It may be a bit hard for adults returning to beloved childhood franchises to judge the merits of new iterations without the clumsy, desultory influences of self-important nostalgia. One might, say, go into a perfectly reasonable issue of a new Darkwing Duck comic with a loftier expectation than the book demands of its child audience—after all, haven’t we grown? Should not this new Darkwing grow with us, the original audience?
It’s a faulty sense of entitlement, one which has spoiled many new creative efforts for fondly remembered IP. It’s hard for new young fans to connect with those IPs with grumpy adults in charge of the financial sway on the industry; after all, it isn’t often the kids walking into comic shops with copies of Previews, laying down their money to pre-order Darkwing Duck, and with the book coming out from Dynamite Entertainment, it’s unlikely that this book will find its way onto those lower racks of grocery store magazine aisles where kids might reasonably find their coveted reading material.
All of this is to say that the new Darkwing is just fine. Well, it’s more than fine: it’s exciting, willing to commit to gags and bolster its action with a minor B-Plot, and it gets the tone of the ’90s versions of these characters right. The artwork is smooth, the colors spot-on; St. Canard has rarely looked so good. It’s the perfect introduction to the characters and setting for those kids unlucky enough to have never experienced the Disney Afternoon from which they spring; this is a book to cement new fans for this beloved childhood franchise.
But we’re here to overthink things, aren’t we? Isn’t that the point of media journalism? To break down and examine, to weigh the different parts of an endeavor against the larger contextual timeline? To, in effect, spoil it? Listen, I could write you a dissertation on the subject of ducks in comics—I can roughly outline the history of St. Canard’s sister city, Duckburg, and examine the influence of Carl Barks on Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck. I could really, really spoil this. For example:
Capturing the manic energy and humor of a cartoon isn’t always particularly easy—as one can tell reading the Disney Afternoon Adventures comics, which played with gags that might have worked in motion but often felt stale when static. The way the great Disney cartoonists have circumnavigated this hurdle is by replacing the slapstick and wordplay with something deep and complicated, usually adventure stories with complicated backstory and mystery. The very best Disney comics still read as stories for children, but they are stories for children that don’t talk down to a kid’s intelligence or ability to follow narrative complications.
Darkwing Duck #1 doesn’t talk down to kids, but neither does it exactly meet them at their own level—kids are notoriously smarter than adults give them credit for, a fact that the original Darkwing cartoon sometimes forgot itself. There is room, in this issue, for something deeper, a bigger picture in which this Megavolt story might fit. Without reading a second—and third, and fourth—issue, it’s hard to say how willing to expand on the one-off zings and knee-slappers writer Amanda Diebert and artist Carlo Lauro might be.
It’s also hard to gauge, from my clumsy and desultory point of nostalgia, how much this book needs to be something larger and more complex. Certainly, with such a Disney Duck pedigree—not to mention a remarkable, ambitious recent effort at the property from BOOM!—Darkwing Duck #1 is at an unfair disadvantage before a reader even picks it up off the shelf. If we were to judge it unfairly.
But Diebert and Lauro aren’t Don Rosa or Carl Barks, and Dynamite’s Darkwing Duck is not setting out to be The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. Instead, it is a book meant to do exactly what it is doing: to provide a vehicle with which children might fall in love with a beloved franchise.
So for godssakes, let’s not ruin that.
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