Thursday, August 22, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 50, "Double-O-Duck"

We're halfway home!  This weekend, I plan to write up some reflections on the "journey" thus far, including some comments (similar to those put forth by Joe Torcivia in the comments section not long ago) on how this retrospective has thus far influenced my overall view of DuckTales.  First, though, we have one of the series' unquestioned classics to plow through, an episode that seems to have a secure place on everyone's "Top 5" list.

It's pretty safe to say that, in terms of its influence on other creative entities, "Double-O-Duck" has enjoyed the longest "half-life" of any single DT episode.  The fans' interest in extending their exposure to super- (or should that be stupor-?) spy Launchpad immediately became apparent when the Gladstone Comics DUCKTALES title ran a poll to determine which ep readers most wanted to have turned into a comic-book story.  "Double-O" was the webs-down winner.  Alas, we ultimately had to content ourselves with...

I don't own this book, but something tells me that the version of the story presented therein is rather more... sedate... than the wild, Terence Harrison-fashioned version that we saw on screen.  Why else would the publisher have seen fit to put a scene from the "equivalent of the flip side" on the cover. In all honesty, the lack of a "Double-O" comic in the late 1980s was probably a blessing in disguise, as the artistic chores would almost certainly have been handled by the Jaime Diaz Studios, whose offerings were famously bland (though, admittedly, very rarely off-model -- which might actually have been an additional disadvantage for artists trying to capture the ep's squash-and-stretch, "pop from pose to pose" style).

On his blog, Mike Peraza fills in the details of the next stage quite thoroughly.  A fateful flip-flop turned Launchpad from the star of a proposed new Double-O-Duck show into the sidekick to a brand-new mallard, who eventually emerged as the re-branded Darkwing Duck. 

After his Disney Afternoon and re-run... um, runs, the popular DW enjoyed a well-received (though all-too-brief) revival in 2010, getting the regular comic-book title he had never previously enjoyed.  The tremors from "Double-O"'s original "Big Bang-Up Job" could still be felt as late as the Fall of 2011, when an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic featured a masked hero character named "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well" and sporting a costume with a suspiciously familiar color scheme.

Of course, "Double-O" was far from being Disney's first crack at the spy genre.  In one of its boldest moves ever, Western Publishing completely made over the rather staid MICKEY MOUSE comic-book title in 1966, turning Mickey and Goofy into "Super Secret Agents" operating in a world of realistically drawn humans.  Paul Murry and Dan Spiegle tried hard to make it work, but the "new look" lasted only three issues.

Overseas Disney comics readers, meanwhile, were given an original spy character in the feathered form of 0. 0. Duck.  (By the way, those are zeroes, not O's.  The Inducks search engine told me so.)  Created by writer Dick Kinney and artist Al Hubbard, the team behind Fethry Duck (among others), 0.0. made his debut in 1966 and, to my considerable amazement, continues to appear in new stories to this day, though his appearances seem to have slowly petered out after the 1980s.  I suppose that as long as James Bond movies continue to be made, this character's existence in the "Duck universe" will continue to be justified, if only just.

Cover to a 1967 Australian comic (which seems to have made the zeroes/O's error)

I was able to find only one 0. 0. DUCK story in English, and, from what I could gather, the character resembles Maxwell Smart more than anyone else.  He's not a comical bumbler so much as he is comically oblivious to and/or unconcerned by what is going on around him.  Notice how he and his female partner Mata Harrier react to their car careening off a cliff...

... and compare it to Launchpad's somewhat different take on a very similar situation at the end of Act One of "Double-O-Duck":
I would argue that LP's unique combination of physical bunglage, general attitude, and mental confusion makes him a far more successful potential spoof-spy than 0. 0. could ever hope to be.  The fact that "Double-O" maximizes the potential of the basic idea so well, however, should not be overlooked.

So what works so well in "Double-O-Duck"?  As the saying goes, if you have to ask, then you obviously haven't seen the episode.  Start with the opening sequence in which Bruno Von Beak leads the DIA spies on a merry chase -- arguably, the single best opening of any DT ep, period.  Is it any coincidence that the jazzy "chase music" we hear here is the same music that accompanies the car chase at the end of the equally outstanding "Hero for Hire"?  I think not.

