quinta-feira, 24 de setembro de 2009

Asterix & Obelix

Time for some more talk about comics, methinks!

In the creation of Vanadys, I've taken inspiration from many different sources... in some instances, the inspiration has been fairly minimal, but still influental in some ways. Among these types of inspirations are several French/Belgian comics, whose "album" formats and special type of story structure has fascinated me a lot over the years and at least given me a few ideas about the use of timing and narrative flow.

Today, we'll head over to France to take a peek at one of the biggest successes in the history of French comics, and one of my personal favorites; Asterix.

Have you ever read Asterix? If you're European, the answer is probably yes. Ever since its humble beginnings in 1961, this series of humorous comic albums has been translated to many languages and had success in many countries -- it's quite possibly the most successful French comic ever... And with good reason. Asterix at its best is sophisticated and witty, with intriguing storylines and intelligent humor -- all without losing its broad appeal.

Basically, it's a satirical look at the world, and particluarly France (back then known as Gaul), in the times of the Roman Empire -- not completely historically accurate, perhaps, but... let's just let the comic itself sum it up:

The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely... one small village of the indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders, and life is not easy for the Roman legionairies who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium...

The story of Asterix is the story of a small, unnamed Gaulish village somewhere on the coastline of Armorica (Britanny); the only village that was never conquered by the Romans. Because this village has a secret weapon, namely a magic potion that gives superhuman strength to whoever drinks it. Not very realistic, perhaps? No, but the point of Asterix isn't realism. The fact that nearly all the characters (except the actual historical people, like Julius Caesar and Cleopatra) have puns as names should tell you most of what you need to know.

There are thirty-four Asterix albums (thirty-three full-length stories and one collection of short stories), and just because I really want to talk about Asterix today, I'm going to give a full run-down, with commentary and my personal opinion, on all thirty-four.

First, however, a presentation of some of the characters.

Asterix is the main hero and star of the show -- at least in name (in reality, his best friend Obelix is at least his equal in stardom). He's small in stature but great in courage and deed, and like so many "main heroes" he isn't really the most interesting or entertaining character in the series. That said, he never becomes bland and personality-less like too many "main characters" (Tintin, for example) -- no, Asterix definitely has a personality. He's a strange mixture of the "straight man," the one who sets up the punchlines so that the others can be funny, and the "trickster," the dude who jokes around and plays tricks on others to his own advantage so that either his victims or his audience (or both) might learn a valuable lesson.

Asterix is recognized by everyone as one of the top warriors in the village, mainly thanks to his shrewd and cunning nature. Oddysseus has nothing on this guy -- if Asterix had been present at the battle of Troy, he wouldn't merely have gotten the Greeks into the city with that famous Trojan horse trick, he'd also have tricked the Trojans into surrendering without a fight, tying each other up and gift-wrapping the key to the city. As a result, Asterix is the one called for whenever some big task is waiting, and Asterix is also the only one who gets to carry around his own personal gourd of magic potion, to drink if he gets into trouble on one of his many journeys. (Everyone else seems to just get potion whenever it's necessary; Asterix is the only one who gets to choose when he wants to drink it. Probably because he's generally smart enough to see when he's going to need superhuman strength and when he isn't.)

Asterix's main characteristic, apart from his brains and courage, is his easy-going nature; he doesn't take things too seriously and isn't above joking around. It's not a proper Asterix story if the titular character doesn't break down laughing at least once.

Asterix's best friend, constant companion, and co-star -- he's so prominent in the comic, in fact, that many people refer to the series as Asterix and Obelix. Obelix is by far the most popular character in the series, and with good reason, too: Though he at first glance seems like the stereotypical "dumb, hulking fat guy," and provides much of the comedy relief, he is actually the most multi-layered and three-dimentional character in the entire series.

He's a big (don't call him fat!), strong and good-natured man who knows how to appreciate the simple plasures in life: A good meal (preferrably roasted wild boar), good company (preferrably Asterix) and a good fight every now and then (preferrably against Roman legionaires) is all it takes to keep him happy, for the most part. In many ways, he is a big kid who never quite grew up, often taking on a simplistic and childish view on things: If anyone does something he doesn't understand, he sums it up thusly: "They're crazy!"

Obelix is the most feared Gaul among the Romans -- just the mention of his name sends your average legionaire running for the hills. This is because Obelix is the only Gaul who is permanently superstrong; for everyone else the magic potion only lasts for a few hours, but for Obelix, thanks to falling into a cauldron of potion (and ending up drinking most of it) when he was a young boy, the effect never wore off. Good thing too, since Obelix's favorite pasttime is an out-and-out brawl. Whenever Roman armies attack, Obelix is the one running up to meet them, cheering because this is going to be so much fun. And it usually is. For him. Still, he quite often doesn't seem to realize just how strong he is -- or more correctly, he's so used to being superstrong that he has trouble realizing that not everyone is as strong as he is, and is often surprised when others can't lift even "a small menhir."

Despite his fighting instinct, Obelix is really a soft-hearted and emotional guy, he can switch from angry growling to pitiful sobs to hysterical laugher in only a few panels; and he also quite easily develops crushes on pretty ladies... though he's usually too shy to do much more than blush and giggle if they pay him any attention.

Obelix probably also has the weirdest job ever: He designs, makes and delivers menhirs, which are, of course, huge upright standing stones. Nobody ever seems to know what they're for, and the only one who can lift them with no problem is Obelix (who often carries one around for delivery or possibly just because he likes carrying menhirs), but Obelix treats them as priceless works of art and keeps insisting that they're incredibly useful and everyone should have one in their home.

