The city of St. Canard has long been a focus for crime and super-powered villains. Fortunately, it is also home to a mysterious vigilante who fights crime with the help of advanced technology, martial arts training, natural detective skills, an uncanny talent for stealth, and a trusted gas-gun. He is the terror that flaps in the night, the winged scourge who pecks at your nightmares, the awkward good-bye that lasts way too long. He is… Darkwing Duck!
Much of Darkwing’s past is shrouded in mystery, even from his own friends. Some have said that this masked avenger is one of the last survivors of the planet Zipton. Another account claims he is the descendant of a masked pirate hunter. The truth is that this costumed hero is Drake Mallard, a guy who discovered he had a talent for crime-fighting during an incident at his senior prom. Traveling to the East, Drake underwent intensive combat training. He later learned how to work as a detective and then, after amassing tons of high-tech equipment and setting up a secret lair, Drake returned to his home of St. Canard as his masked alter ego, hunting down criminals while announcing his presence at any given opportunity. Some consider him a hero, some a menace, others simply don’t know why he keeps offering them his autograph. And though he is sometimes distracted by a desire for fame, his primary focus (or so he insists) is justice.
Not only does Darkwing fight criminals and super-villains in his home town, he also travels the world to fight evil, often while working as a freelance agent for the super-secret organization known as S.H.U.S.H. Though he claims to be a loner, the Duck Knight is usually accompanied on his adventures by his sidekick/pilot Launchpad McQuack, his adopted daughter Gosalyn, and her best friend Honker Muddlefoot.
Although his cartoon has been over now for years, DW has never left the hearts and minds of his fans. And now, he has returned to a career of defying dastardly deeds of deviltry and disaster thanks to a new, fantastic comic book series published by BOOM! (and if you’re not reading it, you should be beaten with sticks because it’s just great). But enough back story! Time to examine the wardrobe of this masked mallard of might, this controversial and clandestine caped crusader, a hero who truly means it when he says, “Let’s Get Dangerous!”
Sometimes, it’s tough to lock down just when a hero first began their heroic destiny. In the time travel episode “Paraducks,” Darkwing and Gosalyn went into the past and met a pre-adolescent Drake Mallard who was quite a wimp until events and his future self inspired him to don this look to disguise himself as he tackled criminals.
As you can see, this is really just a shirt being used as a cape and the mask is a backwards baseball cap. It does a basic job of evoking a hero but can’t really be called an official “costume” or “uniform” by any stretch of the imagination. And since the adult Darkwing did not remember this adventure his younger self had both before and after he made this time-travel journey, it is possible that this actually wasn’t his own past but that he went off-course and accidentally slipped into a parallel timeline where things were different. That definitely happens sometimes when someone is time-traveling. Don’t look at me like that, it’s true! Just read “Booster Gold” or “Legion of Three Worlds,” people!
Now this outfit we know was definitely worn by our own Darkwing Duck because we have several witnesses. In “Clash Reunion,” we learned that Drake Mallard had attended the senior prom wearing a purple tux when all of a sudden the place was attacked by classmate Elmo Sputterspark, who now had electrical abilities and was calling himself “Megavolt” (he wanted “Megawatt,” but that turned out to be the name of the band at the prom). Drake tried to stop the villain but failed and was humiliated that he had not been taken seriously since he was known as “Drake the Dweeb.” Deciding that a masked identity would help bolster his confidence, he ran into the theater’s prop room and grabbed a mask, cape, hat and smoke bombs (leftover from a production of MacBeak). Thus, we wind up with this proto-version of Darkwing Duck.
We definitely get the message of “high school” with a purple tuxedo with a frilly shirt. This is definitely a makeshift outfit, so we can’t judge it too harshly. And we can definitely give it credit for the costume it inspired later on.
LET’S GET FASHIONABLE!
Now this is just a snazzy get-up. Look at our boy. All stylish and sleek. DW has wisely decided to use different shades rather than one brand of purple which could cause the outfit to become rather bland. The teal turtle neck seems to clash a bit, but since we only see the collar of it, it becomes a decoration rather than something that distracts our eye.
This look is based on a classic pulp hero style, evoking people such as the Shadow…
… and the original Crimson Avenger. By wearing this style then, Darkwing is telling us he is a man who relies primarily on wits, physical ability and his own resources rather than supernatural abilities (and before anyone points out that the Shadow could read minds and turn invisible, let me point out that in the original pulp adventures he was a normal human being with magician’s tricks and some small hypnotic prowess).
The jacket is sleek and unencumbered by things such as shoulder pads, belts or unnecessary add-ons. And it’s loose enough that Darkwing can really move and perform a variety of acrobatic feats. It’s simple yet memorable. After all, when was the last time you saw someone sporting a purple double breasted suit with matching mask? Very cool.
Darkwing had his fair share of fans and so, naturally, it was later decided that a comic book would be published featuring retellings of his exploits. In the episode “Comic Book Capers,” Darkwing looked over a sample of this comic book and even tried to re-write it. When we saw its pages, the adaptation of DW had a decidedly different color scheme.
The jacket is now jet black whereas the mask and interior of the cape are suddenly red. While I can appreciate that the hat now matches the cape in color, the addition of red makes Darkwing’s outfit very loud and garish. And the purple suit jacket being replaced with a black one makes him seem a much darker character. Drake should be feared by his enemies, yes, but he’s also someone who makes us laugh and who enjoys being fashionable (as far as he knows). So purple worked better. Sorry.
