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
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were mostly dated to begin with just because he was an old man whose pop culture references were a decade or two out of date already.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.
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….
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:
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.
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 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):
- Caesar’s Banquet (“Asterix and the Banquet“)
- Chieftain’s Shield (“Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield“)
- Iberian Hostage (“Asterix in Spain“)
- Tortuous Convolvulus (“Asterix and the Roman Agent“)
- Mansions of the Gods (“Asterix and the Mansions of the Gods“)
- Corsica (“Asterix in Corsica“)
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.
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
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.
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:
If you’re in Europe, you can read the series digitally in French or English on Izneo: