Born after the approval of the comic-book character Diabolik, the first idea of a superhero based on Donald came to the author Elisa Penna. It was after the then executive director of the "Topolino" comic book Mario Gentilini asked for a "'superman' version of Mickey Mouse" that the cartoonist Guido Martina instead suggested to make Donald a superhero, taking the original idea by Penna, and revising and perfecting it, thus creating Paperinik (whose name is a combination of "Paperino", the italian name of Donald Duck, and the suffix "-ik" from "Diabolik").
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 understood to be based on Stålmanden/Stålmannen, local translations of Superman's title, the Man of Steel. 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", contracting word for phantom (Norw. spelling: "fantom") with the name Donald. This alludes to another (non-Disney) comic-book hero, Lee Falk's "The Phantom", or in Norwegian Fantomet. Duck Avenger resembles The Phantom in that he is a masked hero with no actual superpowers.
The new born Paperinik made his debut in "Paperinik il diabolico vendicatore" (lit. "Paperinik the Diabolical Avenger", printed in English as "The Diabolical Duck Avenger"), a two-part 60-pages story published on June 8 and June 15, 1969 respectively on issue #706 and #707. This story never saw an American release until 2015, when it was printed in Donald Duck #5 (legacy number 372) and #6 (373) under IDW Publishing.
The debut story featured Donald receiving the ownership papers of Villa Rosa, an abandoned villa outside of Duckburg ("Paperopoli" in original Italian 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 Cancelline" (lit. the "Eraser Candies").
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 the 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.
The Duck Avenger's first appearance in an American comic was a 3-part story titled "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. This comic was published in Disney Adventures in the summer of 2000 and was the first use of "Duck Avenger" name. The "Duck Avenger" name was used as a way of giving the character the same initials as the magazine, and would remain as the character's official English name even after Disney Adventures was cancelled.
The video game 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.
In 2014, in Topolino #3058, "PKNE - Paperinik New Era" was released in four episodes. Francesco Artibani wrote "PK - Might and Power" story, and Lorenzo Pastrovicchio drawn the graphics. In this issue, Raider and Odin Eidolon persuaded Donald go back to his Duck Avenger identity, and prevent Evronian empire from rising again. In May 2015 has been published four-episode issue "PK - The banks of the time", and the story focuses on the paradoxes of time and marks the return of Lyla Lay, the charming journalist of Channel 00. This venture is scripted by Alessandro Sisti, designed by Claudio Sciarrone and colored by Max Monteduro.
In 2016, Duck Avenger appeared again in a cross-over along with DoubleDuck, the other secret identity of Donald as a secret agent/spy, called "PK vs DD - Timecrime". The series was created and scripted by Francesco Artibani, designed by Paolo Mottura and colored by Max Monteduro (who is also the creator of DoubleDuck), and it was released in four episodes on April 27 to May 4.