Asterix v33 Asterix and the Falling Sky cover detail by Albert Uderzo
|

Asterix v33: “Asterix and the Falling Sky”

This is it — Albert Uderzo’s final full-length book. It’s truly the end of an era.

Don’t cry too much, though, because there’s still another clips book, and lots of other stuff to talk about on The Asterix Agenda.

But, first, I bring to you the thinly-veiled story of Asterix teaming up with Walt Disney to fend off the threat of Manga and — George W. Bush.

No, I’m not kidding. This really happened.  And, you know what?

It ain’t bad.

You heard me.  It may be the most reviled “Asterix” book in the series — it has superheroes! — but I appreciate it and can even argue in its favor.  There’s no dolphin jumping in here, for one.

It’s all a bit on the nose, but Uderzo tried for something here.  Gotta give him credit for that.

And speaking of credits…

BANG! POW! CREDITS!

Writers: Albert Uderzo
Artist: Albert Uderzo, Frederic Mebarki
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Colors: Thierry Mebarki
Letterer: Byron Newhouse
Published by: Orion/Hachette
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 2005

What’s It All About?

A giant orb descends from the sky over the Gaulish Village. It is so large that it merits a full page splash image.

Uderzo ties this into something you might remember from “Asterix the Gaul,” the very first book in the series:

In "Asterix the Gaul," we can see the first reference to Chief Vitalstatistix's concern about the sky falling on him.

That was the first instance of Chief Vitalstatistix mentioning his biggest fear: That the sky will fall down on him. Well, here’s a large metal spaceship orb dropping down from the sky over the Village and blocking out the sun.

Panic!

A purple cartoonish character emerges from that orb.  He wants the Magic Potion. He must destroy it before someone else gets their hands on it.  Also, it makes Earth too powerful.  He brought super-powered clones to assist him in getting what he wants.

But then the evil Nagma shows up, and it’s a battle supreme, with the little purple guy joining Asterix’s team to defeat the evil little yellow alien with his big spaceship.

Just when you think everything is in the clear, the Romans show up.

As silly as that all sounds, there’s a point to it!  Yes, Albert Uderzo has, in his final outing as an Asterix creator and author, chosen to use this book to make a commentary, mostly based on his incredibly long tenure as a comics professional.

In fact, he’s making two different commentaries and trying to blend them together.

Let’s Break It Down

To begin with, the book starts with the appearance of an alien named “Toon,” from the planet “Tadsilweny.”

He looks a little like Mickey Mouse with smaller ears, and he comes from a planet that’s an anagram for “Walt Disney.”

He’s a cute, four-fingered guy (with white gloves!) with big feet and a round head.

He does not come alone. And here’s where the fun begins, and where the commentary is quite appropriate and funny.

This guy pops up next:

Asterix introduces superheroes

He’s with Toon, and he’s a strong clone. (Clones!  That’s how we explain all the superheroes running around…)   He’s described as a security man, who keeps the peace and can defy gravity, i.e. “fly.”  (If you’re a “Wicked” fan, you know that turn of phrase already.)

That doesn’t quite make him a vigilante like most superheroes, but he is superpowered, single minded, and easily duplicated a million ways.

The Asterix characters, like the French in general, just don’t get the weird way of the superhero.  They find him silly and repetitive.

Just to hammer home the clone’s place in this world:

You can aways make a super clone with Bat or Spider tendencies

That made me laugh out loud. One might guess that Uderzo is not a superhero fan.  That’s OK.  He’s French, he can’t help it.

Also keep in mind: This book came out a couple years before Disney bought Marvel.  Imagine what Uderzo might have done with this story in a post-buyout world.

Toon meets the rest of the Village and is weirded out by how they dress:

Toon says it's easier when everyone dresses alike.

That made me laugh, too.

So Asterix takes Toon to meet with the Chief, where Toon reveals the reason he’s there.  He must warn the Gauls about the impending threat of “The Nagmas!”  They want to steal the magic power for themselves to use in their own evil ways.

I bet it didn’t take you look to rearrange those letters, did it?  Yes, it’s “The Mangas.”  Here, there is what they look like when they arrive:

A Nagma attacks Obelix

Nagma mistakes Obelix, by the way, for the great sage, Akoaotaki, which is an anagram for Takao Aoki, who did the manga, “Beyblade.”  Of all the mangaka in the world for Uderzo to anagram, he picked “Beyblade“? Maybe it was more popular in France than over here….

