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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Morning - Darkwing Duck

One thing that we can count on in the world of pop culture is that there are going to be huge successes and major flops.

And some things become so popular that in some cases, producers may devise something called a 'spin-off' or a 'crossover' that takes one or more of the characters from the original series to star in or kick off a new series.

Sometimes, this works out great. With all three versions of the CSI series, at least one of the main characters have appeared in Las Vegas, Miami, and New York City (Gil Grissom, Horatio Caine, and Mac Taylor have done crossovers at least twice thus far). Saved By The Bell had two spinoffs, one lasting longer than the other. Diff'rent Strokes launched the successful spinoff The Facts Of Life. Even the Mary Tyler Moore show had a couple of spinoffs, including Rhoda and Phyllis.

Some spinoffs just simply don't work out. Friends was a successful sitcom that lasted ten seasons. When Joey got his own spinoff, it barely registered on the Neilsen ratings scale. After the successful run of Three's Company, John Ritter tried his hand at a spinoff called Three's A Crowd, which barely lasted one season. The Golden Girls may have had a fantastic seven year run together, but when Bea Arthur left, and the other three moved into the Golden Palace, the show didn't do quite as well, but the Golden Girls did inspire the long-running sitcom Empty Nest, which later spun off another sitcom, Nurses.

Those are all fantastic examples of live-action shows which have had spinoffs and crossovers that have either succeeded or bombed.

But what about animated crossovers?

Certainly, Family Guy spawned a couple of successful spinoff series. Some celebrities and live-action characters have been put into animated format as well. Camp Candy is one example. Others include Muppet Babies, The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley, Hulk Hogan's Rock 'N Wrestling, and Rick Moranis in Gravedale High.

And then you have rare instances in which a cartoon character from one show will pop onto another show for a cameo appearance, such as Ren and Stimpy appearing on The Simpsons, or Josie and the Pussycats appearing in Archie Comics. Even more rare is when you take a cartoon character that was established on one cartoon show, and take them and give them a huge role in a different program.

Yet that's exactly what happened on the Disney cartoon Darkwing Duck.

In particular with the character of Launchpad McQuack.

When Launchpad was first introduced in the world of Disney, he initially appeared on the television series DuckTales, which premiered on September 18, 1987. Launchpad's role in the series was that of Scrooge McDuck's personal pilot. Although on the series, he ended up crashing his plane every time he tried to land it, he always manages to do so without injuring any of his passengers. As someone with a huge stature in comparison to the other characters on DuckTales, Launchpad sometimes took on the role of personal bodyguard to Scrooge McDuck, and in most cases, he's seen as a friend to Scrooge's nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

But on Darkwing Duck, he took on a completely different role. He wasn't involved in as many action scenes in Darkwing Duck as he was on DuckTales, but he still provided a fairly important role on the series, and I'll get into that in just a little bit.

Right now, I want to talk about the show itself, and how it came to be.

The year was 1991. That was the year that Darkwing Duck was first conceived. The show was made especially to be a spin-off of the DuckTales series, which had ended just before the 1990 holiday season. The show itself was inspired by a DuckTales episode, which was entitled 'Double-O-Duck', which portrayed Launchpad as a secret agent. When Tad Stones was approached to come up with a series around the episode, because a Disney executive seemed to like the title of 'Double-O-Duck'. While Stones was unsure of the premise, as he felt the idea lacked heart, and didn't have any sense of family surrounding it, he pitched the idea using a character named GizmoDuck (who was introduced in DuckTales' final season).

That first idea was rejected, but Stones was given a second chance to come up with a better idea. Taking the idea of Double-O-Duck, and turning him into a separate character rather than the alter ego of Launchpad McQuack (Launchpad would become the sidekick of Double-O-Duck). The new show idea would have Double-O-Duck as a 'man of mystery' with a fleet of duck-headed vehicles designed after similar ones used in Batman and Judge Dredd. The character would also be a father to a preteen daughter named Gosalyn, which was basically a plot device used to complicate his life, and play havoc with the sophisticated self image he was proud of.

A problem arose when the title 'Double-O-Duck' could not be used, as the Ian Fleming estate had trademarked the Double-O name from the popular James Bond series of films. A contest was held between staff members of the Disney TV Animation studios to come up with a new name for the superhero. A lot of names were suggested, but Alan Burnett came up with the winning name of Darkwing Duck.

As a result of the new name, Darkwing Duck's appearance soon changed. Initially he was to be designed as wearing a white tuxedo and black domino mask. Instead, the colour purple was brought in, and Darkwing Duck wore a purple mask instead of a black one.

So on March 31, 1991, Darkwing Duck first premiered on the Disney Channel and in the Disney Afternoon cartoon block. The show took place in the city of St. Canard, and depicted Darkwing Duck and his sidekick Launchpad (who had quit working for Scrooge McDuck in the first episode) fighting against the criminals who kept wreaking havoc on the town's citizens.

