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Since its premiere in 2017, Disney XD’s DuckTales reboot has been effortlessly blending a range of classic secondary characters from the older 1987 series into the adventures of its core cast, giving Scrooge McDuck, Huey, Dewey, and Louie a host of personalities to bounce off of and a wider universe to play in.
One of these additions is none other than Drake Mallard, a young actor who’s cast in the role of his favorite television superhero, Darkwing Duck, after a studio decides to revive the character in the form of a blockbuster movie. But while this setup is new — and deliciously meta — older fans familiar with the Disney Afternoon programming block will immediately recognize both names, seeing as Darkwing Duck was actually its own animated series that ran on the Disney Channel from 1991 to 1992. (Though despite what many people thought, it didn't have any narrative connection to DuckTales itself, beyond both shows featuring ducks.)
This older version of Drake was a single suburban dad doing his best to balance raising his adopted daughter Gosalyn with his desire for fame and attention as sought out through his titular alter ego. Darkwing Duck was a caped crimefighter with a flair for the dramatic, who took on the various criminals and supervillains who terrorized St. Canard, the city where the series was set. He was meant to be a direct parody of other classic heroes like Batman and the Shadow.
Of course, things are a lot different in the DuckTales reboot. Not only is Drake a recurring character within its universe, but his Darkwing sidekick Launchpad McQuack is a regular on the show, working as a pilot and chauffeur for Scrooge and the rest of the family as they go on regular adventures. Still, one thing has stayed the same: Launchpad remains a huge fan of Darkwing Duck. It’s just here, it happens to have been his favorite television show growing up.
“Darkwing Duck had a huge influence on Launchpad’s life, and the way that made sense for us to be able to do that and still have him team up with Darkwing Duck was by introducing it as this notion of a TV show,” co-creator and showrunner Frank Angones tells SYFY WIRE, of the decision to connect Drake (and thus, Darkwing) to Launchpad in this way. “The fact that Darkwing started as an actor makes all the sense in the world for his character. So that just gave us a lot more to play with."
He continues, "One of the things that we always do on DuckTales is to try and find a three-dimensional character-based reason for why these iconic characters act the way they do. So there was something really interesting in giving the backstory of being an actor and a huge fan of the original Darkwing Duck and [having Drake] team up with Launchpad, [as a way] to honor that.”
The new Drake's first appearance on the show ended with him deciding to follow in his fictional hero’s footsteps and become a hero himself, even adopting the same moniker. Since then, he's helped Launchpad, Scrooge, and the rest of the gang save the day from whichever villain is afoot. But this is the first time the show will really focus on him as a character, in the form of an hourlong special titled “Let’s Get Dangerous!”, yet another callback to the original series, seeing as it’s Darkwing's catchphrase.
The episode, which airs on Oct. 19 on Disney XD, will see Darkwing stop a break-in at the McDuck Enterprises St. Canard lab, only for his investigation into the matter to lead him to uncover a dark conspiracy tied to the Missing Mysteries — a list of undiscovered treasures the Duck family is in search of this season — and force him to take a closer look at one of Scrooge’s employees.
“So much of the show has been about expanding the world of DuckTales, not just cameos but also the world of the McDuck family,” says Angones of why the show’s third season is the right time to center an episode around Darkwing Duck. “So it felt like the right time to see how Launchpad’s world is going to grow a little bit and to bring in these characters.”
Matt Youngberg, the other co-creator of the show, says that the special is building on the inclusion of some other big Disney Afternoon characters who’ve made an appearance on the show this season, including Goofy, Chip and Dale, and Daisy Duck herself.
“Darkwing is the [character] we’ve been building up to the most,” says Youngberg. “We’ve been really working on his storyline in the background for two seasons. It felt appropriate for him to be the big centerpiece for the season in terms of the Disney Afternoon additions.”
Angones adds that these new additions are also a nod to how the original DuckTales helped launch the Disney Afternoon block of shows, including Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, Goof Troop, TaleSpin, and others. “Narratively we can’t say exactly why [just] yet, but there is a reason that all of these Disney Afternoon cameos are happening within the narrative of Season 3, and why all of a sudden these characters are starting to pop up … We really wanted to show how it did lead to a larger world, both in a literal sense and in a meta sense.”