So, yes, Uderzo is constructing a narrative in which his Franco-Belgian comic book characters can unite with the all-powerful galactic power of Walt Disney to fight back the impending invasion of manga.

“Asterix and the Falling Sky” was publishing in 2007, just at that time when the kids were sitting in aisles of Borders bookstores devouring those thick black and white blocks of Japanese comics.

As with some fandom segments here in America, there are those more traditional comic readers in Europe who were not happy about the manga invasion 10 – 15 years ago. It’s an argument that still shows up to this day.

I’m not saying that Albert Uderzo is starting to look like the old man waving his fist at the young whippersnappers playing in his front lawn, but — well, yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what I’m saying, I think.

Or maybe not, because Toon and the Nagma agree to work together after their giant set piece battle in the skies.  (They’re equally bad for the French BD industry, I guess?)  That venture is never well explained, and it breaks down in a couple of pages anyway, so never mind. I’m sure there’s a parallel there to the real world somehow.  Was there a famous project between a mangaka and a dessinateur that fell apart in the early 2000s?

Asterix and — Politics?!?

There’s more to this book than just the comic book references, though.  There are a few hints towards Uderzo’s dislike of American influence on French society.  First, obviously, there’s the very idea of superheroes.  As much as traditional BD readers don’t like manga, many of them look askance at superheroes, too.

The super-clones only eat the all-American staple, hot dogs, which disgusts the Gauls.  (I think Obelix is worried that they’re going to eat Dogmatix.)

Toon at one point refers to his leader as “Hubs,” which has to mean Bush, right?  Would it have hurt him to come up with an anagram for “George W. Bush”?

So let’s re-center the whole storyline.

Toon is coming to Gaul to remove the Magic Potion that gives them power so that their enemy, the Nagmas, can’t invade to get the Magic Potion and do worse things with it.  It’s not a perfect analogy to the Gulf War of the early 2000s, but there are enough elements here.  The Magic Potion is seen here as a Weapon of Mass Destruction…  Toon references the “Galactic council of the wise”, which would have to be the U.N., though some might debate that description.

Yes, Uderzo is layering meanings into his story.  Bet you never thought you’d see that in an Asterix book, post-Goscinny!  Of course, Goscinny probably would have structured this with other European nations in the different roles, as opposed to manga and Disney.  Uderzo likes the fantasy more. I’ve given up fighting that particular fight…

I can only image what kind of story he would come up with today, given the state of politics in both America and France.

Storytelling Style

Nagma's robots take on Toon's superheroes. It's a fair match.
This panel is nearly a half page tall.

If there’s one thing a veteran Asterix reader will notice instantly in this book, it’s that Uderzo is using bigger panels here.  Whether it’s to mimic more of the manga look or the American superhero look, there’s an actual splash page in this book, and panels that stretch across two or three tiers.  There’s even a nod to decompression, when it takes three panels and a half page to show a rocket ship taking off.

I’m also fairly certain at this point that we’re seeing less of Uderzo’s work on the page than ever.  By this time, he had a studio built up around him.  He has an inker who’s capable of drawing the comic himself. The finished artwork is just too smooth and too perfect.  I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else, entirely, was doing backgrounds — and likely basing them off of drawings from previous albums. It would be a smart production hack to get the books out on any kind of schedule.

With a book this big, keeping those ducks in a row is super important.  You can’t set up a press to print off a couple million books and then ask them to hold off for a couple of months while the art is being finished.  You’re better off taking whatever shortcuts you can in that situation.

Using your studio would just be smart.

This Story Doesn’t Count

At the end, Toon uses some power he has to make both the Gauls and the Romans forget everything that ever happened.  The story, thus, never happened.  It might as well be a dream sequence, which is fine by me.

Uderzo loves to inject fantasy into Asterix and never did so more than with this book, but it also feels like maybe he knew that not all Asterix fans wanted that.  This is his compromise.

Of course, that would probably just make those same fans irate that the story “never happened.”

You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

I’m anti-fantasy in Asterix, too, but came to accept it by the end.  You can only fight against Uderzo’s wishes for so long before you just accept he’s going to do it.  In this case, at least, it not only has a point in the story, but it is the story.  It wouldn’t have been the same if this was “Asterix in Japan”.

And good thing, too.  Wait till you see what the Japanese alien looks like under the mask:

The manga villain, Nagma, has yellow skin and a bad accent

He’s a yellow skinned geek with a bad accent.  Uderzo has done worse in the past — the pirate look-out being the worst — and goodness knows Tome and Janry have their fair share of very bad ethnic caricatures, but that’s still not great.

