Did ya think the most failure-prone guy in the entire Disney universe can't showcase awesomeness? Think again.Carl Barks' Comics
A 1940s Donald Duck comic featured Donald and his nephews raising a sunken ship they're trapped in with the air from ping pong balls. Not impressed? Well, in 1964, a ship full of sheep coming into Kuwait sank, and everyone was worried about the decomposing sheep contaminating the drinking water. One man, wisely not mentioning where he got the idea, suggested using ping pong balls. It worked!
In Truant Officer Donald, Donald Duck outwits his nephews THRICE! The first one being where he effortlessly snatches them up the first time for playing hooky, the second one being him hiding in a snowma-err, snowduck, and when the boys tried to smash it too erase any evidence of their hooky day, Donald jumps out and catches them, and the third one being when it looks like the boys have won for besting Donald because it was Saturday and there were no school on Saturday, Donald pulls out a key from his vest, says that it's the school's key, and forces his nephews to go in anyway and write out "Crime does not pay," 100 times each on the blackboard. When Donald smarts show, they SHOW!
Let's give this some thought. To render the week's Big Bad unconscious via a blow to the head, that's spectacular in itself. Yet, Donald didn't use just any weapon. He was armed with the Holy Grail. Did you read that? Here it comes again just in case: DONALD DUCK USED -THE-HOLY GRAIL to knock a villain senseless, smashing it against his head with such strength that he BROKE IT. It may as well be the most sacrilegious, blasphemous, yet epically AWESOME KO ever featured on Disney Comics.
Little Donald giving 1930 Scrooge at his most Jerkass a much needed kick in the rear. (The Empire Builder From Calisota)
Telling off both Magica and Scrooge at the end of The Treasury of Croesus, forever showing that while he may never be as rich or as powerful as either of them, he may just be the happier one.
Magica's dumbfounded expression and Scrooge's quivering, cane-breaking fury are just icing. Of course, this was perfectly in character for the Donald of the day (who was a hard-smoking, hard-drinking, sea-shanty-singing, Angrish-sputtering sailor followed by a trio of Junior Woodchuck nephews for whom this was a chance to show off more knowledge of history.)
His near-Heroic Sacrifice in The Black Knight Glorps Again: The plan to get the Omnisolve-covered Black Knight trapped in a diamond room succeeds. Unfortunately, Donald gets trapped with him, whom he threatens to kill if they don't release him. Just as Scrooge and the boys agree, Donald tells them not to open the door, no matter what, and struggles with the Knight until they both pass out from the Omnisolve dissolving the air in the room! Wow! Now that was smart, selfless, and brave.
For those of you who don't know: The Black Knight's armor is covered in a solution that disolves almost anything instantly at touch, including air. Even fired spears and cannonballs would simply dissapear into it as if he was a walking black hole. He's pretty much a less scary verision of SCP-106 without a pocket-dimension. And Donald was locked in a small room with someone who could kill him with a simple poke. Woah!
The climax of The Magnificent Seven (Minus Four) Caballeros. The story's villain (a native chief turned greedy by civilization) escapes in a canoe, leaving Donald, José and Panchito in the lost city of Ophir, with no way to get out thanks to the river being infested with piranhas and the city's location on a high plateau. Things are looking grim, to the point where his friends lament this as the end of the Three Caballeros. As everything seems hopeless and their future looks doomed, Donald recalls the insults and mistreatment that Scrooge, Gladstone, and Daisy gave him earlier in that week, accusing him of being completely worthless and incapable of doing anything without screwing it up... all with his nephews seeing everything, feeling so very sorry for him. Donald finally snaps, grabs a vine, swings into the chief's canoe, and proceeds to give him the beating of his life.
Donald's act of bravado inspires Panchito and José decide to join his friend. Just then, they notice a gigantic anaconda (which had previously attempted to eat Donald) swimming toward the canoe. Panchito ties the snake's tail to a nearby bridge, while Jose subdues it with only his umbrella. After the chief falls off an Inevitable Waterfall, Panchito ties up the Anaconda by its neck and he, along with Donald and José, ride out of the ruins on it like a bucking bronco.
There's still a tribe of Indians they gotta deal with. It ends up not being necessary to do so, but their will to face them with their bare hands is still admirable.
"A whole tribe of Indians against Three Caballeros...We have them grossly outnumbered."
And why was it unnecessary? Because their mounts - Panchito's horse Señor Martinez, an ox and a llama - had already captured them. Señor Martinez was already awesome on his own, and the llama was The Cast Showoff, but this...
That's also part of why they attacked and tamed the giant anaconda: they had enough of Donald accidentally putting them to shame with both his Crazy Awesomeness and the humility to not mention his past adventures (he really didn't think much of it, but still...), and when he snapped...
