This list is for anyone curious as to how I might place all 91 episodes of Darkwing Duck in a ranking order. I had written detailed notes on every episode for my Darkwing Duck Retrospective/Review, and, given the high volume of great episodes within the show, I decided to publish my thoughts on all of them, rather than limit the list to a Top 10 or 20.
These have been ordered beginning with what I believe to be the strongest episode. They have been assessed based on an overall combination of their writing and execution, taking into account performance, visuals, animation, music, sound and general entertainment value. However, it must be remembered that all episodes of Darkwing Duck have great strengths deserving of celebration, many are extremely close in quality and...
...This list may change over time!
Episode numbers refer to US air dates during the shows original run (not the early 1991 Disney Channel Preview): 1-65 Season 1 (Weekdays from September, 1991 - May, 1992) 66-78 ABC commissioned episodes (Saturday Mornings from September 1991 - December, 1991) 79-91 ABC Season 2 (September - December, 1992)
Darkwing Duck stands in front of The Liquidator in Dry Hard
1. Dry Hard
Episode 36 November 20, 1991 Animation: Kennedy Cartoons, Inc.
During a heatwave, Drake Mallard, jealous of neighbour Herb Muddlefoot, tries to construct the perfect sprinkler system for his garden. Gosalyn is also running a lemonade stall. A television report shows bottled water is being poisoned across St. Canard. Darkwing goes on the trail of a bottled water salesman, Bud Flood, who is poisoning the competition. The felon falls into a vat of chemicals and becomes shape-shifting water supervillain The Liquidator, who ends up turning all of the world’s water supply into hard rubber, with Darkwing in pursuit. Not a starting point for new viewers nor an obvious choice among fans. However, this episodes screenwriting is sophisticated and its fears prophetic. It gave its younger viewers an insight into how the adult world works at its worst, and then showed them how much worse it could be. Decades later, it effectively hints at (in it’s own absurdist way) the evils of consumer capitalism and the price we all pay for greed-driven manufactured demand and materialism. These were not new ideas in storytelling at the time, but Dry Hard makes the best use of the shows unique cartoon and comic book voice to say something about the world, and with a breathless pace.
An issue it unsubtley teases, reflective of the time it was made and also topical now, is bottled water. Often criticised as being marketed and desired as a trendy fashion accessory, bottled water circa 1990 was seen as a fad tied to health and fitness and yuppies (young urban professionals). Drake Mallard watches a news report taken from a glamorous drinking establishment with the on-the-nose name 'La Grande Yuppe'. We see two vacant, glamorous women, clearly based on the yuppies and supermodels that bottled water of the time was associated with. in full Valley Girl accents, they proceed to comment on bad tasting bottled water, comparing it to the wine Zinfandel, also synonymous at the time with yuppies. This, in a Disney show, principally aimed at children, yet its perspective is fearlessly scathing and without restrain.
Dry Hard has a villain who loses his life in pursuit of money, is immortalised as a water being, yet still chases greed. Bud Flood, who looks and acts like a 1950s used car salesman, is accompanied by two faceless, long-legged mascots, whose sole purpose is to speak in catchy jingles. Once more, Dry Hard doesn’t soften the worst of corporate reality for its child audience: in advertising, sex sells. The shapeshifting villain that Flood eventually becomes, who feels straight from the pages of a silver age comic book, has a new name: The Liquidator. To a child, this name sounds in the vein of superpowered antagonists such as The Terminator, albeit water themed. More fittingly, The Liqudator is the name of a person responsible for closing a business and selling its assets. On both levels, the pun works.
The Liquidator turns all of St. Canard’s Audubon Bay (and seemingly all of the connecting oceans) into a dry, rubbery substance. In this terrifying moment, he monopolises what appears to be all of the world’s most precious resource, so he can sell his own brand of bottled water for inflated prices. After decades of unethical behaviour by many bottled water companies, today the Liquidator's plot doesn't seem so far from fantasy. Keeping with the theme, when Darkwing and Launchpad are deep in this rubbery water and global dehydration is imminent, how do they escape? They pay a workman to saw them out! It’s a subtle moment, but darkly cynical. A more surreal moment has a forth wall breaking cartoon fish getting it’s tail trapped in the hard water. The later image of it sunbathing in a deck chair is as unsettling as it is funny.
