Much like the prior volume, “Asterix and the Actress” isn’t offensive, but it is missing a lot of the wit that Goscinny brought to the table.
The commentary on society is completely missing, and instead we get a story that, while filled with plenty of good laughs, takes some very strange turns, mires itself in continuity, and then gets that continuity and the history of Rome wrong.
Oh, and one more thing: You know the phrase “jumping the shark“?
This book gives us the Asterix version of that: “Riding the dolphin.”
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Inker: Frederic Mebarki
Colorist: Thierry Mebarki
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion/Hachette
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 2001
Original Title: “Asterix et Latraviata”
What’s It All About?
Asterix and Obelix share a birthday. Did you know that? So why didn’t they celebrate Asterix’s birthday, also, when they celebrated Obelix’s in “Obelix and Co.“?
Their mothers come to the Village to celebrate with them. Meanwhile, their fathers send along a sword and not-magic helmet (sorry, Elmer Fudd) as birthday gifts until they can get there the next day. But Pompey wants those things back and has the two fathers thrown in jail while he makes plans to retrieve the items.
(They run an antiques shop that’s named “Modernities and Collectables,” which cracks me up.)
Knowing how powerful Obelix and Asterix are, he knows brute force is not the answer. Instead, he’s going to send in an actress made up to look exactly like Panacea (who’s living in Paris at the time). She’ll use her feminine wiles to get the sword and helmet back without Obelix and Asterix ever knowing what happened.
At first, the plot concerned me. Was this to be a repeat of “Asterix and the Secret Weapon“, where a women is introduced into the Village to create chaos and destroy all men? No, not really.
We remember from the great “Asterix the Legionary” that Obelix had a crush on Panacea. So his reactions to her are set up properly. Asterix goes a little further than expected, but to be fair, he had just been punched out by an overly-aggressive Obelix. He wasn’t in his right mind.
The rest is a satisfying sit-com mash-up of scenarios. The trick is to keep Panacea from returning to the Village from Paris, while the actress portraying her fools the two boys long enough to get the items from them as gifts, and then rushing out of town before she gets caught. It’s about keeping the fathers locked up long enough not to give away the plan. It’s about Asterix and Obelix falling for the act. Wait, that last part is the easiest.
Everything else is pushing characters around the board without just enough logic that the whole thing doesn’t fall apart.
The ending is satsifying, as all the plots come crashing together. There are a lot of funny moments along the way, and I kind of like the ending and how the Villagers treat the actress after the plot has been uncovered.
It’s not perfect, but I can appreciate the plot mechanics, once again.
I guess the first and most important revelation from this book is that Asterix and Obelix have parents!
OK, so maybe that isn’t a revelation. They’re humans. They obviously have biological parents. But this is the first we’re seeing them.
Or maybe not. We’ve seen them before in a short story that will be included in the next book, “Asterix and the Class Act.” For the purpose of this review and in keeping everything straight in my head, let’s just go with this being their debut.
Asterix’s mother probably fits a few stereotypes of the doting Jewish mother. (Maybe Goscinny did create her!) She just wants her boy to find a nice girl to settle down with, make a family, etc. Asterix is not so much into it. While he has shown an interest in girls — even in Panacea here — it’s not like he has a lot to choose from while being effectively locked up in his own Village.
He also claims that he’s not ready yet for the responsibility of marriage. (None of us are, little Gallic buddy. That never stops us when the right woman comes along.)
That’s not going to stop his mother from trying, though. She goes so far as to wash Asterix’s hair and invite some nice girls with their mothers over to his house for a spot of tea, er, goat’s milk. Asterix did accidentally help invent tea back in “Asterix in Britain,” you may remember, but it hasn’t caught on yet back in France.
Meanwhile, Obelix’s mother is making him a dinner of something other than boar. Who wouldn’t like some nice homemade soup? And wouldn’t it be better to settle down with some nice woman who could cook him “healthy, well-balanced” things?
The pair can only plead to the gods — Toutatis would be convenient — that their fathers will be up soon so save them.
Yes, as you might have guessed, their parents do bear a striking resemblance to Asterix and Obelix, from the body shape and facial features right down to the color combination choices in their clothes. I like that. It makes sense biologically, but then helps keep the parents visually differentiated and obviously belonging to one or the other child. Going so far as to keep the color schemes similar might take it over the top a bit, but since we’re in the Saturday morning cartoon style era of “Asterix,” it works.
Dogmatix, as it turns out, is the one in this book to have the most success with the ladies. Watch him carefully….
The History Lesson
I fell in love with Roman history while writing this series this year. Seeing Pompey in this book is a particular delight.
It makes no sense.
Asterix spends a jam-packed panel carefully explaining the history of Caesar’s Triumvirate in the most general of terms. And he gets it wrong. Let’s recap the real history.
We’ll start with what Asterix gets right: Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus did make up a legendary Triumvirate. It worked well, but it was never going to last forever.
After Crassus’ death, things went south in a hurry. Caesar was out in Gaul having his little war. Pompey was back in Rome. Pompey set things up so he could arrest Caesar when he returned to Rome after the war.
“Alea Jacta Est” and all that — Caesar crossed the Rubicon, marched straight to Rome, and destroyed Pompey.
Then Pompey did something dumb, and Egypt’s leader did something dumber. Pompey thought he could escape to Egypt, combine forces with the Egyptian leader there, and create a stronger force to take on Caesar.
But Ptolemy, the Egyptian leader, wanted to curry Caesar’s favor. He killed Pompey.