Donald single-handedly assists Scrooge outwitting Beagle Boys in Inception-like adventure of "Dreams of a Lifetime"
Future Donald does pretty awesome in the alternate future of Lars Jensen's story "Whatever Happened to Scrooge McDuck?", specifically by managing to bankrupt Flintheart Glomgold and John Rockerduck with fines by converting the part of Scrooge's empire he inherited (after Scrooge's mysterious disappearance) into a charity organization dedicated to stopping illegal and unfair deals and reporting them to the proper authorities.
C'mon, Donald is the kind of person who will carve a mountain into an effigy of Napoleon with a chainsaw, in a single night, just so that people will talk about him. This at least deserves a mention.
In a Italian story,after Uncle Scrooge goes missing, Donald and his nephews travel to an island to retrieve him. Said island is inhabited by big, strong ducks (like two times as tall and three times ad large as Donald). When they get in an ambush,one of them captures Donald... until he sees another trying to do the same to his nephews. He goes full uncle wolf, beating the crap out of him and sending him crying away. They need a whole squad to subdue him.
Italian stories created Paperinik, a superhero persona for Donald. How is this awesome? Well, in the first story he acted as an avenger of himself, and the very first thing he did was to steal Scrooge's mattress while he slept on it. After graduating from avenger of himself to superhero, he routinely took on what seemed to be impossible odds, and won every single time (just to make an example: one of his most frequent adversaries is Spectrus, a stage magician/Gentleman Thief who can hypnotize everyone with a single look in the eyes, yet Paperinik can fight and defeat him with onion juice). Then, there's Paperinik New Adventures...
Also, Paperinik never lost a fairly sadistic streak. The reason most of Duckburg's criminals run away when they hear springs is that Paperinik has spring-powered boots to jump very high, and if he's patrolling in those and not on car is that he's bored. And when they don't (or can't) escape... Well, in one occasion the Beagle Boys managed to get all inhabitants of Duckburg out of town to sack the place undisturbed by using a marathon with Paperinik's secret identity as a prize to bait them, only for Paperinik (pissed for having been involved and getting a scare when they falsely claimed they knew his identity) to arrange them to get caught in the act by every single person in Duckburg.
In a story Donald wanted a vacation, but he couldn't do it because there were too many criminals and too little cops. The solution: capturing every single criminal in Duckburg in a single night, and then going on his vacation.
He did it again for a different reason: the billionaires of Duckburg wouldn't help refurbishing the sport field citing the expense of defending their fortunes from criminals as reason, so he captured them all. And did it even more awesomely than the first time: while the first time he ran around the city with his gadget and picked the criminals one by one, this time he used some Applied Phlebotinum from Gyro to bait them all in a square, at which point he caught them all in a net and called the cops.
In one story the Beagle Boys had managed to steal his car and gadgets, and tried to use them for heists. First heist: Paperinik wrecks the car's flying ability and recovers the loot. Second heist: he wrecks the car and recovers the loot and the wrecked car. Third heist, in which the Beagle Boys use his paralyzer gun and his spring boots for high jumps: he tricks the BB with the boots into jumping in the sewers, where he knocks himself out by hitting the ceiling with the rebound of the springs, then gleefully announces the other Beagle Boys that his gun is single shot and they have no reloads, and when they, furious for being ridiculed this way, jump on him to beat him to a pulp, he dodges and let them beat each other into unconsciousness while he calls the police and recovers the rest of his gadgets. And all of this using only improvised equipment like a foot-propelled scooter (when he wrecked the car's flying ability), a rope (when he wrecked the car) and a movable advertising poster (to trick the BB into jumping in the sewers).
In his fourth story Paperinik finds out everybody believes him to be a robot Scrooge created to advertise his wax museum (Scrooge had used a Paperinik robot to advertise that museum in the previous Paperinik story, but that was using Paperinik's own infamy, and from that a group of scientists determinated Paperinik was the robot all along). How does he reveal once and for all that he's not a robot? Easy: he crashes a party attended by the whole of Duckburg while Scrooge is in jail for a theft Paperinik had committed earlier in the story (in fact Rockerduck had thrown the party to celebrate Scrooge getting jailed), terrifies everyone with a ray gun made of chocolate, gets the judge to admit he's not a robot and that Scrooge is innocent, commits the theft again with nobody daring to stop him, kicks Gladstone in the pool for celebrating the jailing of a relative, and, before leaving, forces Rockerduck to eat the gun.