A subplot involving Gosalyn’s lemonade stall takes an equally dim view on bottled water. Gosalyn hands out complimentary spiced potato chips to passers by, and then convinces them to pay $1 a cup for “natural mineral water, from the tap, naturally!” It’s a perfect microcosm of the villain’s eventual plot and also comments on the more cynical sentiments of bottled water from the time. Drake too is also a victim of consumerism, as he practices sprinkler gardening during the heatwave. He feels that he has to conform to owning a device called a 3/4 picne flange, despite not knowing what the gadget actually is, and owning one the whole time! The presence of competing neighbour Herb Muddlefoot enhances Drake’s own consumer envy. Herb also uses the hard water as a living room centrepiece. This keeps brilliantly with the Muddlefoot characterisations as indulgers of suburban kitsch.
The episode also contains elements of random humour that fit with consumerism and image, such as a reference to Liquidator’s unfashionable Cousin Morty, whom he teases a bathing suited Darkwing for resembling.
Visually, the squash and stretch animation by Kennedy Animation is appropriately rubbery, with impressively fluid water effects. The overall look expertly captures the style of the greatest Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble collaborations. The animation highlight happens outside of the St. Canard waterworks, and has the camera focus pulled from The Liquidator to Darkwing, all in one shot. This Spielberg level of visual craftsmanship is an added splash of brilliance for the perfect Darkwing Duck episode.
Launchpad, Darkwing and Gosalyn in Darkly Dawns the Duck
2. & 3.
Darkly Dawns the Duck 1 Darkly Dawns the Duck 2 Episodes 1 & 2 September 6, 1991 Animation: Walt Disney Television Animation (Australia) Pty, Limited & Walt Disney Animation (Japan) Inc. The origin story of Darkwing Duck. The lone, egotistical Darkwing wishes for a big time criminal to go up against. Supervillain Taurus Bulba plots a prison escape to commit mass bank robberies through the use of a special machine called the Ramrod, created by the murdered Professor Waddlemeyer. Bulba wants to abduct Waddlemeyer’s granddaughter Gosalyn in order to get the Ramrod arming codes. Darkwing saves her and meets his number one fan and aspiring sidekick, pilot Launchpad McQuack, although Darkwing believes he must work alone.
The ideal starting point for new viewers! A perfect argument for why we need to share our lives with family and friends, and not confront life entirely on our own. Darkwing begins as a masked loner, in the tradition of comic book heroes like Batman or The Shadow. He’s a vigilante who appears as a fleeting image to burn terror into the minds of criminals. He operates mostly at night in the shadows, has a darkness themed name and uses smoke bombs to conceal his entrances and exits. Paradoxically however, he also wants to be celebrated and adored. He is lost in his ego and aiming for accolades he’s destined to never get, because fundamentally, they conflict with his design of crimefighter. This begins with the hilarious opening, in which Darkwing leaves a police station, expecting the instant gratification of heroic praise… But is instead met with the sound of chirping crickets. Later on, Darkwing makes himself so visible, he uses an attack on Bulba’s robbery as a photo opportunity, and ends up framing himself for theft.
Darkwing is irreversibly changed when he crosses paths with the plucky orphan Gosalyn, who is also on her own. The grand daughter of a murdered scientist, like Darkwing she similarly craves attention and has overstated confidence. Unlike Darkwing, the orphan doesn’t choose to be alone. She is also fiercely independent and has spirit that only her grandfather and now Darkwing recognise as special. Completing Darkwing’s surrogate family is Launchpad McQuack, who is underestimated so much, his scenes feel like a series of touching callbacks. Darkwing is adamant that he works alone and takes Launchpad for granted even before they officially work together. The episode really sets up and pays off Launchpad’s persistence to become the sidekick. Taurus Bulba is a great mirror to our hero: A villain who appears to be alone in a prison, but unlike Darkwing, has a network of criminals to support his activity. A bullying master manipulator (aptly he is a bull), and again, unlike Darkwing, he understands how being completely invisible is actually a benefit; he covertly runs his crimes from inside of his jail cell and baits Darkwing’s ego, eventually trapping and humiliating him.
