Judge Mike MacNeil is the terror that flaps in the night.
"Suck gas, evildoer!"
Riding high on the success of Duck Tales, Disney put another duck-centric cartoon on the air in 1991—Darkwing Duck. Imagine a parody of the superhero and spy genres, set in the same universe as Duck Tales (although in the city of St. Canard as opposed to Duckburg), with a healthy dose of Looney Tunes-style comedic violence and sight gags, and you've got a pretty good idea of what Darkwing Duck is all about. His sidekick, Launchpad McQuack, is straight out of Duckburg. By day, his alter ego, Drake Mallard, watches over his adopted daughter, Gosalyn. He tangles with a fairly extensive rogue's gallery, and occasionally joins forces with the clandestine S.H.U.S.H. to combat the Fiendish Organization for World Larceny (F.O.W.L.).
Facts of the Case
Darkwing Duck: Volume 2 offers up 27 episodes on three discs, broken down like so:
• "Whiffle While You Work"
• "Ghoul of My Dreams"
• "Toys Czar Us"
• "The Secret Origins of Darkwing Duck"
• "Up, Up and Awry"
• "Live, the Negaverse, and Everything"
• "Dry Hard"
• "Disguise the Limit"
• "Planet of the Capes"
• "Darkwing Doubloon"
• "It's a Wonderful Leaf"
• "Twitching Channels"
• "Dances with Bigfoot"
• "Twin Beaks"
• "The Incredible Bulk"
• "Dead Duck"
• "A Duck by Any Other Name"
• "Let's Get Respectable"
• "In Like Blunt"
• "Quack of Ages"
• "Time and Punishment"
• "Stressed to Kill"
• "The Darkwing Squad"
Darkwing Duck was always a fairly uneven show, mostly because it was trying to do so many things at once. Watching Darkwing Duck: Volume 2, I noticed that the lesser episodes of the set tended to fall into one of three categories: 1) wacky slapstick/sitcom situations; 2) broad spy spoofs; or 3) superhero yarns. None of which are bad, necessarily; the folks behind Darkwing Duck are pretty good at executing each type. Most of the episodes in Volume 2 fall into that last category. Darkwing's foes are apparently inspired by Batman's enemies from Arkham Asylum, except, um, cartoonier. Take Bushroot, for example—he's a plant-duck. The episodes involving S.H.U.S.H. strive for secret-agent satire. The leader of the organization is named J. Gander Hooter. And any time the writers get bored of parody, they can always drop an anvil on DW's head.
That's all well and good, and indeed, bad Darkwing Duck episodes were still better than a lot of the cartoons that were airing at the time, but the show gets really good when it transcends its conventions, as quite a few of the episodes here on Volume 2 do. "Life, the Negaverse, and Everything" and "Time and Punishment" stand out because they add a little depth by showing Darkwing being genuinely worried about Gosalyn's well-being. I'm not saying my cartoons need a lot of complexity, but there's a shortage of sincerity on Darkwing Duck. It's refreshing when the writers set aside the sarcasm once in awhile. Other exceptions that jump to mind are "Ghoul of My Dreams" and "My Valentine Ghoul," both of which feature Morgana. Morgana is essentially Morticia Addams with a beak, but she's never afraid to show her affection for Darkwing.
"My Valentine Ghoul" also gets bonus points for featuring Negaduck, as does any other episode that includes the anti-Darkwing. I mentioned that Darkwing Duck has some great villains, like Bushroot and the crazed Megavolt, but Negaduck is far and away the best. The others are a hoot to watch, and the show can gain a lot of comic momentum pitting the inept baddies up against Darkwing, who's equally inept, but Negaduck actually seems menacing.
I laughed a lot while watching this set, which speaks to the effort that went into adding some sophisticated jokes into the mix. It also speaks to my propensity to laugh at cartoon characters falling from heights, but let's focus on that first part. For example, Morgana justifies a crime spree by saying she'll finally be able to pay off her student loans, and when Darkwing finds himself confronted with native islanders, their language sounds a lot like, "Homina homina, E pluribus unum!" The riffing on Twin Peaks in "Twin Beaks" was also a lot funnier than it had any right to be.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Darkwing Duck had a limited budget, and it sometimes shows in the animation, which is uneven, but not a big problem. The complete lack of extras is a different story. Anything at all that could shed some light on what went on behind the scenes would be appreciated, but Disney dropped the ball. All we get are "sneak peeks," which are, you know, commercials. Advertisements.
Darkwing Duck: Volume 2 packs a lot of animated entertainment into its 27 episodes. Disney has a bad habit of releasing these shows without any special features, and I was disappointed to see them to continue the trend here.
Aw, I couldn't find Darkwing Duck guilty—he's got crime to fight!
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