Paperinik, officially named The Duck Avenger in American comics (also known as Phantomias, Superduck, PK, Superdonald and Phantom Duck), is a comic book superhero, Donald Duck's alter ego. Donald originally created his superheroic identity as a means of secretly seeking revenge against relatives such as Scrooge McDuck and Gladstone Gander, but soon found himself fighting other menaces. The character is an Italian invention and, as a pervasive feature where he appears, very much not in canon with stories that do not feature him.
In 1969, various children complained to the publishers of the Italian version of the Donald Duck comics (Mondadori) that Donald was always the loser in their stories. Writer Guido Martina and artist Giovan Battista Carpi responded by giving Donald a superhero alias named "Paperinik". The name "Paperinik" is a combination of the names "Diabolik", a then-popular fictional villain who started a hype about villains with names ending in -ik, and "Paperino" (Italian for little duck), Donald's Italian name.
In the French version he was called Fantomiald, in the German version Phantomias, Patomás in the Spanish translations, and the Greek version Phantom Duck (Φάντομ Ντακ), all of them based on the master-criminal Fantômas. In Denmark his adventures have mostly been published in small books called "Jumbobøger", or "Jumbo books" (Due to being several hundred pages long, not for their size). He is known in Denmark as "Stålanden", meaning "The Steel-duck" and in Sweden as "Stål-Kalle", meaning "Steel-Donald". These names are probably based on Stålmanden/Stålmannen, local names for Superman. In Finland, Papernik is published in "Aku Ankan Taskukirja", "Donald Duck's Pocket Book". The Finnish name for Papernik is "Taikaviitta", meaning "Magic Cape". In Norway he is called "Fantonald".
The creators introduced Paperinik in the two-part, 60-page story "Paperinik il diabolico vendicatore" ("Paperinik the Diabolical Avenger") published on June 8 and June 15, 1969.
The debut story featured Donald receiving the ownership papers of Villa Rosa, an abandoned villa outside of Duckburg (Paperopoli in Italian original version) whose owner had disappeared decades ago. Donald soon finds that the papers were actually intended for his cousin Gladstone, but he is content not to correct the mistake. Visiting the villa with his nephews, he discovers the diary and an abandoned suit of Fantomius, who was known as a notorious gentleman burglar and sometime vigilante active during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Donald learns his methods of maintaining a secret identity by acting as a harmless and rather incompetent gentleman during the day and during the night as a vindicator, taking revenge for his grievances against society. Intrigued, Donald decides to keep his discoveries to himself as they might prove useful.
He soon meets his own two greatest causes of grief: his ruthless and domineering maternal uncle Scrooge McDuck and his arrogant and extremely lucky first cousin Gladstone, who enjoys taunting Donald with his own effortless successes in comparison to Donald's constant efforts and failures. Deciding to take revenge on them, Donald presents the diary's notes on weapons and transportation means to Gyro Gearloose, who soon equips him with a utility belt and boots that contain many useful gadgets and also adds special equipment to Donald's car. The first mission for "Paperinik", as he names himself, is to steal his uncle's mattress which contains $1,000,000 in small bills. He does so by making certain that Scrooge inhales enough of a sleep-inducing drug to keep him out of action all night. He then frames Gladstone for the theft.
Scrooge and Gladstone, along with the police, manage to track the thief to the Villa the next day. Gladstone, trying to clear his name, decides to investigate the villa but the "candle" he uses for light is actually dynamite. He accidentally destroys the villa and the money ends up scattered around the area. Scrooge seems convinced that Gladstone is responsible but decides not to place charges if Gladstone manages to collect the money. Meanwhile Donald is gloating over all of this, and states that his career has just begun.
Donald later discovers a second volume of Fantomius's diary in the anniversary story "Paperinik e il ritorno a Villa Rosa" ("Paperinik and the Return to Villa Rosa") by Fabio Michelini and Giovan Battista Carpi. The later story was 53 pages long and was first published in two parts on September 17 and September 24, 1996.