This episode, more than any other in the series, is brimming with heart and emotion, as we see the main characters complete each other in a familial manner. The scene in which Gosalyn sings her Grandfather’s abstract, colour themed lullably to bed, only for Darkwing to complete it with lyrics that complete him as a character, is genuinely moving and heartwarming. Being a superhero/spy hybrid show however, the lullaby also serves as a plot device. There is a great beat too when Darkwing, annoyed by Gosalyn mocking his ego, goes out into the night wearing a motorcycle helmet, which only hours earlier she was trying to convince him to wear. The climax ends with heartbreaking suspense.
Darkly Dawns The Duck also continues the character and the shows forth wall-breaking, media and consumer self-awareness, as Darkwing is image conscious with a sophisticated view of everything from media glut and the importance of cape ironing to what is desired to sell a major motion picture of his story. Like the classic Warner Bros. shorts, it knows that it’s a trope heavy, cartoon television show and wants you to know that it knows this! Additionally, the edgier humour is also present in this episode, with reference to a very permanent murder off screen, although it’s played straight. The most memorable moment of dry humour has Bulba’s assistant, Clovis, comment her regret that she ignored her mother’s advice to become a dental hygienist instead of a criminal.
Amusingly, we never meet Darkwing’s alter ego. The ending sets up his alias, Drake Mallard, who adopts Gosalyn and is searching for a house. Darkwing Duck is therefore a real person, who dresses up as Drake Mallard, maybe? At least until episodes Paraducks, Inherit the Wimp and Clash Reunion (but remember to not take the continuity too seriously, either)...
Darkwing, Gosalyn and Launchpad in Dead Duck
4. Dead Duck
Episode 47 February 17, 1992 Animation: Walt Disney Animation (Japan) Inc.
On the trail of villain Megavolt, Darkwing’s motorcycle helmet is broken in an anvil factory. Despite Launchpad’s objection, Darkwing continues to chase Megavolt and consequently suffers a fatal motorcycle accident. He awakens in the afterlife, where a devil and St. Peter bicker over who gets to keep him. Darkwing returns to the living world, but can only be seen by those who love him. Meanwhile, Megavolt becomes a celebrity, and Darkwing wants to arrest him, to prove he’s still alive.
Along with Darkly Dawns the Duck, which it recalls more than any other episode, Dead Duck is brimming with heart and innocence. Surprisingly, it portrays grief in a legitimately truthful and unromantic way, full of endless tears, hysteria, gloominess and news you don’t want to hear. However, it’s mixed with a jet black sense of morbid humour. These two conflicting tonal elements unexpectedly balance out with both belly laughs and tragic heartbreak. Beneath the surface though, Dead Duck is a story about how we should be morally responsible and set an example to others. It makes points about dignity and questions death as a public event, specifically the use of it in the media, and plays with death related story tropes. Yet, it’s all stems from road safety…
In the very early 1990s, there were many campaigns promoting awareness of cycling helmet safety. Dead Duck effectively engages with this by cleverly subverting a death related cartoon trope. Cartoon violence, especially in the Looney Tunes mould that Darkwing was inspired by, is always portrayed without consequence. The worst thing to usually happen is a momentary lump on the victims head or birds spinning around them. Dead Duck follows this, as Darkwing is first struck by the most iconic example of this cartoon trope: falling anvils. He wears a motorcycle helmet, despite it offering little to no protection, as his head squashes and stretches on impact. However, once the helmet is removed and he has a road accident, the rules change: He becomes mortal. It breaks the comfort of that death defying cartoon cliche, leaving the audience frightened and unsure of the consequences ahead.
