Darkwing Duck – The Definitively Dangerous Edition in Review
Darkwing Duck – The Definitively Dangerous Edition is an odd duck, to say the least. Collecting the 2010-2011 BOOM! comic book series, at first blush it commits cardinal sins against how trade paperbacks should be collected. The seventeen issue collection has been given the Lucas-esque Special Edition treatment, with new dialogue, art and lettering. The final four issue story arc, “Dangerous Currency”, wasn’t reprinted. In any other situation, I’d be yelling “Off with their heads!”
But I’m not.
That’s because the new collection wasn’t treated like Star Wars, with a lack of respect or understanding of the source material that was hacked apart by a dictatorial lunatic. It’s been treated like Blade Runner, where the omnibus fixed the problems that were imposed upon the original series by outside circumstances, and turned the mixed bag of the original in to something truly great. But to understand why that happened at all, we have to discuss the issue of credit.
Aaron Sparrow is credited as the sole writer on the omnibus, though Ian Brill is credited as writer for the original series. According to Sparrow, as well as Darkwing artist James Silvani, he and Silvani ghostwrote rewrites of the series even after Sparrow was fired from his position as editor, and BOOM! as a whole. Brill insists that he was the sole writer for the comic and that Sparrow’s input was limited to the first three issues. When word of the rewrite came out for the omnibus he asked for his name to be removed from the book (as well as Sparrow’s replacement editor, Christopher Burns). The request was honored, which was a shame as it seems they were both responsible for the structure, if not the plots, of a fair amount of the book.
But I’m moving forward with the assumption that Sparrow and Silvani’s assertions are truthful, and clearly so are the people at Joe Books. While there are a number of reasons to believe it and numerous claims have been made on both sides, I only needed one fact to convince me: An examination of the rewrites shows a tone consistent with the first three issues which originally credited Sparrow as editor. There’s a greater focus on distinctive character voices, stronger comic timing, and more of an effort to have an identity that matched the TV show, rather than just a “funny superhero book.” While I enjoyed the original run, and adore Silvani’s art, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the definitive version of this series, and that it is Sparrow’s vision in the omnibus. Mostly.
Which brings us to the stories themselves. They comprise the first four story arcs and the annual, forming an overarcing story about the character of Drake Mallard, aka Darkwing Duck, and the point of taking up the mantle of the terror that flaps in the night.
I’m going to go over each story arc, then discuss the book as a whole.
Darkwing Duck denies his destiny of daring deeds in dashing duds, conceding his crime-stopping capers to Crime-Bots of Quackwerks, gas guns and guise given up, to gain greenbacks to guard the gregarious Gosalyn. Conspiracy and corruption commands the card-carrying suave and stylish citizen of St. Canard to suit up and safeguard his city from the shocking source of shadiness and sleaze.
Originally intended as a four-issue miniseries, Darkwing Duck’s first arc could reasonably be called a pilot for a renewal of the original series. Because of the need to re-introduce the character to modern audiences with modern storytelling sensibilities, we are given something that wasn’t really present in the old show – a lot of insight in to Darkwing’s character. The first issue especially is given an atmosphere of malaise as we see Drake Mallard in an office job, having retired from his position as Darkwing Duck. Interspersed is a series of flashbacks to adventures we never had a chance to see, creating a palpable sense of excitement at the idea of getting to know the sense of fun and adventure that Darkwing was known for, even if you’re unfamiliar with the show.Despite its name, this isn’t really a take on The Dark Knight Returns at all. That story was political satire, an examination of age on superheroes, the effect that superheroes have on society, and an excuse for Frank Miller to do something radically new with the character, only to be imitated so much on a superficial level that the book is no longer interesting to me except as a historical curiosity. This story, while sharing the theme that the titular superhero is needed for the world to really work as it should, completely forgoes aging the characters and instead shows what would break – and later reform – their relationships.This is the most dramatic arc of the series, not dissimilar to the tone presented in the first TV story, “Darkly Dawns the Duck”, which this story ties in to brilliantly. It quickly establishes that they’re telling a story, rather than using the characters to tell a series of gags or get from one set piece to the next. This desire to focus on the characters is what makes the story work as something special rather than just a nostalgia cash-in, and the rewrites work to really make something special out of the material that the creative team clearly feels proud and humbled to work on.I want to make a special note here: The TV show was developed as a spinoff of DuckTales, but what ultimately got it the green light was the idea of the premise as, “What if Batman had a daughter?” That daughter, Gosalyn Mallard, is at her best here as a dynamic force in the story, active, funny, and very human without once descending in to being Wesley Crusher.
