Comics

The Political Terror That Flaps in the Night

Jeremiah Massengale

Darkwing Duck is just a kid's book, right? It can't really be commenting on the political landscape can it? I mean, not really in any kind of meaningful way?

Based on the prominent images decorating the banners on their podiums, you might guess that the two hostile candidates are debating which is more American, baseball or apple pie. Maybe, in an appeal to the common voter, the pair of candidates could be forcefully arguing about which one of them is more American. What sad is that, as we near election season, this doesn’t seem all too unrealistic. In good news, this isn’t happening on CNN, at least not yet; instead, it’s happening on the cover of BOOM! Studios’ Darkwing Duck #15 where we find our title character and his sidekick Launchpad McQuack both running for mayor and doing plenty of quarreling. The issue is especially political for a Disney comic arguably aimed mostly at elementary school students. If you can get past the kiddie imprint though, it actually is serves as a near-perfect analogy for the current political scene, which is legitimately impressive considering it’s a comic that’s based on a cartoon that used to precede Goof Troop on the Disney Afternoon block of programming.

The variant cover of the issue is impeccable. While Shepard Fairey’s now iconic Barack Obama "Hope" poster had seemingly run its course by being parodied too much, it’s used well one more time here. However, instead of Obama in stylized hues of blue, beige and red, there’s the accident prone Launchpad on the front and instead of the trademark words of “hope” or “change,” there’s the word “crash.” Though it’s a surefire reference to McQuack’s less than stellar piloting ability, in light of the recent economic news, this makes a potent enough statement on its own, whether intentional or not.

It’s also curious that in an earlier issue of Darkwing Duck, the mayor of St. Canard resigned after problems seemed too gigantic to fix, therefore reminding readers that even in a cartoon-filled city, being a politician is overwhelming hard work when things are tough.

In last few issues, Darkwing has decided the becoming mayor of St. Canard would enable him to have more resources to find his missing girlfriend Morgana. Meanwhile, Launchpad has decided to run for the same office, mostly, because he fears that if his pal D.W. is elected mayor, he might cease to be the heroic “Terror that Flaps in the Night” that the city needs.

While the book’s youngest readers won’t look at the issue to see any political matters on display, most adults can easily pick some of the more overt themes presented in the dialogue. For instance, notice how the candidates aren’t running to serve the people? Notice how they’re not really qualified in the first place? Plus, while the people technically asked Launchpad to run, it’s obvious they didn’t know what they wanted in a leader.

The only other mayoral candidate, an aggressive female named Constance A. Dention, is busy using the media to spread false messages about her opponents. There’s political mud slinging, albeit creative mud slinging, at its worst. Meanwhile, Darkwing remains frustrated with Launchpad’s wealth of popularity and lack of intellectual depth. At one point he exclaims, “They love his friendliness. They love his humor. They love his looks! How am I going to win over a populace with taste like that?”

Regardless of where you stand politically, some of these claims and shortcomings must sound familiar to you though it’s unlikely you’ve traveled to St. Canard. The storyline paints a wonderful picture of a less-than-ideal political scene that we never hope for but often see.

While artist James Silvani still beautifully delivers the animated series’ original look, thanks to writer Ian Brill, issues #14 and especially #15 hint at a plethora of real-world events and issues.

Darkwing does use the gas gun and a few punches are thrown towards super-villains in issue #15 but only in the openings and closing pages to serve as a reminder of that the audience is actually reading the continuing adventures of the costumed superhero. The bulk of the story touches on St. Canard as a microcosm of the modern political scene and an exaggeratedly alludes to the problems therein.

How appropriate that in the issue, the problems the candidates face turn out to be mere illusions. Sure, in this case, the problems turn out to be merely faked appearances of barely remembered villains like the filmmaker Tuskernini and the legitimately senseless Lilliput, instead of rather trivial political arguments, but the analogy holds strongly.

There’s surprisingly a rich parody of Bill Clinton’s famous vote-grabbing saxophone performance on Arsenio Hall back in 1992, with Launchpad playing the sax while strangely bare-chested in front of the voting public in an attempt to gain followers. And, earlier in the story, even though it’s a forced contemporary reference, Darkwing does indeed say, “Now if that’s not change you can believe in, what is?”

The situation is complete with immature campaign managers that create big mistakes that leave the candidates looking foolish. Doofus, whose name says it all, and who you may remember from DuckTales, serves as Launchpad’s campaign manager, while D.W. seems delighted to take the advice of the adolescent Honker Muddlefoot.

Overall, the plot is really a lesson about the dangers of smear tactics and negative campaigning. Honker describes it best when he compares that type of communication to the work of super-villains saying, “What you got just gave you both a mean obsession… Cat-Tankerous and One-Shot were in almost dazed and delusional states during their rampages! You guys were probably just as bad when you put together those smear campaigns! If this thing spreads…”

It’s more than unlikely that the average comic book reader, let alone the average voter or political candidate, will read the latest issue or two of Darkwing Duck. Even so, the spotlight on campaign foolishness and its message promoting honorable, informed, levelheaded rhetoric would do well to spread from the Darkwing’s city of St. Canard to campaign headquarters across the nation. Darkwing would do lousy in office, but those adults seeking office could learn a thing or two from the purple powerhouse’s latest political blunders in this straightforward, kid-friendly storyline.

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