After Bruno winds up on the plane's wing, the episode's visual aesthetic begins to appear with a vengeance.  Characters don't react in this ep, they lunge; they don't vault gracefully, they hang in midair and defy gravity; above all, they pose.  Harrison foreshadowed this approach in "The Golden Fleecing," but he totally commits to it here.  The ending gag, with Bruno, having survived all of those perils, being trampled by a mob of frenzied commuters, is the perfect capper.


BTW, what's up with that strangely suggestive advertisement on the station wall in the fourth image?  And that won't be the only such wink-wink moment that we'll see.

After LP is mistaken for Bruno and taken to see J. Gander Hoover (Arrest warrant?  What's that?), the storyline rolls smoothly into the well-established James Bond plot-ruts.  As GeoX notes, everything that should be covered in the spoof is in fact covered, though some things are admittedly covered more thoroughly and/or effectively than others.  Take Scrooge's relationship to the DIA, for example.  In "The Right Duck," it was strongly intimated that Scrooge funded or supported DASA in some way, else he would not have had access to the information that Launchpad had been launched aboard the "Voyager."  The fact that LP uses his presumed "one phone call" to contact "Mr. McDee" here suggests that (1) he knows how much weight Scrooge pulls in Duckburg in general and (2) Scrooge has some level of interest in the DIA's activities, most likely a financial one.  Since it is far less likely for a single city to have its own intelligence force than even to have its own space program, it's quite possible that Scrooge is financing the DIA single-handedly.

As described by Hoover, Dr. Nogood's scheme has glaringly obvious flaws, of course.  Simply destroying the paper money in all the Swiss banks (interesting how the country retains its "real" name here but is turned into "Swizzleland" in "The Duck Who Knew Too Much") wouldn't affect the paper money elsewhere, much less hard currency.  In my comments on "The Money Vanishes," I made the same point regarding Scrooge inexplicably forgetting that the "money moths" wouldn't attack his gold coins.  Perhaps writers Ken Koonce and David Weimers should have thought on a more modest scale and had Nogood's plans involve the destruction of one single, precious substance in which Scrooge might have a very large stake.

I was a bit disappointed to see that K&W overlooked "Sir Gyro de Gearloose" when they explained why Gyro was serving as "G" (or, as the lab door with the even-then-anachronistic slide rule painted on it proclaims, "Dr. G").  I know that they didn't write that episode, but it wouldn't have taken much effort to check and note that Gyro is a general inventor-for-hire, not some sort of hireling of Scrooge's who depends upon Scrooge's generosity to stay in business.

If you asked me to finger the single cleverest idea in "Double-O-Duck," it would probably be the use of maps to show Launchpad's globe-hopping travels.  Yes, I know that it's a bit of a "cheater," but some thought was put into the creation of these things.  The peculiar placement of Duckburg in what seems to be the general vicinity of Roanoke, Virginia will, of course, be questioned by many...

... but another map shows what looks like a cartoon explosion where Israel would be (talk about getting crap past the radar -- good luck getting away with that today, fellas).  Some good continuity is also shown when Launchpad "fills up in Istanbul" (yes, Greg, check the unmistakable form of the Anatolian peninsula; that wasn't Iraq!) and refers to that fact during the ep's iris- (and crash-) out scene.  The geographical ingenuity is, of course, partially undercut by the surprising Indian stereotyping.  It's not the snake-charmers, flutists, and bazaar salesmen that bother me so much as the line about LP going to New Delhi (yeah, the Delhi/Deli stuff was fairly lame, but what the hey) and meeting "beggars who'd love a pastrami on rye."  Jokes involving starvation... oh, what fun.  It reminded me a little bit of the RICHIE RICH comic-book stories involving the comically poor Latin American nation of El Squalid, where "El Presidente" ate a tiny pellet of food each day because "a Presidente must keep up his strength."

