October 19, 1991
Animation: Sunwoo Animation
Drake takes Gosalyn on a trip to the beach. She is unimpressed by the noticable littering and polution. After a whale and a Giant octopus rise from the ocean, Darkwing Duck meets mutant fish Neptunia. She wants the world to pay for its polluting.
A heartfelt, on the nose eco episode. The message is direct and sincere, as a concerned Gosalyn expresses her environmental fears to her unconcerned father. He sees her worries as overexaggerated and boasts about ineffective pollution laws. His viewpoint begins as lazily moderate but by the end of the episode he becomes a violent activist.
What really makes the episode work however, is the villain. Susan Silo as Neptunia steals the show as a morally ambiguous and sassy character. She is matter of fact, full of cutting put downs and physically dominates all scenes she is in, despite her petite size. Neptunia is an angry mother nature, reflecting Gosalyn’s ecological anxieties. In fact, she’s basically how one might imagine a grown up version of Gosalyn to be, not taking no for an answer. She has a great entrance build up, with the unforgettable call of her shell trumpet.
Neptunia also has a moving backstory flashback, in which we see her as a tiny young Hallibut witnessing barrels of toxic waste hit the ocean floor. Being a cartoon made in 1991, these, of course, mutate her into a more humanoid form. Silo’s narration really sells the lost innocence of the natural world.
Darkwing treats his conflict with Neptunia as a clear cut battle of hero vs. villain. Launchpad, of all characters, plays a key role in seeing the bigger picture and resolving the narrative later on. It seems almost uncharacteristic of him to negotiate a complicated eco crisis, especially as Gosalyn understands Neptunia's actions from the beginning. However, Launchpad's neutral minded, lack of an agenda as a character keeps the episodes message sincere and presents a convincing argument to Neptunia.
Neptunia’s cavernous lair is interesting to look at. Her shell throne would make Botticelli proud. The polluted beach, with factory fumes clouding above it, is a hideous setting, deliberately. The geography of St. Canard is put to effective use here too, with a small island used to plug it by a whale. Darkwing’s submarine, exploring the dramatically flooded city, has a great sense of scale.
The music throughout the episode is really fitting. This includes Neptunia’s jazzy theme and the fitting investigation music for when Darkwing paces back and forth in his hide out.
The Darkwing Squad
Animation: Wang Film Productions Co. Ltd.
Feeling SHUSH has become too bereaucratic, J Gander Hooter asks Darkwing to retrain the organisations best agents. This upsets Agent Grizzlykoff, who leaves, feeling hurt. FOWL is planning a major robbery, lead by Steelbeak, who offers Grizzlykoff to join them in stopping Darkwing.
A wonderful spy centric episode, that begins with a great piece of foreshadowing that leads to an unexpected, expertly executed twist ending. The opening sequence, in which Darkwing fights FOWL eggmen in a fake middle Eastern setting, is a joyous display of action and cartoon physics. This is an episode about twists and turns, one of which has Darkwing talking to a glove puppet version of J Gander Hooter. Ultimately, the episode is centred around how our egos shouldn’t get the better of us. Darkwing’s giant portrait of himself in his hideout and his lack of accountability really emphasise this.
The paper-pushing Darkwing Squad start as appropriately rigid, and it is fun to see them take on their looser, physical transformations into Darkwing copies. Darkwing Dog, Darkwing Deer, Darkwing Dodo and Darkwing Donkey even get their own variations of Darkwing’s physically branded motorcycles.
There’s a rather dark moment where Grizzlykoff and Hooter arrive in the bad part of town to view Darkwing’s training presentation. We see the gunfire of a passing gangster car chase and we hear the ominous scream of a woman, which are unrelated to Darkwing’s project. Hooter comments that the surroundings add an element of “realism” that he appreciates, but Grizzlykoff is left unsettled.
The showdown in an enormous, exotic looking aquarium with an attempted pearl theft is really original, as is a moment with a Russian doll shark.
The animation by Wang is colourful, busy and expressive.
