Asterix v3 Asterix and the Goths cover detail

Asterix v3: “Asterix and the Goths”

Writer: Rene Goscinny
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Colorist: Marcel Uderzo
Lettering: Bryony Newhouse
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion Books (a division of Hachette)
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1963

 

Time for misunderstandings, mistaken identities, magic potion, and a war that causes peace.  “Asterix and the Goths” is the next book on The Asterix Agenda.

The Continuing Story of Asterix

“Asterix” isn’t a serialized adventure. Every book stands alone.  That isn’t to say there isn’t some continuity.

In the second volume, “Asterix and the Golden Sickle,” Asterix and Obelix headed to Lutetia (Paris) to get a Golden Sickle for Getafix ahead of his big Druid Conference.

Asterix offers his assistance to Getafix for a safe journey

In “Asterix and the Goths,” the book starts with Getafix heading off to that conference.

Don’t worry; that’s about as far as continuity goes, this early in the series.  Later on, you’ll see the occasional recurring character or addition to the mythology, but you can still read these in most any order and get something out of it.

Once again, Asterix is protective of the Druid.  The conference is in the middle of the forest and, Asterix says, it’s a long and dangerous road to get there.  While only Druids are allowed at the conference, Asterix and Obelix accompany Getafix to the edge of the woods, to make sure they deliver him there in one piece and get him back afterwards.

There are two things which should help ensure a peaceful conference. First, the Romans have guards at the border of the Gaulish region and Germania, the Goth’s region.  Second, there is a truce with the Romans during the conference.

What could possibly go wrong?

Getafix wins Druid of the Year

For starters, the Goths have a plan to kidnap the Druid of the Year from the conference to give them the upper hand in their dealings with Rome, amongst others.

And, long story short, they are successful. Since Getafix is named the Druid of the Year (see image above), Asterix and Obelix are called to duty.

Obelix is confused by the Goths

What follows is a whole section of the book that feels like a Keystone Kops movie gone awry. It’s a crazy race through the forest, with everyone trying to capture someone different.

With Asterix and Obelix playing dress-up to look like Romans at one point and Goths at another, the whole thing gets very confusing, very fast. (It’s confusing for the characters, not the readers who get to enjoy the antics.)

It’s confusing for Obelix, too, which is a bit troublesome.

Nobody knows who they’re looking for or who they are even after they’ve found them.  The Romans drive themselves so crazy in their attempts that they wind up at war with themselves, and their leader can only bang his head against the wall for letting it get out of hand.

There’s lots of great physical and verbal humor in the sequence, which is probably my favorite part of this book, and my favorite sequence in the series so far.

 

Echoes of Story Past

As with “Asterix and the Golden Sickle,” there’s a running gag where Asterix and Obelix are thrown into jail repeatedly, only to break out whenever they want.  In the last book, it happened in Lutetia.  Here, it’s deep in Goth territory, so it’s not like the same characters are making the same mistake twice.

There’s a clever inversion of a gag from “Golden Sickle” in here, too.  Druid tricks the jailers into bringing him ingredients for his magic potion. In “Golden Sickle,” he was faking them out and making soup.  In “Goths,” it’s the reverse: he’s actually making magic potion, but under the guise of making a soup as his own last meal.

 

The Mad Genius of Goscinny

Here’s where Goscinny’s genius shines in this book.  It isn’t enough that our three favorite Gaul villagers are free to leave the Goth camp and return home through their own power.  They know the Goths are strong enough to come back after them.  While they’re easy enough to defeat, who wants that kind of constant hassle?

No, they need to distract the Goths into finding a worse enemy so that they stay busy elsewhere and leave Gaul alone.

With the careful application of Magic Potion, they are able to basically start a Civil War in Germania.  The Goths are a power mad people, as it turns out.  Give enough of them some power, and see what they do.  As soon as they think they’re invincible, their immediate plan is to raise an army and take control.  But if multiple people get that same dose of magic potion, how many factions might be willing to fight? It’s the start of a whole new war.

A description of the Asterixian Wars

In fact, there’s one memorable page near the end with 12 panels on it, where Goscinny lays out how The Asterixian Wars played out, pitting one side against the other against the other against the other.  He packs in more puns, in addition to everything else.  He really milks the Electric and Metric jokes….

It’s a clever commentary on war and the madness of power hungry people, while also being an ingenious plan on Getafix’s part to “spread a bit of disorder and confusion.”

 

Hyperanalysis: Some More Genius of Uderzo

This panel jumped out at me.  It’s so deceptively simple, yet says an awful lot about Uderzo’s skills:

Asterix, Getafix, and Obelisk walk down a path

It’s just three people walking towards the reader, isn’t it?  Yes, it is. But Uderzo isn’t boring with it.