Deceased Darkwing has an inner fight to contend with as well. He has two conflicting priorities: How his attention seeking ego would like his death to be seen by the world (which differs vastly from the truth), versus the loss of the people who actually love him: Launchpad and especially Gosalyn. Darkwing’s lonely grave stone, no more than a photo cellotaped to a traffic cone, is as tragic as it is amusingly pathetic. Curiously, even Darkwing’s supernatural girlfriend Morgana doesn’t attend his funeral. When she meets his ghost, it is fun to see her flippant approach to death, as though it were a short term illness, even contrasting it to the common cold. Eventually Darkwing is trailed by The Grim Reaper, convincing it to take annoying neighbour Herb Muddlefoot instead, before stubbornly surrendering. In fact, our hero shows the being such little respect, the oddly principled entity exposes a low self esteem and breaks down into a neurotic trantrum. The contrast with esteemed actor Tony Jay’s velvet voice makes this even funnier.
Building on Darkwing’s egotism, Dead Duck constantly uses absurdity and death to make fun of the entertainment industry, attacking talent agents, press agents, a tabloid talkshow (hosted by the unsubtley named Opel Windbag), scripted live television (“no add-libbing”!), tie-in book deals and movie rights. It even contains a beautifully self aware ending that takes a giant swipe at the most groansome of television reveal tropes. In fairness, it could be seen as not just a meta audience acknowledgement of the twist ending, but also a well deserved nod to how effective Dead Duck is as a genuine emotional rollercoaster.
The depictions of both hell and heaven (neither of which are overtly labelled as such, but are obviously these settings) recall the iconic renderings of those seen at the same time in Gary Larson’s comic strips. Patrons queue for the former, ushered by a devil that Darkwing refers to as Lucifer, whilst the latter has St. Peter sat as a receptionist before a computer terminal.
This classic episode also benefits from impressive animation by Disney Japan and some chilling sound design, particularly the echoing vocals of Dead Darkwing.
An older Launchpad speaks with Gosalyn in Time and Punishment
5. Time and Punishment
Episode 52 February 27, 1992 Animation: Sunwoo Animation Gosalyn tags along with Darkwing and Launchpad, as they find Megavolt and Quackerjack using St. Canard’s electricity to power a time machine called the Time Top. Gosalyn is told to not get involved, as Darkwing wouldn’t know what to do if he lost her. However, she decides to watch on closer up. She ties the Timetop to a nearby building, but it is initiated while she is pulling the rope. This takes her to a dystopian St. Canard of the future in which Darkwing, who believed Gosalyn had left him on purpose because he was overprotective, has become an authoritarian crime fighter, Dark Warrior Duck. Gosalyn states that the one thing this adventure has taught her is to give others the benefit of the doubt. Travelling to the future facilitates this story perfectly. Broadly speaking, this is about the danger of jumping ahead of oneself to conclusions. It also explores how misunderstandings can snowball over time, and impact people far outside of our immediate circles.
This episode is the closest the series ever got to a full on adult dystopian graphic novel. It engages with the most contemporary of the shows comic book references: the dystopian future visions seen in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and 2000AD. Miller and Varley are even used as street names, in reference to Frank Miller and colorist Lynn Varley. That said, the episode is entirely accessible and rewarding a watch to someone totally unfamiliar with comic books.
Before the story even begins, it ticks along with a busy energy. Megavolt and Quackerjack are a terrifying duo, with seemingly nothing yet everything in common. It’s one of their best episodes. Connected by their nonsensical villainy, they have an amusing conflict of interest: electricity vs. toys. Bizzarely, Quackerjack’s doll, Mr. Banana Brain, is considered as a third person in their team. Ultimately, they pale as antagonists against the episodes true villain: Dark Warrior Duck.
Gosalyn brings a familial meaning to Darkwing’s egocentric existence, as established in the close of origin episode Darkly Dawns the Duck. In Time and Punishment she undermines his fatherly discipline and is consequently removed from his life. His resulting inner emptiness resurrects the worst of his destructive ego. The whole of St. Canard becomes decked in banners displaying his face and Darkwing becomes his most effective, as a tank riding crimefighter, with zero tolerance to crime; A Judge Dredd style judge, jury and executioner, rolled into one. It’s to a point without humanity, as he now has red eyes, an army of flying robots and has become obsessed with criminalising anything remotely rule breaking. He’s gone so far that he turns against time travelling Gosalyn and wants to fully exploit the Time-Top for his own egotistical gain.