Changes: Because Sparrow was the editor for the first three issues, this arc has the least amount of changes. Notable is an effort to punch up the dialogue to give distinctive voices to the characters, and for their conversations to flow more naturally. This effort will be more apparent in the later arcs, to an even greater effect. Sadly, they did lose my favorite joke of the arc, and probably the entire comic (without a replacement, I might add).
The mistress of mystic might, Magica DeSpell, descends to deceive Darkwing’s deliberating denizens with a deluge of Darkwing dopplegangers. The traverser of trans-dimensional tunnels tarries the twins of her teammate, the dastardly doer of despicable deeds, the despicable, disgusting, deplorable, disreputable diametric of Darkwing, Negaduck, to torment the towering and tenacious terror that flaps in the night!
I’m torn on this arc. On the one hand, Negaduck is the biggest emotional loose thread from The Duck Knight Returns and serves as the natural sequel, and was teased in the last page of The Duck Knight Returns. And for about three and a half issues, it fulfills that function perfectly. The other hand holds the climax’s problem of Paddywhack’s unnecessary appearance upstaging Negaduck, and the way both are defeated – Negaduck using something from the old TV show that wasn’t given much, if any, foreshadowing, and Paddywhack hit with a mystic artifact used by Magica earlier in the story in a fashion which does not seem to flow organically from the story.
This arc’s greatest weakness is that it assumes you know things from the TV show. And while I adore Darkwing Duck’s comic, I didn’t actually watch the TV show much as a kid. So when Negaduck’s origin, Quiverwing Quack, Darkwarrior Duck, and Paddywhack make their appearances, I feel a little lost – and even if I had watched the show regularly, it hasn’t been on the air for over 23 years. You can still follow it without much trouble and enjoy what’s going on, since it’s basically four issues of fun, funny, actiony goodness with enough exposition and characterization to guide you through the story. That said, I always feel like wagging my finger if I have to go to Wikipedia to figure out the specifics of what’s happening in the story. I suppose in that way it is a bit like Crisis on Infinite Earths.
I’m going to give James Silvani enormous credit for the amount of Darkwing variants he put in wherever he could, most of which I’m sure were not in the script, and every one of them a shout-out to a franchise or celebrity. He never shies away from a crowd shot, and I have to respect that.
Changes: Paddywhack’s inclusion in the original series makes absolutely no sense to anyone who hasn’t watched the show, an act rectified with the rewritten Morgana’s explanation as to who he is, what his powers are, and where he came from. Doing so is a tremendous help to the story, making the foreshadowing of his appearance more apparent in hindsight while adding a real sense of menace to the character and situation. Morgana, Negaduck and Darkwing were all given drastic rewrites, which adds far more characterization and banter to what was originally much more slam-bang action material, and is especially nice to see with Morgana, who was far more damsel-ish in the original. Magica DeSpell and Morgana are redrawn in several panels, since Silvani had no model sheets to work with at the time of its original publication. Eagle-eyed viewers will see other, subtle changes to the characters throughout the book.
Quackerjack’s crusade against computerized curios causes Darkwing to dash to deliver a doll, but finds himself flummoxed by his first finding of a faithful flame of the clownish quack. Spectacular sequences show Sabrina’s stellar skill in storytelling, with pathos permeating the pages to prey upon pity to this beleaguered bad guy, bitter and broken from busywork by bosses who hold hostage the power to push properties to consumers, a quirk of a cog in the corporate cabal of conspirators at Quackwerks to crush creativity. Darkwing’s desire to defeat dastardly doers of evil expelled to ease the man marinating, mutable to modification from malevolent merriment to a paradise of passionate, peaceful partnership, an ending elegantly executed with empathy rather than easy evil. Exquisite.
