Asterix and Obelix All At Sea cover detail by Albert Uderzo

Asterix v30: “Asterix and Obelix All At Sea”

Whew, we made it past Uderzo’s polemic on feminism in “Asterix and the Secret Weapon.”

Now, we can move on to a book that really has no point at all.

Not that it doesn’t have its own peculiar charms, but it’s pure empty calories with some very strange turns. The art looks good, though.

 

“Asterix and Obelix All At Sea”

Writer: Albert Uderzo
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Inker: Frédéric Mébarki
Colorist: Thierry Mébarki
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion/Hachette
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1996

 

What’s It All About?

It’s a little complicated to explain, which is the book’s actual charm.  Caesar’s personal ship has been stolen by revolting slaves.  So Caesar sends another ship after it. The slaves, looking for a safe place to land, choose Asterix’s village.  The Romans land their ship and recruit a local encampment, Aquarium, to help them get the ship back from those slaves.

Along the way, Obelix can’t stand not drinking magic potion one more time and finds a barrel of the stuff to chug, turning himself into a statue.  At first, this seemed random and dumb.  Then I realized that drinking too much potion made Obelix stoned.  If that language choice works in France, as well, then maybe it’s a more clever physical manifestation that I initially gave it credit for.

A desperate effort to save Obelix brings him back — as a child.  Of course.  Because Uderzo was just making stuff up as he went along.

Then, helping the slaves with their boat nearly lands Asterix, Obelix, and Getafix in the hands of the Romans, sans any potion.

They also visit Atlantis along the way, which looks like a scene straight out of Fantasia.

What?!?

 

Plot Construction

The ships are all over the place in this book, chasing after each other and then catching up unexpectedly.

There’s a part of me that wants to praise Uderzo’s plot construction here. I like the madcap chase at sea, where ships are chasing after each other with interchanging crews flying the wrong flags and going in opposite directions to where their adversaries would think.  I like how that pays off in the end, with a final push towards a crazy over-the-top dramatic finale.  Caesar’s ships crash and burn with reckless abandon.  One is self-immolating, while the other is rammed at speed into a Roman camp.

Everyone ends up in the right place at the end, often because they started in the right places, made a wrong turn, but then followed paths that made sense.  So that’s all good.

The problem is, not all of that is earned.   It hinges on two things.  First, Asterix has to lose a barrel full of magic potion. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened, so I can let it pass.  Second, Obelix needs to magically be healed.  That latter part is never set up.  It occurs at a convenient time for reasons the writer could easily make up as he went along.  This is a plot point that needed a rethink in the plotting stage.  After that, they need to set something up earlier in the story so the ending is more satisfying and less “Magic Solves Everything and Don’t Ask for Proof.”

I might be too harsh here.  This is a simple comedy.  We shouldn’t let the plot get in the way of a good gag, but Goscinny had the ability, more often than not, to do both while also making a point.  Uderzo is almost there on two out of the three points – plots, gags, points.  Is it really fair to judge him by Goscinny’s standards?  Nobody could live up to those!  But a different writer could probably have helped punch things up a bit…

 

Land of Fantasy

In his later years on the title, Uderzo seemed to embrace the idea of “Asterix” as a children’s book. He made sure that the children of the village were seen with each book, for example.  In this book, he turns Obelix into a child.

He also went for more imaginative fantasy bits.  Forget that “Asterix” has a somewhat firm historical setting from the real world.  In “Asterix and the Secret Weapon,” we have a dragon parading through the forest in the end for no real reason.  Before that, we had a magic carpet ride and a fly that acted as a carrier pigeon.

Asterix visits Atlantis and meets the children and the flying cows in "Asterix and Obelix All At Sea"

Now, in this book, he takes Asterix and Obelix to Atlantis, where minotaur children fly small children on their back. Or are those pegasus children?  I can never get this stuff straight…

There are also flying cows.

Flying. Cows.

It just doesn’t fit into the series so well, I don’t think. It’s not historical enough. It’s just all made up fantasy land craziness.  I suppose there’s a small bit of lip service given to the idea that Atlantis was near the Canary Islands.  (In modern times, you can fly from France to the Canary Islands for less than $50.)  But the part of “Asterix” that feels so clever is the way it blends historical or modern traits (anachronistically) into the world of Asterix.  Atlantis doesn’t fit either bucket.

