It worked before, let’s try it again

Even though it is a holiday in the United States of America, we at Major Spoilers realize there are a great many of our readers that hail from places not contained within 50 states. Last year, I took down memory lane with a look at one of my favorite comics of all time Asterix and Cleopatra.  It was so well received last year, we’re repeating the stunt again.  Considering there are thirty plus Asterix titles, I think it is safe to say, we won’t be running out of material anytime soon.

asterix_COVER.jpgAsterix The Gaul
Written by: René Goscinny
Art by: Albert Uderzo

The year is 50 B.C. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely… One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders.

With those words, the world of Asterix and the rest of the Gauls is unleashed upon the reader.  The tiny village is constantly besieged by Caesar’s army, but fortunately the village druid Getafix supplies Asterix and the rest with a secret potion that gives them super strength.  What’s really weird about this revelation is how the characters talk to one another as if they’ve never encountered the potion before in their lives – even though Asterix takes the formula daily.  And while I doubt Obelix is a simple as he is draw, it seems weird that he would need to be reminded he fell into a vat of the stuff as a child that gave him permanent super strength.  It works to a point, and in hindsight, readers can tell Goscinny is still formulating and building the characters.

The inability to conquer this tribe is a pox upon the Romans, and with Caesar getting more impatient, Centurion Crismus Bonus demands to know the secret behind the Gauls strengths.  Yes, names are used for comedic effect throughout the series.  Most of them are groan out loud bad, but because Goscinny uses the gag every single time it works nicely.

Crismus Bonus sends one of his soldiers undercover and soon enough the secret of the Gaul’s strength is uncovered. To move the plot forward, the Romans capture Getafix, prompting Asterix to rescue his friend.  While one might think there would be a lot of fighting, Asterix and Getafix use their cunning to trick the Romans into drinking a variety of potions that do not have the effect Crismus Bonus was hoping for.  When Ceaser finally arrives in the camp, and discovers Crismus Bonus planned on using the potion to conquer Rome, he frees the Gauls for their honesty, but reminds them they are still sworn enemies.

While the writing works well and the gags bring a lot of laughs to the story, the dialogue isn’t as strong as one might think.  No disrespect to Goscinny, but when I first read Asterix tales, they were either in French of German and I had to figure out what was going on without the help of a translator. When I finally obtained English versions of the tales later in life, it confirmed what I thought years ago, most if not all of the story reveal is told through the art by Albert Uderzo.  It works so well and still holds up 50 years later.  While Asterix is revered in Europe, the iconic nature of the characters translates through the art so even those vaguely familiar with the characters can tell they are important.  As a big fan of the art in the books, I wish I had some original art, or even a giant Fathead wall art poster of Asterix and Obelix for my Nerd Room of Doom.

For a first tale, Asterix the Gaul is a great tale that very nicely introduces a new reader into the world of Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo.  For those who have never read or heard of Asterix, then this first volume is a good place to start and is well deserving of a 4.5 out of 5 Star rating.

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The Author

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment.

You can follow him on Twitter @MajorSpoilers and tell him your darkest secrets...

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5 Comments

  1. Ivdar
    November 26, 2009 at 2:21 pm — Reply

    It’s funny, because at first, when I read your comment about the names being bad jokes, I could not understand it. I could not understand why this was a problem ; being French I grew up with comics like Asterix, Tintin and the likes, and the names in Asterix…It’s so natural that you can’t judge it : it’s set in stone, it’s sacred and ancient tradition. It’s not even about it being funny or not, it’s the way of the world^^.

    I don’t really remember Asterix (I haven’t read it for a whil, maybe I should go back to it), but it is interesting to have a critical look on it. Like you said, it’s a monument in France, so I’m not used to looking at it this way. But I gotta say, as far as I can remember, Goscinny’s writing is genius ; maybe it’s not the same in this issue, as it’s the first, but it’s really great comedic writing. It’s funny and yet very simple, almost modest : I doesn’t push it or wait for an applause, it just flows with the story. And it’s very subtle, with practically every panel you’ve got a small joke or reference. I don’t know, maybe it gets lost in the translation, or maybe you have to be French to get all of it.

    But at this point I’m rambling, so I’ll just say thank you for this review, Stephen. It’s really nice to look back at Asterix, and to get a different view of it to boot.

  2. hermit
    November 26, 2009 at 2:34 pm — Reply

    it’s fun to read a review of a french, comical book, full of play on words by an english speaking person. it’s fun to see his thoughts on the thing.

    i grew up on these books, and like Ivdar said, they are part of my culture like sylvester stallone is. it’s there, i barelly notice it anymore, but when i take the time to spend time with one of the volume, i always have a great time.

  3. hermit
    November 26, 2009 at 2:36 pm — Reply

    oh, and asterix the gaul is a good book, but it is definitely not the best. if you continue to read this series, you’re in for a very pleasant ride.

  4. peter
    November 26, 2009 at 4:29 pm — Reply

    the names are actually funnier in french. the whole asterix series are actually commentary on the political and social climate of france and europe during the sixties and seventies.

    to bad that the series continued after the death of goscinny since Uderzo does not have the ability to write such great stories. still a very good artist though. the last book is actually a very bad almost unreadable book. but I heard that after this they will bring on a new writer for the series.

  5. J Michael T
    November 26, 2009 at 8:32 pm — Reply

    I grew up in Puerto Rico and was lucky to be exposed to this European icon as a very young child. Now as a grownup I have had a chance to rediscover the series thanks to your reviews! I have two of the omnibuses and love to sit back and reminisce. The beauty of these characters is that I can share these with my kids without any worries. Thanks for the memories!

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