As the side-switching femme fatale with the (no surprise) first-rate Tress MacNeille voice, Feathers Galore brings quite a lot to this episode, so I suppose that I shouldn't complain too much about the fact that, since Nathan Yodel's Deli and Dr. Nogood's hideout are in Geneva already, it would have been far easier for Launchpad to have met her there (in a different locale in the city, of course) than to have gone all the way back to New Delhi to do so.  After all, without that side trip, we wouldn't have had the hilarious scene in Feathers' room in which her desire for some "smoochy smoochy" gets out of hand and she gets to show off her karate skills.  When LP boasted in "Lost Crown of Genghis Khan," "Usually, it's the girls' chasin' me!", I don't think that this is what he had in mind.  Interesting how Feathers' "sexy" dancing-girl outfit is actually far LESS sexy than the outfit she's wearing during this sequence.

The first of two Toon Disney cuts occurs soon after this, as Launchpad's comment that Feathers is the sort who "gives women drivers a bad name!" was removed for TD rebroadcast.  Since LP's comment was actually critical of the familiar stereotype, I don't see what the problem was here.  As we'll see, the second excision makes even LESS sense.

The encounter with Dr. Nogood is a massive mash-up of more-or-less direct swipes from James Bond films.  Nogood and his silent henchman Odduck are clearly meant to evoke memories of Auric Goldfinger and his body servant Oddjob, the cat Flower (Bambi reference?) dates back to the earliest movies to feature SPECTRE mastermind Blofeld, while the DIA forces' "dropping in on" Nogood's troops on rappel lines is lifted from the climax of You Only Live Twice.  (Since Nogood's setup is already far underground, I wonder what obstacles the DIA troops had to obliterate in order to blast that giant hole.  Scratch one pseudo-deli, I guess.)  Unfortunately, I can't recall a Bond flick during which Bond was put in a death trap with carnivorous animals.  It must have happened sometime, wouldn't you think?


Despite the quick response of the DIA troops -- even Jimmy John's probably wouldn't have been that "freaky fast" -- I'd be hard-pressed to say that the DIA pulled off this caper more efficiently than even the bureaucracy-bound SHUSH of Darkwing Duck would have.  A number of the problems encountered by Launchpad are the direct result of the operators at the DIA not being told that LP was going to be calling in on "unauthorized" equipment.  That's a pretty big oversight, even though J. Gander Hoover would more than likely brush it off as an example of "details, details!".  Greg's theory that Hoover was put out to pasture after this caper, with the agency changing its name and bringing in J. Gander Hooter as a more competent replacement, begins to look plausible now.

As menacing as Harold Sakata's Oddjob was in the original Goldfinger, the silent Odduck goes him two better here by catching Launchpad's toupee bullet in his teeth and then grabbing some additional bullets and crumbling them to dust.  Toon Disney kept the first scene (though it dropped LP's line "Is this what they mean by 'bite the bullet'?") but eliminated the second.  THIS MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.  It would have been better (not to mention more consistent) had TD purged ALL references to Odduck stopping bullets and limited the big goon's hench-activities to chasing after Launchpad and Feathers and dumping LP into the lions' den.


The demise of Nogood, and the subsequent tearful goodbye between Launchpad and Feathers, could have been handled a little better.  We don't get to see Odduck or Flower meet their demises; instead, Nogood clambers up a catwalk and gives himself no reasonable avenue for escape apart from plowing straight through LP and Feathers.  If nothing else, he should not put himself in the position of having to defeat Feathers, since he presumably knows something about her karate talents.  The death-dive remains pretty "gruesome" (GeoX's description), though, and that's true regardless of whether the bubbling vat contained acid or (as is more likely) "vanishing fluid" (which Nogood, oddly, was previously able to store in a test tube without the tube itself dissolving).

GeoX is right in fingering the Casablanca-inspired farewell scene as being somewhat awkward.  The major issue is Launchpad's declaration that Feathers belongs with her "true love" Bruno.  Even if this were true, there's still the inconvenient fact that Bruno is now in jail and is presumably going to stay there for a long time.  If Feathers takes LP's suggestion seriously, then she'll be placed in the awkward position of being forced to pine after two former colleagues.  That seems rather harsh to me.  As Greg notes, it is possible that Feathers herself will have to lose her liberty for a short time due to her association with FOWL, and who knows what will happen after she is released?  (For a very believable -- and somewhat bittersweet -- fanfic take on what might have happened to Feathers after the events of "Double-O-Duck," I highly recommend Kim McFarland's Darkwing Duck story "Here a Slug, There a Slug.")  At least the Casablanca riff gives us some legitimately fine visuals -- atypically serene ones given the manic tone of most of the episode, but affecting ones nevertheless.