Future Launchpad, no longer Darkwing’s sidekick but a modest yellow cab driver in a bowtie, has a great moment with Dark Warrior Duck. Launchpad’s relatively liberal stance conflicted with his leader’s oppressive viewpoint on criminal consequences; Darkwing wanted to send criminals to the electric chair before they were arrested!
The seamless use of narrative transitions, flashbacks, narration and the generally rich quality of the visual storytelling are apparent in many of the episodes of series writer Dev Ross. However, she takes her work here to another level of sophistication. An example is when Launchpad explains the origin of Dark Warrior Duck via a flashback, narrates how Darkwing mistakes another girl for Gosalyn, ending on a statue that is then integrated into the immediate narrative. There’s an inventive scene in which Dark Warrior imagines using time travel to influence ancient Babylonian lawmakers and even the beginning of duck evolution!
The level of imagination on display is simply enormous. The time top looks like a spinning toy on the outside, but Jules Verne Nautilius on the inside, complete with red Chesterfield upholstery. There are great visual gags aplenty, from Darkwing walking the edge of a building while Launchpad takes the stairs, to a moment involving chicken feathers and the seemingly random character of Mrs. Mildew. The latter appears to be just a throwaway sight gag, but also has an inspired yet unexpected narrative function.
Despite the strong visual stylistic similarities, comparably dark tone and take on similar material, the episode was made and released well in advance of Batman the Animated Series.
Launchpad, the Muddlefoots and Negaduck in Life, The Negaverse And Everything
6. Life, The Negaverse And Everything
Episode 35 November 18, 1991 Animation: Walt Disney Animation (Japan) Inc. After a day of crime for the Fearsome Five, Negaduck leaves the Fearsome Four, who ask if they can join him, but he won’t invite them to his secret hideout. They trail him anyway. Drake is invited to Honker Muddlefoots birthday, and only attends because of Gosalyn’s insistence. Launchpad spots The Fearsome Four at a cake shop and reports to Drake, who leaves the party. The Fearsome Four, and Darkwing arrive as Negaduck enters a portal to another world, which Darkwing follows. Here Negaduck is the ruler of the nightmarish Negaverse. A visually spectacular journey into a negatively inverted version of Darkwing’s world. There isn’t a wasted moment on screen or a joke that isn’t brilliant. It’s complimented by a zippy, air-tight pace.
The episode is about resisting the evils of negative judgement and flaunting superiority towards others. From the start, Negaduck refers to his criminal cohorts as “losers” whom he “wouldn’t be caught dead with”. By underestimating their curiosity, they find his portal and he berates them for leading Darkwing to him. By contrast, Drake doesn’t want anything to do with his Muddlefoot party invitation, and wants to leave it even before Launchpad arrives to inform him about the villains. By the end, Drake has a change of heart and Negaduck’s situation is reversed.
The Negaverse is an intriguing idea, but the motivation of Negaduck is even more interesting. Characteristically, he is an aggressive, loud villainous clone of Darkwing, who is able to dominate every situation and largely able to defeat anyone. The Negaverse takes this further, as a separate world that fully facilitates Negaduck’s full on God complex: His secret hideout isn’t merely a building structure or living space, but an entire alternate gloomy universe, mostly populated by negative and subservient, living breathing versions of the existing St. Canard citizens. The Negaverse is not just negative, but a scarily barbaric, regressive and primitive environment. Negaduck gets to dominate the minority of positive characters without interference. It’s a terrifying idea, and here Negaduck reflects the very worst of hero Darkwing’s egocentric personality.
At the same time, Darkwing feels for the Gosalyn of the Negaverse. She is a heightened, positive reversal of real world Gosalyn; gentle and obedient, curtsying in dainty pink bows. The compassion he shows is surprising and moving. To Darkwing, even a Gosalyn from another universe is still his daughter, whom he has the responsibility to protect.