Each of the three characters in the panel is walking in a different way.  You could throw a mirror between Asterix and Obelix and see that their legs are mirror images of each other.  Even with that, their arms are different, their heads are pointing in different directions, and they’re even tilting differently.

Getafix and Asterix are gesturing with different hands in different positions, while their back hands are doing different things, too. Asterix is holding his behind his back, while Getafix’s back hand is kind of clawed up and out to the side a bit.

Getafix’s back foot angles differently from the others, too.  You can see the little motion lines by his feet, almost as if Uderzo is showing us that his walk is a little unsteady in comparison to the two younger people in the panel.

Getafix and Asterix are both walking straight ahead, but are tilted on opposite axes.  Obelix is actually walking straight up, maybe with a bit of a tilt forward.  Three characters, three different walks.

There’s a term in animation called “twinning.” It basically says that a character’s body should never be symmetrical. That’s boring.  Here’s a great explanation of it, and here are some great “Emperor’s New Groove” examples.  None of these characters are twinning. There are angles all over the place.

Uderzo would repeat this kind of skill on 12 panels every page and 48 pages in every story.  The math is mind-boggling.

Running Gags

Crazy Hands precursor the Crazy Romans gesture

Obelix still hasn’t talk about those crazy Romans yet, but the hand gesture he uses for that shows up twice in this book.

This is the first book in the series the doesn’t mention the fear of the sky falling in it.  It’s mentioned in the first two books, as I remember, by different people.  It’s a gag that Uderzo would expand on for his final book before retirement, “Asterix and the Falling Sky.”  That one’s a doozy, but we’re quite a ways away from it, thank goodness. Don’t worry, we’ll get there…

 

Best Names of the Book

Goscinny (and Bell and Hockridge) load this book up with new names. It’s a treasure trove of puns.  We are first introduced to the Goths who have names like Atmospheric, Prehistoric, Tartaric, and Esoteric.  They are led by the great and wonderful Choleric.

My favorite names from the lesser characters, though, are the pair of Roman soldiers we first meet on the Germanic border, named Arteriosclerosus and Gastroenteritus.

Introducing Gastroenteritus and Arteriosclerosus

After that, the first new Druid we are introduced to has to be given credit, as well:

Getafix introduces the Druid Valuaddetax

Valuaddetax!  “VAT’, for short, I’m sure.

 

Cursing in Asterix

Here’s one that wouldn’t slip by today:

Goths swear with a Swastika

Look, Goscinny went relatively light-handed in the German references in this book.  Later in the series, Goscinny would push harder to put in as many cultural references as he can to the country that Asterix is visiting.

Here, we have a sight gag involving a swastika in reference to a German character swearing.

I just hope Germany doesn’t block my IP for pointing this out…

 

OK, One Continuity Question

Obelix fell into a vat of Magic Potion as a baby, so he has full time strength. Everyone else needs to drink it to get the power.  If the Magic Potion existed when Obelix was a baby, that means it’s been around for at least, what, 20 years?

Getafix is the only one who can make the Magic Potion.

In this volume, he’s sure he’s going to win the Druid of the Year competition —

Druid thinks he's going to win Druid of the Yearq

— and Asterix comments that the Magic Potion will be the reason:

Asterix thinks Getafix will win Druid of the Year because of the Magic Potion

Shouldn’t Getafix win every year with that same old trick? It’s a very impressive one.

It sounded to me like they all thought he was going to win because the potion was new since the last conference.  Assuming the conference is annual, why does Getafix think this year is different than the last bunch of years he also had the poison?

Or is this the kind of question that Goscinny or Uderzo will answer in a much later volume, like maybe the one where we find out how Obelix fell into the Potion?  It’s been too long since I read that one…

 

Recommended?

The Asterix Agenda v3: Asterix and the Goths

Yes!  Eventually this won’t hold true, but right now every book is better than the last.

While there is some repetition in this storyline from previous ones, it’s only minor points.  The things that Goscinny and Uderzo do with recurring characters and running gags are all valuable things.  The scenes of everyone running around the forest trying to find each other still makes me laugh.   And Goscinny’s end game with “The Asterixian Wars” is so inspired, it’s crazy.

— 2018.011 —

 

Buy It Now

 

Next Week

Asterix and Obelix fight gladiators next week

We march on to “Asterix the Gladiator.” Be prepared for lots of fighting.  The Romans are going to feel some pain….