Because this is a one-shot done for the Darkwing Duck Annual instead of a longer arc, I’ll be handling this differently by discussing the original and revision simultaneously. But first, we have the only guest artist to do a full story: Sabrina Alberghetti.
As much as I’ve praised James Silvani, who deserves every word of it, Alberghetti’s artwork is also phenomenal. Rather than stick with a comic book version of the Disney Afternoon style, her characters remind me of the character models and animation seen in The Goofy Movie or House of Mouse. With thinner lines and a bit more stylization, her work elevates what was already my favorite story of the original run to something special. If, God forbid, James Silvani had to leave the series or take a hiatus for an arc? She should be the first and only person they call.
The original issue was easily my favorite story of the run. At the time I called it (along with The Duck Knight Returns) one of the best Batman stories never made, exploring the tragedy of Quackerjack’s time at Quackwerks and his reasons for returning to villainy. But much like the Replicant debate of Blade Runner, I find myself not in agreement with the author’s interpretation in this new version. The rewrite is funnier, has more effective characterization for our leads, and has better comedic timing, as expected from the rewrite. But one critical misstep is why I will be keeping my copy of the original.
The issue, no pun intended, that comes up in reviewing this is that both versions are essentially potshots about each writers time at BOOM: Brill’s version was obviously an attack on Sparrow, while Sparrow’s version seems to be an attack on the difficulties he encountered in trying to resurrect Disney Afternoon in comic book form. In other words, real life drama being used as inspiration for a story. I have no interest in commenting on that drama, I’ve already said my piece above, I wasn’t there to begin with, and there’s a reason I like talking about comic books and not the interpersonal drama between the people who make them. What I will talk about is how these changes affect the story, divorced from the real life issues that led to it. You can see where the difference really lies when you look at this two page sequence, beautifully executed in both versions with Alberghetti’s exquisite artwork.
Compare that to the Definitively Dangerous Edition:
While some of the changes in the rewrite were judgment calls, I believe wholeheartedly that this change was a mistake. It bleeds over in to his characterization for the rest of the story, and generally not for the better. As always, the rewrite improves the flow of the story and dialogue, and Quackerjack is no exception. But shifting the characterization of Quackerjack from someone who didn’t understand how to fit in to someone stuck in a world out to get him focuses less on the character, and more on the situation. That change, encapsulated in this one altered line in the caption box (which was my favorite of the original run), distances the reader from the events, and guts the emotional punch of the story.
Now, that said: The story still works. The structure is an effective one, buoyed by not only the typical polish of Sparrow’s dialogue, but by the the final page, which is one of, if not the finest, the series has produced. I’ve commented on Alberghetti’s artwork twice now, but I’m happy to do so again. She does a wonderful job keeping the characters expressive and funny, and each panel is laid out in a way which perfectly captures the mood of the piece – fitting for a woman whose primary vocation is as a storyboard artist. But it’s a crying shame that she isn’t working full time on comics.
Other Changes: There is a mention of ‘another Quackwerks fellow’ who was interested in the Molecular Digitizer. Presumably this hook will be explored in the new series.
3.5. Gosalyn Duck – The Untimely Terror of the Time Turtle
Stones storms in with sensational and succinct storytelling, making Moffat marvel at his masterful machinations, chronology cast off by new character Chronomaster’s terrifying turn with a turtle so torpid that trespasses with time travel create a case of criminal catastrophe, with Gosalyn galloping to guide the gaggy paradox of page-turning perusal in pursuit of a pet.
This is the second and final one shot of the run, a short story written by Darkwing Duck’s creator, Tad Stones. Fitting his talents with finding the funny in the domestic aspects of Darkwing’s life, Gosalyn is given the spotlight in this tale. There’s little to discuss, since the plot begins with the villain knowing about a specific turtle in a pet store that is so slow that it gives him the ability to travel through time, and is resolved by a two-fold closed time loop. The jokes are all funny, the dialogue is excellent, and the Chronomaster design is a funny one. No matter how much I praise Sparrow’s work, more than anything this feels like the Darkwing Duck I remember watching as a kid. Especially considering the short page count, this is a real win, and a nice counterpoint to Toy With Me’s more dramatic bent. I hope to see more stories with Tad Stones in the new series.
