Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New comic review: Darkwing Duck #1 (Joe Books, April 2016)

 As Joe Books' Darkwing Duck #2 is due out tomorrow, it's high time for this blog to honor and review #1, as it was in the truest sense, a glorious, triumphant return to comics for Darkwing Duck... and I can't overstate enough, a glorious, triumphant return to Darkwing Duck comics for the creative team of Aaron Sparrow and James Silvani. It's the latter two men, respectively, who in 2009 launched DW's last comics return, but due to subsequent unfortunate, er, managerial decisions, were not kept together for the duration of that run (at least officially... wink, wink...!) Now, however, ideal circumstances (as such they appear from this observer's distant coordinates) at a different (*coughvastlysuperiorcoughcough*) publisher have enabled the reunion of Aaron, James, and Darkwing & Co. And we, the fans/readers, are reaping the benefits (though maybe not as much as the creators, who get paid for being obsessed with this stuff!)

Given that fans have been awaiting this occasion for nearly five years (man,it's been already been that long? GTFO!), and moreover, given how long its creators have fought for the victory that is this comic's existence, the occasion is treated perfectly with the colorful, joyful, festive.. and inevitably calamitous opening scene portraying the "St. Canard Main Street Lit-Up Electrical Parade" (That's not just a classic but a classy Disney in-reference!) 

If you'll excuse  my presumptuousness, I believe that the the intent behind the parade scene is precisely as I've characterized it: to declare, "WOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!  Darkwing's BACK!!!!!!" in a blazing torrent of zany, over-the-top, slam-bang-zoom-smash action. My evidence? The only bearing that the parade and the destruction left in its wake on the plot that's underway by issue's end is the matter of how Megavolt gets from Point A to Point B... as if we really need a backstory for his or any super-villain's latest incarceration. However, if there's ever a third instance of a Darkwing Duck #1 in which an identity-withheld figure of intrigue abducts Megavolt, it will have officially become a tradition. ;) 

If you've ever been subjected to the decrees from on high as to how a screenplay (particularly, but other storytelling mediums are applicable) must be written, then you know that a writer shall never depict their character just hangin' 'round and chillin' like they would on any other ordinary day and move on to the next scene without a quantifiable change that advances the plot having taken place. If the  "parade disaster" opener loosely makes the grade, well, as  far as I can see, the "dinner at the Muddlefoots'" bit that follows eschews the so-called conventional wisdom of the gurus of pop culture formula. Nothing that transpires during it is of any trackable consequence on anything that happens afterwards -- it's just Drake reluctantly attending a cookout (and TV marathon) hosted by Herb Muddlefoot and squirming through it, as we'd expect him to. Oh, but that's what's so great about this scene. The characterizations and dialogue -- from Herb hilariously experiencing no cognitive whatsoever from his contention that the addition of tofu makes bacon and blue cheese "healthy"; to Gosalyn decidedly "cucking" Tank; to Tank slickly hustling cash out of Drake in exchange for his freedom by sabotaging by sabotaging Herb's TV satellite dish -- are not only spot-on, but delightfully original and exponentially amusing. It's like a jazz musician who will riffing comes up with a glorious melody that's completely and utterly new but yet rather than altering the song, reminds us what it sounds like.

Moreover, I'd argue that this sequence does serve a higher purpose. "The Duck Knight Returns" found circumstances in St. Canard having drastically, even antithetically, changed from those that we knew. The comic was never intended to be fan-fiction dwelling exclusively on intimacy between select characters, and therefore the heroes had to be the heroes and the villains had to be the villains, and so the status quo waos quickly restored... almost too quickly, as things remained so high-gear, several issues passed before it hit me, "W-w-w-wait, sso Drake and Gos DO still live in that same house? ...oh, you mean, Binky DIDN'T succumb to the temptations posited by some Fabio-like male model, leaving Herb, who was only saved by Quackwerks hiring him for, er, "TV viewer market research"? (Imagine Herb forcibly watching TV 24/7 Clockwork Orange-style but LOVING every second of it.) Ummm, hey, so we've been told that SHUSH is defunct, but have Sara Bellum's skills been co-opted by Quackwerks, or did the Crime-Bots execute her in cold blood based on algorithm determing her erratic, unpredictable, unreliable nature?" The Muddlefoots scene and certainly the subsequent satellite visit check-in with J. Gander and Gryzlikoff reaffirm that this is the Darkwing Duck universe we know and love from the show, and they have a grounding, reassuring effect that admittedly was somewhat missing last time 'round.