In a sense, "Double-O-Duck," despite its free-swinging approach, takes less risks with the DT characters than does a "reality-bending" ep like "Scroogerello."  You pretty much know what to expect here; the fun lies in getting to the final goal.  And great fun it certainly is.  This is an episode that no one gets tired of rewatching.

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"DuckBlurbs"
Thanks to Greg, I was able to confirm that my name was, in fact, listed in the "Special Thanks" credits of DuckTales Remastered.  Go here and scroll to 30:48.  Regarding those names preceding my own... Yossi, I really don't know what to say.  I consider that a HUGE compliment in and of itself.

(Greg)  So we head outside the D.I.A. Headquarters (Note to self: Never show thy name in front where everyone can see it)
It's all good, thanks to the ingenious use of an extra letter to throw enemies off the track.  (I'm assuming that the "H" stood for "headquarters.")
(Greg)  So we logically go to the scene changer of doom as LP re-enter[s] disguised as a stereotypical German [actually, I think it's a Bavarian] carrying a barrel of pickles that Peter Piper picked....apparently. 

Between that beard-obscured lower beak and the lederhosen he's wearing, LP resembles no one so much as a larger version of Super Duck here.

(Greg)  Other than the usual Wang screw ups and logic breaks; this episode was perfectly written and pretty much the high watermark in terms of writing from the KK/DW duo. I also like Feathers and her chemistry with LP as well since she had some killer moves while at the same thing not being a total super feminist. 

In terms of precise writing, I'd have to vote for "Hero for Hire" and "The Uncrashable Hindentanic" as superior to "Double-O," but "Double-O"'s sheer "energy and panache" (thanks, GeoX) place it right behind those.  And I do agree that Koonce and Weimers managed to walk the fine line with Feathers, making her competent to handle herself while somewhat vulnerable at the same time.

Next:  Episode 51, "Jungle Duck"... but first, those aforementioned reflections on reaching the halfway mark.

7 comments:

Pan Miluś said...

I like this episode but I find "Spies in their eyes" a much more interesting spy story ;)

Yossi Horowitz said...

How do you know it was me? :P

But yeah. Your site always gave me a lot to think about as I was working on Remastered, so I'm really glad you found that. Hope you enjoy playing the game! And hope to see it reviewed here someday as episode #102. :)

Anonymous said...

It's a great episode, but I can't help but think it was inspired by the Hanna Barbara movie "A Man Called Flintstone"

"A Man Called Flintstone" begins with a Fred Flintstone look-alike being chased by spies, and ultimately badly injured. Fred then ends up filling in for his look-alike.

Fred's look alike is one of the good guys, and the movie goes off in a wildly different direction than Double 0'Duck - but it seems to me as if the writers had to have been at least aware of the similarities.

Chris Barat said...

Anon,

It's quite possible that there was some influence, but TMCF had nowhere near the panache or visual flair of DOD.

Chris

Comicbookrehab said...

It always bugged me "The Man Called Flintsone" rushes it's way toward the finale with the reveal that the Green Goose was XXX, then that big jump-cut from the villains locked away in a rocket to the homecoming parade for Fred.

J. Gander Hooter & Agent Grizzlykoff of SHUSH seem like J. Gander Hoover split in two to me; its possible that Hoover and the D.I.A still exist, but SHUSH's real-life counterpart could be the Defense Intelligence Agency (yes, the same initials), which has a more elite roster of agents.

Gregory Weagle said...

Chris: I have seen many of the TaleSpin books where episodes were recreated and I can tell you right now that they were sedated and watered down. Captains Outrageous had Ernie feeling sorry for Oscar after he declared that his mother thought adventures weren't safe in the picture book version.

Although; I'm sure some fans would have loved Ernie that way since they considered him a jerk; but at least he's a kid and doesn't really know any better when compared to Rebecca and Baloo.

Pan Miluś said...

It makes me think of "Cars 2" as well...