Snacks. Homework. Darkwing Duck. They were staples of my afternoon ritual — and I’d argue they should be again.
Treading on nostalgia isn’t a new idea, but it seems to be making one heck of a comeback in the animated realm these days.
Powerpuff Girls is back. Scooby-Doo has been rebooted more times than you can count. There’s a new Danger Mouse on Netflix (along with Voltron and Inspector Gadget, to boot). But there’s one modern classic that isn’t getting a lot of love, despite the fact that it is literally tailor-made for the modern era.
That show is, you guessed it, Darkwing Duck.
It starts from humble beginnings: The show ran from 1991 to 1992 and was born as a quasi-spinoff from DuckTales (which already has a reboot on the way!). The concept came from the germ of putting Gizmoduck and Launchpad McQuack in their own spy series (with the original title Double O’ Duck), but evolved into a fresh story with the new character Drake Mallard/Darkwing Duck taking the title role — and Launchpad tagging along as his sidekick. They flirted with a James Bond theme, but finally shelved it for the superhero angle. At that point, a legend was born.
In the pilot, Drake adopts the orphaned wild child Gosalyn after meeting her while working a case, which sets up the family dynamic at the heart of the series. He also meets up with Launchpad, who provides some comic relief and a nice foil for the upstart hero (not to mention a bit of connective tissue to DuckTales, though it now sounds like he’s an alt-Launchpad and we’re dealing with a ducky multiverse). But, whatevs.
With this launching pad (no pun intended) the series set out to essentially skewer superhero tropes far and wide.
Where DuckTales was more a straightforward kids show, Darkwing Duck laced its kid-friendly aspects with a ton of film and TV references that only a grown-up could love. It drew some not-so-subtle inspirations from The Shadow and Batman, and creator Tad Stones was never shy about pulling from Silver Age comics for wild and weird inspiration. The show was absolutely crazy, and far ahead of its time.
Across 90+ episodes, they threw just about everything at the wall just to see what would stick.
Though the subject matter was always fun in itself, it was the rogues gallery that really gave Darkwing the staying power it needed. Darkwing had an evil doppelgänger, Negaduck; the tragic Poison Ivy spoof Bushroot; the zany Electro-esque Megavolt; the classic 007 baddie Steelbeak; and the bizarre cleaning lady turned evil Ammonia Pine. And the list goes on, and on, and on, and on. Heck, Darkwing even dated a (somewhat) reformed villain in Morgana.
Despite (or because of) all this, the show never found that large of an audience. Disney pulled the plug after two years (though DW did have a cameo or two in Bonkers, if you actually remember that show), and plans for a new 1990s toy line were axed due to sluggish sales. It took until 2006 for a DVD collection to hit, but only a little more than half of the series’ episodes were even released (and there are apparently no plans for a new volume). There are no digital streaming options to speak of, and apart from a small cadre of fans who still dig the show (and a few scattered comic continuations), it’s pretty much been relegated to a footnote these days.
Fast-forward 25 years, and the world is a very different place. The boundaries Darkwing helped push have been expanded even further the past few decades, with a bevy of smart, animated shows that appeal to both kids and adults.
I’d wager what was once a weird, DuckTales spinoff has the potential to be a bona fide hit these days. Superheroes are big business now, and a show with the mandate to subvert those tropes (which are all the more prevalent in the modern era) is teeming with opportunity. Darkwing Duck hits the sweet spot of kid-friendly, nostalgic and loaded with adult crossover potential.
Need proof? Just dig back into the Darkwing catalog and have your mind blown by everything you missed as a kid. There were Twin Peaks parodies (for real), Spider-Man parodies, nods to Douglas Adams, The Incredible Hulk, Planet of the Apes and a mountain of superhero cliches. They also went a bit too far a few times, like with the “Hot Spells” episode in which Gosalyn tries to sell her soul to the devil. It ... was not well-received. If you missed that one on the first airing, you were out of luck — because Disney locked that print in the vault.
So, sure, not every episode was a masterpiece, but there’s no denying Darkwing Duck was fearless.
And it could be again.
Darkwing Duck dabbled in everything from magic to science, time travel and alternate universes — nothing was off the table — and for a show in that era, it might’ve been a little too much. Now? The crux of Disney XD’s current Spider-Man animated series revolves around a dozen alternate universes, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The audience, even the kid audience, is more sophisticated than it was 25 years ago. The time is right.
Last year, a prank news story claiming the studio was working on a Darkwing reboot spread like wildfire, showing there’s certainly still some love for the series.
As a case study, I snagged the DVD sets of the episodes currently available and introduced them to my 5-year-old. Before long, I had to scour eBay for some Darkwing Duck toys, too, because he absolutely loves the show and can’t fathom why none of his little buddies knows what he’s talking about when he jumps around with his toy gas gun shouting “Let’s get dangerous!”
The world is finally ready for Darkwing Duck — all we need is Disney to pull the trigger.