The Familiar Cover

Yes, that cover should look familiar to you:

Asterix v33 Asterix and the Falling Sky cover by Albert Uderzo
Asterix v1 Asterix the Gaul original cover by Albert Uderzo

It’s a mirror image of the original cover.  This lead to some speculation at the time the book was released that it would be Albert Uderzo’s last book.  He denied it at the time, and maybe he didn’t mean it to be. Nevertheless, it is the final Uderzo book.

The Final Irony

At the final banquet at the end of the book, the caption reads, in part:

“…for once, the invincible Gauls of the village hold a banquet tunder the starry sky for no special reason, just because they’re glad to know that their lives and independence are safe for good!”

A couple years later, Albert Uderzo sold Asterix to Big Five publishing firm, Hachette.  (They’re owned, ultimately, by Time Warner.)

The Final Best Name of the Book

There aren’t too many choices in this book, and I think I’ve covered all the good ones already.  And “Hubs,” too.

I’m giving it not to a character this time, but to another planet.  Nothing says “Uderzo did this one” more than the fact that I had to type in that sentence.

I liked “Tadsilweny” as the Walt Disney anagram. It’s just far enough of a reach and a mouthful to make it comedically memorable. I laugh every time I try to say it out loud and never say it the same way twice.

Recommended?

It might be the strongest message Uderzo ever delivered. The solo books that Uderzo both wrote and draw were always missing something or adding one thing too many.  And while there were themes in them — Asterix vs. Feminism, most notably — the books never reached for social commentary in the way that Rene Goscinny could.

This is a book where Uderzo had something to say.  Sure, it might make him look like a scared old fuddy duddy telling the kids to get off his lawn, but at least he went for it.  He concocted a huge narrative involving space aliens to say what he wanted to say about the state of the comics industry.  In some ways, this is the most meta comic book I’ve read in a long time.

Uderzo did that.

— 2018.097 —

Bonus Panels

The cast of Asterix thinks superheroes have pinheads

Uderzo is very observant…

Obelix laments not know more about superheroes in Asterix and the Falling Sky by Albert Uderzo

Like I said at the top, this is a very meta book in many ways.

Fin

Uderzo's final word in "Asterix and the Falling Sky"

Uderzo signed his name to the bottom of every page of this book, including the final page, except that it wasn’t in the gutter outside all the panels there.

Next Book!

Yet, this isn’t the end of Asterix. In fact, there’s still some more classic Uderzo stuff yet to republish. And so we get the next book, “Asterix and Obelix’s Birthday: The Golden Book,” with a variety of material leftover that they could slap together.

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

26 Comments

  1. You’re far too kind. This book is bad. Not as bad as Magic Carpet and Falling Sky, but still bad. I give it 2/5.

    The worst thing is how jarring it is, but beyond that, the jokes fall flat. The plot is a mess where stuff just happens.

    There wasn’t even a single pun name I liked – so for the first time, I won’t choose one.

  2. I probably shouldn’t comment here as I haven’t bought it or read it, but I was still in France when it was published and you can’t imagine the outcry in the media. Obviously it’s a totally different book from the ones we know and love and the backlash was so massive that it prompted Uderzo to hand the series over to younger creators.
    The pop culture context is that in France we’ve been bathed in outside influence from Disney and american super-heroes from the sixties onward and from Japanese anime from the late seventies on. these were everywhere on French TV from 1977 up to the early aughts, pretty much and I can understand that from a french creator’s perspective, someone of Uderzo’s generation and stature, that must have felt pretty overwhelming and depressing. I see this book as a kneejerk reaction. And indeed it was quite a stir at the time, both ways I think. There was a lot of talk in the French BD community. Not sure if that much translated into action but there was a lot of introspection at the time.

    1. We have the same issue here in North American when it comes to the evolution of comics. As different influences move in, some of the old guard resist it. Some choose to ignore it and keep doing their own thing. Some incorporate it into their own work. Others openly resist it. I don’t know that anyone has gone to quite the same efforts at Uderzo here in challenging it. Usually, it’s just dumpsters being lit on fire on Twitter or Facebook.

      Maybe if Uderzo had been an active participant on the Warren Ellis Forums or the CompuServe Comics/Animation forums in the early 2000s, he could have worked out all this angst there and done a completely different album. 😉

  3. Now I’m all for books trying new things and pushing boundaries. We should celebrate comics that dare to stretch what we think we understand about a series and the characters that populate it… just not this one. I bloomin’ hate this one, its just so off, and frankly that starts on the cover. It lacks any sense of energy and movement, just look at Obelix. It stiffles the edge and verve that Uderzo for so long has done so very well.