The various reversed characterisations of the shows regular characters are a constant source of entertainment. The Muddlefoots are a metal chain wielding biker attire wearing gang, including leader, Honker, while son Tank is scientifically literate and well spoken. Launchpad is also dressed like a 1980s punk thug. The positive version of the Fearsome Four whom Darkwing meets: The Friendly Four, are each given sufficient moments and screen time. Quackerjack is afforded a key role involving a clown with spider legs made of sharp blades.
The episode is also a visual feast, full of saturated colours and breathtaking artwork. It is bookended by daylight scenes of a Technicolor cake shop and a Pelican’s Island themed Birthday Barbecue. Once in the Negaverse, St. Canard looks like a nocturnal, post apocalyptic nightmare, in monochromatic red and dark shadows. It’s an awesome sight, choking on smog, corrosion and grime. The initial shot of its cake shop, mixing silence with the sound of buzzing flies, creates a uniquely unnerving moment, unlike anything else from the series.
The climax in the zone between the real world and the Negaverse, involving the Universal Plug, features a sandstorm vortex that is simply stunning. The effects animation is comparable to the visuals seen a year later on Disney’s feature film Aladdin.
The most refreshingly unDisney aspect of the episode is the introduction to Honker. We see a second-long cutaway of severed shrunken heads wearing neck ties!
The Justice Ducks Vs. The Fearsome Five in Just Us Justice Ducks
7. & 8. Just Us Justice Ducks 1 Just us Justice Ducks 2
Darkwing is about to go on a date with Morgana, when he spots: Megavolt and Quackerjack installing an electro slave device at the power company while Bushroot and Liquidator raise the police station into the sky. These villains are answering to Negaduck, who impersonates Darkwing, takes out SHUSH and proceeds to take over St. Canard. Darkwing sees an opportunity to defeat The Fearsome Five himself and win all of the glory, but efforts made by Morgana, Stegmutt, Neptunia and Gizmoduck to help our hero are not appreciated. The epic, comic book team-up, cliffhanger double-episode. The Avengers Assemble of Disney Ducks, nearly 30 years before that movie existed. At the same time, it’s so much more than a team up episode. It’s about uneven power dynamics, working in a group and even tolerance, but most importantly about putting ones ego aside and embracing teamwork.
In the first part of two dynamite episodes, The Fearsome Five, lead by Negaduck, strives from strength to strength, as the power of their team work is understood between them. Darkwing’s own team assembles unknowingly before him, starting with Morgana, whom he is dating and Stegmutt, who just wants to give him change for a hotdog he never wanted. We then get anti-hero Neptunia, and eventually it builds to Darkwing’s overblown equal, Gizmoduck. Darkwing sees an opportunity to service his own ego, and with great frustration, wants to eliminate the helpers around him as much as the villains themselves.
In the second part, we see Darkwing (after much wallowing) learn his lesson, while the other Justice Ducks make a failed attempt to defeat the villains independently. They’re captured by the Fearsome Five, where Negaduck’s selfishness causes some cracks in their team. Finally, the two teams have a most satisfying showdown in Negaduck’s torture room, complete with a musical motif with the spiritual essence of Ennio Morricone’s theme to The Good The Bad and the Ugly.
Being a double episode, the dynamic between the dozens of characters is given plenty of time to breath and is perfectly executed. The writing is air tight, as every scene segues into another, for example Bushroot and Liquidator hijacking the police station is followed by the building landing in the ocean, which introduces Neptunia. The overlapping character segments are effortlessly balanced and it’s great fun to watch the two teams excel and self destruct. There is also perfect symmetry between the two teams of five characters. Every one of them is given sufficient time on screen, as well as notable beats for their ancillary members, such as Launchpad, Gosalyn and even Archie the spider.
There is a great scene at organisation SHUSH, where Negaduck impersonates and then defeats Darkwing. Dr. Sarah Bellum and her characteristically dark sense of humour really shine here.
The plot unravels confidently, especially with the arrival of Gizmoduck on the Audubon Bay Bridge, surrounded by newscaster Tom Lockjaw and the National Guard. The following initiation of the electric wall around St. Canard is jaw droppingly exciting. The cliffhanger, in which Darkwing falls from the top of St. Canard Tower, is pure comic book gold. The concluding opener to the next episode, and the callback to it during the climax, is inspired.