Dogmatix is Obelix's dog and best friend apart from Asterix, and his role in the series is something so unique as a "minor major character." Or possibly a "major minor character." Whichever sounds best. He was originally just a (literal) "running gag" character meant for a single story (where Asterix and Obelix travel around Gaul and the little dog keeps following them without any of them ever noticing), but he proved so popular with readers that he became a recourring character. And let's face it -- there is something incredibly endearing and cute about the idea of the huge Obelix having a tiny dog like that.

As a permanent cast member, Dogmatix is still a bit of a running gag character, but with a bigger importance and getting more attention. He's there for most of the stories and never wants for screen-time, but most often he doesn't play a huge part in the plots and his main function is to liven up the background with his small-but-energetic presence, and provide gags and comedy relief stunts that have little to do with the main story but still enhances it somehow. Still, he does sometimes get to take a more active part in the story and has even played key roles in saving the day on occasion.

In the words of his creatiors, Dogmatix is "the world's first canine ecologist"; one of the biggest running gags involving him is that he loves trees and always starts crying if one is damaged.

Getafix the Druid may, at first glance at least, look like your typical "white-bearded mentor" stock character, but he's really not -- oh, sure, he is probably the wisest and cleverest of the characters, and always reliable with good advice, but despite being the villages local teacher and wiseman he's definitely no "father figure" or great authority; in the comics, he comes across more as a friend of the protagonists, treating them more or less as equals all the way -- except when he thinks they're being a little too foolish. He has a great sense of humor and often jokes and laughs along with Asterix, though he can get moody and irrational at times.

Getafix's biggest contribution to the comic, though, is the magic potion that gives superhuman strength. He is the only person alive who knows how to make the potion (in his words, the recipe has been "handed down from druid to druid by word of mouth" for ages), and without him the Romans would probably have conquered the Gaulish village long ago.

These four are the central characters of the Asterix; Asterix and Obelix in particular, but there are several other notable characters in the series, most importantly Vitalstatistix the village chief and Cacafonix the bard (whose singing is so bad it turns milk sour) -- and of course Julius Caesar himself, who is probably the closest the series get to a "Big Bad," although he's treated fairly sympathetically in several stories.

In fact, the Romans in general, while the clear main antagonists, aren't all that unsympathetic; certainly the common legionnaire is presented as a fairly decent, average guy who just happens to be part of a big, ruthless army. It's hard not to feel for them when they're ordered by over-ambitious centurions to attack the Gaulish village, and they know they're going to get the snot beaten out of them again. It's the richer, higher-ranking Romans that are more often portrayed as out-and-out villains; centurions in particular have this nasty tendency to be greedy, conniving and plotting, wanting more power than they already have and sometimes even having secret ambitions of overthrowing Caesar.

And of course, any presentation of Asterix wouldn't be complete without mentioning the many caricatures and "guest stars" that appear in the comic -- not only historical figures, but modern-day celebrities and contemporaries (or at least caricatures of them) make cameos -- at one point, for example, we see Laurel and Hardy as legionnaires, Uderzo and Goscinny themselves show up as background characters several times, and perhaps most memorably, a young Sean Connery plays a large role in one of the later books, Asterix and the Black Gold, as a (villainous) "secret druidical agent" with extremely many James-Bondish traits.

One of the main traits of Asterix is, in fact, caricatures -- but not always of individuals. Equally often the caricature is of stereotypical people from different countries and their habits and quirks, lovingly showcased in the adventures in which Asterix and Obelix travel to other countries, and generally summed up by Obelix as "crazy."

Despite being one of the most high-profile French comics over the years, Asterix has a smaller number of adventures than, say, Spirou or The Smurfs -- over the forty-plus years that the comic has existed, there has been thirty-two album-length adventures and a handful of short stories (making up 1443 comic pages if I have counted right); a decent amount of stories, by all means, but still a small number compared to others... and peanuts compared to the thousands of, say, Superman comics that have been published in the same period of time.

However, the main difference here is that while the other comics have had more writers and artists, Asterix is purely the result of two people's work: Rene Goscinny, the author, and Albert Uderzo, the artist. (And since Goscinny's death in 1977, Uderzo has done both the writing and the drawing). So Asterix is and has been very unified in its vision and world-presentation: where other comic characters have had several interpretations of themselves over the years, there is only one Asterix.

You can find him in the following albums (listed here in their original chronological order):

1. Asterix the Gaul (1959)

The first, and introductionary, story of Asterix introduces the main players and tells how the Romans first discovered the existence of the magic potion. The story mostly revolves around the legionnaires of the garnison Compendium in an almost Wile E. Coyote-like role, trying and failing to get the magic potion from the Gauls by kidnapping Getafix and being thoroughly and repeatedly tricked and humiliated by the Gauls.

It's a fun and entertaining story, but the creators haven't quite found their feet yet and there are more than a few missed opportunities. The biggest weakness of the story is a general lack of Obelix -- he vanishes about halfway through the story and doesn't show up again until the last page.

This comic was adapted into the first animated Asterix movie, which proved to be the worst Asterix movie to ever be made... it's terribly animated and drawn, and it sticks too slavishly to the comic when it comes to story, not taking into consideration the different demands of a comic and an animated movie -- causing the movie to seem stellar, overly-long and with jokes that fail due to bad timing. (The music, however, is brilliant.)

2. Asterix and the Golden Sickle (1960)

The second story sees Asterix and Obelix travel to Lutetia (Paris to you modern people) to get a new golden sickle for Getafix, who has broken his old one and can't cut mistletoe -- a vital ingredient in the magic potion -- without it. The first of the "Asterix and Obelix travel away from the village" stories, and the first where Obelix steps up to become a major character, a role he keeps for the duration of the series.

While the first story was far from poor, the second is an improvement in almost every way: Better plot, funnier jokes and a more dynamic story with more twists and turns. Not really a great classic, but still good fun.