Maybe if this was a “Li’l Asterix” spin-off series, like “Li’l Spirou” or something, it would be ok. It just doesn’t feel right to me.

My head is going to explode when I get to “Asterix and the Falling Skies,” isn’t it?

 

Timeliness

Kirk Douglas' Spartakis leads the slave revolt

At the head of the rebellious slaves is Spartakis.  Yes, he looks just like Kirk Douglas from the movie 30 or 40 years before this book was drawn.  In fact, Uderzo dedicates the book to Douglas.

I laughed myself silly when Animaniacs used Kirk Douglas as a stand-in for Michaelangelo, but a couple years later when Uderzo used him for one of his most famous movie roles, I cringed a little.  If Uderzo had drawn him in as this character in a book during its original hey day of the late 1960s, it might have felt more timely and right. When he’s doing it in 1996, it feels old-fashioned. It feels like another example where Uderzo is still living in the past.

Perhaps I’m being unfair.  If Uderzo had drawn some then-current movie start from 20 years ago into the book, I’d probably be complaining that the book was being too modern.

Don’t we have the same problem with Cacofonix? One of the trickiest parts of the series had to be which songs Cacofonix would sing.  Were they always going to be traditional songs?  Are Beatles songs ok?  Should we stick to national anthem type songs?  Are they purely made up?  Goscinny (and maybe Bell/Hockridge) did all of those kinds.

Is “Asterix” a book set in 50 BC that should always feel like it was done in the 1960s?

Is that a bizarre set of circumstances?

This reminds me of the way Don Rosa draws Disney Duck stories.  In his mind, they’re all set in the 1950s, during Carl Barks’ prime time of doing those stories.  The technology used in the stories always mirrored that era.  Is that how it should be with Asterix, too?

 

Odds and Ends

Cleopatra is back again for bookending cameos.  Uderzo insists on sticking her into every book.  I have to wonder if that’s because the original book was a bit of a breakout hit in the series, and Cleopatra figured into the first big Asterix animated movie.  (The live action “Asterix: Mission Cleopatra” wouldn’t hit silver screens until 2002.)

It’s not unusual that a character design changes over the course of thirty years, but it seems an odd choice that he’s toning down her nose now.  Since there aren’t any jokes about it in these later volumes, I guess he can get away with it.

Julius Caesar refers to one of his Admirals as a silly sausage and worse. It's just weird.

The opening scene where Julius Caesar is frustrated and keeps referring to Admiral Crustacius as a “silly sausage” and a “Great Gormless Goof” is just bizarre.  It feels completely out of character.  What weird choices in language, too.

The Goth slave doesn’t speak in the same ornate lettering like he used to back in the day!  That’s a shame.

And while we’re not getting anything too misogynistic in this book, there is the matter of this sequence.

Uderzo's stereotypical humor doesn't age well at all.

My jaw dropped.  Of course!  Use the black guy for his natural rhythm! No, this isn’t awkward at all to read in modern times.  Nope.  Not at all. Hell, I think it would have been awkward in 1996, too.  (Oh, and try to look past the part where the ship’s captain calls him “Boy”.  Yikes.)

 

 

Best Name of the Book

We get a few interesting names to choose from here.

AbsolutliFabulos debuts in Asterix and Obelix All At Sea

I’m going with the one I would bet was contributed by Anthea Bell, who sadly passed away this week. It’s the High Priest of Atlantis, Absolutlifabulos, who I choose to believe was named after the British sit-com that was huge in the 1990s.

That said, Gluttonus as the Chef’s name is pretty good, too!

 

Recommended?

Asterix and Obelix All At Sea cover by Albert Uderzo

No, I can’t.  Like with the last couple of books, there are nice moments in it.  I even like the ending, no matter how hackneyed the writing was to get us there.  But the problems add up to being ten too many.

I do worry that I’m piling on a bit.  Am I so disappointed with the most recent volumes that I’m just piling on and picking on them?  I don’t think I am.  When I open up an earlier volume and do a more direct comparison, I only realize more of what the series is missing in its latter days.

Special thanks to The Slings and Arrows Graphic Novel Guide, who reviewed this book from an edition that included the inker and colorist’s names. They liked the book far more than me, but they still give good reasons.  Heck, I agree with most of what they wrote, but still disagree on the overall score.  C’est la vie!

Coming up next: “Asterix and the Actress”

— 2018.088 —

 

Buy It Now

Buy a physical copy today by clicking on these covers:

[Yes, those are Amazon links, and a tiny percent will kick back to this site if you buy them through those links.  Thanks for your support.]

The book is available digitally in Europe here:

Click here to buy digital BD comics albums through Izneo.com

 

Bonus Panel

The attacking slave versus the Roman Soldier who is not a racist, he swears.

I’ll let the reader be the judge of that…

9 Comments

  • iamfear7 October 27, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    Yeah It’s just not good is it hahaha

    I remember when reading it feeling like this book is definitely a case of “well I guess it’s funny, but WTF were they thinking…”

    Not sure what else I can say about it, you summed it up pretty well.

    Reply
  • dancondonjones October 27, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    It’s telling that for the first three quarters of this run of reviews I largely read the each book as soon as you’d reviewed the previous one. This time I hadn’t read it by the time the review came out.

    Sadly this is the worst book yet. 1.5 stars. Centaurs, a flying cow, a plot that jumps around, people acting out of character and jokes that aren’t funny. The only thing it has is the art.

    Agreed on the best name.

    Reply
  • dancondonjones October 27, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Posting just to subscribe…

    Reply
  • Colin Taylor October 27, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    Yep pretty much what Augie says in his review and Dan nicely sums up. This one just hits so many dud notes. The story is all over the place and the fantasy elements not only really go over board (no pun intended) this time they don’t really serve much of a purpose and frankly aren’t all that exciting. I mean if you are going to introduce fantasy and (none potion) magic in to the series at least give it some punch. Here we get babies on dolphins / centuars (baby ones), swans and flying cows. Its not even fun, its not even so over the top its fun… its just a bit rubbish to be frank.

    The racist caricatures really crank it up again too. This time, by 1996 when this story first came out, there really isn’t an excuse anymore. None at all. Made worse but he fact that as Augie points out Uderzo can take Cleopatra off model, but can’t change his depiction of ‘nubians’ or other Africans. Pretty shocking.

    The plot just drifts all over the place too. A prime example being when Asterix realises the barrel of potion has been lost, through simple carelessness, not misadventure or villianous shenanigans. All leading to a moment of apparent panic… that is until Sparatakis decides ‘ no biggie we can do without’. BUT the roman’s have it … except now they don’t BUT Obelix is a statue… but now he isn’t BUT now he’s a child… except now he’s not … its just event after event with no really flow and the tension or excitment is contantly knocked off.

    To be honest once again – it committed the worst of crimes. It was just plain dull. Gags missed fired “Village Ahoy! I’ve sighted the site!” – ouch, and it was a chore to read.

    Oh and as Augie says the Kirk Douglas reference is just a bit weird. I can kinda go with it allowing the series to have a consistent 60s vibe. Augie’s theory holds up when you consider its Sean Connery not Roger Moore used for James Bond in 1981’s Black Gold … but which doesn’t hold when you consider whose coming in Falling Sky… mind even if the theory is right its all still a bit weird and kicks me out the story a little – however effortlessly brilliant the artistic work in the Douglas is…

    Yeah so many problems and yet still not as bad as ‘Secret Weapon’ so this one gets a 2 / 10 for me.

    Best name… I worry that in better stories I’d hold some of the names in higher regard but here I’m just no buying in so many of the names seem to fall flat for me… I think I’m just in a grump with this comic… I’ll go with Crustacius for the Roman Admiral at the beginning…

    Augie give us some warning when the next review is going up. I need time to brace myself if things carry on like this. I have read ‘Actress’ before but have to say I remember very little about it… which isn’t a good sign!

    Reply
    • Augie November 5, 2018 at 10:20 am

      The next review is most likely coming next Monday, November 12th. I’ve already started writing it, but I’ve also started writing two other reviews that I think I can finish off more quickly and post this week. =)

      You’ve been warned.

      Reply
      • Colin Taylor November 5, 2018 at 5:21 pm

        Thanks cool… I’ll take some deep breathes and read it this weekend… steady deep breathes…

        Reply
  • JC Lebourdais October 28, 2018 at 6:31 am

    ok so either I’m stuck in moderation or in comment limbo again

    Reply
    • Augie October 28, 2018 at 8:41 am

      I see nothing waiting in moderation. =(

      Reply
      • JC Lebourdais October 28, 2018 at 9:56 am

        darn.

        Reply

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