    Now inside Uderzo does some really interesting things visually which I do really like. As Augie says the panels are larger, page design bolder and the framing and ‘camera’ angles more dynamic. This is exemplified on the two panels that makes the bottom half of page 15, with Vitalstatixs reacting to the golden globe and the Romans working away on the final panel of page 17. This is great stuff and of course I’m going for deliberate given they represent drawing comics the Marvel Way… but… hold on… that’s kinda ironic isn’t it… deliberately so… but given the theme is defending French comics from an invading form isn’t that backwards…

    …and then we have the theme. Done with the guile Goscinny handled such things this could really have worked. Here though Uderzo is so on the nose its not even funny … something I will alas be coming back to. It lacks craft, imagination or the comic flare of Uderzo’s masterful partner and even his own better work. Its clumsy and forced which detracts so much from the message it rams down our throats.

    Its not as bad as Secret Weapon but damn those Nagmas push beyond caricature in sterotype, one that doesn’t play with manga rather national sterotypes in a way that feels unnecessary and agressive.

    The biggest problem however is the issue I mentioned earlier its just not funny. So many of the gags fall flat and the plot is so forced, out of context, fantastical (in the not good way) I simply don’t engage with the comic at all. Its such a shame that after all his great work Uderzo ends on such a dud note.

    I can only give this 1.5 out of ten. When a comics only redemning feature is its not as bad as Asterix and the Secret Weapon its not a good comic.

    It doesn’t even have a good pun name really Polyanthus gets it by default, but little credit.

    Sigh

    1. It’s almost like this book is the best example ever of where the series became a kid’s book. Bring in the aliens and the superheroes and forget the subtle social commentary. Just make big colorful images and throw in some funny stuff. I just give it credit for attempting to have a point — and one that is so far from subtle that it makes my head hurt. He makes his point, but it’s kind of a silly old man point, so the whole thing suffers.

      It’s after books like this that I’m almost surprised the series never had a Scrappy Doo moment. Asterix never adopted a long-lost nephew or cousin or something who was always meddling in his adventures and dragging him down, but Asterix stuck with him for familial reasons.

      Wait, I’m stopping this now before I give the universe any more VERY VERY BAD ideas to draw on….

    2. Sorry but it’s just utter nonsense to say that the Falling Sky is not as bad as the Secret Weapon. The Secret Weapon was Uderzo’s last good album, it’s funny with a coherent plot and, while not as good as his first three, it’s an improvement on the previous album the Magic Carpet.

      All the single story albums after the Secret Weapon, from All At Sea(I’m convinced Hockridge and Bell were commenting on the quality of that album when they came up with that title) the Actress and the Falling Sky get progressively worse.

      Uderzo had actually retired after the Secret Weapon but was persuaded to return by fan clamour for more. Do you think the same was likely to have happened after the Falling Sky, of course not, because the book was an embarrassing disaster. “It’s not as bad as Secret Weapon” – I’ll say it again, what utter nonsense.

  4. No… just no.

    This book is terrible, not funny, not particularly clever in the message it’s trying to convey.

    I get it, Uderzo was an old man frustrated and disillusioned that the bande dessinée landscape he knew -and helped shape- was changing after over half a century or whatever, but damn… didn’t have to ruin Asterix to express it. The art is nice of course, but other than that, this book is unredeemable garbage.

    1. No, tell me how you really feel about it. 😉

      The good news is, by this point, everyone knew what to expect from Uderzo, and it was never going to be as strong as the book had been forty years earlier. Once you get past that, though, there’s something to be said for watching Uderzo swing for the fences, even if it is from a weak position to begin with.

      That said, at least they didn’t come out with “Asterix: The Manga” a year later. Even more than selling out to Hachette, that would have been the death of Uderzo’s spirit…. Someone in Paris would have blocked traffic to protest that move…..

      1. Hehe topical joke. My my, Augie, how you’ve grown lol
        Kidding aside, one more reason I’m glad I moved to Belgium 😀

        1. It’s topical, but somewhere in the last year, I’ve cracked a joke about how much the French love to close the roads in protest — I think I learned about it from the two or three gags about it in Asterix books I’ve read this year. =)

  5. I appreciate Augie bringing some positive points to my attention that I hadn’t thought of before, but for me this is still the most disappointing album of the series.
    Besides the faults that everyone else identified, I would add two more points. First, Asterix is a passive spectator for most of the story, just watching as these big battles happen in the sky. Asterix ought to be heavily involved in the plot of an Asterix book! This fault has occurred a bit before (even back to Asterix in Corsica), but is far worse this time.
    Secondly, the use of so many large frames is no doubt an artistic choice and a nod to other comic styles, but it also has the effect of making parts of the book seem empty and short of content. In his heyday, Uderzo would fill a half-page image with detail (such as those lovely panoramas of Rome), but here there are pictures with little detail taking up a quarter page, a half page or even a full page.