19 Comments

  • dancondonjones January 30, 2018 at 2:59 am

    I gave this one 3.5/5. It’s still good, but for me it’s not as funny as Asterix the Gaul, and the plot isn’t as good as Asterix and the Golden Sickle. In the old printing I’ve got, it’s the first book to start using non-flat colours. Unfortunately the printing quality is terrrible, so the colours look pretty terrible.

    One thing that’s odd to me is that the whole Druid conference seems to last about half an hour.

    Reply
  • Colin January 30, 2018 at 3:21 am

    Oh that’s interesting Dan as I really enjoyed this one. I must admit I went into it with some misgivings as I seemed to remember I didn’t like it that much, far from it it turns out. Now this might be helped by the fact that its the first story I have in the new Orion editions (I replaced some of the older more battered stories with these new editions and keep meaning to replace them all) and as such my copy is beautiful, specifically the colouring.

    Production aside I actually think this is the first story that gets the balance of humour and plot just right. The plot doesn’t get in the way of the humour and the humour drives the plot. At times its simply bonkers. Glorious. its also nice to see the art develop so rapidly and some of the Asterix tropes are really coming to the fore.

    Personal highlights are the Roman guard at the boarder, the Asterixian Wars Augie mentioned. I also like the way they Goscinny plays with relationship between Asterix and the Romans (in general) he does a really good job of creating a ‘greater’ enemy and the Romans becoming background and context rather than focus. This happens a good amount as the series develops and its something I really enjoy about the series.

    Oh and the fact that Asterix is grumpy and stressed a lot of the time. When you compare that to the happy go lucky Asterix who seen to predominate in ‘the Gaul’ he’s much richer here and that adds to the sense of real adventure and ‘peril’ – oh how I love the way Asterix’s mood is reflected in his helmet wings.

    On a side note now I’ve been made to think about the serial nature of the series from its original publication in Pilote you can really see the episodes on this one, very well hidden I have to say. Recaps done so subtly that if you don’t look you can’t see the join, yet when you look you notice the craft in letting the reader know what’s what in each two page chunk. This is how to do comics for trade!

    8/10

    Reply
    • dancondonjones January 30, 2018 at 5:39 pm

      I do still like this book a lot. On another day I’d probably have given it 4/5. I was probably a bit harsher on it than I normally would be, but that’s because I know how many great Asterix books are still to come.

      Reply
    • Augie January 31, 2018 at 12:23 am

      The helmet wings were something I noticed with this volume, too, but I held off on it to talk about in a future book, just to pace myself. 😉 I was already at almost 2000 words for this review, so I saved that one for later. You’ll see it eventually, I’m sure….

      And, yes, the serial nature thing is fascinating to me, too. If you look for it, you’ll see it. If you know it’s there, you’ll see how each page is basically two Sunday comic strips back to back. When we get to the point later on where the stories were straight-to-album instead of serialization-to-album, I’ll be interested in seeing how much different it feels…

      Reply
  • Augie January 30, 2018 at 9:18 am

    Heh, yeah, the Druid Conference is kind of shortcut, but Asterix and Obelix have enough time for some boar and there’s one panel of them resting against a rock, so I assumed the slept there, too. But, yes, it’s probably one of those things we’re not supposed to think about. Just hand-wave your way through it to get to the plot. 😉

    Print quality will definitely affect your enjoyment of things. I’ve seen printings of the old hand-lettered days with lesser coloring, and I can’t bring myself to take it seriously. It looks awful. Even then, there are some pages in these albums which, while recolored, are still off-register, or the black lines came out a little soft from whatever process they used to grab the original images.

    Reply
  • Colin Taylor January 30, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    Oh phew I thought I’d lost my wittering from this morning, glad its come back!

    Reply
    • Augie January 30, 2018 at 5:04 pm

      I don’t know why, but it got flagged for approval. Usually, once you’ve had one comment approved, you’re good to go unless you throw in two URLs or use a spammy word. Ah, WordPress….

      Reply
  • JC Lebourdais January 30, 2018 at 9:14 pm

    This one has a lot of nuggets of subtle political humour based on the early days of the EU which was basically France and Germany trying to rebuild something together after WWII. At the time, the war in still fresh in a lot of minds, especially Goscinny’s whose parents were deported, if I remember well, to a concentration camp somewhere in Poland.
    My guess is that Panoramix didn’t win every year because other competing druids know a lot of potions with amazing effects to give him a run for his money, like the one that grows hair in the first volume. There is a big colorful druid showdown (as well as a chieftain’s smackdown) in a later album.
    At times, the writer was having a hard time downplaying the importance of this particular magic potion as a deus ex machina to leave room for stories to breathe and unfold, otherwise every bit of conflict would be solved in 2 minutes flat.
    By the way, Augie, are you going to review the legendary crossover between Asterix and Superman at some point? (unless you’ve done it somewhere already).