3. Asterix and the Goths (1961-62)

Getafix is kidnapped again, this time by Goths.... No, no, no, not "Goths" as in black-clad and depressed people; "Goths" as in the ancestors to the modern Germans... and of course Asterix and Obelix have to rescue him.

The stories keep getting better and better in these early albums, and this third story surpasses both its predecessors in terms of story, character and comedy. It's a good trick by the creators to throw in some non-Roman adveraries at times, and the Goths are a both funny and brutally barbaric contrast to the organized and civilized Romans (who also figure in the story).

4. Asterix the Gladiator (1962)

What, someone's been kidnapped again?! Wait, it's not Getafix this time, it's Cacafonix the Bard. Roman Prefect Odius Asparagus wants one of the indomitable Gauls as a present for Julius Caesar, and Caesar is so unimpressed with the gift that he decides to throw Cacafonix to the lions at the Colosseum... and Asterix and Obelix travel to Rome in order to rescue the bard, and end up having to become gladiators in order to get into the Colosseum in the first place.

This isn't a bad story as such, but it's the fourth story in a row to heavily involve kidnapping in the plot, and it's getting just slightly monotonous. Luckily, this is the last of the "kidnap" stories for a while, and the jokes are as funny as ever, and we do get some desperately needed character development for Julius Caesar and Cacafonix... even if the story itself doesn't quite reach the heights of Asterix and the Goths.

Certain plot elements and events from this story was used in the movie Asterix VS Caesar, a fun enough romp which tried to combine two albums into one whole coherent story...but only partially succeeded.

5. Asterix and the Banquet (1963)

Um... this isn't actually a story so much as it is an exuse for Uderzo and Goscinny to make fun of the different regions of France and their local populations. Basically, Asterix and Obelix travel around Gaul to collect the local delacies from different parts of the country in order to show the Romans that they should be allowed to travel freely around Gaul...

...no, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me either. The entire thing is probably hilarious to the French, who would no doubt enjoy the satires on the different parts of France and their quirks and oddities, but people from other countries -- like me -- find themselves sadly lost in this. It's not a bad comic, but you can't help but feel that there's some big point to it here that goes straight over your head. The story's biggest significance, though, is that it sees the debut of Dogmatix, who starts following Asterix and Obelix around in this book and goes totally unnoticed by them until the very last page.

6. Asterix and Cleopatra (1963)

Well, now, this is more like it. In this story, Cleopatra makes a wager with Caesar: to prove that Egypt is still the great country it used to be, she'll build him a magnificent Egyptian palace in only three months. Fazed by this impossible task, her architect Edifis decides to contact an old friend, Getafix the Druid in Gaul... looks like Asterix, Obelix and Getafix (and Dogmatix!) are travelling to Egypt to help out, and to possibly humiliate Caecar one more time!

This is the story where Asterix fully comes into its own; the stories before this one were good enough, but here everything just comes together in a marvellous way: The adventure is grander, the characterizations better, the jokes funnier, and Dogmatix is here too. This is what truly starts off the long Golden Age of Asterix; from here the series goes from strength to strength.

Not surprising, perhaps, that this is the only Asterix story to be adapted into a movie twice; once as an animated cartoon, once as a live-action movie. Both are well worth watching, although they entertain in different ways.

7. Asterix and the Big Fight (1964)

Getafix is hit by a menhir and loses his memory -- and as such he can't make the magic potion anymoere. To make matters worse, a brutish Gaul by the name of Cassius Ceramix, who idolizes the Romans, decides to challenge chieftain Vitalstatisix to a big fight for the control of the Gaulish village. This is the first of the "village-under-threat" stories; from hereon the storylines will mostly switch between these kinds of story (giving more focus to the village and surroundings) and the traditional abroad-travel adventures.

...okay, so the "hit on the head and loses his memory" plot is a bit of a cliche, but it's seldom handled as well as it is here. Getafix doesn't only lose his memory, he also goes insane and starts brewing up a whole lot of different potions, none of which work as they should and most of which explode. It's an incredibly funny story that brings more character development, particularly to Vitalstatisix, who despite his prominence in the village has been a minor character until now.

The "memory loss" part of the story was used in the movie Asterix and the Big Fight, which is not one of the better Asterix movies. 'Nuff said.

8. Asterix in Britain (1965)

A small village of Britons are fighting against the Roman conquering armies, but they're fighting a losing battle... until one of them, Anticlimax, remembers his Gaulish cousin Asterix, and the legendary magic potion. He enlists the help of Asterix and Obelix to take a barrel of the potion to the British village and help out... unfortunately, the Romans also find out about this ploy, and try to get the barrel for themselves.

One of the most popular Asterix stories ever, and with a good reason. Everything British is thoroughly made fun of (though in the traditional Asterix way, the oddities are presented in such a charming and loveable way that the British are among the biggest fans of this story), and the story itself is a densely-plotted and exciting journey through danger and comedy, with just the right amount of surprises along the way.

This story was adapted into an animated movie, Asterix in Britain, which remains one of the very best Asterix films to this day.

9. Asterix and the Normans (1966)

Everyone knows that the Vikings are a fearless people... in fact, they literally don't know what fear is. Viking chieftain Olaf Timandahaf, misunderstanding the old saying "fear lends wings," thinks that fear will literally grant you the power to fly like a bird and decides that it must be worth to learn the meaning of fear. So the Vikings set sail and happen to arrive at a certain Gaulish village at the same time as Vitalstatistix's urban and cowardly nephew Justforkix comes to visit from the big city. Cue mix-ups and hilarities!