A CHANGE IN ATTITUDE
You’ve gotta love time travel with its paradoxes and possible futures. In “Time and Punishment,” Gosalyn journeyed several years into the future and found out that her absence had deeply affected her adopted father. With her missing, Darkwing grew cold and merciless, attacking not only major criminals and super-villains but also anyone who jaywalked, littered or missed the curfew hour that he appointed.
Thus, Drake Mallard became Darkwarrior Duck and this look certainly lets you know what’s up. The black mask and red eye lenses immediately make him more intimidating. The new bodysuit isn’t just there to protect him but also to injure others. If he tackled you, those spikes would definitely hurt. And he’s even got a firearm holstered to his side now whereas he used to keep the gas-gun tucked and hidden away unless he knew he actually needed it. A nice redesign for this decidedly darker duck.
In the episode “Let’s Get Respectable,” Darkwing confronted (not for the first or last time) the fact that he had an image problem since many considered him a menace rather than a hero. Gosalyn and Honker took over as public relations and designed this outfit meant to appeal to anyone Darkwing might wind up helping. They even replaced his usual mysterious smoke-filled entrance with one that involved throwing flower petals into the air as he pranced around.
There is an old saying, “You can’t please everyone.” This is proof of that. By attempting to put together an outfit that wouldn’t frighten or offend any of his possible fanbase, Darkwing winds up looking like a bland parody of… well, what exactly? You’ve got the Hermes winged helmet, the neck decoration and frilly sleeves attempting to evoke sophistication, and the flower belt buckle is a way of shouting “Hey, I’m friendly.” But there’s no real identity here. Yes, you’re friendly, but who are you?
Fortunately, Darkwing remembered that it was more important to be feared by his enemies than adored by his public and went back to his usual threads by the end of the story.
In “Up, Up and Awry,” Darkwing again became frustrated about the techno-hero Gizmo Duck. Not only did the guy’s special armor make fighting crime easier for him, but its high-tech nature seemed to impress more people and draw in more fans as well. Feeling bad for DW, Gizmo Duck constructed a secondary super-suit for the guy. But Gizmo Duck is neither an engineer nor a fashion designer and it shows.
This armor may allow Darkwing to fly and cruise at high speeds, but it also makes him look fat and completely shackles him from doing anything acrobatic or stealth-like, two qualities which define him. Nope. It was a nice thought, Gizmo Duck, but Darkwing needs to be true to himself. Better try again.
THE OTHER IDENTITIES
On occasion, Darkwing has assumed completely new identities. In the episode “Aduckyphobia,” Drake was bitten by a talking, radioactive mutant spider, causing him to develop a few extra limbs and the ability to shoot web-strands from his mouth. Thus, until he was cured of this condition, he went by the name “Arachno-Duck.”
The color combo works and it’s a nice nod to the original color scheme of Spider-Man, another victim of radioactive spider venom. But that chest symbol is a little too simplistic and considering there are no other real design elements, this costume is just a bit lacking.
In the episode “Comic Book Capers,” Darkwing (and others) imagined himself in fictional scenarios. At one point, Launchpad took over the story and pictured the masked hero as a man of the old west. Notice that Darkwing’s maintained some of his traditional colors by wearing a teal undershirt with purple gloves and a mask. Sadly, these clash horribly with the brown he’s now sporting. And wow, that hat is even more ridiculous than the one he normally wears!
In the episode “Jailbird,” the mysterious Duck Knight decided he needed to get arrested in order to spy on some enemies who were in jail. In his three attempts to be captured by the law, he donned three different criminal identities of his own creation. The first was Jumping Quack Flash, referencing not only a great song but also a classic Whoopi Goldberg movie. Sadly, this costume is neither fearsome nor memorable. The spring boots are too cumbersome, the bowtie is unnecessary and the arrows indicating that he can jump up and down are silly even for Drake’s sometimes questionable standards.
The second identity Darkwing tried as a criminal was “Roller Duck.” This is just odd. The checkerboard motif and goggles make Drake look more like an insect rather than a roller skating enthusiast. I assume the radar attachment is to help him navigate at high speeds, but what’s with that color scheme? Pale orange and purple? Yikes.
The third criminal identity Darkwing assumed in that same episode was “Demolition Duck,” a guy always itching for a fight. It’s obvious that Drake took notes from some early 90s superhero comics since he realized that nothing says “dark, antagonistic loner” like spikes, belts, leather and shoulder pads. It’s a bit odd that he added the teal turtle neck and pink mohawk, but Drake sometimes doesn’t know when to edit so this is understandable.
According to the masked hero, several centuries ago the seven seas were protected from pirates by the mysterious masked adventurer known as Darkwing Dubloon. Now this is a great reinterpretation of the classic outfit.By simply changing the style of the shirt, adding larger gloves, donning a sash, and throwing on a new, decorative, old school hat, our boy is ready to buckle a swash with the best of them. And having the gloves match the color of the cape is a very nice touch.
And that wraps it up for this week’s column, people. I hope you enjoyed this change of pace. I was a huge fan of the TV show and now that the comic book is doing so well, I figured we should spent some time on this masked avenger of St. Canard. But what about the other Disney superheroes? They’ll be talked about soon enough, I promise you! Until then, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.