Asterix and the Missing Scroll cover detail
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Asterix v36: “Asterix and the Missing Scroll” [Redux]

Prelude to a Review

My first review of “Asterix and the Missing Scroll” appeared a year and a half ago on this site in the ramp up to the publication of “Asterix and the Chariot Race.” The review holds up. I still agree with everything I said in it.

So let’s focus on what struck me as new in this book, having just read the other 35 books in the series in the last year…

Asterix and the Not-At-All-Missing Credits

Asterix and the Missing Scroll cover

Writers: Jean-Yves Ferri
Artist: Didier Conrad
Colorist: Thierry Mebarki
Letterer: Bryony Clark
Translator: Anthea Belle
Published by: Hachette/Orion
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 2015

The Most Modern Asterix

A few books back, I mentioned that some of the pop culture references Uderzo included felt strange because they were references I actually understood. They’re weren’t so old anymore that they pre-dated me, nor so French that they were unknown to me. That felt new.

There’s a part of me that still pictures “Asterix” as being a product of the 1960s (and into the 70s) and that maybe it shouldn’t age past that. It’s similar to how Don Rosa sets all his Uncle Scrooge stories in the 50s, during Barks’ heyday. References in “Asterix” should be to French musicians, avant garde artistes, and the literati of the 60s, right?

This, of course, isn’t at all fair. Goscinny was inserting timely references in his books at the time, too, from across all of pop culture. So when it was Uderzo’s chance in the 80s or 90s to include the occasional musical reference, for example, he was well within his rights to make them something more recent than 1969.

Now, one could argue that Uderzo’s references were mostly dated to begin with just because he was an old man whose pop culture references were a decade or two out of date already. I’m only 42 and am already seeing that in myself. I’m fine with that, though.

“Get off my lawn, you kids, and take that noise you call music with you!”

Yes, my interpretations of the material are colored by my own experiences. I believe that’s called “being human.”

And it’s not like he was drawing caricatures of one hit wonders from the music scene or movies whose popularity didn’t age out past the year they were released.

Also, just because I didn’t know who Wendell Wilkie was as a child, that didn’t mean I couldn’t laugh at a good Bugs Bunny cartoon. I was a huge Warner Bros. animation fan in my formative years, and I learned a lot about World War II from them…

Likewise, Jean-Yves Ferri should be clear to reference things of his time in these books today. The trick is just not in overdoing it and making the book feel instantly dated.

Air Mail in Asterix's time is literally a bird flying with a note attached to his leg.

Ferri dances a fine line with that in this book with so many internet/email references. We remember all the “information super highway” call-outs of the 90s that make us cringe today. Maybe it’s too soon so far to grimace at Ferri’s references, but I think he strikes just the right chord to make them approachable and humorous without carrying the weight of the book.

That’s the key — have those references be off-handed gags, and not the kinds of things you base an entire book’s plot against.

Plus, I have a feeling that forgetting to attach things to email will be an issue for a very long time….

Forgetting to  add the attachment to a piece of pigeon email that's a lot like email.

That’s the reference I quoted in my original review. It still makes me laugh out loud in this new reading, but there’s another modern reference that nearly had me spitting out my drink. There’s a bit where a carrier pigeon is caught by our favorite pirate ship, who rip the message off the bird’s leg to read. The narrator informs us that this is an early example of pirated information. I don’t know why I didn’t see that coming — I was probably just expecting something else that we normally get with the pirates. But that definitely made me laugh out loud.

The next best thing is how the messages are written in extreme shorthand so as to fit on the little pieces of paper attached to the pigeons. It took me a minute to realize that this was Ferri picking on text messaging and all the annoying shortening habits people have with language.

Echoes of Asterix Past

Some things are callbacks to previous books, in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways. They don’t affect the readability of the story to a non-Asterix-scholar. They’re nice call-outs and additional references for the dedicated readers.

For example, this is not the first time we’ve seen the Forest of the Carnutes. It’s where the big Druid Conference happened in volume 3, “Asterix and the Goths.” There, however, the forest was off-limits to non-Gauls. The signs at the entrance to the forest even said so:

It's Druids only that are welcome in the Forest of the Carnutes for the Druid Conference
“Asterix and the Goths”

I did a double check and, no, this isn’t the same Druid welcoming Getafix in as in that book. That was a British Druid who went by the name Valuaddetax. In this book, it’s an old college pal by the name of Anachronistix.

Asterix, Obelix, and Getafix must take shelter under a dolmen for the evening.
“Asterix and the Missing Scroll”
“Asterix and the Golden Sickle”

Later in the book, Asterix, Obelix, and Getafix have to take shelter and sleep under a dolmen. That’s an echo of the second volume, “Asterix and the Golden Sickle.” Then, though, Asterix and Obelix slept in the tree above the dolmen.

The index to the missing scroll of Caesar's Commentaries on the War

The biggest reference to previous volumes in this book comes in the form of the index of Caesar’s book. The part in the missing scroll references the following events (and I’ll put the books’ names in parenthesis):

And, the event that French fandom was no doubt most looking forward to: the fish fights returned in this book! They’re not a sprawling Village-wide epic battle like in many of the Goscinny/Uderzo days. These are a more simple back-and-forths between — who else? — Fulliautomatix and Unhygienix.

Fish fight in the Village with Fulliautomatix and Unhygienix

The bits about the horoscope and how it impacts how people behave out of superstition harkens back to “Asterix and the Soothsayer,” for sure. It appears, though, that nobody learned their lesson from that one.

The Return of Great Names

This book has a myriad of good names. A panoply. A cornucopia. A “heap,” for my Australian readers.

There are so many, in fact, that I’m going to list out a bunch of them, because I can’t help myself:

  • Wifix, the newspaper reader
  • Postaldistrix, the mail man, of course
  • Libellus Blockbustus, effectively Caesar’s agent
  • Apollosix, horoscope writer
  • Pridanprejudis, who works for Blockbustus
  • Confoundtheirpolitix, the Julian Assange stand-in
  • Verigregarius, Roman Centurion
  • Antivirus, the Roman soldier
  • Archaeopterix, the Druid
  • Anachronistix, another Druid
Roman Centurion Verigregarius from Asterix and the Missing Scroll

Given all those names, I’m picking Verigregarius as my favorite name of the book. I love the word “gregarious” and this blending in nicely and unexpectedly to a Roman leader’s name.

Libellus Blockbustus was a close second, thanks to the addition of his first name.

Recommended?

Asterix and the Missing Scroll cover

Yes. This might just be the strongest Asterix book since 1979. This is Ferri and Conrad finding their footing in this world after only two books, combining some laugh out loud elements and characterizations alongside a relevant plot that touches on modern issues without being too cutesie about it.

Next time, I’ll take a second look at “Asterix and the Chariot Race,” which I was rather effusive in my praise of originally. I can’t remember much of it right now, which worries me. Was it really that good if I don’t remember anything about it besides the chariot race, itself?

We’ll find out in the next couple of weeks….

— 2019.010 —

Buy It Now

There is no Omnibus available yet for the Ferri/Conrad years. And “Asterix” is still not available digitally in English in North America yet, so here’s an affiliate link to the print edition:

Buy this book on Amazon

If you’re in Europe, you can read the series digitally in French or English on Izneo:

Izneo.com Logo


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

9 Comments

  1. I was initially very adamant on not reading any more Asterix books after Goscinny, but your reviews are making me reconsider. I actually like the latest Lucky Luke that you reviewed recently, and even though I recognize this is a far cry from the wonders of my childhood, I should simply judge those books on their own merits.

  2. Well as ever Augie pretty much nails it. This isn’t just a good comic its a good Asterix comic and not just by the standards of none Goscinny stories, while its not up with the best Goscinny, its certainly the best or very close to the best none Goscinny and as good as some of the grand master of comic writers.

