Book Review: Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “The Old Castle’s Secret” by Carl Barks

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “The Old Castle’s Secret” is Volume 6 in Fantagraphics’ The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. The book collects comic book stories from January through November 1948.

Buy Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “The Old Castle’s Secret” by Carl Barks

In the opening title story, Scrooge McDuck makes his second appearance. Needing “several million dollars immediately,” Scrooge asks his nephew Donald and his great nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie to come with him to Scotland to search for a treasure that’s been hidden for 900 years in a haunted castle “[he] owns as the last of the clan McDuck.” Barks does a fantastic job illustrating a spooky story with an invisible ghost and a skeleton’s shadow within the gloomy castle. Predating Scooby-Doo by over 20 years, it’s thrilling to watch those meddling ducks solve the case, even if the explanation of how the ghost appears is unsatisfying. Uncle Scrooge also appears in the closing story, “Foxy Relations,” in which Donald must prove the family are sportsmen so Lord Tweeksdale will sell Scrooge “two billion acres of oil lands.” While in many of Barks’ stories, the nephews’ idea to accomplish the goal is the sound one not so this time.

“Wintertime Wager” sees Donald’s cousin Gladstone Gander make his debut. In this story, he shows up on Christmas Day with a contract Donald signed, on a hot July day when he’d “had too many lemonades,” stating he would swim in Frozebear Lake or forfeit his house. Gladstone is clearly a bit of a jerk as he forces Donald to make good. Daisy arrives with a contract in her possession and saves the day. “Gladstone Returns” finds the cousins in a funny game of one-upsmanship as they try to get $5 for Daisy’s charity. In Gladstone’s final appearance in this volume, “Links Hijinks,” the boys trick their uncle into thinking he’s the world’s greatest golfer. This causes Donald to wager with Gladstone that he can make a hole-in-one and everyone, including the reader, is in suspense as the shot moves through panels.

There are laughs a-plenty in the stories where Donald takes on a new job: a night watchman, although he can’t stay awake (“Watching the Watchman”); a telegraph messenger who expects to get a tip (“Wired”); and a deputy trying to earn a $2000 reward for capturing a gang of cattle rustlers (“Sheriff of Bullet Valley).” The latter is an extended western mystery where Donald and the boys have to figure out how the bad guys are making everyone else look like a rustler.

Also very funny is “Going Ape” where Donald throws a garden party to impress society folks. He sets up the yard with an African jungle theme and expects the boys to dress like monkeys. When they refuse, he buys a pair of hypnotic spectacles. His plan backfires in spectacular fashion and brings to mind the Three Stooges when a food fight breaks out.

“In Darkest Africa,” which “hadn’t been reprinted in English – until now” (Ken Parille explains how in his story notes), Donald and the boys compete against Professor Argus McFiendy to find “an Almostus Extinctus, rarest of all rare butterflies.” There are quite a few twists in the story as Donald and Argus one-up each other, all for nought. Setting aside the insensitive depictions of the natives, the story’s artwork is well done, from the jungle animals, particularly the panel the size of four depicting an elephant stampede, to the use of color depicting objects in shadow and lit by a campfire glow as the Ducks sneak around at night. “Donald of the Coast Patrol” also features an insensitive depiction with a spy posing as a Japanese hot dog vendor in a tale of espionage and jewel smuggling.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “The Old Castle’s Secret” sees Carl Barks once again providing an entertaining blend of adventure and comedy that will keep the reader turning pages while his fantastic artwork will cause the reader to pause and pore over the panels. The book concludes with “Story Notes,” annotations by a team of writers, and “Carl Barks: Life Among the Ducks,” a biography by Donald Ault.

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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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