That Sinking Feeling
September 14, 1991
Animation: Walt Disney Television Animation (Australia) Pty, Limited
Darkwing is bored that there is no crime to fight in St. Canard. The SS Langdale ship, the KDUQ radio tower and St Canard Electric plant mysteriously disappear, giving Darkwing a new case. Gosalyn wants to join him, but is told she must instead visit a baseball game as planned. Underground, villain Moliarty is using these stolen constructions to create a Kineto beam, linked to the baseball stadium. He has a plan to create darkness and lead his army of moles to the surface world (whilst they purchase his own brand of sunglasses).
The official pilot of the series. It economically sets up the world of Darkwing Duck, the various dynamics between characters and the tone within a few minutes. The opening sequence has a voice over worthy of The Shadow, cut to shadowy visuals and stunning views of the unique Audubon Bay Bridge towers.
While it establishes Darkwing’s ego, the thematic focus is really on his conflicting love for his adopted daughter Gosalyn, as the episode shows how we shouldn’t underestimate the abilities of others. It also cements pretty quickly how precocious Gosalyn is, with instincts to rival a superhero. This fits in very well with Moliarty’s plan to also rise and shine above the world around them.
A lot is set up and paid off to full effect. A salt packet from the baseball stadium snacks is used to kill adversaries later on. Once the moles are above the surface, their newfound arrogance is ripe for a scene involving chilli sauce, in which they zoom across the sky. The finale makes full use of its baseball stadium setting.
There is also a retro tinged design that reflects very much how America looked back with nostalgia at the time. Kitsch nostalgic details range from the 1970s Lamb chop sideburns of a TV newscaster to a brass alarm clock, a wooden framed television set and a Norman Rockwell style baseball stadium. It creates a timeless feeling for the episode. The various hench-creatures, such as giant slugs and beetles, amalgamate to forge a Disney Alice in Wonderland aesthetic, with the physics of Warner Brothers creations. There are some proto-tonal elements that would be phased out later on in the series, such as a moment where we see anthropomorphised tear gas.
The animation by Disney Australia is near feature quality. A lot of character is articulated visually with facial gestures, quick glances and asides to the audience. The mix of twilight sky ambience and optimistic blue skies create cinematic backdrops for the action.
The ship SS Langdale bares the surname of one of the shows writers.
Slaves to Fashion
October 12, 1991
Animation: Walt Disney Animation (Japan) Inc.
Concerned that Gosalyn is too involved in boys activities, Binkie Muddlefoot convinces Drake that she needs lessons to be more feminine. Tuskernini is applying hypno-gas to costumes, which turns the wearer into the identity of what they are wearing. Tuskernini has hired out his costumes to a masquarade ball, which is taking place at Gosalyn’s school.
An inspired take on how our looks don’t define us, and more specifically to Gosalyn, gender stereotypes and expectations. Binkie Muddlefoot loses all of her charm as she decides for Gosalyn, quite snootily, what is “feminine” and “like a lady”. For the first time in the series, Binkie often seems cold and condescending, rather than quaint. This dynamic really helps add an uncomfortable tension to the episode.
A department store makeover and etiquette lesson scenes really bring out the clash between Binkie’s goals and Gosalyn’s character. A great example has Gosalyn forced to improve her posture by walking with a book on her head, and she chooses to kick a soccer ball at the same time. There’s also a moment made made funnier by the addition of Launchpad lounging around the house for no reason.
The best joke is Herb Muddlefoot meeting Drake who is “dressed up” as Darkwing Duck. Herb giggles at the likeness and explains that Darkwing is his best friend and he met him once in person. Second to this is Honker pacing, nervous to take Gosalyn as his date, as Launchpad offers useless advice.
The comic book logic of the hypno-gas plot works, and Launchpad literally flying across the dance floor in a chair is never unfunny. The same can also be said of an absurd marriage scene between Tuskernini and Darkwing.
For an episode focused on fashion, we get to see some very much of their time. At one point, Darkwing taps into the skateboarding craze of the very early 1990s, and Tuskernini’s accomplice penguins are dressed in vivid 1991 school wardrobe.
