Darkwing Duck is a multimedia franchise created and owned by The Walt Disney Company. Its point of origin is a cartoon belonging to the The Disney Afternoon lineup that was developed from 1989 to 1992 and debuted its episodes from 1991 to 1992. At the core of the cartoon and the franchise is Darkwing Duck, the vigilante protector of St. Canard and sometimes the rest of existence. He and his allies are constantly on the lookout for causers of trouble to restore the peace in time. During the 1990s, video games, comics, toys, and other merchandise were produced to go with the cartoon. The franchise came to an end in the Late 90s, but was revived in 2010 as a comic series that takes place a year after the events of the cartoon. The comic series ended in 2011, but was picked back up in 2016.
Work on what would become Darkwing Duck began in 1989, about July-August. In those weeks, Mike Peraza was preparing a presentation to pitch The Secret Adventures of Bullwinkle, which was to be a revival of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show that had its original run from 1959 to 1964 and of which most of the staff was a fan. The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show is not a Disney product, but Gary Krisel, at the time President of Disney Television Animation, had understood from the legal team that Disney, which handled the video distribution of the original series, owned the full rights to the franchise. He had understood that wrongly, as Disney only owned the video rights of the original series. They discovered this about a week before they were to give a presentation on the new show. In that same period, Tad Stones had been assigned a project that was moving along at snail's pace. Among the material of the DuckTales cartoon (1987-1990), there was an episode titled "Double-O-Duck" that aired on November 25, 1987. Jeffrey Katzenberg, then chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, liked the name and concept and had told Stones to create a series out of it. Stones, however, couldn't make it work. The spy genre wasn't having its best of years, with the 1989 James Bond movie Licence to Kill receiving mixed reviews to the point that the franchise wouldn't return to the big screen until 1995 when prior there was a new movie every two years. Though coincidentally, a spin-off cartoon series called James Bond Jr. would have its run in the same years as Darkwing Duck. Further complicating the situation was that Stones had to cast Launchpad McQuack as the protagonist as per "Double-O-Duck" despite that the character was never designed to hold a series on his own. The result was a repetitive parody of the spy genre without heart, even with Gizmoduck, possibly selected for his role in "The Duck Who Knew Too Much", and a pre-designed sidekick thrown in the mix. Katzenberg didn't like Stones's initial work either, but instead of letting him drop it, he had him try again and added Mike Peraza to the development team.
At this point, the team received a little more leeway to make the concept work. Being a fan of comic books, in particular the Silver Age, Stones's ideas drifted to the realms of Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Green Hornet, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Batman, the latter helped by the success of the 1989 movie Batman. While this created more potential, Double-O Duck still didn't offer anything of its own until the idea came up to give the protagonist a daughter who got herself involved in the adventures despite all instructions not to. This gave the story heart and was what several days later got the show the green light from higher up. Stones based Gosalyn on what he imagined his own two-years old daughter to be as a nine-years old. One of Mike Peraza'a cpncept pieces is shown here with his early design for Gosalyn.  Several pieces were moved to accommodate the change. The sidekick became the protagonist, while Launchpad was kept as sidekick, not as a matter of the two switching places, but as a matter of the new protagonist needing a sidekick and Launchpad being fresh in mind. Gosalyn was given a best friend in Honker Muddlefoot, who got to double as the brains of the team. As mentioned earlier, the "Bye Bye Bullwinkle"-event hitting around this time, Disney Television Animation was in desperate need of a new show to pitch and focussed on Stones's project. Gary Kristel asked Michael Peraza to help make the visuals into a cohesive presentation with a "Disney"feel to it. Within just over a weekend time, Peraza created the art for the pitch. Despite that few people liked the design of Double-O Duck, which was essentially Donald with a mask, that design was not to be altered, and obviously Launchpad already had a design. Peraza made the first designs for Gosalyn and Honker and came up, in response to Stones's wish for an "island metropolis", with a location atop a cable suspension bridge as hideout for the hero, which may have been subconsciously inspired by the clock tower he designed three years earlier when he worked on The Great Mouse Detective. Because of a suggestion that Double-O Duck could have a motorcycle, Peraza included art of Darkwing driving up the cable to his secret base. The art of the pitch, despite huge artistic changes to come, formed that basis of early scenes of "Darkly Dawns the Duck" and "That Sinking Feeling".