    So what is it about this book that works… well as I say Augie nails it. Its funny, its sharp, it does all the best things the best stories do… alas a couple of the bad things too but let’s not let racial sterotypes ruin the mood hey… it plays with the familar but isn’t slavish, well art aside. The art is largely as you were. Its a note perfect tonal reproduction. Sure there are difference you notice here and there, ones I’ve not the eyes of Augie to identify but they are there. Heck there’s even an orgy and the fish fight mentioned above.

    The story has the glorious relevance and satire of the best of Goscinny, if not quite as deft and a little too on the nose but it works a treat. All in all its like a warm and friendly greatest hits album with all your favourites rendered almost perfectly all be it by a covers band who try to put a little of their own edge to things… but maybe don’t try too hard.

    Oh and those names, those names, Augie knidly lists them all and actually, slightly worryingly gets my top two choices, for my reasons too… I’m worried that I’m reading too much Augie and he’s rubbing off on me!

    Anyway scoring this is easy. I’m not sure if its better or worse than my favourite of the none Goscinny stories ‘Black Gold’ so it joins that one on a very impressive 11 out of 10.

    Will we hold this good form, alas I free not but I’m excited to find out and thank you for deciding to review these ones Augie I for one am chuffed you have done so.

  3. Hey Colin — Great minds think alike. Let’s go with that. =) I’m just glad I had enough to write about after reading the book. I hate reading books and then having nothing to say about them. It’s a hazard of this gig. 😉 And, yes, I’ll be doing the Chariot book next. I’m not sure when that’ll be, but sometime inside of the next month. After this book holding up as being as good as I first thought, I’m very curious now what I’ll think about “Chariot Race”…

  4. Personally I don’t feel much for any of the three Ferri and Conrad offerings, which I think are all bland, not funny and reduce Asterix and Obelix to ‘pinball protagonists’, as TV Tropes would call them: characters who merely react and do very little if anything to move the plot forward, which is a long way to fall for Goscinny’s cunning Asterix.

    Something I’m surprised you don’t seem to have mentioned in any of these books so far is that Uderzo’s maligned fantastic elements have an even stronger presence here, even if they may be less crucial to the plot: this book includes unicorns and talking/telepathic squirrels, for starters!

    On a minor note but deeply irritating to me as a zoology-fan: that eagle in the picture is a North American Bald Eagle and therefore has no business being in Gaul whatsoever. These types of stupid mistakes are so easily prevented and unneccessary. They certainly didn’t happen under Uderzo, whose animals always fit the location and were gorgeous, to boot.

      1. Clearly, Uderzo beat me down pretty badly in recent books that I didn’t even think to mention the animals. To be fair, they all appear in the Forest of the Carnutes when the group is going deep into the forest looking for a reclusive Druid. I’ll give some leeway for there being some fantastic things in there. The unicorn is a one panel gag, and not a plot point at all. The “telepathic squirrel” might be overselling it. He’s more like a trained squirrel, and in the world of the Druids, it’s easy to think that they help that out with some kind of potion. Magic gets you around ANY plot problems. We’re dealing with Druids here.

        The squirrel doesn’t talk at all in the book, by the way, aside from animal noises.

    1. I’ve complained in the past about books where Asterix isn’t an active presence — where the big resolutions happen coincidentally or without any input from Asterix. In this book, though, Getafix is more the star of the show. He’s central to the main adventure, and he plays a big part in the finale. Asterix is there in support and makes some decisions along the way, too. He’s not an inactive participant in the plot. He just doesn’t guide it. I don’t think he’s sitting by the side and getting nothing done, though.

      But, sure, I’d like a story where Asterix gets to be the star, and a smart one, at that. I’d like HIM to be the one to come up with the big plan.

      The American eagle bit, though — yeah, I have no defense for that one..

  5. Did you know that Confoundtheirpolitix is a caricature of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and in the English dub of this book, Confoundtheirpolitix was almost named Wikileax but, the name was dropped for some reason.

    1. Also, there’s an Alfred Hitchcock reference about his 1963 film “The Birds” because, a messenger in 1 of the Roman army camps who gets messages from eagles is an Alfred Hitchcock caricature.