I'll admit that I might be a little biased towards this one... it was the first Asterix album I read, and it has Vikings in it. he Vikings are, by the way, a charming bunch -- they're the antagonists of the story, sure, and with an extremely brutal warrior culture, but all the same they're so enthusiastic about their "mission" that you can't help but laugh. Justforkix swings between being sympathetic and annoying, but all in all is probably one of the most three-dimensional and memorable guest star characters in the series.

This story was adapted into the animated movie Asterix and the Vikings, which is without question the best Asterix movie ever produced. Sure, it derails from the original story quite a bit, but it's still brilliant, with top-notch animation and really great humor. This movie, and Asterix in Britain, are the most highly recommended Asterix movies -- try to at least see one of them, preferrably both.

10. Asterix the Legionary (1966)

Guess what? ...It's another "kidnap" story! This time, however, a slight twist is introduced: The victim is Tragicomix, a character we've never seen before, but who is the fiancee of the beautiful Panacea, whom Obelix is head over heels in love with. The kidnapping isn't too traditional either; he's been forced to join the Roman army and sent to Africa in order to fight in a war. So what else is there to do apart from Asterix and Obelix to join the army themselves and follow to Africa in the hope of finding him again?

The resulting story has been voted #1 favorite Asterix story by fans over the world, and with good reason: It's hilarious. Asterix and Obelix are great as they turn their garnison upside-down, and the other recruits are a delight... the best one being the Egyptian who, thanks to a language barrier and several misunderstandings, spends the whole story in the belief that he's on a somewhat unorthodox organized vacation.

This story, combined with that of Asterix the Gladiator, was made into the movie Asterix VS Caesar. The movie isn't as good as the comic, though.

11. Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield (1967)

Chief Vitalstatistix has been ordered by Getafix to spend some time dieting on a health farm, and Asterix and Obelix are meant to accompany him but instead get caught up in a frantic search all over Gergovia for the shield of Vercingetorix, the Gaulish chieftain who, at the Romans' conquering of Gaul threw his weapons at Caesar's feet in surrender. (Actual historical event, although the real-life Vercingetorix probably didn't throw his weapons onto Ceasar's feet, causing great pain...)

I'm in two minds about this story. On one hand, the satire over the health industry is great, and many of the gags involving Romans searching in coal bins for the shield is hysterical. Yet, there's something missing here -- a lot of the story and humor henge on parodies of Gergovian people, which are lost on us poor foreigners, and in this album it just doesn't seem as accessible as most other Asterix albums. Still, when it's good, it's great.

12. Asterix at the Olympic Games (1968)

Already in the year 50 BC, there were the Olympic games, even though they were mostly confined to their homeland Greece. The only outsiders allowed to take part were Romans... and of course when the Gauls find out this, they insist on partaking as well, to show that they can do anything better than the Romans. So it's off to Greece, and the Olympics... which will probably be extra wacky and unpredictable with Asterix and the crew along for the ride.

This story was cleverly published for the first time during the Tokyo Olympics, and re-issues and revisions have generally also been published during an Olympic year, so there's a bit of topicality here. While I'm not a big fan of sports stories, this one is about as good as they come, with beautiful drawings of old Greece and -- most satisfying for an Asterix fan -- more focus on the secondary characters than before. We start to get to know more villagers, as most of them have come along to Greece, and the one who steals the show for the most part is of course Geriatrix, the oldest villager, whose energy and enthusiasm is unparalleled.

A live-action movie was made based on this story, but as I haven't seen it (it's about the only Asterix movie I haven't managed to see), I can't really say much about it.

13. Asterix and the Cauldron (1968)

Is there anything Asterix and Obelix can't do? Yes, as it turns out, there is one thing they fail spectacularly at no matter what they try: Making money. Here, a cauldron full of money that Asterix was supposed to be guarding has been stolen, and to make things right he now has to go out in the world to make his fortune... or at least earn enough to pay the owner of the cauldron back. Obelix comes along, of course, and they both try their luck at various money-making ways...

Okay, the plot for this one is at best a thin excuse for putting Asterix and Obelix through various misadventures where they try and fail to make a profit, but... damn, is it funny! After so many stories where the two Gauls have mostly succeeded at whatever they set out to do, it's great to see them as failures for once, especially since they're being so entertaining about it, and it makes the final success all that much more satisfying. It's probably one of the funniest Asterix albums to date!

14. Asterix in Spain (1969)

If there's one thing the Asterix stories have taught us, it's that there were lots of small villages out there that fought against Roman suppression. For example, in good old Hispania there's a village that keeps resisting the Romans much like our beloved Gaulish village does. But the Romans are not ones to give up; now they've (guess what?) kidnapped Pepe, the son of village chief Huevos Y Bacon, and are holding him hostage. So what's Asterix and Obelix to do, other than free him and then take him back to his family in Spain, thwarting Romans and encountering many Spanish caricatures as they go?

In Asterix in Spain, the most fun is actually to be had before the Gauls leave the village. We get more hilarious depictions of the villagers and village life, most notably Unhygenix the fishmonger, who debuts in this story and will be the source of what is to be one of the most famous staples of the Gaulish village, namely fish fights. Fish of various freshness are thrown about quite liberally in this story and make for several really funny jokes. It's almost a shame when Asterix and Obelix go abroad this time around, especially since the Spanish caricatures get a little one-dimensional.

15. Asterix and the Roman Agent (1970)

The Romans have a new weapon against the Gauls, and it's a person. Yes, the twisted and smooth-talking Tortuous Convolvulus has the uncanny gift of manipulating other people, using a clever mix of lies, truth, flattery and insults to set them up against each other -- he can turn the best of friends into the worst of enemies and create chaos and ruin in just about any ordered society. He was creating quite a few scenes and feuds in the upper classes of Rome, but now he's been set loose on the Gaulish village...