The visual gags are consistently wondrous and absurd, including a Fearsome Five flag erected atop the the St. Canard Tower, which Darkwing doesn’t notice, instead drawn to a breadcrumb from the building’s underwhelming room service.
St. Canard has never looked more expansive either, or utilised in such an extensive way. The St. Canard Tower; the centre of the city, becomes Negaduck’s villain’s lair, and all of it’s vertical excitement is made full use of. Refreshingly, so much of it takes place during the day, allowing for a vast amount of depth to the cityscapes. The animation by Sunwoo executes a lot of interwoven visual storytelling with precision.
Darkwing Duck and Launchpad stand atop Binkie Muddlefoot in Inside Binkies Brain
9. Inside Binkies Brain
Episode 55 April 1992 Animation: Wang Film Productions Co. Ltd.
About to be destroyed by evil villain Dr. Slug, Darkwing breaks the forth wall and replies to some viewer mail. He reads a letter to camera, in which a viewer asks what makes a hero. Darkwing then explains, telling the story of how safety obsessed Binkie Muddlefoot is hit on the head by a poorly stored bowling ball. Darkwing then explains how we all contain a little hero in our minds. Binkie’s is then let loose. She becomes even more safety obsessed, leading her to become safety themed superhero The Canadian Guardian. Elsewhere, Megavolt is stealing the city’s lightbulbs…
This episodes feels as though at any point, anything unexpected can happen. And it does. It feels gloriously shapeless, free flowing and even improvised; completely organic and random. It begins with Darkwing fighting life threatening supervillain Dr. Slug (who after this opener, is never seen ever again), but then breaks the forth wall. It then becomes a live factual television show presented by Darkwing and Launchpad, who introduce an episode of Darkwing Duck centred around Binkie Muddlefoot and villain Megavolt. Darkwing and Launchpad as presenters seem to interrupt Binkie’s tale at random, even awkward intervals, to physically explore the minds of the main characters.
This creates a hyper unusual and self aware experience, with a variety of storytelling formats and a hilariously witty tone. Of course, from a perspective of screenwriting, this episode is far from random chaos; it’s a precisely constructed essay, focused on the question: what makes a hero?
Taking centre stage somewhat is Binkie Muddlefoot. The Muddlefoot family are a grand celebration of American suburban kitsch; nostalgic white picket fences meeting bad Hawaiian shirts. Honker aside, they’re often used as sources of comedy or annoyance for our hero. Binkie is bluntly described in the series bible as “a 1950s housewife”, she looks like a Norman Rockwell Four Seasons illustration and throughout the series feels effectively one dimensional. Brilliantly, this episode doesn’t attempt to make Binkie more complex through the exploration of her brain. In her own mind, she is still as predictable as she is as a person. The genius of the episode is the idea of having an interchangeable little hero trapped inside of every character.
On the outside it’s a fun dissection of superhero duality and a crazy psychological deconstruction of an unlikely support character. More generally, it’s about how we don’t need to dramatically change who we are to make a difference, and that we can make big contributions to the world in our ordinary everyday lives. It specifically focuses on overzealous health and safety, a target full of self righteousness, ripe to satirise.
The main story is paused four times, in which Darkwing and Launchpad provide guided tours around the minds of Binkie, Megavolt, Launchpad and Darkwing. These are depicted as physical spaces, more precisely as cramped bedrooms with no windows and endless cupboard doors. The more issues within the personality, the messier the room gets. It communicates a complicated idea with complete clarity and maximum laughs.
As mentioned, all of these minds contain a little hero, stored in a barred closet: a short jousting knight in armour, riding a tiny horse. All of these little heroes look, sound and act a lot like 1950s cartoon character, Crusader Rabbit, coincidentally a favourite of Darkwing creator Tad Stones. It’s surreal, funny and thoughtful all at once. Darkwing’s mind also contains his ego, represented as a giant savage version of himself that speaks in grunts.
Megavolt’s plot to liberate lightbulbs by blowing them out through the St. Canard power station really makes no sense, but is appropriately dangerous. The Suspenseful midpoint set piece weaves into this perfectly, where Binkie is tied to the central tower of a skyscraper, which Megavolt has removed the safety light from.