The bookending with Drake assembling Gosalyn’s bicycle has an extremely satisfying close.
Planet of the Capes
November 27, 1991
Animation: Walt Disney Animation (Japan) Inc.
Whilst Darkwing surveys the city of St. Canard, Comet Guy flies down and transports him to Planet Mertz, which is depending on him. This appeals to Darkwing’s ego. On Mertz, Darkwing receives the key to the city and discovers the planet is populated entirely by superheroes. A person named Ordinary Guy is missing, so they want to replace him with Darkwing, who has no superpowers. He agrees to stay, but someone is watching him…
Darkwing’s ego is taken to an inverted level here, as it gets the better of his judgement, journeying him to Planet Mertz. The structure is brave and very unusual, in that we aren’t properly introduced to the villain until two thirds of the way into the episode. In fact, it actually does a great job of feeling structureless, as Darkwing is placed on a planet populated by insecure humanoid superheroes, where the only outcome can be absurdist pain.
Fundamentally, this episode is about how labels are a fallacy and it’s what we do that defines us. It feels wacky and more a series of short form sketches in nature, but it has a profound point to make with a very traditional story. While we start with Darkwing’s ego betraying him, he actually teaches a lesson to Mertz and frustrated, unofficial villain, Ordinary Guy.
The thousands of superheroes on Planet Mertz, a mixture of men and women, are all interchangeably stupid. They’re unable to meet their own label as superheroes. The constant disappointment they provide is given a new backdrop, where anything can be possible, which separates it from the earth setting of Comet Guy’s other episode, Smarter Than A Speeding Bullet. Planet Mertz is colourful eye candy. There is a Jack Kirby level of comic book imagination by way of the world inhabited by Marvin the Martian.
The escalating ray gun face off between Darkwing and Ordinary Guy could have come straight from a Looney Tunes cartoon. The inclusion of the Big Dipper as a weapon of choice is very creative, as is Planet Mertz as a treadmill. The abrupt, not entirely resolved ending is oddly appropriate.
Some of the brilliant gags include Darkwing’s double web kick, adhesive tape substituting confetti streamers and Darkwing distracted by a televised bikini contest.
Disney Japan’s animation is not unlike the colourful, busy work of Let’s Get Respectable. A real feast for the eyes.
September 16, 1991
Animation: Walt Disney Animation (Japan) Inc.
Megavolt is stealing lightbulbs across St. Canard, causing a blackout. Darkwing and Launchpad turn up to stop him, and the confrontation leads to a battle in a department store. Megavolt uses he buildings electricity to charge himself up and turn inanimate objects to attack Darkwing. He then overloads the lighting department, causing Darkwing’s eyes to overload and suffer blindness.
While it is of it’s time with some of it’s clinical terminology, Duck Blind shows how when faced with disadvantage, we shouldn’t focus on perceived weaknesses but instead embrace our existing strengths.
Disability is delicately handled and the overall tone of the episode is sensitive and filtered through Darkwing’s self-serving character. Here, his temporary blindness isn’t portrayed as his weakness. As always, the weak connection is Darkwing himself; his achilles heel is his own wallowing, ego and self importance. He is quick to use all artificial means in order to preserve his image, rather than accept the change made to his life and trust his senses and own existing skills. When he finally does put his senses first, he becomes highly efficient and begins to make use of his abilities, rather than trying to find quick fix technological substitutes to compensate for his loss of sight.
Megavolt is curiously one of the most effective villains in episodes dealing with Darkwing’s personal loss and ego. His motivation to liberate electrical products seems to have infinite entertainment value. The scientific logic of the character or his end game is never disclosed; he just wants more and more electrical power for no justifiable reason. In a morbidly humourous moment, Darkwing mentions how he sent the villain to the electric chair, twice! This is boundary pushing humour that could only work with this electricity-centric character.
So familiar is Megavolt with Darkwing’s entourage of Launchpad, Honker and Gosalyn, he identifies them here as the Darkwing Fanclub.