This is, without question, the best "Village under threat" story in the series. The Gauls, invulnerable and unbeatable as they seem, are virtually defenseless agains the Roman agent's manipulations and admittedly very clever deceptions. While this isn't the funniest Asterix book around, it does contain some of the best plotting and some really great visual effects... in this album, whenever people get angry and/or jealous, usually as a result of Tortuous's manipulations, their speech bubbles turn green -- the angrier they are, the darker the green gets. I've never seen this trick used anywhere outside this story, but it works like a charm to convey the emotion behind the words. Especially great is the scene where Obelix walks away from Asterix, muttering angrily to himself, but starting to have second thoughts and regretting his anger... his speech bubbles start out green, but get paler and paler as the anger vanishes, and finally become white again as he rushes back to beg forgiveness. This is just marvellous use of the comic medium, and one of the many highlights in a really great story.

16. Asterix in Switzerland (1970)

Well, this one's an oddity... here, the Gauls are actually going on their adventure with the goal of helping out a Roman! When Roman Quaestor Vexatius Sinusitus finds out that a local Roman governor has been taxing people and keeping the taxes for himself instead of sending them to Rome, and refuses to be bribed into silence, the governor poisons him in order to keep him quiet that way. Not trusting the Roman doctors (smart boy), Sinustius instead sends for Getafix the Druid, who concludes that he can make an antidote, but lacks one vital ingredient, namely an edelweiss from the Swiss Alps.... well, I guess you can see where this is going.

Surprisingly enough for a kid-friendly series like Asterix, this story heavily features Roman orgies! Okay, you don't actually see any sex, and anything adult is mostly implied rather than stated, so as far as the children are concerned, an "orgy" is presented mostly as a wild party where everyone gorges themselves with obscene amounts of food and drink too much wine, being as messy about it as possible (leading to quite a few funny scenes!). Still, a lot of the implications really hit home with the older crowd, and it's fairly clear that the sex does happen... just off-screen. Otherwise in the story, you get more or less the expected types of good-natured jokes about the Swiss and the Swiss stereotypes (cleanliness, punctuality, cheese, bank vaults, mountain climbing and yodeling), which, while not adding a whole lot to the story, are entertaining enough. It's definitely the orgies that are memorable in this one, though.

17. The Mansions of the Gods (1971)

The romans seem to have gotten the idea that non-violent methods are probably the best way of dealing with the Gaulish village, and let's face it -- they have a point. This time around, they try to infiltrate the village by building a "modern housing estate" right by the village... and when blocks of apartments filled with Roman tenants and all kinds of modern Roman lifestyle things surround the village, it'll become a "mere native reservations," and the Gauls will be forced to adapt to the Roman ways...

I really, really like this one. It's not quite as good a story as The Roman Agent, but it's much funnier, and the satire over urbanization and property developnent is sharp as a knife... and no less valid today than it was back in 1971.

18. Asterix and the Laurel Wreath (1971)

Sometimes, especially when there's alcohol involved, you end up going on adventures for the weirdest and stupidest reasons. Vitalstatistix, who's been visiting his in-laws in Lutetia, gets so sick of his brother-in-law's relentless bragging that he ends up promising to invite him for dinner back at the village... and the main course will be stew seasoned with Caesar's laurel wreath. And so, of course, Asterix and Obelix are sent to Rome to steal the laurel wreath, along the way running into many difficulties.

This is another personal favorite of mine. The story is top-notch and the drawing, which in Asterix has always been good, is getting even better from this story on -- allegedly because Uderzo from this point started dedicating himself purely to drawing Asterix and as such had more time to devote to the pictures here... and it shows. Asterix and the Laurel Wreath looks gorgeous. It also quite fits that in this story, where alcohol plays such an important part, Asterix (in his attempts at cooking the world's worst meal) manages to accidentally create a cure for hangovers... something which turns out to have a profound effect on the story. It's a classic.

19. Asterix and the Soothsayer (1972)

The "Village under Threat" stories are gaining more and more prominence in Asterix, and by now it's become a staple of the series that a story either revolves around Asterix and Obelix travelling to some faraway land, or the village facing some kind of non-violent threat -- which is always more dangerous for this village, since the villagers enjoy violence and can beat off just about any attacker, but are virtually defenseless against trickery and guile. This time around, a phony soothsayer named Prolix gets most of the village to shower him with gifts because he cleverly tells them exactly what they want to hear, creating tensions between the villagers. And things take a turn for the worse when Prolix is arrested by the Romans of Compendium, since Caesar has outlawed soothsayers, and to save his own skin strikes a deal with the Romans that he'll use his "gifts" to trick the Gauls into surrendering their village once and for all.

This is a masterful story about skepticism and not believing everything you're told. The villagers are fully-realized characters by now, and this story puts them to good use -- and Prolix is one of the best one-shot antagonists in the entire series; for all his slimyness and conniving, he's actually oddly likeable. You can't help but halfway admiring his cheek in trying to cheat everybody, and sympathize with him when he desperately tries to convince the Romans that he isn't really a soothsayer.

This story made up for the bulk of the animated movie Asterix and the Big Fight, which once again just goes to prove that good source material isn't always enough for a good movie. Prolix also makes an appearance in the first live-action Asterix movie, which is a bit of a mish-mash, but does have several entertaining parts.

20. Asterix in Corsica (1973)

It's the anniversary of the Battle of Gergovia, where the Gauls won their famed victory over the Romans, and the in the Gaulish village a huge party is organized, in which many familiar friends from abroad come to join them for a grand feast and some complimentary going out and beating up on Romans. During this, they end up liberating a Corsican chief called Boneywasawarriorwayayix (whew!), who had been captured and exiled to Gaul. It doesn't take a genius to predict that Asterix and Obelix decide to accompany him back to Corsica, thwarting Romans wherever they go!