The threat with a fake gun is a Running Gag, usually in the form of a super soaker loaded with a soft drink that he'll shoot in his own mouth after he doesn't need to threaten the victim anymore (the victim is never amused). In one occasion he was feeling particularly sadistic, he used two of these guns to shoot Scrooge, the first with the drink sold as a paralyzing fluid to stop him from escaping and the other sold as a truth serum, and Scrooge was so terrified he fell for both.
In one occasion Paperinik was trying to track down the man controlling the crime in Duckburg, but no thief would give him even an hint. How did he finally track him down? He faked an amnesy and a Face-Heel Turn and stole away half the city until the crime boss bought it and told his men to bring Paperinik to him to steal his loot. Needless to say, when they did he proceeded to beat up and capture every single criminal in the building.
In the story "The Golden Christmas Tree", a witch - stereotypical warts, broom and all - lures away and kidnaps the triplets, and Donald follows their trail despite not having the advantages the witch gave the kids (like transforming into a log to let them cross a chasm, which Donald just throws a gigantic snowball across to make a bridge). Upon reaching her cabin, he assaults it ferociously, even after she proves she's a powerful Reality Warper who could kill him in a second and probably doesn't only out of some sadistic mischievous streak. After some quite impressive antics (including picking up an entire tree trunk to use as a battering ram) he cleverly enters through the chimney, gives a Bond One-Liner, and uses her own broom, which is the source of her power, to defeat her while yelling at his nephews to run as fast as they can.
In "Bellboy Donald", the duck spends an entire short being forced to keep his temper under control by his boss with the threat of unemployment if he lashes at one more customer, with Pete's malicious son constantly exploiting this and placing Donald in all sorts of humiliating situations. Finally, after being pushed too far, he drags Pete Jr kicking and screaming over to the hotel reception and inquires whether he has been fired yet, which the manager immediately confirms, at which point Donald happily gives the brat a much needed spanking, complete with an Evil Laugh. Even in this day and age, his revenge is immensely satisfying.
"Lighthouse Keeping" has what has to be the most Crazy Awesome Donald has done. When trying to throw a pelican out of the lighthouse, it pulls the old "make you throw yourself over" trick. Donald falls, but as the Pelican smugly dusts his hands/wings off we don't hear a splash. Instead, Donald rides A WAVE BACK ONTO THE RAIL standing still, with a Badass Arm-Fold and Death Glare on his face. He doesn't move for a second before dusting his own hands off. This sends the pelican running back inside.
In addition, rather than closing with Donald's traditional Humiliation Conga at the hands of his foe, the short is left at a stalemate, as the sun rises and makes their feud pointless. Donald merely puts down all the shades to the building and forces the battle to continue.
In Alpine Climbers (1936), Donald headbutts a mountain goat and wins.
His Face Death with Dignity moment in "Commando Duck". Even better is that he survived and washed out a Japanesse air fleet.
"Flying Jalopy" has Donald conned by evil salesman Ben Buzzard into buying a delapidated plane, that is secretly ensured in Ben's favor should it crash. Ben spends the entire short secretly trying to sabotage his flight, only for Donald to improvise with air tricks as the plane falls apart. When Ben finally loses patience and outright attacks Donald, the war is on, culminating in Donald using Ben himself as a makeshift plane.
In "Donald's Pumbaa Prank", Donald rescues Pumbaa when Pete's stuffed him in the club's vent and is feeding him stinkbugs. Then, when it looks like Pumbaa's about to let loose a big fart and everyone has to evacuate, Donald bravely rushes out of the house with Pumbaa and takes the blow for everyone.
And the reason Donald rescued Pumbaa from Pete was all because he felt guilty for about to be pulling a prank on Mickey, when he thought Mickey was going to set him up for another prank. Turns out Mickey wanted to give Donald a gold statue, which Mickey believed Donald truly deserved. In fact, it was Donald's fault in the first place when he got manipulated by Pete to kidnap Pumbaa.
Actually, Donald was manipulated by Pete because although Donald first pranked Mickey by making him slip, Mickey had to take his so-called prank Up to Eleven by not just showing an embarassing black and white screen test of Donald (even though unlike Mickey and the rest of his gang, Donald actually made his debut in color!), but even called his supposed best friend an "Ugly Duckling!" Given that in a cartoon in that episode, Mickey was the type of person to trick his years long girlfriend, Minnie, into thinking he was about to propose to her! ... Donald's suspicion was sort of justified.
"Everybody Loves Mickey" has a scene where Mortimer is doing an open-mic performance that consists of him saying nasty things about Mickey. Donald, who up to this point had been resentful of the apparent notion that everyone liked Mickey more than him, steps up on stage, tells the big rat "You can't talk about Mickey Mouse that way!", and then throws him off the stage. Needless to say, he pretty much deserved the applause he got for that.