With Peraza's art and a solid story, the presentation was a success and the project approved. Now with time, the concepts could be properly worked on and the first thing that happened was a second encounter with poorly researched legal rights that would again knock Disney Television Animation's start-up series into a new direct. The rights to the Double-O name belonged to Ian Fleming and the Broccoli Family, which left room for one DuckTales episode as parody but prevented a full series carrying the name. The studio subsequently held a contest to determine a new name, with $500 as reward to whoever could think up a name Stones liked. Alan Burnett won when he came up with the name "Darkwing", to which Stones added "Duck" to balance drama and humor. Seeing as how Double-O Duck's design just wasn't earning fans, Toby Sheldon was assigned to finally give him a new look, for which he took inspiration from Roger Rabbit. Darkwing Duck was developed in other ways too. It was decided the show would not address the matter of his occupation outside crimefighting, with the show itself implying he has none and the Disney Comics editorial stating he receives a nice paycheck from SHUSH. There also was the suggestion to make him the son of a 1930s hero, but this was scrapped because the crew wanted to give the audience a self-made hero not to mention it would've not worked with Stones's desire to go Silver Age and provide Darkwing with multiple origin stories. Thirdly, Darkwing received catchphrases: "Let's get dangerous" and "Suck gas, evildoers". The "I am the terror that flaps in the night" introduction was inspired by The Shadow, but the follow-up line, in which Darkwing compares himself to a different unpleasant thing each time, came from the development of "A Duck by Any Other Name", in which Launchpad messes up his line while pretending to be Darkwing. It entertained the crew enough that they gave the line creativity to Darkwing to keep.
There were a few battles that needed to be fought before Darkwing could get on the track that made it popular. At the time, immersion was the default approach of Disney's stories. Fourth wall breaking was unheard of, as was messing with continuity. Stones, however, wanted the first as part of the parody and the second to get the Silver Age approach. With the first, there was the luck that Tiny Toon Adventures, a cartoon by Amblin Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation, premiered in September of 1990 to highly favorable ratings. Because it also featured a lot of fourth wall breaking as part of the humor, the executives stopped worrying about the approach taken to Darkwing Duck. With the second, there was the luck that the team got Greg Weisman as development executive, who had previously edited at DC comics and so knew what the comic book approach was worth. The first few scripts were under the highest scrutiny, after which control from higher up loosened a bit for the rest of the original production run, meaning the first 78 episodes. Scrutiny came back with the last 13 episodes. For its first season, ABC got to pick 13 episodes from the first 78 episodes, but the final 13 that made up ABC's second season were specifically made for that network and thus came with the whole network pitching grind. That is, continuity got a little tighter, although this process had already started earlier, but content was still up for creativity. The final season contains "Hot Spells", the most controversial Darkwing Duck episode made.
