Other than he existed, I knew very little about Batman in 1991. It would be years before I even heard about the Shadow, Sandman, and Green Hornet. Tad Stones, however, prepared me for these iconic pulp characters.
Stones created Darkwing Duck, which combined a few of the topics I’ve touched upon my childhood this week: anthropomorphic ducks and superheroes. The animated series fully embraced the fun and absurdity of vigilantes as presented in comic book form from the ’40s to the ’80s. Yes, the show again reenforced my love of dual identities, science fiction, and crime fighting, but it introduced a whole new world of humor through satire. Granted I might not have known the term or the content being analyzed on a daily basis, but plots stuck with me as I aged and discovered the primary texts.
I discovered the art of the catchphrase from this Disney cartoon long before I knew about Adam West and Burt Ward. The show emphasized the concept’s ridiculousness by having DW change it every time the main character uttered it. Usually it was a variation on “I am the terror that flaps in the night. [Insert new line based upon an episode’s theme here.] I am Darkwing Duck!”
“The Secret Origins of Darkwing Duck” episode still resonates with me. I had no idea at the time that Stones and his production crew were preparing for the medium I’d soon love. In the far future (the Legion of Superheroes), students learn one of DW’s many origin stories. In the story, a young duck escapes an exploding planet (Superman), receives the power to appear in smoke from a genie (the Shadow), and is trained by monks in a secluded city (too many stories to reference, but I like to think this one particularly emphasizes the Immortal Iron Fist). The character finally becomes the hero to avenge a mentor (every heroic journey…). He finally assumes his heroic role and declares: “I am the terror that flaps in the night. I am the hero that every culture in every world needs. I am Darkwing Duck!”
It’s this kind of pop culture filter and commentary that endeared the animated series to me long before I discovered Jonathan Swift and Steve Gerber. It’s because of Darkwing that I still seek new forms of satire today.