Back on Earth, we find Gosalyn off to school for the day, and what at first appears to be just some daily-mundane-suburban-routine stuff  within a couple panels is eclipsed by a vital piece of information that ("Finally!", I can hear Messrs. McKee and Ball harrumphing) gives way to the plot formally being continuously advanced. The insistent stream of jokes about the idiocy of hosting children as guests in an operational maximum-security prison and the steady flow of snarky asides (from Gosalyn) about this ironic scenario and Boober Fraggle-worthy fretting (from Honker) re: anticipating that "somethng BAD!!!" is about to happen reinforce that we're not merely being treated to a living museum tour of DW's rogues gallery, but that... well, that "something BAD!!!" is about to happen.

That something being Negaduck (newly-and-finely-filed teeth and all) springing his latest malevolent scheme to put his reviled cross-universe doppelganger through Hell and back infinite times over. Under the (non-)stewardship of the 2009-2011 publisher, Silvani's art at times felt somewhat constricted, as if he was up against unreasonable deadlines... and Aaron was exceptionally vocal in relating to the public how those enforced by that publisher (the name of which shall NOT be uttered within this realm) indeed were. And after Aaron was let go, the comic was depleted of humor (when originally, its humor had been in stylistic keeping with the TV show and surged with real lifeblood); grasp of characterization and dialogue became tenuous at best; and whoever's influence won out in terms of plot and story, their sensibilities were higher-level-aimed but too rigid and dry in operation.

And while the Definitely Dangerous collected, "remastered" volume by and large rectifies the 2010-2012 run, Joe Books' April 2016 Darkwing Duck #1 is the first time we're seeing -- no-holds-barred, unfettered, and un-fucked-with -- the Sparrow-Silvani team blasting full-bore out the gate with an original Darkwing Duck comic book issue that is fully developed and realized, brimming and bursting with razor-sharp wit and life-loving energy on each and every imperative count: story, art, characterization, and dialogue. These guys have wholly internalized he original series and now radiate it back at the universe hematically, stylistically, and spiritually. And as my default mode is to write about the writing, I'll take this opportunity to note that whereas later in the 2010-2012, Silvani presumably out of necessity was at times working in a stiffer, more utilitarian way than he'd probably like to, at Joe Books, his every page and panel is final draft/director's cut-level. Remember that two-page splash at the beginning of 2010's #1? Here, every panel has that kind of dynamics. And while, say, there were Disney Adventures artists of old who could certainly draw Disney Afternoon characters on model, Silvani not only has on-model in spades, but he's a virtuoso with anatomy, physicality, posing, and nuances in expression and countenance. In other words, the comic looks great. And it looks just like the TV show, too boot -- just look at the background/crowd characters/extras.

"Okay, soooooooooo... Negaduck shows up. And?" Well, yes, technically, all that happens is, indeed, Negaduck shows up, brawls some with DW, and then gloats, in so many words, "Oh, by the way, you're trapped, and things are about to get a lot less than pleasant for you." That's a pretty vague, non-committal cliffhanger, right? Ah, but this is a case of form over content. With every unbridled smash of a giant-sized mallet; wildly indiscriminate lashing and whipping about of a (fully powered and grinding away at full force) chainsaw; every vain, flamboyant flaunting his bristling bragging of the mirth, merriment, jubilation, and joy that he takes in misanthropy, malevolence, sadism, and savagery; and every sardonic, acerbic, contemptuous (but with relish) jibe at the expense of his "Regularverse" equivalent, this isn't some over-hyped, fan-ingratiating, obligatory "Negaduck  Returns, and with His Biggest Scheme Yet" affair. Rather, this IS Negaduck, period. The cliffhanger intrigues and entices despite that things are only just starting, as, frankly, not only are we still riding high on the sorely awaited reveal of Everyone's Favorite Villain that transpired a moment ago, but the stakes -- both physical and interpersonal/emotional -- have just been related so lucidly and resoundingly as to have fully substantiated themselves. In other words, we're sold.

Good thing #2 is out! :D ;)

P.S. I greatly appreciate the running joke incorporating Launchpad's DuckTales-based inclination toward "crashing", which I believe -- but I may be wrong -- was never in play or alluded to on Darkwing Duck.

-- Ryan

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