Changes: I found just one… the addition of a single comma.
Steelbeak, the circumspect spy and former foe of SHUSH, shows his suspicious steel snoot to sniff out the significance of the supporters of a sorcerous sect of supervisors of FOWL. Finding our fearless and fantastic foiler of foul fiends, he joins to collapse the cult of crazed combatants who crave control of all corners of the county, the country, the continent, cosmos, and all of creation!
It’s here you start seeing Sparrow trying desperately to keep the comic on the rails, and for the most part he succeeds. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
It’s in this arc we return to what was originally intended as the premise of the show (most evident in the NES game produced early in the shows development, where Darkwing was more of a secret agent style hero than the traditional Shadow/Spirit/Batman style vigilante), with the return of the villainous organization of F.O.W.L, mentioned in the first arc as having been disbanded along with Darkwing’s former employer, S.H.U.S.H. The character of Steelbeak is fantastic, and the rewritten dialogue is spectacular. The problem I have with the arc itself is that it makes a really, really boneheaded decision in the plotting: the loss of Morgana.
Throughout the original run of the comic, Morgana’s character was written to be weak, ineffectual, and not particularly interesting. The rewritten version showcased a more competent and self-assured character, and her loss in this arc to the machinations of the Cult of Duckthulu is upsetting to the reader instead of just the characters as a result. But, and I cannot stress this enough, losing her this early in the game was a terrible decision. With no time to re-establish the status quo, or understand her fate in the past arc, writing her out of the comic feels less like a tragic loss than it does the Brill dumping a character he didn’t know what to do with, and was forced on him by his past editor.
Ah. Well. Put like that it explains a lot.
You may have noticed I mentioned the re-introduction of a spy themed character and organization, then mentioned “Duckthulu” without any particular context. While it is mentioned early on, leads to some good jokes and visuals, and works as presented, I’m left scratching my head as to why it happened in the first place. On the original reading this seemed very out of place, but Sparrow pulls off an impressive magic act by having your investment in the story serve as a distraction from what was originally a shift so drastic that it stripped the gears.I do want to give credit for including Gosalyn more heavily in this arc, a surprising step considering her presence was the linchpin for the last arc’s climax despite a limited amount of time on panel. Bringing her in as her costumed identity of Quiverwing Quack, the Robin to Darkwing’s Batman, was fitting considering her loss of the Gizmoduck suit in the last arc (a consequence of the miniseries being changed to an ongoing, I suspect).
Changes: The rewritten Steelbeak dialogue and better characterization for everyone was a real boost to a story that was already solid in the original comic. He and Darkwing have a phenomenal chemistry, firing off a bombardment of jokes in every panel that feels like a great buddy comedy. The car chase sequence in particular is fantastic. My hat’s off for managing to sell the twist, whose final issue left me scratching my head during the original run, and for the dialogue polish that elevates it to the same level as past two arcs. Thanks to that, this is easily the funniest in the whole book.
An author attempts to actuate his aims of adhering to the authenticity of the animated adventures by taking slipshod storytelling and sidelining the stale setup of political pageantry, a strenuously stretched story of mayoral malfeasance. Miraculously, the mad machinations of the Marvel method manage to mutate a mishap in to a first-season finale, finalizing a flawed figure of fatherly fealty. The epilogue easily ends this chapter of the crimefighter’s capers, but promises the prolonged publication of periodicals, produced without persistent poppycock to plug up the perforated pipes of professional productivity.
The Marvel Method is a strange and beautiful thing. This writing technique, created by Stan Lee, has the writer and artist discuss the plot, with the artist drawing roughs or fully finished art before turning to the writer to add dialogue. The advantages to this are generally that you have a stronger sense of character acting and staging, since the artist has to tell the story without a bit of dialogue. However, this story is a unique employment of the Marvel Method: we have a case of finished art from a completed story with a plot which must be followed on the most broad level by an author who quite clearly didn’t like the plot at all. This arc is the most incredible piece of Marvel Method wallpapering I have ever seen.