For a long time, Asterix has gone from strength to strength to strength, but Asterix in Corsica is the weakest album in quite a while, suffering from the same flaws as Banquet and Chieftain's Shield; the inside jokes (this time about Corsican people) get too inside-y for those of us who don't already know Corsican stereotypes. There isn't a particularly great plot to compensate for it either (we've already seen the "free and escort the captured foreigner back home" story, and nothing new is done with it here). Still, the book has its redeeming qualities like some genuinely amusing interactions between Obelix and Boneywasawarriorwayayix, and the guest appearances of characters from earlier adventures (though Justforkix is, strangely, not among them) is a nice touch, one which was included largely because this was the last Asterix story to be serialized in the comic's magazine of origin, Pilote. I can't help but wish that the returning characters had gotten more to do, though; all in all their appearance has no bearing on the story and is mostly just "window dressing."

21. Asterix and Caesar's Gift (1974)

Julius Caesar can be quite crafty, although sometimes his plans don't go exactly as he'd wanted. When a Legionnaire veteran named Tresmensdelirius has served his duty in the army and spent the entire time drunk and using unflattering language about Caesar, he is dismissed from the army and given the traditional deed to his own mark of land... the deed to a certain Gaulish village where the inhabitants will no doubt give a proper "warm" welcome to a Roman drunk who shows up and claims to be the new owner of of the place. However, Tresmensdelirius ends up trading the deed to a Gaulish inkeeper in Lutetia for more wine, and so narrowly escapes the fate Ceasar had planned for him. The innkeeper and his family, however, get a nasty surprise when they try to move to the village... and though Vitalstatistix lets them stay in the village, things naturally start going a little astray with adjusting problems and arguing over who really owns the village, and eventually a heated debate that culuminates in an election for village chief... all while the Romans wait for the opportunity to strike while the villagers are divided.

Ceasar's Gift was written during a presidential election, and is a fairly clever satire on politics and political campaigns, sprinkled with the familiar Asterix-type humor... though personally, I can't really seem to warm up to it. Something about it just seems off somehow, making it neither as funny nor as interesting as other "Village under threat" stories. That said, it's not a bad story by any means and if you like Asterix, there's nothing in this book that'll make you change your mind.

22. Asterix and the Great Crossing (1975)

Asterix and Obelix have been all over Europe by now, but this time they go just a bit farther away... and it's all by accident, too, since they were only going on a fishing trip but end up on a hitherto unknown "island" with a weird "Roman colony" with "Romans" who live in teepees, hunt buffaloes and don't speak a word of their language... okay, fine, they travel to America and meet Indians Native Americans.

This comic was, and it shouldn't come as a big surprise, made in the hope that the American market should notice Asterix more, but the plan didn't really work. Perhaps because, even if we have the same high level of drawing and writing as we're used to from Goscinny and Uderzo, in Asterix terms, this really doesn't come across as anything special. Nothing particularly big or exciting happens, and though it's a fun and entertaining adventure story, it never really takes off to become one of the true classic Asterix tales.

This comic was adapted into the animated movie Asterix Conquers America, which, despite some impressive visuals, nice dialogue and fun moments, wasn't enough to let Asterix conquer America in real life... like the comic before it, it just didn't catch the interest of the American market.

23. Obelix and Co. (1976)

What's this? Has Obelix finally taken star billing in the comic?! Well, no, but this story does revolve heavily around him, even moreso than usual. Once again, the Romans try non-violent tactics to take over the village, and this time they do so by introducing economy and big business, all in order to get the Gauls busy with things other than fighting. And so, Obelix's menhir trade suddenly blossoms, turning Obelix into a big business man who needs to employ other workers to make menhirs, and soon the entire village is caught up in the making and selling of menhirs, aided by an extensive advertising campaign.

After a few semi-lackluster stories, Goscinny and Uderzo return to top form with Obelix & Co., which is just a brilliant satire on capitalism and marketing -- menhirs are absolutely useless and nobody in their right mind would want to buy one, yet the Romans launch an ad campaign that makes the menhirs highly popular must-have items. But what really makes this stand out is the character work; Obelix in particular shines as he tries taking up the unfamiliar role of businessman, but we also get some really funny looks at life in the Roman garnisons surrounding the village.

24. Asterix in Belgium (1979)

A rumor goes around, told by some Romans who have just been transferred to Armorica from Belgium, that the Belgians are without a doubt the toughest and bravest among all Gaulish people. This doesn't sit well with Vitalstatistix, who at once decides to go to Belgium to see what's so special about these Belgians, and of course to prove to both them and Caesar that his people are the toughest and bravest. Of course, Asterix and Obelix tag along, and it develops into quite the competition between the trio and the Belgian villagers they meet, over who can be the biggest pain in the neck for the Romans.

This is, sadly, the last Asterix story that Rene Goscinny wrote before he died, but it has to be said he ended his run on the series on a high note. While there's a bit of inside joking on the relationships between the French and the Belgians here, the general tone and feel is a lot more "outsider" friendly than, say, Asterix in Corsica. There are some really funny moments revolving around the "who's-tougher" competition, especially from Julius Caesar, who is asked to be the judge and rightfully declares the entire thing "crazy."

25. Asterix and the Great Divide (1980)

It's Romeo and Juliet, Asterix-style! Two rival chieftains have been elected to govern a little village, and a ditch dug through the village divides it, literally, into a "party of the left" and a "party of the right." The two halves of the village are bitter rivals and enemies... but lo and behold! The son and daughter of the two chieftains have fallen in love! Having more sense than their parents, they seek out the advice of a certain druid from another village, in order to ensure that this story gets a happier ending than Shakespeare's famous play.

