Artist: Albert Uderzo
Colorist: Marcel Uderzo
Lettering: Bryony Newhouse
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1966
Let’s get ready to rumble!
Take Away The Unfair Advantage
After trips to Egypt, Italy, and multiple cities across France, we return to Asterix’s village for an entire book. Yes, we get lots of Roman jokes, but this is not a book about exploring the cultural differences between the Gauls and some other country. This is a story about the Village’s fierce independence and the indomitable reputation that helps to protect it from the Roman invasion.
It’s also about the plot device that is the Magic Potion, and a bit of Gallic tradition that threatens the village.
“Asterix and the Big Fight” answers this question: What happens to the village when it doesn’t have any Magic Potion? What if Getafix forgot the recipe?
When Obelix lands a menhir on top of Getafix, we get the great sit-com trope of all time: amnesia. We accept it here, because it’s so cartoonish and is funnier beyond just the plot point. Getafix doesn’t just forget everything, but he acts like a crazy child who finds everything around him to be hilarious. That annoys some of the villagers, while worrying the ones who can think two steps ahead.
With no recipe and no Magic Potion, the village is doomed. The Romans will conquer them. Obelix still has his powers, and can still take on a crazy number of crazy Romans, but Caesar can just throw 25,000 soldiers at him and even Obelix needs a nap once in a while.
If we’re dealing in sit-com level set-ups, wouldn’t dropping a second menhir on him magically fix everything? Don’t worry; Goscinny answers that question in a wonderfully timed moment near the end of the book. (We’re talking Samuel L. Jackson in “Deep Blue Sea” levels of good timing. Uderzo stages it masterfully.) It might be the biggest laugh I got out of the book, just from the timing of the thing.
The Big Fight
When the Romans get wind of their good luck that the Druid is decommissioned, they find a local Gallic chief to challenge Vitalstatistix to a fight for control of both villages. As the tradition goes, it’s winner take all:
The Romans use Chief Cassius Ceramic, a square jawed muscular chief who’s sure to take out any opponent in thirty seconds in a fight ring. He’s also portrayed at a wussy simpleton who can’t accommodate the Romans quickly enough. He even adopts the toga as his preferred dress.
Asterix’s people have to send out Chief Vitalstatistix who, though a hero of earlier wars, isn’t exactly in tip top shape. Asterix begins his training by explaining that his shield carriers won’t be able to carry him through the upcoming battle.
It’s a massacre waiting to happen.
The Gauls and the Romans
As Julius Caesar stormed across Europe in the 50s BC, he used all sorts of tactics to conquer every village he came across. He even found villages who’d work with him rather than be destroyed. They were quick to join his forces and adopt to Roman norms. Honestly, they were doomed to death otherwise. Caesar’s forces were overwhelmingly strong to most all of these small villages. The closest the Gauls ever came to resisting Caesar is when they banded together and attempted to fight the Romans off. Even that didn’t work, though.
Goscinny makes light of the two types of Gauls on the book’s first page. The Gauls, you see, were well known for their light complexions, long hair, and mustaches. Asterix and Obelix both fit that description. If you wanted to assimilate with Roman culture, the first thing you needed was a hair cut. Caesar demanded in as a sign of concession to Rome.
In the opening panel of this book where we see a fine example of the first type of Gaul: They live in a village that’s accepted the Pax Romana. The men are getting their hair cut. And the huts are getting Roman columns added to their fronts, even though it looks ridiculous and makes no structural sense.
The other type of Gauls are — well, Asterix’s village is all that’s left of those.
Wonderful Visual Gags
Uderzo more than carries his weight in this book. Some the set-ups are pure visual storytelling gags that Uderzo has to pull off. The most challenging of them all relates to Ceramic being carried on his shield and having to do an about face. When he turns around AND the people carrying his shield turn him around, he winds up still facing forwards. That’s a lot to get across in a comic book. Uderzo pulls it off.
Overall, the acting in this book is the best in the series so far. Everyone is acting to the cheap seats in the back of the theater. It’s great to look at these pages and study how animated everyone looks.
Whether it’s a guard doing a double-take or an angry Roman leader upset over a change in circumstances or Obelix acting upset because he’s being blamed for something, every character in this book is doing something interesting on every panel on every page. From their walk cycles to their gestures to their facial expressions, Uderzo hits his stride here.
How Much Is This Book Written By Bell and Hockridge?
Like the previous “Asterix and Cleopatra” story, Rene Goscinny packs this book within an inch of its life with gags. He never lets up. Visual and verbal gags show up in almost every panel. And, more than once, when Goscinny breaks out the pun stick, he hits every character with it on the panel. He can compound a single joke and do a half dozen variations of it on the same panel. Normal words get mangled up into something new and pun-worthy on a regular basis.
When I stop to think about the process, though, it dawns on me that so much of what shows up in the English translations of Asterix can’t possibly come from Goscinny. A lot of the humor relies on puns and twists on the English language. This is not a book that could possibly be directly translated from the French. There’s no way that would work. Bell and Hockridge take the panels Goscinny gives them, and then fills them up with all the little gags and turns of phrase that make the laughs.
It’s almost like Goscinny is creating a framework for the humor of Asterix. The translators do a lot of work from there to make the book as good as it is in its native tongue. Thankfully, the English translations have some of the best translators of all time.
Even at the most basic level of Dad Humor, this book is funny. If nothing else, it wears you down with its constant barrage until you appreciate the work that goes into every page.
We’ll talk about a couple examples a little later, but Goscinny also writes to Albert Uderzo’s strengths. There are lots of visual gags in this book that no script alone could pull off. And when it comes to just the verbal gags, Uderzo sells them hard to make sure they land right.
Best Names of the Book
This is a much slower book than usual, as far as funny names go. The cast is not large. The Romans acting up against Asterix got all the good names. Nebulus Nimbus as a Roman Centurion isn’t funny, in and of itself, until there’s a reference to his head being in the clouds. His right hand man, the evil-looking Felonius Caucus, is well named. Together, they hatch their plot with the help of turncoat Chief Cassius Ceramic from the village of Linoleum. The Chief nearly wins for the play on Cassius Clay’s name there.
There you go. That’s about everyone you need to know about in this book.
Except this woman, who is the assistant to the Druid they hope can help Getafix get out of this fix:
That’s Miss Bicarbonatofsoda.
Yeah, she wins the book. Can’t go wrong with a name like that.
Yes, by Toutatis!
This one gets a big thumbs up from me because it blends Goscinny’s story so well with Uderzo’s masterful art. It directly addresses a weak spot in Asterix’s village’s defense. And it’s just plain funny. After the slight letdown of the previous volume, this one comes back strong. It never lets up. It’s rapid fire gags from start to finish.
— 2018.023 —
Buy It Now
Izneo now offers Asterix in English throughout Europe (and possibly Canada). So we’ll add them into this list no
Obviously, I need to figure out a better graphic for Izneo with these books…
Yes, we get previews, too! (I don’t know if this will show up in the U.S., but the rest of the world can look, at least.