Duck Blind has a scope and scale to its empty, daylight absent setting. The environments are interesting and a fun visual playground for this adventure. There are a four exciting action set pieces in: a department store, the forward looking Deloonium Electric car factory warehouse, (complete with anthropomorphic vehicles), The St. Canard Hall of invention and Megavolt's Lighthouse lair.
The use of Duck Blind’s perpetual night time allows for great contrast and immersion when the scene is blinded by life-altering amounts of light. The episode ends, appropriately, with a black out, and hints that Darkwing has learned very little from his experience.
There are some fun gags. At the end of the second act, we are treated to a disillusioned Drake Mallard singing the blues with a Harmonica. Vocal and sound effects are inventive, from Megavolt's distorted reading of “run down”, and a fun moment where the Thunderquack reverses, with acapella spoken sound effects.
Duck Blind also has the great line “Find me a jay walker- a stock broker! Any crook will do”!
October 10, 1991
Animation: Kennedy Cartoons, Inc.
Gosalyn and Honker unexpectedly join Darkwing when he investigates the disappearance of tax attorneys. Honker discovers dinosaur footprints, but Darkwing rejects them. He is adamant that the felon is the tax attorney’s jailed client, Numero Uno, whom he decides to interrogate. Honker and Gosalyn follow the footprints to the history museum. Here they meet dinosaur Stegmutt, who introduces them to his boss, Dr. Fossil.
An especially morbid episode, emphasising the need to listen to to what others have to say and accept their help. Darkwing ignores the informed thoughts of Honker, spending half of the episode on the trail of Numero Uno. A joke beyond the show’s audience is the name Shyster and Loophole, the tax attorneys representing Uno. A scene in their office opens the episode. Sequences with Darkwing trying to swoop in on Numero Uno at the minimum security prison are like classic Wile E Coyote. The way the various subplots intercut is effortless, too.
It’s not entirely clear what the resentful Dr. Fossil’s original form was, but it’s loosely implied that he was another victim of the Retro evolution gun, which he uses to turn St. Canardians into Dinosaurs. It’s quite disturbing to see Dr. Fossil’s collection of civilians turned into dinosaurs, kept behind barred garage doors in his underground layer. Steggmutt, the naive, soda-addicted former janitor, is both loveable and dangerously clumsy. The telephone prank call sequences, where Fossil creates a distraction while Stegmutt steals, are a great running gag.
During the finale, as Cleansers Comet makes its way towards the city, there is the ominous detail of ice age snowflakes falling from the sky.
The episode illustrates the beginning of the dinomania craze that swept the 1990s. Dr. Fossil even cites how Dinosaurs are now associated with their representation in merchandise. This was 2 years before the film Jurassic Park was released.
Kennedy’s squash and stretch animation is appealingly fluid. There are some very dynamic looking movements in three dimensions, including Darkwing’s cape spins. The Toho style Godzilla walk through St. Canard is entertaining, and the wheezing gas-o-meter on the Ratcatcher is straight Looney Tunes physics. Dr. Fossil’s deflection of a gas cloud and the closing iris ending with the mention of tartare sauce are also in the realm of classic Warner Bros cartoonishness.
An army officer is ingeniously named Private Parking-Space.
Dances with Bigfoot
February 6, 1992
Animation: Sunwoo Animation
With Launchpad on vacation, Gosalyn, dressed as superhero Crimson Quackette, demands to be Drake’s sidekick. He tells her she’s not experienced. The next morning she finds Drake has been abducted, and teams up with Honker to find him. They find a blow gun and big foot prints, which takes them across country to the Great Pacific North West.
A very playful episode about subverting expectations and how we shouldn’t always make assumptions. Every beat is meticulously set up to be contradicted by what follows; by design it's the least predictable episode of Darkwing Duck. The result is truly hilarious and really refreshing. It also pays off a lot of its seemingly random set ups, such as a dirigible ride that appears to go nowhere.
Notably, this is one of the only episodes to not have a main villain adversary. The uncommunicative Bigfoot tribe allows for greater character interaction between Darkwing, Gosalyn and Honker. For no explained reason, Gosalyn is dressed as her alias, pulp hero The Crimson Quackette throughout the episode. It works.