After the death of Goscinny, Albert Uderzo was doubting whether he wanted to continue the adventures of Asterix, but fans and publishers convinced him to try. He didn't want anyone else to write Goscinny's characters, though, so he decided to take on the writing duties all on his own. Now, when comic book artists try their hands at writing the result is often quite abyssmal, but luckily Uderzo managed quite well with this story, which turns out to be a decent, solid Asterix tale, if not among the very best.

There's a notable change in the series' tone from this story on, though; Asterix under Uderzo often has a more romantic slant to it, as demonstrated by the Romeo and Juliet-esque story, and tends to get the female characters more involved in the plots. Also, the supernatural edge gets a lot stronger with Uderzo as the writer... already in this story, Getafix's various potions have become more miraculous and with more magical effects than they ever had before. It's not a bad change, and it opens for more story ideas, but it does make Asterix much more of a fantasy comic than it had been before.

26. Asterix and the Black Gold (1981)

The village is facing a serious problem -- Getafix has run out of rock oil, a vital ingredient in his magic potion. When the Phoenician merchant Ekonomikrisis returns to the village and has completely forgotten to bring Getafix's order of rock oil, there's nothing for it: Asterix and Obelix must go out prospecting for oil in Mesopotamia. Joined by a Gaulish druid named Dubbleosix (who is really a secret agent for the Romans, equipped with several "spy gadgets" and is "played" by a caricature of Sean "James Bond" Connery), they set off on a journey to the Middle East.

If nothing else, Black Gold proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Uderzo can write as well as draw. His previous attempt, Great Divide, was entertaining enough but nothing too special -- but here we get a grand adventure with high stakes, great plotting with many twists and turns, and really funny jokes, resulting in a spectacular Asterix story, easily on par with Goscinny's best.

27. Asterix and Son (1983)

Asterix and Son?! What's this, a cheap attempt at appealing to a younger audience with a "new generation" young Gauls? Luckily, no -- the "son" in question is a baby that Asterix finds on his doorstep one morning and spends the bulk of the story trying to find the parents of, even if Obelix is convinced that it's all a misdelivery by some scatterbrained stork, and certain others (who knows a little more about the birds and the bees than Obelix) get pretty suspicious when a baby is left on the doorstep of an unmarried warrior. But unfortunate implications isn't the worst of it, because the baby is accidentally fed a good portion of magic potion, and now Asterix and Obelix suddenly have a super-strong infant to deal with. And for some reason, Caesar's adopted son Brutus is overturning Gaul searching for this very baby...

I have no hesitation in naming this Uderzo's best solo story. He really outdid himself with this one, creating a story that's both funny and exciting, even including a tension and sense of adversary that's rarely present in Asterix comic, even having the Romans succeed in burning down the village. Not to mention, we get to see Cleopatra again, after a long period of absence. Asterix just doesn't get much better than this, and in many ways the entire story feels like it could have fit well as the final Asterix story; especially the ending has all the feel of a "Grande Finale" climax. However, there are still a few stories to go:

28. Asterix and the Magic Carpet (1987)

Adventure once again falls upon our favorite Gauls when an Indian Fakir called Watziznehm arrives at the village on a flying carpet, with a plea for help: There's a draught in his kingdom, and legend has it that in Gaul there is "a village of madmen where a voice makes rain." For once, it's not Getafix he's after, but Cacophonix, who's recently expanded on his repertoire and whose singing is now so bad he can literally make it rain with his voice alone. Accompanied by Asterix and Obelix, Watziznehm takes Cacaphonix on a magic carpet ride all the way to India to stop the drought and save everyone.

This is without question the most fantasy-ish and magial of the Asterix adventures, with the magic carpet and rain-song being primary ingredients in the story, and the trend that started with Great Divide is fully realized here, where magic and myth takes central stage. Some fans dislike this focusing on the supernatural, but I don't mind it -- it makes for a refreshing change, especially for this story, which is directly Arabian Nights-esque. It's also nice to have Cacophonix in an important role again, and the fact that he can suddenly make it rain because he sings so horribly is actually pretty funny. Also, Uderzo's drawing skill is at its peak here; the backgrounds, the characters, everything looks great in this comic, and the high-flying magic carpet gives us a lot of stunning overhead views of various landscapes. In my humble opinion, this a truly great story, and in many ways the last of Asterix's big classics.

29. Asterix and the Secret Weapon (1991)

The women of the Gaulish village is fed up with Cacophonix's teaching of the village children, and so they call in a new bard -- a woman by the name of Bravura. However, Bravura seems more interested in teaching women's rights than teaching children, and soon starts causing massive power shifts in the village as the battle between genders start raging. Even worse, Julius Caesar has a new secret weapon against the Gaulish village -- female legionnaires! Everybody knows that the gallant Gauls will never strike a woman, so sending a troop of battle-trained women against them will mean automatic victory.

I'm in more than a bit of two minds about this story. On one hand, it's a well-crafted, well-drawn tale with quite a few surprises along the way, and there's some decent satire over both feminism and anti-feminism... but there's a mildly chauvinistic tone to the entire thing that leaves a bit of a foul taste in my mouth. It's nice to see the women getting starring roles, and it's nice that topics of gender equality is handled with the same type of gentle satire that's usual for Asterix, but somehow it just isn't enough. Maybe part of the fault lies in the fact that Bravura is so fundamentally unsympathetic; you just don't want to be on her side at all. I can see where Uderzo wanted to go with this, but he just didn't pull it off. Shame, really, because with some changes and a little more thought-out handling of the new female characters, this could have been another big hit for Uderzo.

