Well, I’ve been threatening to do this for a while now, so I guess I’ll just jump in!
The Long And Twisted Road To THE DUCK KNIGHT RETURNS
Long before I had ever heard of BOOM, I had thought about how awesome it would be to revive DARKWING DUCK. I had the basics for a comeback story that lightly parodied Frank Miller’s DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. I didn’t want to do a direct parody…the source material is very dark, and the cartoon already did a great job with the Darkwarrior Duck episode. Still, I knew it would be fun to call a comic “THE DUCK KNIGHT RETURNS,” and I loved the idea of that iconic image of Darkwing in front of the lightning bolt, ala Batman.
Unlike a lot of fans, I never wrote it up into a fan-fic…it just sort of lived in the back of my head, having new layers added whenever I revisited it. I knew it would be set 1-2 years after the end of the show, and that Drake would have given up being Darkwing due to some tragedy. I knew I wanted him working a dead-end job that would be absolutely soul-crushing, especially after having lived the life of a costumed adventurer, much like Bruce Wayne laments having given up the cape and cowl in DKR. Of course, I didn’t just want to do this for the pathos…I wanted to do it for the comedy, especially since I knew putting him in a cubicle with a reformed Megavolt would be an opportunity for high-hilarity. And in a little nod to Robocop, I wanted a nameless, faceless corporation in charge of everything, including the crime-fighting. Simply put, Darkwing Duck had become obsolete.
Through some series of cosmic improbabilities, I ended up at BOOM! Studios. They had just acquired the Disney Standards license, and I was hired on to replace outgoing editor Paul Morrissey. It seemed like a dream gig, getting to work with the Pixar, Muppets and Disney Standards characters. Of course, I immediately asked about the possibility of doing a DARKWING DUCK comic.
“What is that?” I was asked.
I explained the concept and characters of Darkwing. It was perfect for comics, I told them. It would attract kids, older fans, duck fans, and superhero fans. I explained the success of the Disney Afternoon, and how its fans would now be at an age where they’d have kids of their own…kids they’d like to share these characters with in all-new stories.
“Sounds like a nostalgia project.” I was told. “It’ll never sell in the mass market.”
No, Mickey Mouse was where it was at, BOOM believed. After all, everyone knows Mickey Mouse. The belief was that the bookstores, Target and Wal-mart would order copies based on name recognition alone, and that the $24.99 hardcover versions would sell to every library in the country. I didn’t really see it…yes, everyone knows who Mickey Mouse is, but they know him as a corporate symbol, not a character. He’s a sweater, a lunchbox. Over the years, Mickey has lost a lot of the foibles that made him identifiable in the first place…it’s a big reason why he’s often teamed with Donald and Goofy, who’s flaws lead to more entertaining stories and situations. Still, that was the job, so I set out to try and make those books a success…but I never gave up on Darkwing. I brought it up whenever the opportunity presented itself.
I kept adding little bits to the plot of the story. I decided that at the opening of the story, Drake should basically be stripped of everything that made his life as Darkwing a family. He and Launchpad would be estranged, and while he’d still have Gosalyn, he’d be working long hours to pay for her to attend a school for “spirited” youngsters. We’d have to tear him down in order to bring him back by the end of the story. I read that Tad Stones originally intended Quackerjack to be a darker character, like the Joker, and came up with something that would push him over the edge: the destruction of Mr. Banana Brain. A new, creepier Banana Brain would represent and give life to the darker side of Quackerjack, but we’d still be able to bring back the old, whimsical Quackerjack if the story called for it. At first I imagined Negaduck as the obvious big bad, but slowly taking over the city just isn’t Negsy’s style. He’d sooner blow the whole thing up…so who better to be the villain behind the biggest case of DW’s life than the one who set Drake’s life on the path of fatherhood and family in the first place…Taurus Bulba.
Meanwhile, BOOM’s plans for Mickey Mouse were falling apart, and I’d heard it said that overprinting on the hardcover program for libraries quite nearly sunk the company. My assistant editor and I had been dropping Darkwing hints into the various Disney books to build buzz and speculation amongst the fans… St. Canard is mentioned in the first chapter of ULTRAHEROES, and there’s a SHUSH agent in DOUBLE DUCK. Fans in the forums were expressing how much they wanted Darkwing’s return. (And Talespin. And Chip and Dale.) Whether or not we’d get to do DARKWING DUCK was still up in the air…for cost reasons, BOOM! only wanted to do reprints, not original stories. So, Chris Burns and I came up with a plan to show them that there was life in the Disney Afternoon characters. We needed a four issue arc for WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES, and Chris had found an Italian CHIP AND DALE RESCUE RANGERS story that had never been printed in the U.S. It was a fun story with great art, and we slotted it in and generated a new cover for solicitation.
Three days before we were to submit the cover to Diamond for the catalog, disaster struck.
Our boss asked us what we had planned for the new WDC&S arc. We said we had a great C&DRR story ready to go. There was a long, pregnant silence.
“In my office. Now.”
We were ridiculed. “You want to do Chip and Dale? Are you @#%^ing crazy?”
We explained the huge fan base, the success of the Disney Afternoon, and that Chip and Dale were two of Disney’s “big seven” characters. It didn’t matter. We were told we needed to be selling Mickey stories. “When you make Mickey sell,” we were told, “then you can do Goofy or whatever.”
So, three days before solicitations were due, we had to scramble for new covers and a story. I believe that was the month we ran a blank "Top Secret!" cover and solicitation in Diamond's catalog. The truth was, we had no idea what we were going to replace C&DRR with. (Fortunately, we found a Mickey story that lived up to the hype in writer/artist Casty, who made us some truly beautiful movie-style covers for the issue. To this day, though, I'm sure C&DRR would have been better for sales.)
