I intended to review the new Darkwing Duck issue by issue (because show of hands, who wants a review as long as my last Darkwing Duck one?), but my Friendly Local Gaming Store’s incompetence made that an impossibility. Now that I have access to the first three issues, I can discuss the opening arc Orange is the New Purple as a block – a cell block.
For those of you unfamiliar with the show or comic, Darkwing Duck is Disney’s comedic take on superheroes and pulp shows starring the eponymous masked mallard of mystery, his wayward ward Gosalyn Mallard, and aerial ace (and crash connoisseur) Launchpad McQuack transplanted from Ducktales. The fondly remembered cartoon ran for three seasons from 1991-1992 and its return for a miniseries (changed to an ongoing based on massive pre-orders) was the subject of tremendous buzz. The series ran for eighteen regular issues and one annual, with its first sixteen issues divided in to four four-issue arcs, beginning with what I called “The best Batman story never written”, The Duck Knight Returns. For me, it passed the test of a truly great licensed comic – my friend and a great fan of the show enjoyed it, my little cousin who had never heard of the show enjoyed it, and so did I (a casual viewer who knows the theme song better than the cartoon).
The new comic is a continuation of the continuity from The Definitively Dangerous Edition, which collected (and somewhat rewrote) the first seventeen issues of the BOOM! series (excluding the DuckTales crossover Dangerous Currency, for reasons of legality and quality). If you read the original series or The Definitively Dangerous Edition, you can ease yourself without trouble in to the new comic. The same is true of viewers of the original show, which is given loving attention by way of callbacks by the creative team of writer Aaron Sparrow and artist James Silvani, who also serves as co-plotter/co-writer.
As to whether the comic is quite so accessible to new readers, that’s a little more difficult to say. Sparrow notes in an editorial that Darkwing creator Tad Stones suggested “action, action, action” for the new story, and that they used this to structure the return of the crimefighter by asking, “What would we, as readers, like to see in the first several issues?” With the appearance of obscure villains from the show, BOOM! comic, and 90s Disney Adventures comic, the team seems to have decided on a more challenging approach – showing everything they loved about the original series and throwing new readers in to the deep end, trusting the fun to carry them along rather than retread The Duck Knight Returns. And in my opinion, they succeeded.
In the first issue alone, they showcase the life of Darkwing Duck, his civilian identity of Drake Mallard, and adopted daughter Gosalyn Mallard in equal measure, bringing the reader up to speed in terms of tone and humor rather than narrative – and let me be clear, managing fourteen pages of setup while keeping it entertaining is no small feat. The only misstep in this opening section is from a one-page scene on a space station run by SHUSH, Darkwing’s former and now current employer. This doesn’t quite jive with the flow of the story or give the reader enough information to know what’s going on or why it matters.
But after that, it’s all forward momentum with a prison lockdown and Darkwing forced to combat every old enemy that Sparrow and Silvani can think of. Smart is the name of the game with this new Darkwing Duck – from the jokes to the solutions for the predicaments the villains put our heroes in. The dialogue is excellently characterized, with unique speech patterns showing through even without the benefit of the original series’ amazing cast reading the lines. Lesser comedies will fall in to a trap of losing the individual voices of each characters, which can make the jokes and dialogue seem same-y. This isn’t the case here, where each page feels fresh and the action exciting. Which brings me to my next point…
I’ve gone almost the entire length of this review without going absolutely crazy over the art of James Silvani, and that’s unacceptable. I adored his work in the first run, but he leaves that in the dust with the Joe Books issues. Silvani never shies away from a crowd scene, and his interpretations of the characters are never played safe. It’s easy to go too big on a wild take, leaving a characters’ reaction looking stupid instead of funny. Even worse, they can seem disconnected from panel to panel. That’s simply not the case here. He handles that fine line beautifully, making each page a pleasure to read and always, always selling the action or joke.
Andrew Dalhouse’s colors make some of the best linework I’ve seen in quite some time look even more stunning, whether it’s a two-page spread or a short scene in the Mallards’ kitchen. DC can only wish their non-Harley Quinn/Bombshells art looked this good.
The only area where I feel they falter is cover design – the designs don’t quite pop for me the way the BOOM! covers did. At least there aren’t five different variants for each issue.
With all that said, Darkwing Duck surpasses the quality of the first comic series in virtually every way. And more importantly, it’s a good comic in its own right. The jokes sing, the characters are entertaining, the art is fantastic, and it’s just a great read. While it doesn’t go for the more heavy narrative focus of the original series that I enjoyed so much, Silvani and Sparrow appear to be playing the long game. Rather than forcing every story to stay contained in four issues, questions are unanswered and Chekhov’s gas guns unfired even as the main action ends – with a promise that it won’t stay that way. Who knows what’s going to come later in the story?
As an additional note, every issue has special behind the scenes material. That includes an editorial from Sparrow about each issue and Darkwing Duck in general, dossiers on characters, and the promise of a full on letters page. I don’t think you could ask for more in a comic like this, but I’m sure that more is coming nonetheless.