The opening sequence with Dr. Slug is the most thrilling episode they never made. The ending, with Herb and Binkie reuniting in a slow motion wide shot, before Herb repeats a version of Binkie’s transformation, is some of the best animated TV of all time.
Darkwing Duck meets a human fan in Twitching Channels
10. Twitching Channels
Episode 42 February 5, 1992 Animation: Sunwoo Animation
Megavolt creates a device called an Electroliser, which allows him to travel through electric wiring and into electrical devices. Once inside a television set, he adjust his frequency and is able to travel through the airwaves, into different channels. He appears from inside Herb Muddlesfoot’s TV set, stealing his Turbo-technic remote control. Darkwing then pursues Megavolt into the TV world, where an incident on a science program sends both into a universe of humans, where Darkwing discovers he is the lead character on a TV show.
An incredible meta episode. What starts as cartoony science fiction quickly becomes a consumer satire about how we shouldn’t take advantage of others. By mixing cartoon and human worlds, it gives an entertaining, absurd and cynically insightful spin on early 1990s media consumption. With Darkwing as a character in a TV show, it makes the episode loosely comparable to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but with some differences.
The level of inventive visual storytelling is stunning. The first act is loaded with spoof TV channels and a variety of format shows that become hijacked by Megavolt, from a daytime soap opera and a talk show to a cooking show and many more. On a first watch there’s just not enough time to process the dense richness of the quick fire gags, but they are all contextualised with precise reaction shots of random onlooker characters, interacting with their television sets. The villain even hosts a telethon in which viewers pledge money so he won’t steal from them.
The second act then takes us into a human shopping mall, where Darkwing toy and merchandise sales dominate, as cash registers are stuffed with dollar bills. Most childrens cartoons would revel in such a generous depiction of their show as a massive audience and consumer success. However, Darkwing Duck is different. Here it isn’t self-congratulatory, but rather soaked in cynicism. The most egocentric hero, cheated out of his cut of monetary success?
We get to see the world of Darkwing’s show creator, the equally egocentric Thaddeus Rockwell. Rather than posing existential questions as a God like father/creator of Darkwing, the shameless Rockwell is a failed TV writer who happened upon radiowaves from Darkwing’s universe, copying his adventures and exploiting them for profit as a TV series. Rockwell’s building has a statue of Darkwing supporting the roof, humorously sending up the Team Disney Building that had been constructed a year before in 1990.
There is much clever, self-aware questioning of Darkwing’s existence, and his TV shows logic, by the viewers within the human world. Darkwing is picked apart by passing members of his young audience and comes into contact with the more awkward side of fandom. They seem to know his life as well as he does.
Amusingly, within the human world, Darkwing is viewed not as a Roger Rabbit-like animated character, but as a real talking duck. However, to his surprise his TV show is an animated cartoon. He’s even offered a house with a duck pond to live in, to which he replies “why don’t I just live in the park?” When Darkwing first meets Rockwell, his secretary makes an anvil drop on our hero’s head as a deterent. So, even within the animation industry of a human world that sees him as a feral animal, Darkwing Duck is still very decidedly a cartoon character!
Trapped in the human world, Darkwing and Megavolt are then involved in the ultimate form of media exploitation: A Darkwing Duck live show, in which our hero is made to perform pointless wirework for no reason. The ending sees a brief twist in which Megavolt, a character who commonly makes asides to the camera, comments that what he’s done to Darkwing is called a double cross. It’s brilliantly self aware in an episode making fun of the behind the scenes of television. When Darkwing and Megavolt finally do return to Herb’s living room, Rockwell’s device tunes into Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers, a show also created by the real Darkwing creator Tad Stones, whom Thaddeus Rockwell shares a similar name to (and his assistant bares a similar name to story editor Kevin Crosby Hopps). Oddly, the 2022 movie Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers would have those characters and Darkwing as actors playing themselves in the real life human world.
Herb Muddlefoot, with his horribly wasteful television remote control, is the perfect character to add extra grotesqueness to the consumer excess.