    1. I can’t disagree with you on either point, though Asterix does take an active part in the plot at a point or two. I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment, but I do remember thinking a similar thing, just before he hatches a plan of his own. He does need to defend against the realization that the Nagmas and the Tadsilwenies might be joining forces against him. So he’s not completely plan-less, which is always a concern. The other concern is that the villains are never strong enough, though I think space-faring aliens with spaceships are immediately overwhelming enough. =)

      The part I agree with you on is the larger panels. It fits in with the themes of the book, so I give it more of a pass, but part of the glory of “Asterix” is the way it packs everything in so tightly. Those dense panels and background-filled illustrations are a big part of the draw. By this era of Uderzo’s Studios’ art, it felt like they were looking for shortcuts to take. It never interferes with their ability to tell the story, but it does start to feel cheap.

    1. I’ve only found one review of the movie so far. I retweeted it a couple weeks ago, but haven’t included it on this site anywhere. I haven’t looked in a few days. I need to go practice my Google.fr Fu more strongly. I want to do a round-up of reviews, if there’s anything there worth quoting…. Thanks for the reminder — and the link. That’s a great page rounding up a lot of stuff there.

      1. Really hoping this makes it over here (to the UK) as Manion of the Gods was great. Alas looks like I’ll need to be patient as its UK release is 15th August next year.

        1. Thanks for that link. I’ve only skimmed it so far, but there is a lot of information and examples there. As Uderzo is so famous for his Asterix style of drawing, it is impressive to see the range of different styles that he could master too.

  6. I hated this one and unlike the author here, I thought Tadsilweny was a terrible, laboured anagram. Meta or not, the superheroes and aliens seemed so jarringly out of place. You get anachronisms in Asterix but they’re normally well placed, humorous and charming. Not so here. I am, however, tempted to look over it again in the light of what I’ve read in the article.

    1. I mostly agree with you. Having aliens is wrong and out of place. However, after reading the prior batch of books Uderzo did solo, I became numb to all the changes he made to the series. Or, more accurately, I accepted them. The book was different with Uderzo solo. So I accepted them. Once that’s done, this book feels like the strongest effort of his in recent years. He actually tried to say something with this story. I appreciated that most of all.

  7. This story was so disappointing, and a bit embarrassing to read.
    I do like the CONCEPT, or rather concepts. Aliens visiting ancient Gaul? A meta story about three different comic cultures meeting? Both very interesting concepts that could have made for great stories. But maybe not in the same story? It sort of muddles both of the concepts in a way, never really fully committing to being sci-fi, nor a meta story.
    Also, it’s just so glaringly obvious that Uderzo really had very little knowledge on neither American comics, nor Japanese, so the jokes fall flat and just made me feel embarrassed for Uderzo. At least the Waltdisneyans look kind of like American comic characters, the Nagmas doesn’t look anything like mangas at all.
    There is also a disturbing lack of actual story to go around. It’s basically just two alien races coming to the village, then just a series of repetitive (though visually pleasing) fight scenes. Maybe that was meant to be a commentary on mangas and super-hero comics, but it seems a bad idea to purposefully create a bad story just to make a point.
    It’s hard to imagine exactly how they could have this story more interesting, but I feel it had untapped potential. Maybe have Getafix dig out some ancient scrolls that showed these aliens had been here before, send Asterix and Obelix out on a quest to find a crashed craft that they, somehow, managed to pilot haphazardly onto the mothership which they then had to navigate to find a leader or something?
    I don’t know, but anything would have been better than this mess.

  8. Clearly, this was not one of Goscinny and Uderzo’s best. There is a glaring mistake too where Druid Getafix puts the time period of their existence at 50 BC. How the hell would he know that Christ would be born 50 years later?

    1. It was solo Uderzo, which explains a bunch. As for the date — we give the authors and translators a little bit of leeway for the sake of humor. “Artistic License.” There’s a LOT of that in Asterix. Or, you’ve just started the plot to the next Asterix book where Getafix develops a potion that lets him time travel and he learns about “BC” and “AD”. 😉