Purely from a craft perspective, it’s a spectacular effort. I am genuinely impressed by how much was managed considering the limitations imposed on Sparrow, and it turns the utter mess of the original story a very solid read, with an excellent beginning and ending. I’m perhaps limited in my ability to appreciate the story because I’m paying more attention to the seams – but let’s get in to the actual story before I go a little too inside baseball. No pun intended.The arc begins with Darkwing depressed over the loss of Morgana at the end of the last arc, presumably serving as an audience surrogate from the original run of the comic. This is done in conjunction with a good decision, the introduction of new villains like One-Shot (my favorite of the entire run, with his growing excitement during Darkwing’s “Terror that flaps in the night” speech perfectly marrying the art and dialogue to show a nutjob with menace and humor in just four panels).
Issue 13 is the issue that most feels like a standalone episode of the TV show, with Gosalyn taking a central role once again and some great gags, and one of the most deft villain introductions I’ve seen outside of the DCAU.Unfortunately, this is followed by a really, really bad decision that Sparrow was stuck with for this arc: Darkwing Duck decides to run for mayor. This is, in my opinion, counter to his characterization as a complete egomaniac because it paints him as someone desperately in need of validation. Egomaniacs don’t need validation about the location of the center of the universe – they already know it’s them. If you want to be generous, people do stupid things after a break-up, and your girlfriend getting schlorped in to another dimension is the closest to an honest-to-God breakup you’ll see in a Disney comic.
When the mayoral run begins, the arc struggles to find humor in politics without going for satire towards a particular figure, ideology, or even the idea of politics in general (with the exception of a timely Bill Clinton joke, presuming this had come out when the actual show was on). On top of that, this time they do take from The Dark Knight Returns by showing a discussion about whether Darkwing Duck was responsible for the villains in St. Canard, complete with talking heads interspersed with the action. As always, the greater emphasis on characterization and character dynamics helps, but it’s still rough.
Gosalyn, mirroring my own irritation, finds the argument between Launchpad and Darkwing about their respective mayoral candidacies to be silly and wishes it was over. You’ll find similar jokes interspersed throughout the story, a tacit apology for a plot Sparrow was clearly unhappy with. False leads about the return of Morgana in the form of the new villain, Suff-rage, pepper the story, with her true identity a mystery – while the reveal provides her a motivation for her actions which wasn’t present in the original (quite literally, she has no motivation in the original at all), she remains a weak link in the story. Her actions only make sense because of an outside influence causing her to act counter to her original motives, which even then are very inconsistent. No amount of rewrites were going to save Suff-rage without an entire issue’s worth of new art.
But her presence and inconsistent powers do allow the ending I praised at the beginning, to properly bookend this return to St. Canard. It shows that Darkwing’s motivations throughout the trade were predicated around a fear that is only fully visible in hindsight, adding a subtle new dimension to your second reading. The sequence is spot-on, with Silvani’s art capturing this culmination of an almost 400-page journey with a deft hand, and dialogue that never descends in to melodrama.
Changes: There is virtually no line left untouched by Sparrow’s pen, and it is so much better for it. Cat-astrophe was given a revised origin with new art, Suff-rage’s character was rewritten to drop hints about the reappearance of Morgana, the cracks in Darkwing’s armor were more visible, and even the tacit admission from the characters that this wasn’t a great arc are all welcome changes. A four page epilogue at the end of the book retcons the truly atrocious Dangerous Currency out of continuity, and I’m not shedding any tears over that. By this time in the original run, I was mostly buying the comic to enjoy Silvani’s art. This rewritten version may still be the weakest of the four story arcs, but the rewrites work so well and the ending is so strong that it’s not only a fun read, but feels like the natural and fitting payoff to the last 400 pages of comic. I cannot overemphasize how difficult that must have been, and how nicely it ties a bow on the story.
The Whole Story
The comic began in part with an implicit question: Is it worth putting your family in danger to be a superhero? But the following arcs showed that Darkwing’s egocentrism prevented him from seeing the good for his family in being Darkwing Duck, not the least of which because it means that Drake Mallard is a complete person. If you retreat in to a facet of your personality (as Drake Mallard did in the opening two-parter of the TV show) and lose out on the happiness that makes you whole. And it is only a whole person who can really do right by their family, at least they way they need. The answer to the question is a simple one: you’re asking the wrong question. The right question is this – What’s the point of Drake Mallard’s family without Darkwing Duck? While the pilot showed that Drake Mallard completes Darkwing Duck, this shows that Darkwing Duck doesn’t endanger his family, he completes it. The world is a better place with this hero in it, and the adventures will always continue.
