn’t have issues upon reflection, and Darkwing Duck certainly has a few, but it’s the spirit of whimsy, mischief, and fun from the entertainment we consume that was so present then and I’ve been missing for a long time now. I’ll be curious to see how a new Disney+ series, should it ever get through development hell, manages DW, Launchpad, and Gosalyn in world that has felt more and more dangerous with each passing day. How will this family unit stay curious, fun, and supportive in a landscape where uncertainty and conflict tears people apart? Maybe that’s a lot to put on a cartoon. But, if the show is showing me anything, it’s that loving and caring for each other does not have to be discarded when danger presents itself. In fact, it may be the thing that keeps us going and managing one day at a time. 

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