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Adventure Awaits In Donald Duck: The Golden Helmet
All Ages Reading Recommendations

Adventure Awaits In Donald Duck: The Golden Helmet

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Did you know it’s Donald Duck’s birthday today? He first appeared in the animated short The Wise Little Hen on this date 90 years ago. (He’s looking pretty good for his age.) While animation was where he originated, he has, arguably, has benefitted from being a comic book character. That’s all thanks to legendary cartoonist Carl Barks, who significantly expanded the scope of the character. No longer was he simply a short-tempered hothead. He’d become an everyman, who found adventure at home and abroad.

Carl Barks is by far the best to do Donald Duck (and Uncle Scrooge – a character he created) comics. His work is the template that other cartoonists aspire to. There would be no Duck Tales without his work. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss The Golden Helmet. It’s one of Barks’ best stories. I.N.D.U.C.K.S. (International Network of Disney Universe Comic Knowers and Sources) ranks the story as the third-best Disney comic and a story that’s part of the Danish Cultural canon – even though it’s not of Danish origin. The Golden Helmet (first published in 1952) is also a terrific signifier of what Carl Bark’s Donald Duck comics are all about – having many qualities that made his comics great.

Donald Duck: The Golden Helmet panel by Carl Barks.
Donald Duck: The Golden Helmet panel by Carl Barks.

It all begins with Donald working as a security guard at the local museum. (Read enough of these comics and you’ll realise that Donald has had almost as many jobs as Homer Simpson.) He’s looking over the various artefacts under his protection, while also yearning to rid himself of the mundane and go on a rugged adventure. Barks draws Donald looking bored out of his brain, leaning against an exhibit while letting out a “ho hum”. Little does our feathered protagonist know that adventure is just around the corner when a Viking treasure map is discovered and a shady character, accompanied by his even shadier lawyer, claims to be the rightful heir to the United States. Donald and his nephews end up in an urgent race to find the golden helmet before the shady duo – otherwise, everyone in the country becomes a slave.

Adventure is a big part of Carl Bark’s duck comics. He was not satisfied with keeping Donald and his family in Duckburg and, as a result, had them travelling the globe in search of lost treasure. The Golden Helmet is exemplary of a Barks adventure, featuring many elements that make them enjoyable reads. In this story, Donald must master rough seas through a mixture of determination and some ingenuity. Barks adds drama to this through his depiction of the waves – battering around in different directions, smashing Donald in the face, and spilling into the boat – all the while a sideways rain pelts down, as depicted through needle-thin linework. The adventure is amplified in the final act through will-they won’t-they stakes. Successes are ripped away just as fast as they’re achieved for them to be reversed through sheer luck. It makes for an exciting read that keeps you on your toes.

Without going into spoiler territory, The Golden Helmet has parallels to The Lord of The Rings. Many would assume that Barks was inspired by the novels and decided to do his own version. However, this story was published in 1952 and Tolkien’s novels didn’t hit the shelves until 1954. Any similarities are likely a coincidence.

Donald Duck: The Golden Helmet panel by Carl Barks.
Donald Duck: The Golden Helmet panel by Carl Barks.

The Golden Helmet contains plenty of humour too. Barks peppers it throughout. In the opening sequence, as Donald walks glumly through the museum there are many sight gags of odd exhibits. Off to the side and in the background are oddities on display such as the Headless Horseman’s toupee or Godiva’s laundry bag. These juxtapose Donald’s mood, lifting the tone. Jokes expressed through dialogue are a pillar of Bark’s humour. This story stands out for a recurring gag where the shady lawyer uses fake Latin to exert authority. He’ll spout three Latin-sounding words and follow it with a translation that suits his argument – “Hocus, Locus, Jocus! Which means, “to the landlord belong the doorknobs!”” It could easily get old but it’s subverted when Huey, Lewy, and Dewy use it with sarcastic undertones.

Donald Duck: The Golden Helmet panel by Carl Barks.
Donald Duck: The Golden Helmet panels by Carl Barks.

If you want to understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to Carl Barks’ duck comics, you should definitely read The Golden Helmet. It sets the high watermark for Donald Duck comics – and Disney comics by extension – through its blend of adventure, humour, and great art. Not a bad way to celebrate a 90th anniversary.

Fantagraphics has reprinted The Golden Helmet a standalone graphic novel as as part of the Donald Duck: A Christmas For Shacktown collection. However, it has been reprinted countless other times, which I.N.D.U.C.K.S. has all the details on. These can be found at all good comic book shops, online retailers, eBay, and Amazon.

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