This, by the way, did not make Caesar happy. He didn’t want Pompey killed. He wanted to pull one of those moves he liked to pull where he’d extend the hand of friendship to one who had opposed him. It would be a huge public relations coup to make that move, but Ptolemy robbed him of that.
Pompey died in September of 48 BC. This book, if the series chronology is linear, takes place at least three years after that.
(Ptolemy, by the way, died a few months later, after Caesar paired with Cleopatra (literally and politically) and forced him out. Ptolemy drowned trying to swim across the Nile in January of 47 BC.)
Or, as the wonderful “Alea Jacta Est” website summed up the situation:
Pompey returns from Asterix the Legionary. Which he isn’t in. Though his African campaign is. Though that hasn’t happened yet. Because he’s sent there at the end of this book. Which takes place after Asterix the Legionary. Because Panacea and Tragicomix are already married. Oh yeah, and if the books are sequential then Pompey’s dead by now in any case. Confused? You will be…
Yup, that’s about right. I suppose we can invoke “Artistic License” here, but if you know any of the history before you read the book, you might hurt your head.
About That Dolphin
This is where “Asterix” officially ceased to be a clever and witty commentary on humanity and became a Saturday morning cartoon.
It is the most memorable part of the book for all the wrong reasons. It’s so bad that I’m going to spoil the plot point, because I just don’t care.
Obelix accidentally knocks out Asterix in a moment of jealous rage. Getafix gives Asterix a magic potion to wake him up. Unfortunately, rather than waking him up and/or making him super strong, it makes Asterix super-loopy. He bounces around like a powerful drunk, until he finally crash lands on a rock in the middle of the ocean and passes out.
He wakes up as the tide rolls up on him. Suddenly, without any Magic Potion to give him strength and without anyone knowing where he is, he’s caught in the rising tide too far away to swim home — whichever direction that might be in. He is stranded, with nowhere to go and no way to get there.
Thankfully, a dolphin swings by to give him a ride to shore.
Asterix. Rides. A Dolphin.
My favorite description of this moment comes, again, from the “Alea Jacta Est” blog: Dolphin Ex Machina.
I shook my head while reading this sequence, because it goes on for three pages and, of course, includes the prerequisite pirates cameo. The new magic potion side effect was one crazy and dumb thing, but this part where the fantasy dolphin appears out of nowhere to save the day made me groan.
It’s another case of Uderzo turning this into a kiddy book without rhyme or reason.
That’s giving kiddy books a bad name, though. They’re usually better reasoned than this….
The Art of Uderzo and Mebarki
Once again, this Frederic Mebarki inks this book. He worked for Les Editions Albert-Rene on licensed material at the time. He was the house artist who drew all the stuff that wasn’t the comic. Then he got promoted to inking Uderzo in the last few albums.
After that, he climbed to the top of the corporate latter: They named him to be the artist to follow Uderzo on the book series, proper. He couldn’t take the pressure and withdrew from the project, though, and that’s how we ended up with Didier Conrad in the post-Uderzo books.
They printed a special edition of this book that showed the “sketches” that led up to the final black and white inked pages. I’d love to see those pages to compare and contrast and see how much work did over Mebarki. How tight were Uderzo’s pencils? Was Mebarki strictly “inking,” or was he “finishing”?
I love this “drone” shot of the Village:
It’s a great piece of draftsmanship.
I don’t know, nor do I care, if it matches perfectly up with every drawing from every panel ever made in the series. It would be cool, if it did. And if it doesn’t, we just credit Caesar for rebuilding the Village differently from its original set-up. 😉
Best Name of the Book
This might be the best book of the post-Goscinny run for this. They’re not all great names, but there are certainly a lot of names to choose from.
Honestly, the one that made me giggle was the actress’ name, “Latraviata.” It feels classic and in tune with the naming conventions of the series. It is, indeed, incorporated into the French title of the book, “Asterix et Latraviata.” We English-speaking folks don’t know much about opera, so they spared us that title.
Uderzo draws an Oscar award that’s sculpted like Julius Caesar. Julius names it after himself, the “ME Award.” If you say the letters separately, it sounds like “Emmy,” so it kind of fits. It’s a long way to that joke, though. Maybe it worked better in the original French?
Asterix’s father’s name is Astronomix, which I also liked. (I liked Obelix’s father’s name less: Obeliscoidix.)
The Roman Prefect, Bogus Genius, is a little on the nose, but I appreciated the brutal honesty. Made me chuckle a little.
Special credit goes to “Fastandfurious”, who was given his name the same year as the popular movie franchise started. Coincidence? Maybe.
Have you read the first 28 books in the series? Then, yes, I’d recommend this one. It’s about all you’d have left, anyway.
Or, maybe you just want to read this one for the dolphin pages. It’s a very good neck exercise, because you’ll find yourself shaking your head as you read it.
Next time: The 32nd volume is a clips show! It’s “Asterix and the Class Act,” featuring the return of Rene Goscinny! It’s a collection of short stories, all of which Uderzo illustrated, and many of which (from the 1960s) that Goscinny wrote.
I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high here…
— 2018.092 —
There’s a Twitter account that does nothing but post random Hellboy panels, without commentary. Some days, I think it would be fun to do something like the with “Asterix.” But I can’t help but feel that’s a total DMCA letter waiting to happen.
If I did do it, though, I’d lead with this panel:
Asterix’s Magnificent Sword is the name of my new punk rock band…
Bonus Panel: The Final Ending
Because I can’t let that damned dolphin go…
So long and thanks for all the fish?
“Asterix and the Class Act” rounds up some short stories that haven’t been collected up until that point, plus a lot of other shorts and oddball things that belong together. Including a look as Asterix if Charles Schulz drew the book.
And no dolphins!