Aside from Darkwing himself, only a little bit is known about the creative developments after the pitch was approved. Artwork from this period suggests that Taurus Bulba was conceived as a much bigger opponent with a grand office and well-armed troops. Given that F.O.W.L. as a heritage from DuckTales always was going to be an element, it's probable Bulba was supposed to be its leader, which would explain that he indeed is in the 1991 booklet "The Darkest Night". J. Gander Hooter, Gumbo, and Major Synapse are included too, but Synapse is noticeably more gentle-looking than his final form. At some point Taurus Bulba was removed from F.O.W.L. to make room for Steelbeak, who was designed around a voice Rob Paulsen did while kidding around. Sometime later in the development, Steelbeak, Tuskerninni, Megavolt, and Bushroot were selected as primary or exemplary villains, which is reflected in the 1991 Disney Comics editorial and the 1991 short-lived Playmates line. How this decision is to be understood in light of the first set of episodes is unclear. While multiple scripts were worked on at the same time, the one for "That Sinking Feeling" was finished first as pilot script and the episode was also the first to be animated. This episode has Moliarty as the main villain and while Steelbeak and Tuskerninni are part of the villain lineup of the first thirteen production codes, Bushroot and Megavolt don't come in until the second set. In fact, all of the first ten produced episodes star a different villain, most of which only got used once or twice. Anna Matronic was created and dropped during this time while Morgana Macawber, starting as a villain wielding magic, became a love interest as the script took form. The gas gun also went through some developments, starting as a gun which ammo literally is a huge collection of various gases, as it still is in early fiction like "That Sinking Feeling", the Playmates description, "Darkwing Duck and the Robot Plants", and the NES game, and becoming more of a multi-purpose weapon also capable of firing grappling hooks and Christmas decoration. At least as late as October of 1990, the countenance details of Launchpad and Darkwing were improved on.
As for the series' introduction, that technically started in September of 1990, well before Darkwing Duck would be on television in April of 1991. The The Disney Afternoon intro at the time already showed Darkwing Duck among the characters drawn and painted in the opening act. Gosalyn also shows up later among the dancing scenes. Seven months later, on April 7 of 1991, the Darkwing Duck preview run on the Disney Channel started, showing a selection of 13 randomly selected episodes until July 6. Ten weeks prior to the series' regular run on the Disney Afternoon, which coincided with the run of the ABC episodes, the Disney Afternoon began airing a music video to raise awareness of the new series. It eventually began with "Darkly Dawns the Duck" on September 6 on the Disney Afternoon and "That Sinking Feeling" on September 7 on ABC. The final episode would debut on ABC on December 12, 1992, after which the series went in for reruns on The Disney Afternoon until 1995.
A small amount of fiction was released between the preview run and regular run of the series, namely the first Disney Comics issues, which together are an adaption of "Darkly Dawn the Duck", and the aforementioned "The Darkest Night" and "Darkwing Duck and the Robot Plants". Once the series had began its regular run, an audiobook, the Playmates toyline, and the first Disney Adventures Darkwing Duck comic, which would run until 1996, followed within 1991. While keeping true to the world created for the cartoon, the additional fiction never limited itself to the cartoon's cast and introduced many characters of its own. 1992 holds the book releases of "The Silly Canine Caper" and "Clean Money" and the video game releases of the aforementioned NES game and the TurboGrafx-16 game, but Playmates cancelled the release of the second wave of it toyline due to disappointing sales. By the end of its original run, The Disney Afternoon had its first issue published in November of 1994. Its prime feature were original Darkwing Duck comics and the series ran until August of 1995.
The Darkwing Duck cartoon is at the core of the franchise. It consists of 91 episodes, of which two together form most of the pilot "Darkly Dawns the Duck". All the material first aired in the years 1991 and 1992, but the show remained on television until 1995. It came back for a short repeat run in the years 1996 and 1997.
There are six "series" of Darkwing Duck comics in existence. The first two, a genuine comic book series and the collection of comics published in the Disney Adventures magazine, are products of Disney Comics. The comic book series was cut short and lasted only for a handful of months in 1991 and 1992, containing two adaptions of cartoon episodes spread over six parts. The Disney Adventures collection lasted from 1991 to 1996 and consists of 35 individual and original comic stories of varying lengths.
In the same time period, Disney Comics also managed two comic collection magazines that republished material from Disney Adventures and the 10-20 different comic book series Disney Comics created (and dropped) over time. These are Colossal Comics Collection and Cartoon Tales. The earliest reprints of Darkwing Duck comics appeared in these two magazines from 1992 to 1993.
From 1994 to 1995, Marvel Comics received the license to publish The Disney Afternoon, a magazine comparable to Disney Adventures. Darkwing Duck was its main content and a total of 13 individual and original comic stories of varying lengths were written for and published in The Disney Afternoon. None of them have ever been reprinted. Both the The Disney Afternoon and Disney Adventures comics are stand-alone stories that operate within the cartoon continuity and could take place at any time during or after it.
