Review by Frank Plowright
Having produced a jaw-droppingly good Mickey Mouse outing on Mickey’s Craziest Adventures, the creative team of Lewis Trondheim and Nicolas Keramidas transferring their attention to Donald Duck is a no-brainer. A joyful cover with a goofy Donald and featuring some characters closely associated with him promises much, and the promise is entirely fulfilled.
Once again Trondheim and Keramidas use the conceit of discovering extremely rare old Donald Duck comics with only limited circulation, and once again they use the theme of a quest, but as promised in the introduction, this time there’s a greater philosophical infusion. When summoned by Uncle Scrooge, Donald is tasked not with searching for treasure as in the old stories, but with discovering the secret of happiness. It is found, and there’s a pleasing metatextual aspect to the solution.
Keramidas’ version of Donald constantly morphs through his complete range of visual emotional responses from astonishment to raging anger, as if the artist wants to include all variations and exaggerations from animation to comics. He’s seen ten times over the opening page, with a different expression for every panel. It’s a theme continued throughout, and that alone shows what a versatile artist Keramidas is. There may only be 42 story pages, but each is packed with panels, themselves packed with movement and detail. As before, the pages are claimed to be from old comics, so bear the stains and minor tears of age, each of them on yellowed paper, and don’t miss out on the bespoke title panels Keramidas creates for each episode.
In order to find the secret of happiness Donald circulates among his friends, beginning with the supernaturally lucky Gladstone Gander, who’ll discard a found cruise ticket as it’s only second class. Naturally enough, each has a different definition of happiness, and along the way we learn more about the assorted characters, including some surprising inclusions. It’s nice to see Professor Ludwig von Drake, while it’s arguable that the happiest of everyone is the dictator of Brutopia, but of course his happiness is contingent on the misery and suffering of those inhabiting his country. Brutopia, its people and its systems occupy around a third of the book, the adventures here a little less happy overall. Trondheim leads the individual pages to joke endings, on occasion tying into the quest for happiness, but not limited by the necessity to do so. His joke about Donald’s perpetual sailor suit is brilliantly delivered.
Trondheim and Keramidas couldn’t have constructed Donald’s Happiest Adventure without basing it on the perception we have of assorted characters created by others, but making the points would be a harder slog without that familiarity. It’s the philosophical nature of the quest that raises this ever so slightly above the excellent Mickey Mouse book, and it ranks with the best Donald Duck stories.