Book Review: Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “Maharajah Donald” by Carl Barks

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “Maharajah Donald” is Volume 4 in Fantagraphics’ The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. The book collects comic book stories from May 1946 to April 1947, and with the exception of the first,“Maharajah Donald,” and the last “The Bill Collectors,” they “are presented in the order in which Carl Barks drew them.” Also included is “Donald Duck’s Atom Bomb,” one of 16 pocket-size comic books offered to Cheerios cereal buyers. It has a different layout from the other stories with three panels across a page rather than two.

Buy Fantagraphics’ Walt Disney’s Donald Duck – Maharajah Donald

In these stories, Donald is always joined by his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, with the boys either causing conflicts with their uncle or resolving them. In fact, the boys cause strife between Donald and his girlfriend Daisy Duck in “The Goldfinder,” where they expose the ring Donald got her lacks gold, and “Picnic Tricks,” where they prank the outing because their uncle wouldn’t let them skip school and go on the date. Daisy’s other appearance in this book is “Biceps Blues” where her interest in a bodybuilder gets Donald working out. Unfortunately, that’s it for known Disney characters.

Two of the book’s first three stories are lengthy, each running 28 pages. “Maharajah Donald” is quite the international adventure as Donald and the boys head to India. They meet the Maharajah of Hoopadoola, who tricks Donald into becoming the Maharajah of Bumpay, which puts his life at risk. Back at home, Donald accidentally buys a houseboat due to his hiccups and the foursome travels 2400 miles to pick it up in Floodout, Ohio. As they head down to New Orleans, they discover “The Terror of the River!!” But there’s more to the sea serpent than meets the eye when one of the boys stabs the monster and it doesn’t bleed.

Some of the stories are more relatable for readers. The boys want a puppy but snobby Uncle Donald prefers a purer breed, such as “The Smugsnorkle Squattie.” In “Swimming Swindlers,” the boys compete against Donald in swimming and diving. They cheat to win, leading to dire consequences they barely survive. The story presents a good moral about cheating, which is then undercut because rather than accept responsibility for their actions, they beat up the boys who suggested they cheat. Donald also competes against the boys in a fishing contest, which is harder than it sounds when everyone has been kept up all night by the caterwauling of “The Cantakerous Cat.” “Playin’ Hookey” simultaneously looks like a lot of fun and also quite dangerous when they get kicked off a train miles from the nearest town. However, while relatable, it is very odd seeing ducks eat turkey, which they like to do. See “Santa’s Stormy Visit,” “Turkey Turmoil,” and “Picnic Tricks.”

In Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “Maharajah Donald,” the Carl Barks stories collected here strike a great balance between far-off adventures and achievable, local mischief to keep a young reader, and those young at heart, engaged. And if the plotting wasn’t enough, Barks impressive artwork in evoking characters, settings, and action will keep the reader focused on the pages and panels.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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