In Europe, most Darkwing Duck comics available were translations of those from the USA. However, there are nine comics in existence, published from 1992 to 1999, that are original to Europe. Four of these are French comics, the other five Danish. They were published first by three sources: Le Journal de Mickey, Disney Club, and an unknown Danish magazine. None of these comics are available in English.
In 2010, Darkwing Duck was revived by Boom! Studios with at first a four-part comic story called The Duck Knight Returns that takes place one in-story year after the cartoon. This turned into a longer continuous series that due to management complications lasted only until 2011 and of which the final arc was published outside the license terms. The license was picked up by Joe Books in 2015 and they will continue the Boom! Studios run with a range of adjustments and disregarding the final arc.
There are three companies that tried their hand at Darkwing Duck books, all of which illustrated and meant for a young audience. The first is Walt Disney Records, who manages the Disney Read-Along series of books accompanied by tapes to entertain and help children learn to read. In 1991, they released the one Darkwing Duck entry in their ongoing line-up, which is titled "High Wave Robbery".
Under their Golden Books label, Western Publishing produced four Darkwing Duck books of which "Darkwing Duck and the Robot Plants" and "The Darkest Night" are original stories, "Clean Money" is an adaption of a cartoon episode, and "The Silly Canine Caper" an original story but possibly with roots in the cartoon production. The latter two, released in 1992, fit in one continuity with most of the 1990s material, but the first two, released in 1991, contain some oddities that suggest they are based on preliminary concepts.
Lastly, Mallard Press published adaptions of four early episodes in September of 1992 under the same name as their respective episodes. They are "Beauty and the Beet", "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlatan", "Getting Antsy", and "That Sinking Feeling".
In the early 1990s, Capcom was a prominent developer of games based on Disney franchises. In addition to being responsible to the still highly popular DuckTales game for the NES and Game Boy first available in 1989, the company also produced a Darkwing Duck game for the NES in 1992, which was ported to the Game Boy in 1993. The game takes clear cues from the Mega Man series and pits Darkwing against the forces of F.O.W.L., which in the game consists of several villains not associated with the organization in any other fiction, suggesting the game to have started development based on designs that didn't make it through development.
Also in 1992, Interactive Designs and Radiance Software brought out Darkwing Duck for the TurboGrafx-16. The game is a platformer with some clever ideas and a good look, but also is notoriously unplayable with delayed control, unpredictable hit detection, and punishment for standing still for too long. The story's design is similar to Capcom's game, but with only half the bosses, although they play a role throughout their respective stage rather than wait around in the final room.
Among the huge library of handheld games produced by Tiger Electronics is one of Darkwing Duck, which was released in 1992. As all of Tiger Electronics' games, it is a minimal game programmed within its own system. The player controls Darkwing as he fights an endless stream of bad guys.
In 2010, coinciding with the Boom! Studios comics, Disney Mobile Studios released a mobile game of Darkwing Duck. It takes cues from the Capcom and Interactive Designs/Radiance Software games, both in structure and boss choices along with their animation.
- Main article: Merchandise
- Bullwinkled at Ink and Paint Club: Memories of the House of Mouse by Michael Peraza
- The Tad Stones Interview at Animation World Network
- "Double-O-Darkwing" at Ink and Paint Club: Memories of the House of Mouse by Michael Peraza
- #100. A Conversation with Tad Stones at Full Circle Magazine
- Origins: Usenet posts from Darkwing Duck creator, Tad Stones, who posted them to alt.fan.disney.afternoon in 1999 at The Darkwing Duck Blog
- Flapping Terror's Exclusive Tad Stones Interview
- INTERVIEW WITH TAD STONES – Darkwing Duck at Total Media Bridge
- Darkwing Duck concept art at D23
- Darkwing Duck Bible photos at Tempest-Loupnoir at Tumblr
- Darkwing Title Ideas at Tad Stones's Facebook page
- Darkwing Duck Animation Model Sheets at The Old Haunt