The first story is considered an Italian Duck comic classic, and was popular with readers of the time as Donald acted with more confidence, intelligence and skill than that of his regular identity. The story seems also to owe many of its aspects to its writer Guido Martina whose stories often focused on the darker and more villainous aspects of his characters' personalities.
The second phase
In the early stories, Paperinik wasn't actually a superhero, but a vindicator, avenging wrongs that had been done to Donald, sometimes in blatantly illegal ways. The writers toned this aspect down later and turned him into a superhero instead, as they understood it was not a good long-term idea to turn Donald into a full-time villain. The character's methods did not change much but he started targeting the criminal population of Duckburg, in particular the Beagle Boys. This still remains his main mission today, although he occasionally faces higher profile adversaries and finds missions which require him to travel away from Duckburg.
The "old style" stories and characterization eventually fell out of favor, and Paperinik emerged as the main defender of Duckburg, keeping watch on the city with his high-tech and always nonlethal weapons and gadgets, in a fashion much reminiscent of the Batman. The American hero is given explicit tribute in some stories where the Mayor or Police Chief of Duckburg are seen requesting Paperinik's assistance with a kind of Bat-Signal which projects the outline of a bat "wearing" Donald's trademark hat.
Gyro Gearloose remained the only citizen of Duckburg to know about Donald's secret identity: this however happens just when Donald has to reveal him his secret identity for some motive. Gyro later forgots his alias by eating a Car-Can (read below). Gyro became his first and most important ally, dependably providing him with a vast array of powerful (though still often humorous) weapons and sometimes helping him in his adventures. Some other characters discovered Donald's secret time and again, but he always protected himself by erasing their memories with Gyro's "Car-Can Sweeties" or by leading them onto a false trail. The name "Car-Can" is a contraction of the Italian "Caramelle Cancellin": Caramelle stands for "sweets", and "Cancellin" is a made up word related to the word "cancellare", "to erase".
To explain his knowledge of Paperinik's activities, Donald made the public believe that he is "Paperinik's best friend", a fact that utterly perplexes Uncle Scrooge and the other characters.
Many of these stories were much more light-hearted than the first ones, and the theme of revenge was usually absent, although it is still occasionally used, especially against Scrooge McDuck.
PKNA and PK2
PKNA (short for "Paperinik New Adventures") was the first attempt of Disney Italian publishers to tell more action-oriented stories. The series continue from the previous Duck Avenger stories, yet use mostly new characters apart of the Duck Avenger himself and brief appearances of Scrooge McDuck.
When Uncle Scrooge buys Ducklair Tower, Donald finds there's one floor more than there's supposed to be. The Duck Avenger investigates the secret floor and meets Uno, the building's artificial intelligence, who becomes his new ally and provides him with the inventions of the disappeared Everett Ducklair to fight villains such as the aliens Evronians, the time traveler known as the Raider, and others.
The PKNA comic series had a successful 48-issue run, with a "what if" issue #49 to tie with a continuation series called PK2, which was less successful and ended in issue #18.
PKNA, despite the change in settings, continued from the previous adventures of the Duck Avenger, but there were some unsuccessful attempts to create a new beginning that used a PKNA-like setting, likely to reach an international market or new readers.
One of these attempts was to cancel PK2 to make room for a new comic named simply PK telling a new version of the Duck Avenger's origin as part of an interplanetary team. The series was cancelled after a few issues. It became available in English as "Superduck" at Disney Digicomics for iPod and PSP.
There also was the American story "The Secret Origin of the Duck Avenger", where Ludwig Von Drake has Donald becoming the Duck Avenger and has him working alongside Spike the Bee against the Evronians.
The videogame PK: Out of the Shadows is another retelling: there, the Duck Avenger identity doesn't exist until Uno reveals his existence to Donald in order to stop an Evronian invasion.