Honker running from a snake is one of the most laugh out loud moments of the series. A joke with a ranger, conned into paying Gosalyn’s transport fees, is superb. The way the tribe is set up to be unsophisticated and primitive is also slyly deceptive.
The autumnal forest and great outdoors scenery is elaborate and expansive. A whole aerial perspective of St. Canard, used as the training ground for a dirigible flying school, is imaginative and impressive.
Philip Giffins score, which ranges from an infectious cha-cha, bongos to indigenous music, enhances the comedy. A dance marathon scene is particularly well scored.
November 21, 1991
Animation: Freelance Animators Pty Ltd. New Zealand
& Walt Disney Television Animation (Australia) Pty, Limited (Backgrounds)
Dr. Sarah Bellum of SHUSH has created the Norma Ray, which creates Norma particles; the source of psychic powers. Launchpad volunteers for an experiment with it, and slowly begins to show new abilities. Major Synapse of FOWL’s psychic division, who has been assigned two clueless hippies, is ordered to get results. He is alerted to SHUSH’s experiment.
The closest the series got to comic book body horror. A tightly written tale about the perils of taking advantage of others, beginning with an unusual venture to the SHUSH laboratory in the Swiss Alps, where Launchpad and Darkwing deliver an office stapler for no justifiable reason.The juxtaposition of the authoritarian Major Synapse teamed with two undisiplined hippies makes for fun if unnerving consequences. The two hippies eventually become superpowered villains Hotshot and Flygirl, who oddly meet a cartoony defeat, while their leaders demise seems permanent.
Dr, Sarah Bellum’s morbid sense of humour is very funny, as she casually laughs off mortal consequences. At one point she kills an iguana (who reappears later), and with dissatisfaction insists on using a human subject instead. At another point she frankly explains to Darkwing and Launchpad that they need a volunteer dedicated to SHUSH, but isn’t part of their medical plan. Hotshot’s disposal of her, via a snow sled, is precision comedy.
There is also a brilliant close up shot of Major Synapses driving licence, which has a West Burbank zip code.
The animation is perhaps the most off-model the show had ever been, and makes the subject matter doubly grotesque. As all of the characters are drawn out of perspective, Launchpad’s ever distorting forehead seems even more exaggerated.
The shot construction is ingenious, with witty visual comedy making use of the background and foreground simultaneously. The most notable sequence is when Launchpad fails a psychic test, while a forest levitates and burns behind the oblivious characters. A visit with the Muddlefoots is also really well choreographed, as multiple characters are unknowingly affected by Launchpad’s transformation.
The use of sound in this episode is chilling.
Inherit the Wimp
September 19, 1992
Animation: Hanho Heung-Up Co., Ltd.
Helping Gosalyn with her homework, Drake shows her his family tree, which contains several heroes throughout time. Gosalyn uses the Time Top to time travel and bring back Drake’s heroic ancestors to the present. At the same time, Megavolt is using a device to take nervous energy from the citizens of St. Canard, making them living statues.
A really well written tale about how people are not born with skills but have to learn them. The support cast of three historical Mallards, one from the stone age, the medieval times and the wild west, make an electric team. Megavolt’s scheme, involving people without nerve energy, is a smart analogy for finding your inner hero.
There is a great scene where Launchpad, fresh from time travelling to ancient Rome, explains about statues as the heroes fly over the inanimate St. Canardians in the Thunderquack. The Electro Nerve Generator ending is an impressive lightshow.
The quick family tree vignettes are very evocative of the time periods that they suggest. The biblical looking illustration of stone age Webworth Mallard is very striking. Sir Quackmire Mallard (played by Roddy McDowall) gets a fairy tale style in the vein of The Reluctant Dragon, and Sherriff Quack Mallardson AKA The Whittling Kid gets a sepia photo come to life.
The episodes world building extends even to Hamburger Hippo: We see it relocated inside of The St. Canard shopping mall.
It’s never explained why Darkwing has acquired Quackerjack’s Time Top device, but it really doesn’t matter.