As a ‘season’ of Darkwing Duck, this is an excellent outing that highlights how strong characterization is appreciated by readers, without needing to delve in to navel-gazing soliloquies. James Silvani is my favorite artist working in Disney Comics today, a kid-friendly Perez with strengths in depicting action and comedy in equal measure. His deft hand in translating the show’s art style to comics is no small feat, and an enormous part of the series’ success. And both his and Aaron Sparrow’s love for the material shines through in every page – even when they’re working with a plot that they know is silly. Sabrina Alberghetti’s artwork for the annual is a delight, and I find some instances where I prefer her variant covers to the normal ones. I would be baffled if she wasn’t given more work for the new Disney comics coming out in the future. The new coloring jobs by Andrew Dalhouse and Lisa Moore shine, and the improved lettering by Deron Bennett shows the importance of his position, making the book much more readable and giving a serious boost to the professionalism of its presentation. The action sequences are great, the dialogue is strong, the art was already spectacular, and the rewrites allowed them to really hone the jokes. I can’t wait for the new Darkwing Duck series from Joe Books, where this team can hit the ground running. My only hope is that we get some differing lengths in the arcs to provide a more varied story structure, which at four issues per arc can get somewhat predictable.
There’s a reason I don’t offer numbers or grades for my reviews, and this is one of them. While I will happily praise the story of the Definitively Dangerous Edition, the physical collection makes some very basic mistakes in its presentation. Each arc (along with the annual) is divided in to their own section, with a cover at the beginning and end. But for reasons unknown to me, they failed to include covers between issues. People who know their craft like the DW team understand how to structure an issue’s beginning and ending to complement the serial format, rather than each issue serving as the next page of that thing you read last month. While the time and memory issues are no longer a factor with a trade paperback, removing the covers alters the pacing so. It’s subtle, but it’s there, and if I could make one change to the collection it would be the inclusion of those covers.
If I could make a second change, and it’s a close call that this got second place instead of first, it would be the absolutely baffling decision to put Aaron Sparrow’s text piece and three-page introductory story in the back of the book. Originally produced for a German edition to re-introduce the idea of Darkwing Duck before being thrust in to the comic, this piece is a solid introduction to the heroes, villains, and tone of the book. Had I been able to read this before sinking my teeth in to the comic, in either format, I would have enjoyed it a great deal more. There is no reason for it not to be at the beginning of the book, as it can help avoid that all-important new reader confusion – something which should be critical when reviving a now 20 year old property. Even the table of contents doesn’t indicate that this is an introduction, referring to it simply as, “The Secrets of Darkwing Duck.”
Despite those two glaring flaws, in all other ways the Definitively Dangerous EDition is put together beautifully. The binding is great, the standard comic book size is perfect, the paper quality is a lovely glossy stock, and as I’ve said, even the later, more flawed stories are a lot of fun to read. The reproduction is crisp, clear, and remastered in the best way, recolored and re-lettered work by great talent. This soft cover trade is a far cry over what the Big Two tend to do with their collections of a similar length.
While “The Origins Of Darkwing Duck” text feature by Tad Stones from the annual was not included (a terrible shame), we are given a foreword by Greg Weisman of Gargoyles fame, and another text piece preceding the “The Secrets of Darkwing Duck” written by Aaron Sparrow. The Sparrow one is more interesting, as it gives some behind-the-scenes information, but words of praise from the creator of Gargoyles is always a nice endorsement.
Also included is a cover gallery in the back, presenting all the covers which did not bookend the individual arcs in a 4-per-page pattern as seen below. While not ideal, this works, since adding another 20 pages to the book might have been the straw to bump up the price from the much more manageable $30 retail. I gave a copy of this book to a friend of mine who watched the show even less than I did when she was young, and let my eight year old cousin who had never seen the show borrow my copy – they devoured the book with equal amounts of pleasure, and were eager to read more. So am I.