Like most superheroes, Darkwing Duck had a civilian identity. In this case, by day, he was Drake Mallard, adopted father to nine-year-old Gosalyn. When Drake was younger, he was considered to be a major dork in comparison to some of his classmates, and by his senior year, had developed an interest in crime-fighting. Although he had finally achieved his goal of fighting crime through his alter-ego (which does count as a mini life lesson that if one tries hard enough, they can achieve their goals), he really didn't end up becoming grounded until he adopted Gosalyn and befriended Launchpad.

When Launchpad came to work for Darkwing Duck, he had been a huge fan of his from the get-go, even designing a vehicle for him for over a year because of his obsession (which became the Thunderquack). While Darkwing found him annoying at first, he grew to appreciate him as a friend. He didn't even mind that Launchpad called him 'DW' most of the time.

And then there's his daughter, whose grandfather was murdered by Taurus Bulba. Gosalyn is described as being a bundle of energy, and shares her father's love of crime-fighting, but because Darkwing's biggest fear is seeing Gosalyn hurt or worse, he would often become a little too overprotective of her, which lead to some humourous conflict .

There's also some minor characters in the Darkwing Duck universe. Gosalyn's best friend for instance, Herbert J. “Honker” Muddlefoot, happens to be one of the few civilians who knows that Darkwing Duck is really Drake Mallard...which definitely is another plot device, as the rest of the Muddlefoot family has no idea. GizmoDuck makes a few appearances in the cartoon, as does a sorceress named Morgana, a foe turned romantic interest for Darkwing.

Of course, a superhero cartoon can't exist without villains, and for Darkwing Duck, they come in the form of a quintet known as the Fearsome Five. At least one of these enemies appear in each episode...sometimes even more than one. The Fearsome Five include...

Dr. Reginald Bushroot was a scientist who attempted an experiment to fuse animal DNA with plants so that they may be able to feed themselves through photosynthesis. However, the experiment turned Dr. Bushroot into a grotesque creature that was half-man, half-plant, lovesick, and desperate to find a girlfriend. He has the ability to control plants and use them against people who try to stop him.

Next comes a character named Bud Flud, a slimy salesdog who tried to push bottled water onto consumers. During a battle with Darkwing Duck and Launchpad, Bud fell inside a contaminated vat of water that was manufactured by his competitor, and he mutated into a dog that was made of one hundred per cent water. Dubbing himself 'The Liquidator', he could control all of the water in the world, while speaking in advertising lingo. While 'The Liquidator' would work with the other masterminds in the group, there was one that he didn't mix well with...

...Elmo Sputterspark was a rat and a high school nerd who developed an unhealthy obsession with lightning and electricity. He ended up gaining the ability to control electricity when one of his science experiments was sabotaged, coming up with the alter-ego name of Megavolt in response. He was actually a former classmate of Drake Mallard, and ended up being the first villain to take on Darkwing Duck in a battle at their senior prom in high school.

Then there's Negaduck, who could be considered Darkwing Duck's mirror image. Coming from a parallel universe called the Negaverse, Negaduck is the exact opposite of Darkwing Duck. Where Darkwing is kind and fights against crime, Negaduck is evil, and serves to commit as much crime as possible. Negaduck is actually the founder of the Fearsome Five, and has no problem with hurting people to get control of both universes.

The last of the five is Quackerjack, a former toy-maker driven to insanity, and uses a deadly arsenal of toys and games as weapons in bank robberies and other misdemeanors. He never goes anywhere without his favourite doll, Mr. Banana Brain, which can double as an explosive device. He usually teams up with Megavolt in some capacity whenever teamwork is involved.

Certainly the Fearsome Five isn't the only faction of evil in St. Canard. There are other criminal organizations in St. Canard. There's F.O.W.L. (The Fiendish Organization for World Larceny), an organization devoted to terrorism, and their plots to foil Darkwing Duck along the way. Members include Steelbeak, Ammonia Pine, Ample Grime, and Major Synapse.

Taurus Bulba has also made appearances in the cartoon, which made sense, given that he killed Gosalyn's grandfather. Professor Moliarty is a mush-mouthed mole who plots to put the whole world into eternal darkness. Tuskernini, is a walrus, whose schemes usually involve the world of film and entertainment, and many, many more enemies after that.

With so many bad guys in the show, each causing Darkwing Duck to work overtime, you'd think the writers would have original ideas that could feasibly help the show last years. Alas, this was not the case, as the last original episode of Darkwing Duck aired on December 12, 1992. But the show did have some notoriety worldwide. It was one of the first American cartoons to air in syndication in the former Soviet Union, and the show did run for 91 episodes (despite one episode entitled Hot Spells only airing once on Toon Disney due to the subject of Gosalyn unknowingly makes a deal with the devil which causes Darkwing to lose his soul).

At any rate, Darkwing Duck was quite the interesting cartoon, and I almost decided to go as Darkwing Duck for Halloween one year (before I decided that I really wanted to be Jughead Jones for Halloween instead). I think that it should have gone on a couple of more years, because it really was a cartoon that wasn't like any other.

And to think that if it wasn't for DuckTales and Launchpad McQuack, Darkwing Duck wouldn't have come to be.

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