30. Asterix and Obelix All at Sea (1996)

We all know that Obelix is the one character in the comic who is permanently superstrong, since he fell in the cauldron of magic potion as a child. And ever since the beginning of the series, he's been trying to get another taste, only to be repeatedly shot down by Getafix, who has told him that it would be dangerous to for him to drink more. Well, this story finally gives us the answer to why it's dangerous, because after thirty comics Obelix finally manages to sneak a whole cauldronful of potion and drink it all -- and the results are pretty shocking. So now, Asterix and Getafix have to find a cure for him. In addition, a number of slaves in Rome have stolen Caesar's own galley, the finest warship in the Roman navy, and are asking the Gauls for help in finding a safehaven. It all leads to a search over the sea towards a mystical place, namely Atlantis.

Sad to say, All at Sea marks the beginning of an increasing decline in quality for the Asterix comics. The story -- while founded upon some pretty interesting ideas -- just doesn't hold together very well. It starts out promising enough, but the plot threads are poorly vowen together, and both Atlantis and the escaped slaves are huge let-downs, promising something really great and then delivering nothing. The answer to the ever-asked question of what would happen if Obelix drank more magic potion is a real highlight and comes as a complete surprise; it's just a pitty that the follow-up couldn't follow up.

31. Asterix and the Actress (2001)

It's Asterix and Obelix's birthday, and two surprise guests have come for the party -- their mothers! Turns out that the reason we haven't met Asterix and Obelix's parents before is that they all live in the city of Condatum (Rennes to you modern people), running a souvenir shop, and now their mothers, Sarsaparilla and Vanilla, have come to stay for a while. But, as our two heroes find out after a few days, it's not just fun and games to have your busybody mother over for a visit, especially when she keeps trying to improve on your life, like deciding you're not eating well enough, complaining that your house isn't organized enough, asking why you haven't gotten married yet and "subtly" inviting over every eligible girl in the village so that she can play matchmaker. In the B-plot, two of Asterix and Obelix's birthday presents, a sword and a helmet, turn out to have great value for Pompey, one of Caesar's enemies, who upon learning where the items have gone not only kidnaps and imprisons Asterix and Obelix's fathers, Astronomix and Obelicoidix, but also sends an actress by the name of Latraviata to the village, disguised as Obelix's huge crush Panacea, in order to find the sword and helmet... cue a lot of mishaps and bizarre turns!

If this sounds like a messy summary, that's probably because, well, the story is a bit of a mess. Originally, this was meant to be a short story, but it was expanded into a full-length album story, and frankly it shows, with all sorts of padding and mix-ups inserted to the original idea to get the full 44 pages. The result is a story that can't quite make up its mind what it's supposed to be, and goes all over the place in a disjointed manner. The best part of the story is Asterix and Obelix's parents... if Uderzo was going to introduce them, I'm glad he took the trouble to make them likeable and entertaining. Particularly Vanilla, Asterix's mother, manages to dominate and steal the show on quite a few occasions, and you sorta wish we'd gotten to know her earlier.

An interesting side-note: This story, as well as one of the short stories in Asterix and the Class Act, establishes Asterix and Obelix as being born on the same day. However, in Obelix and Co., the village celebrates Obelix's birthday without mentioning anything about it being Asterix's birthday as well. On the contrary, Asterix even helps planning Obelix's birthday surprise! I suppose it's not out of character for Asterix to be more concerned with his best friend's birthday than his own, so it's possible that he just told everyone that "this year belongs to Obelix."Still, in hindsight it seems a little weird that nobody mentioned it at all during the entire story.

32. Asterix and the Class Act (2003)

Here's a fun little side-note. This isn't one full story, but a collection of short comics with Asterix and company that have been published in various magazines over the years -- one-pagers, two-pagers, the occasional four- or five-pager, and other things of interest.

While there weren't many short stories about Asterix, the ones collected here show that both Goscinny and Uderzo mastered short, simple tales just as well as long, complex ones. All the comics (most written by Goscinny, but two written by Uderzo) are brilliantly done and contain some of the funniest moments in any Asterix comic. My undisputed favorite is Asterix as you've never seen him, which isn't a story but a bunch of snippets from potential comics with the characters in a wide variation of styles and genres, which are not only hilarious but also shows off Uderzo's impressive skills at drawing in wildly different styles.

33. Asterix and the Falling Sky (2005)

The final (for now) Asterix comic is without question the weirdest one, and one that really makes you go "HUH??!" Because this is the story where the aliens appear! That's right, two conflicting groups of aliens, the Tadsilwenyans and the Nagmas, have arrived on Earth to sample (and possibly confiscate) the famous magic potion. It all spins out of control from there.

...There's absolutely no way to summarize this without it sounding stupid. There has been some surreal parts in previous Asterix stories, but never as whacked-out as this. But worse than the far-out plot about the aliens is the fact that, well... the story just isn't very good. Just like Asterix and the Actress, there isn't enough story for an entire 44-page comic, and this time the the entire thing feels even more padded and dragged out. Yes, the drawings are great, and there are as always some funny jokes, but the story itself doesn't realize what potential there is in it and would have been far better off as a short story than a full album.

Surprisingly enough, there is some decent satire and parody here in the portrayal of the aliens -- "Tadsilwenyan" and "Nagma" are anagrams for "Walt Disney" and "Manga," and the two fractions parody American and Japanese comics pretty well: The leader of the Tadsilwenyans, Toon, bearing a distinct resemblance to Mickey Mouse, and commands over an army of "Superclones," which are caricatures of Superman (with some mentions of spider-clones and bat-clones). and the Nagmas wear Samurai-like armor and command fighting robots. There's also a distinct satirical edge to the entire thing with the Tadsilwenyans (Americans) having decided to confiscate the secret weapon of the magic potion "for safety's sake"... sound familiar?

And there you have it... all the Asterix albums! Even if the series went into a bit of a decline with the last few stories, Asterix still stands as one of the best European comic series ever, with stories that can and should be read and enjoyed time and time again.

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