Two years ago, stepping into a comic shop and attempting to strike up a conversation about Darkwing Duck would have likely resulted in nothing but a quizzical stare or weak shrug at best. Though the Terror That Flaps in the Night once ruled the '90s Disney Afternoon animation block with his signature blend of egotism and crime fighting flair, the intervening years saw Darkwing slowly but surely vanish from the pop culture landscape. Fans of the series were left to reminisce on message boards about their favorite episodes while dreaming of a renaissance and denouncing Disney for failing to promote him alongside their other decorated Ducks. That is, until a couple took action, bringing the Masked Mallard back in an outstanding monthly book that reintroduced him to a whole new generation of fans.
With the final issue of writer Ian Brill and artist James Silvani's BOOM! Studios' "Darkwing Duck" hitting shelves this week, Silvani can't help but look back over the past year and a half and marvel at how the project gained momentum. "You know, when this whole thing was first announced, it was a four issue miniseries," he recalled with a smile, crediting former Editor Aaron Sparrow with single-handedly pulling Darkwing out of retirement in 2010. "I fought for about a year to get it made," he said. "BOOM! was not convinced at all that the book would sell, but Disney was really supportive of it and I knew that I wanted to do it from the day that I came in."
To illustrate "The Duck Knight Returns," Sparrow sought out lifelong Carl Barks enthusiast Silvani, confident the artist would do the characters justice. "The thing that made me nervous was, I'm a stickler. If you're going to do a licensed property, you want it to look like what the property is. There are so many other books out there that are licensed that make you go, 'Ehhh -- it's close, but not quite.' I wanted Darkwing to look exactly right."
"The first issue, I was kind of flying blind," Silvani said with a laugh. "We didn't have any reference from Disney. I was just doing everything from screen-caps. Finally, by the time the second issue came around, Tad Stones, creator of Darkwing, provided us with some of the model sheets he had, and Disney let us go to the archives and pick through whatever meager reference they had. From there, I was able to make it look a little more like it's supposed to."
Their efforts paid off when the book launched to glowing reviews, prompting BOOM! to quickly transition it into a monthly series. Silvani took the opportunity to pencil in cameos by a variety of characters, Disney Afternoon-related and beyond, to the delight of eagle-eyed readers. "The first time that came up was in a panel with Gadget [from 'Rescue Rangers'] in the background. I thought, 'Wow! We can get away with this?' Darkwing was a dead property. [Disney] didn't know what to do with it. They kind of let us have free rein, so once we got that cameo in there, I started drawing little things in the background here and there. I never got a note on anything, so I just did it at will."
The storyline that followed, "Crisis on Infinite Darkwings," offered the artist a chance to let his creativity run even wilder. When the original script called for "about ten Darkwings" to appear in the streets of St. Canard, Silvani suggested they go for broke and fill the pages with as many alternate universe versions of the hero as possible. "I think we had about 250 different Darkwings in total, in the backgrounds and everywhere. There was a message board that had a list of all the Infinite Darkwings on there. I went and counted through it and said, 'You guys missed about ten.'
"One of the ones I drew was a Goon and Frankie Darkwing and Launchpad [based on Eric Powell's Dark Horse series 'The Goon']," he pointed out. "Somebody posted that online and Eric Powell retweeted it, so it actually made it out there. That made me happy." For Sparrow's money, one of the better gags in the series involved a piece of luggage. "I suggested to [James] an alligator suitcase joke for the F.O.W.L. arc, and he just took that idea and ran with it. That's the great thing -- you can name just the most ridiculous thing that you can think of and James will make it work."
While he's adamant that Silvani's inventive touches helped make the series a hit, Sparrow credits illustrator Sabrina Alberghetti with inspiring the book's third arc. "I was on DeviantArt one day and punched in 'Darkwing Duck.' One of the first images I saw was this great image of Steelbeak holding Darkwing by the neck and jamming a machine gun in his face. The expressions were just so perfect, I had my assistant editor Jason Long contact Sabrina on the spot." Alberghetti landed a regular gig as the book's alternate cover artist and was eventually invited to draw a Quackerjack-focused tale in the Annual. Her DeviantArt illustration, meanwhile, became the narrative spring-board for issues 9 through 12, in which the two feathered rivals team up against F.O.W.L. "If you think of Steelbeak, he's really the character that's got everything Darkwing's ego wants," Sparrow mused. "He's got the money, he's got the fame, he's respected -- he's just on the wrong side of the law. So we thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to play these two off each other?' because they hate each other. I give Sabrina full credit for putting that idea into my brain with that one image."
In the issues that followed, readers were treated to even more twists on the established canon, though some fans criticized the book's darker approach to the traditionally comedic characters, wondering why Darkwing was often at odds with his trusted sidekick Launchpad. "I think if we had more time to work on the book, that would probably be [addressed]," Silvani said. "We had about three years of issues planned out, and I think there was definitely an effort to get back to the more lighthearted tone of the show."
As it stands, the book ends its run with an unprecedented four-part crossover entitled "Dangerous Currency" involving the "Duck Tales" and "Darkwing Duck" casts. "I got to draw Scrooge, which was the most exciting part for me. He's such a huge part of what made me the cartoonist that I am," said Silvani. "Every duck that you ever wanted to see in a comic is there."
Silvani hopes the final issue will "make everybody happy" in light of the way fans stood behind the publication from the beginning. "There's no better fans in the world than Darkwing fans," he stated. "They've been very supportive of everything we've done with the book. I'm glad they're still buying it. It's been a consistent seller. We never fluctuated up or down. The fans are there and I'm happy they've been so welcoming."
The comics success, critically and financially, also likely helped improve Disney's perception of Darkwing's marketability. "From what I heard, DVD sales since the comic has come out have risen -- I think it was 300%," Silvani shared. While this doesn't guarantee Darkwing – aka The Rhinestones on the Jumpsuit of Justice -- will return in the future, both artist and editor remain hopeful. "We've had some really informal discussions with people at Disney," Sparrow told CBR. "They still, of course, are putting together their publishing plan, and I'm not sure they've pulled everything together yet but -- thankfully, the fans have made them very aware of how popular this character is. I think a Darkwing book put out at Marvel through a Disney imprint, or Disney doing their own books, would be huge. I think it would be even more successful than what we've done here, so I'm really hopeful that they'll continue the series. We keep having dinners, we keep talking to creator Tad Stones, who is awesome, and we keep coming up with new ideas. Hopefully, if something happens, they'll give us a call and we'll get a chance to tell some great stories."
Elaborating on the direction said stories might take, Silvani hinted at parodies of recent DC titles like "Flashpoint" and "Batman, Incorporated," while Sparrow offered, "I think we would honor existing continuity, but we do have a plan that we'd like to turn it on its ear, typical comic-book style. An 'everything you know is wrong!' kind of storyline, but in a way that honors the spirit of the show."
"Darkwing Duck #18, written by Ian Brill and illustrated by James Silvani, is on sale now.