Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Review: Darkwing Duck Annual #1

That's a very striking cover on Boom Studios' Darkwing Duck Annual #1 (Well, this being comics in 2011, it's one of the three covers that Darkwing Duck Annual #1 will ship under; there's another that matches the above, only with the title character holding his gun instead of a camera by the same artist, and the other is a weird "Can you find all the mistakes in this image?" sort of cover from Tad Stones, who will come up later).

You probably recognize the image, even if you don't know who the duck in the jester costume is (It's Quackerjack, a Joker/Toyman type villain). It's the same focus and pose that Brian Bolland used for The Joker on the cover of 1988's Batman: The Killing Joke, a seminal and somewhat notorious Batman story by Alan Moore and Bolland. It's the one in which The Joker shot Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon, paralyzing, her stripped her naked and took pictures of her, kidnapped her dad Commissioner Gordon, stripped him naked and had him tortured by dwarfs in gimp suits and, somewhere along the way, comes closer to revealing his real origin story than other post-Crisis comic did. It's also one of the prolific cover artist Bolland's far too-few examples of extended interior work for an American publisher. And both Bolland and Moore have expressed reservations about the work.

It's a strange image for a Darkwing Duck comic, an all-ages title on Boom's kids imprint based on a an early '90s Disney after school cartoon. The new Darkwing comic has worn its Batman-influence on it's sleeve, however, and this is just one of several covers to riff on Batman covers so far:

I like most of these a whole lot. The original Batman images are all classics due to the strength of their original conception and design, and the DW versions are all pretty clever in plugging their characters into the formulas of each of those covers, while generally inserting a parodic element as well (Even if it's small, like Darkwing's reflection in Quackerjack's lens there).

A Killing Joke reference seems unusual given just how adult the subject matter is (the same could be said for Dark Knight Returns too, I suppose), but then, it only seems strange to me because I've read Killing Joke—I can't imagine any kids who read this annual will have also read Killing Joke, or even "get" the cover enough to seek out its source. So it's harmless enough, a sort of coded reference that will get where it needs to go without any unwanted stops along the way.

The lead story in the book does share a tiny bit in common with Killing Joke, however—it is a kinda sorta origin story of a crazy, clown-themed supervillain

Its entitled "Toy With Me," and its by writer Ian Brill and artist Sabrina Alberghetti. Quackerjack steals a crazy invention that was originally used to turn people and objects into video game characters and props (the subject of an old episode of the cartoon, I believe), now modified to turn people into toys—toys that obey him. His plan is to use it to turn everyone who plays World of Whifflecraft into toys.

In order to to get close to his foe, Darkwing plans to reunite him with his old stuffed animal cohort, Mr. Banana Brain (think The Ventriloquist and Scarface, Batman fans).

As with my last encounter with Brill's Darkwing Duck comics writing, I was impressed with how dead-on all of the characters voices are (It's been a decade and a half since I was a kid watching the cartoon, but all the dialogue in the bubbles sounds like things the characters would say, and the words Brill chose easily summon the sounds of the voice actors back up through my memory and into my mind's ear). And again I was quite impressed with how easily he updates an early '90s franchise to the second decade of the 21st century–technology and the modern rituals and experiences it has created appear throughout the book, but they do no real harm to the characters or the integrity of the world.

There's a bit in here about the darkening of sueprvillains over time, evidenced through the silly visual metaphor of a darker, meaner Mr. Banana Brain with pointy, metal edges, and the ending is surprisingly touching. Hell, it's downright poignant.

Alberghetti's art, like that of cover artist Silvani (who draws the back-up), is brilliant at finding balance between being on-model and being vibrantly individual all on its own. Every panel looks animated, but with a much higher degree of sophistication, detail, design chops and even movement than the original cartoon boasted (No offense to the producers or anything but, well, early '90s American after school animation was hardly what one would call great animation).

That back up is written by Tad Stones, the supervising producer of the television show and the creator of Darkwing Duck, to the extent that any one person can be credited with creating the character and the show. That creation process is the subject of a two-and-a-half page prose article by Stones, entitled "The Origin[s] of Darkwing Duck," in which Stones talks about how a proposed Double-O Duck series starring Launchpad McQuack as a James Bond-style super-spy gradually became a Shadow/Batman parody of sorts.

As for the Stones/Silvani story, it's an eight-page story in which Drake Mallard takes his adopted daughter Gosalyn to the pet store (the weirdness of which is addressed when she sees some goslings in there), in which they find a time-traveling turtle, and eventually tangle with villain Chronoduck, "Master of Time and Clockery!"

It has a few neat and funny twists to it, particularly given how short a piece it is, and Silvani's art in the pet store is fun, with most of animals in aquariums and cages being various Disney animals.

At $5, it's perhaps a pretty pricey package—$15 gets you 112-128 pages of Darkwing comics via trade—but probably a great way to test out Boom's DW comics if you're curious but cautious.

No comments: