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Asterix and the Great Divide; Asterix and Son; Asterix and the Black Gold
Written and illustrated by Albert Uderzo
(Orion/Sterling, each $9.95, 48 pages, paperback; April 1 2002.)

June 12, 2002

Mr Paul Barnett
US Reviews Editor
infinity plus
sf@infinityplus.co.uk

Dear Paul:

I am writing to apologize, albeit belatedly, for, shall we say, "taking my time" in submitting the last few reviews you assigned me. Things can get pretty hectic around here as I've told you on more than one occasion, and the last couple of assignments became, shall we say, "sidetracked". But I'm here to assure you that I have that situation under control now, and I'm ready to, shall we say, "climb back in the harness" once again.

That said, I would like to protest my current assignment. It wasn't humiliating enough that you gave me three comic books to review -- and I don't care if you call them graphic novels, they're still comic books in my, er, book -- you had to go and sneak them into the trunk of my car in the dead of night, next to that bootleg laserdisc player I purchased from you.

So at your insistence, it's on to the first comic book. I'll begin with the one featuring a Romeo and Juliet-like pair of lovers in silhouette on the cover in the background, and the Popeye-like ancient warrior wearing a Mercury-winged headpiece up front.

This should be a barrel of laughs.

Mightily pissed off but ever loyal,

Randy

Asterix and the Great DivideJune 13, 2002

Dear Paul:

You know, that first comic book wasn't so bad after all -- in fact, it was rather enjoyable. Asterix, eh? It's punningly named for the central character, a peppy little Gaulish warrior who lived during the time of the Roman conquests. The general premise is stated on the first page:

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 legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium ...

(See, even the town names are puns.)

It's not easy for them because the Gaulish Village is protected by our friend Asterix and his small band of cohorts. There's Obelix, Asterix's "inseparable friend". Reminiscent of Robin Hood's Little John, he's a cheerful brute of a sidekick with a love of fighting and an "addiction" to wild boar. Vitalstatistix is the hotheaded leader of the village whose only fear is that "the sky might fall on his head tomorrow". And Getafix, the village Druid, brews the magic potion from which Asterix and Obelix gain their super-strength, chug-a-lugged à la Popeye's spinach prior to defending the free Gaulish villages from invading Romans.

The comic book I tackled as my first was subtitled The Great Divide. In it, a schism of sorts takes place in a neighbouring village, one that pits two leaders (Cleverdix and Majestix) and their subjects against one another. A ditch is dug through the middle of the village, making it extremely difficult to get from one side to the other. At the centre of the story, the handsome son of one leader secretly romances the lovely daughter of the other. There's treachery afoot too, in the person of a trusted advisor to one of the leaders. The village, weakened by the divide, has left itself rife for Roman conquest. The twists and turns along the way, including Asterix's solution to the divided kingdom dilemma, make for an enjoyable read for children and adults alike.

According to several fan websites, Asterix has been in print in Europe since 1959. It's the creation of a couple of Frenchmen, illustrator Rene Goscinny and writer Albert Uderzo (although the comics you gave me were written and illustrated by Uderzo alone) and published, for the most part, for a European readership. These editions have been rendered into English by the award-winning British translator Anthea Bell and her colleague, Derek Hockridge. The two are very important to the success of this production, because in addition to its stylish artwork and clever, fable-like storylines, Asterix comics are noted for the aforementioned puns that fill each story. And translating those puns from French to English while maintaining their essence could not have been too easy a task.

The books themselves are each 48 pages long, printed on glossy paper substantially thicker than your average dime-store variety comic. And they are slightly larger than the standard trade paperbacks sold in the USA, making it easier for grade-school kids as well as geezers like me to read.

I shall get to the next comic book tomorrow.

Best,

Randy

PS: Have you hooked up your laserdisc player yet? I don't seem to be plugging the wires into the proper connecting points, and I could use some guidance. However, I probably should wait until after I buy my first laserdisc, wouldn't you say?

Asterix and SonJune 14, 2002

Dear Paul:

I've just finished the second Asterix comic book. It's a story titled Asterix and Son, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, although not as much as the one I read the other day. This story seemed to contain quite a bit of filler, although the repetitive bad behavior of the mysterious baby left outside Asterix's and Obelix's front door at the outset of the story was no doubt inserted to amuse a very young readership. As expected, the warriors bumble in their attempts to care for the foundling, with the usual anecdotes: the standard diaper-change befuddlement, the baby falling asleep in the arms of the perplexed "big lug" (Obelix), and the futile search for female assistance. When Obelix unwittingly prepares a formula in a gourd half-filled with leftover magic potion, the warriors suddenly have to deal with a super-baby. And all the while, the prevailing mystery is, where did this baby come from?

The puns and cartoon humor continue on. For example:

Obelix: Look, I swapped a shop-soiled menhir for a gourd with a teat!

Asterix: Teat for tat, eh?

And

Obelix (to a farmer upon returning a cow borrowed for milk for the baby): Here's your cow ... a bit rattled, but OK! And next time she sees a baby, mind she doesn't look so like a toy! Rattling cows is bad for them!

Plays on "bottle" and "milk" show up as well. It's really quite similar to reading a Popeye cartoon.

And now, off to the last of the three comics!

Best,

Randy

PS: Do you know of any laserdiscs that are superior to their DVD counterparts? Otherwise, I see no point in setting up this bulky player in the first place ...

Asterix and the Black GoldJune 15, 2002

Dear Paul:

I've just now finished the last of the Asterix comics you left for me. It's called Asterix and the Black Gold and it embodies the best and the worst of the three comics I read. In it, the Phoenician merchant who supplies Getafix with the secret ingredient in the strength potion -- the "black gold" in the title (or "rock oil", to which it is also referred) -- has forgotten to bring Getafix's order. In a panic, the druid and village chieftain dispatch Asterix and Obelix to Mesopotamia to retrieve a fresh supply of the valuable oil. In between, as in each of the previous stories, there is treachery afoot. This time, the saboteur is a druid secret agent named Dubbleosix, and he bears a striking resemblance to ... well, you should be able to figure it out. The journey takes our heroes to the Holy Land, setting up a humorous encounter with Hebrews, Sumerians and Assyrians of the time period.

The puns and comic humor contained within are the richest of any in the three comic books. The twists and turns of the story -- and there are several -- are also quite entertaining. And the spoofs of James Bond are priceless! However, the story ends with a deus ex machina reminiscent of those found in the most disappointing Star Trek episodes. And there must be seven or eight pages of fight filler and repetitive false trails throughout. They take away from what otherwise would have been a near-perfect tale.

Overall, Paul, I must say I am surprised that I enjoyed these three reads as much as I did. My only regret was that there were no youngsters in my family to read them to. I believe that children between the ages of five and twelve would appreciate Asterix more than me, in spite of the puns and the spoofs included for our benefit.

It's also a shame that Asterix comics aren't more widely read here in the States. As I said before, young children here would love the fable-like stories and adults would appreciate the "wink-wink" humour found in the dialogue as much as you Brits do.

I look forward to completing my next assignment.

Best,

Randy

PS: I've discovered four or five science fiction films that are "must-haves" on laserdisc. I'll tell you about them the next time we get together. Meanwhile, I still haven't figured out how to hook up the damn player. You wouldn't have an extra junction box lying around, would you ...?


Review by Randy M Dannenfelser.


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© Randy M Dannenfelser 27 July 2002