Whether out of desperation or just wanting to shut us up, we were given the go-ahead to start developing Darkwing. There was no promise that we'd actually get to do a series. Nathan Watson was originally on-board as artist, but then he landed a lucrative gig at Lucasfilm and now resides in a secret compund and his e-mails come to me with large portions blacked out. :D
So, I comissioned a DW cover, almost as an afterthought, from a young go-getter named James Silvani.
James had literally gone from posting a fan comic featuring Lew Zealand in the BOOM forums, to saving my butt on the last three issues of MUPPET KING ARTHUR. His first cover was a little rough, but he clearly "got it." He understood the character, he understood the humor. If we got the book made, he was gonna be the guy. (If you find images of the original on-line, DW looks a little like a pelican and Taurus Bulba and Steelbeak are on the cover...a no-no, since we had surprises in store with both of them. Silvani redrew the cover into the version that actually saw print, and it is PERFECT.)
I commisioned a few more covers, and things were looking pretty good. It was late on a Wednesday, and my crew was working late. We'd already put in over 30 hours trying to get our books out on time. Our boss was leaving, and said to me "I want to talk to you about Darkwing Duck tomorrow."
"Awesome!" I said, excited. Was this the green light I was hoping for?
"Don't get excited," he said brusquely. "I might shotgun the whole thing." And he left.
My team sat in stunned silence. Here we were, breaking our backs, working unpaid overtime, and that was the last thing you say to your employees before you walk out the door? It was extremely disheartening.
Eventually, it was decided that the book would be published under the "BOOM! Studios" banner, so that it could be sold for $3.99 instead of the $2.99 that the "BOOM Kids!" books were priced at so that we wouldn't lose money on it if it didn't perform. We were greenlit for 4 issues. No one really expected it to go past that except for my team and one or two other editors. We knew we had a hit in the making. At one point I even declared that if the first issue didn't break 7000 copies, I would personally make up the difference and buy those copies myself. I was THAT sure.
Good news always seemed to be followed with bad, and this victory would be no different. Even though it was my story, I would not be allowed to write it. It was the managing editor's policy to deny me writing credit whenever possible; I had previously had my name removed from a TOY STORY short I had rescripted at Pixar's request, and the english adaptation of 7 PSYCHOPATHS. I was disappointed, but as editor, I would basically be guiding the story with such a heavy hand, I'd be able to tell the stories even if I wasn't going to get writing credit. Ian Brill approached me and asked if he could script the series. Ian had some good ideas, and a few gags I really liked (DW's arm turning into a snake, then Launchpad, was great.) Since I was plotting/pacing the book, and would rewrite any dialogue that was clunky of out of character, I thought he'd be a good fit, at least for an arc or two. (Other writer options I was considering for future arcs were Jesse Blaze Snider and Landry Walker.)
Ian contributed the name of the big corporation (Quackwerks) the Crimebots, and wanted to put Gosalyn in the Gizmoduck suit. I wasn't crazy about the last one, but eventually thought of a way to make it work. The second arc was originally going to be the Steelbeak/DW team-up, the machinations of the F.O.W.L. occult wing, the revelation of the leader behind F.O.W.L. High Command, and Duchthulhu. The heart of the second arc, however, would be Drake, as a father, having to deal with how much he had to let his daughter go her own way, and with her starting to feel like she was outgrowing him. Likewise, his ego would have to deal with being shown up by the person he loved most in the world, in the costume of the person he liked least. And at the end, we'd reveal what had happened to Taurus Bulba, and that at the end of issue #4, he transferred his consciousness into the Gizmoduck suit. (There are hints of this in the CRISIS ON INFINITE DARKWINGS arc, as Gosalyn remarks the suit seems to be actively working against her. Disappointingly, Gosalyn has the suit ruined by Werewolf Darkwing, and so putting her in the suit ended up having no payoff and rendered pointless. But I digress.)
I traveled to ECCC 2010 to announce the book. Mark Waid provided most of the panel's excitement, but eventually my turn came to talk about the kid's line. Most of the announcements got a polite, if lukewarm, response. When the "BOOM GETS DANGEROUS" teaser with the lightning bolts went up on the screen, there was an audible gasp throughout the room. It was almost as if people knew what was being hinted, but dared not hope. Then the screen changed and showed Darkwing Duck crouched on the St. Canard bridge, and the crowd exploded in cheers. After months of trying to get someone, anyone to listen, it was without a doubt the most gratifying moment of my time at BOOM. Within minutes, my phone started buzzing with twitter updates about the announcement, and my assistant editors texting me about how the comic and Disney forums were exploding with the news. It was like a vindication.
The first issue sold pretty much exactly at the numbers I predicted and went to a second print. It was announced that the series would be ongoing, which means we had at least a second arc.
From the first issue, fans were asking "Where's Negaduck?" and guessing it was Negsy behind the ruin of DW's life. We played into that by having Negaduck on the cover of issue #3. Fans were sure that we had given away the villain, never suspecting he was the reason for DW giving up the cape and cowl, but not our big bad for the arc. However, orders on issue #3 came in so much higher than for #1, that Steelbeak was pushed back to a hopeful third arc and CRISIS ON INFINITE DARKWINGS was devised. We'd had great fan response to the variant Buzz Lightyear's in Jesse Snider's RETURN OF BUZZ LIGHTYEAR, so a multiverse of Darkwing's was too good to pass up, the fans wanted Negaduck, and we knew they'd love Magica DeSpell in the mix. The last page of issue #4 was changed to show the villains and lead into the next story.
MORE TO COME...
Last edited by AaronSparrow on Thu Jul 07, 2011 12:49 am, edited 5 times in total.