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!
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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 —
Uderzo is very observant…
Like I said at the top, this is a very meta book in many ways.
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.
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.