    Reply
    • Augie January 31, 2018 at 12:20 am

      Thanks for reminding me of the Superman comic, JC. I’ve heard about it, but never read it. I tracked down a copy of it tonight, so I’ll definitely do a review of it at some point this year. =)

      And double thanks for the political reference explanation, too. I need more of those. When I first read Asterix a decade or more ago, there was one site that had a great breakdown of each book with all the references and new character names and whatnot. I haven’t been able to find it yet this year, though it’s possible that it doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve found other sites with random references, so maybe it’ll just be my job to pull that all together myself. 😉

      Reply
      • sverrirb January 31, 2018 at 8:08 am

        Could it be Gareth Thomas’ Asterix site for grown-ups? Alea Jacta Est? It has recently been upgraded.

        http://garethlthomas.com/

        Reply
      • JC Lebourdais January 31, 2018 at 9:00 am

        You don’t have to feel bad for not knowing very euro-centric topical references from 50+ years ago. And since I haven’t compared the translated version to the original I’m not even sure they are all carried over or just replaced by British ones (my understanding is that the translators are from the UK, right?). It’s common practice for Brits to take French properties and adapt them beyond recognition (see the Magic Roundabout for example); nothing wrong with that of course, they have to make the material available to a completely different audience so unless they put massive footnotes, they have to change a few things. And comics have physical limitations that regular literature doesn’t have, like the size of balloons and captions.
        Your reviews inspired me to dig up my collection from storage as soon as I can and reread it. I’ll catch up with you eventually. If you have any question, feel free to ask. I might even track the english version on digital later and read it for fun 🙂

        Reply
        • Augie January 31, 2018 at 9:58 am

          Yes, the translations are all from the UK, so they might have changed things to make more sense to the British readers and their old colonies. 😉

          Welcome to the party. Go dig out those books and stop by any time!

          Reply
  • Augie January 31, 2018 at 12:24 am

    Apropos of nothing: Ty Templeton’s Asterix Meets Tintin gag: http://forbiddenplanet.blog/2011/ty-templeton-superman-and-asterix/

    Reply
    • JC Lebourdais January 31, 2018 at 9:05 am

      Very funny bits . His French is terrible though 🙂

      Reply
      • Augie January 31, 2018 at 9:57 am

        I think that part was on purpose. Or, he knew his French was awful, so he leaned into it for humorous effect.

        On a related note, and one I mentioned on Twitter yesterday: I listened to the first minute of a French podcast yesterday. I knew what they were going be talking about, and all of it was in an announcer’s voice, so a little more formal and slow. I understood every word of it. Maybe I’m starting to learn something, at last?

        Then the conversation started. They talked faster and less formally, and I was just picking out words where I could find them. My brain couldn’t work that fast.

        Reply
        • JC LEBOURDAIS January 31, 2018 at 3:57 pm

          Which podcast was that?
          There are some good podcasts about BD, search for France Culture or France Inter on your app. This is national public radio so their French is a bit better and less colloquial. If you can’t find it I’ll give you some links.

          Reply
          • Augie January 31, 2018 at 5:33 pm

            I’m not sure. I already closed the window. It was an interview with the new publisher of Spirou.

            I also discovered a Canadian BD podcast that’s all in French, but it’s all conversational French and I was lost immediately. The weird thing is, the first interview I saw on there was with an artist who works at Marvel/DC that I met in San Diego 15 years ago. We spoke in English then. 😉

  • Colin Taylor January 31, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    Oh man I’ve got that issue of Action Comics, not read it in an age so glad you might make it part of the not project any more. Will dig it out when you get to it. Have to be honest I remember being a bit disappointed by it when I tracked it down a while ago now. I didn’t think the Keith Giffen art really suited it, I mean I love Keith Giffen art, but here… well just just pulled you out of the illusion the story tried. Still will be good to read it again.

    I’ve always wished my French was strong enough to read the original language editions (its very far off alas) as I’m really intrigued by how translation compares. So much of what I read is so strongly based in Bell and Hockridges use of English I can only guess at how much I’m missing (or gaining) from the original.

    Reply
    • dancondonjones January 31, 2018 at 4:49 pm

      Yeah, I was disappointed by the issue too.

      Giffen’s art is up to the job, but he made some weird choices. It was all very dark and for some reason they made Obelix’s stand-in a huge hulking monster whose face was never visible (IIRC).

      Reply

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