But while DuckTales is no stranger to focusing on a major secondary character for an episode or two, both creators say there was no real pull for the series to just focus on Drake and Launchpad in this episode, which also follows Scrooge and the boys as they visit the St. Canard lab with him to check out a new invention.
“The [special] is hitting into this midpoint of the season where we wanted to make sure that a lot of the narrative threads that we’ve been weaving through the season are coming together,” says Angones. “There are huge events that have massive ramifications for the rest of the season with regards to Scrooge and his family story, so it would feel weird not to have them be a part of that.”
He adds, “Again, it’s about building Darkwing as a part of this bigger Disney Afternoon-iverse that has a connection. That has a causality rooted in Scrooge, and again, there’s a reason for that.”
And of course, it wouldn’t be a Darkwing Duck special without a few special elements that helped make that original series as iconic as it is. Hence, the decision to not only set the whole episode in St. Canard, but also feature Darkwing Tower, the character’s equivalent of the Batcave, i.e. where he hangs out and monitors crime from.
It also meant introducing a few new characters, namely the reboot’s version of Gosalyn, who will be voiced by Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz. Drake first encounters the young girl when he and Launchpad are looking into the break-in at Scrooge’s lab. But as it turns out, she’s doing some investigating of her own into the disappearance of her grandfather Professor Waddlemeyer.
“Darkwing Duck is the story of a father, a daughter, and a Launchpad and how they operate as a family. It’s really important to recognize that without Gosalyn and Launchpad, Darkwing Duck would spin off into his own egomaniacal attention-hungry nonsense,” explains Angones about the decision to bring in the character. “It's the heart of this. A girl becoming a hero and a hero becoming a dad and also this foster narrative of trying to find your family and finding it in an unexpected place that I felt was really important.”
And it wouldn’t be a Darkwing Duck special without a villain or two. Enter Taurus Bulba, voiced here by James Monroe Inglehart, who played the Genie in Broadway’s Aladdin. But things aren’t as they seem with this version of the character, a Lex Luthor-esque genius, who happens to work for Scrooge at the aforementioned St. Canard lab.
“The notion of having a character like Taurus Bulba be an employee of Scrooge was interesting to us, and played into some of the larger themes that we’re talking about this season,” says Angones. “It’s really interesting to be able to set up a situation where the villains are using Scrooge’s own methods, the things that he thinks are fantastic, against him.”
It’s also, as Angones notes, part of the fun of stepping into Darkwing’s world, which is a little different from the rest of DuckTales when it comes to the genre of storytelling, more superheroic than just plain adventuring. “You’ve got to have supervillains, the type of which we don’t really see,” says Angones. “We have a lot of pulp and adventure villains, but we don't have real ‘I am a themed supervillain’ supervillain, so that was really exciting to play with too.”
But with so many pieces from the original Darkwing Duck series now essentially in place — not to mention a full two-part special dedicated to Darkwing, Launchpad, and Gosalyn and the forming of their bond, could there be a possible spin-off in the works? One that would tie together the two shows in a way viewers once assumed the older two series were?
“The thing that we feel about all of our DuckTales characters is that they have unlimited story potential,” says Angones. “If the opportunity arose, that would be really interesting and fantastic. We certainly have stories, not just about Darkwing, but about the rest of our families and all the various offshoots. Our goal was to really build the Disney Afternooniverse, a world that we could play in, that other people can play in. There's a lot of interest right now in today's current climate about superhero stories and also found family stories, and ones featuring a Latinx girl, trying to figure out who her family is and trying to get their family from disparate parts. That’s why it’s important we told this story in DuckTales.”
He continues, “We’re part of an evolving legacy. Season 3 is so much about legacy, and it was important for us to pick up these characters and give them new legacies and give them legs that can continue on for the next 30 years.”
The Darkwing Duck hourlong DuckTales special airs on Monday, Oct. 19, on Disney XD.