I’m not good at rating books, but am I any good at ranking them?
Let’s take a look at the first ten volumes in the Asterix series and see if I can rank them from “least best” to best.
None are bad. There aren’t too many book series I can say that about. Even the clunkiest volume of Asterix is filled with great moments.
This is a combination of personal and critical assessments. I’m very pragmatic like that.
Please note: If you’re looking for a ranking of my ten favorite Asterix books out of all of them, I have that article here.
10. Asterix and the Banquet (v5)
It’s not a bad book, per se, but it’s a lot of little bits of humor that just don’t add up to much.
Asterix and Obelix run through the French countrwwyside gathering local foods to prepare a banquet for their local Roman oppressors. There’s not much drama. There’s not much story.
There are volumes where the story might seem too easy or cliched, but then Rene Goscinny has a great knack for adding something to it in the end to make it smarter and more creative. This book lacks that extra twist.
The biggest highlight of the book is the introduction of Dogmatix to the world.
I also liked the wall at the beginning of the book. That’s not because of any great statement in the current political climate, but because that’s what Roman armies did. They’d build ridiculous structures overnight with their large numbers, who were many times equally as good at being carpenters as soldiers.
It’s weird that the book I went to the greatest effort to create a graphic for is the last on my list. But I still like my map of France.
9. Asterix the Gaul (v1)
There’s nothing wrong with this book. It actually does a great job in setting the series up. It only ranks this low because it’s first and Goscinny and Uderzo were still finding their way. It’s a little lighter than the second half of the run of these ten albums, and Uderzo is still playing with character designs. Caesar is a completely different model at the end of the book from what he looks like at the beginning.
If someone new to Asterix were to ask me where to start, I’d probably tell them to read the first volume just to get the fundamentals. You can skip around after that. There’s no serious continuity in these books, except maybe for Getafix getting a sickle in the second volume to use directly at the Druid’s convention in the third volume. That’s as far as it goes.
8. Asterix and the Golden Sickle (v2)
Asterix and Obelix visit Paris, get caught up in a criminal ring, and, of course, break out of jail for a second straight book. There are a couple of Paris-specific gags. If they had gone full tilt on the Paris jokes, I might have rated this one higher. But the series is still new. It won’t be until volume 4 where Goscinny really starts to dive into making fun of other nations.
7. Asterix and the Goths (v3)
Getafix wins Druid of the Year, which brings up a lot of questions about the Magic Potion and Druid voting procedures.
I compare the Goths to the Normans a lot. They’re both cases of the Gauls coming up against foes who are super strong and fearsome as warriors. So when I think about this book, I naturally compare it to the Normans. This one ranks lower, despite having the great border crossing guard moment.
Even better is the fighting in the forest between Romans, Gauls, and Goths as they cross paths almost randomly.
You might sense a pattern starting there. With the first four books in the series, I would contend that each was better than the last, up until you got to the disappointing “Banquet” book. After that, it’s a little less of a straight line towards the tenth volume, though we do get there.
I almost rated this higher just for the page at the end that explains “The Asterixian Wars,” but that wasn’t enough to beat what the next book on the countdown has to offer.
6. Asterix the Gladiator (v4)
I almost ranked this book even higher on the list just for the bit on the ship when the rowers negotiate their contracts because they don’t want to fight. Cracks me up every time.
But this was also when I realized that the entire village is unduly cruel to poor Cacofonix, so that set it back.
The Asterix and Obelix hijinx in Rome are also a prescient echo of what Goscinny will perfect in “Asterix the Legionary,” where the two break down a military leader. Here, it’s just a gladiator trainer they need to defeat.
This is the start of “These Romans are crazy!” and feels a bit like the first book to put together most of the facets of a good “Asterix” book in one volume. Goscinny goes to town with the Italian references in this book.
5. Asterix in Britain (v8)
The tea thing. I still can’t get over it. This one might have ranked a spot or two higher if it hadn’t been for the tea thing.
4. Asterix and the Normans (v9)
I love the Normans. I love their naivete. I love how similar they are to the Gauls. And I love what becomes of them at the end of this book. Be careful what you wish for…
The presence of the bratty nephew in this story should be a turn off of Wesley Crusher dimensions, but it still works for me because Goscinny scripts him so well. (Or, maybe, because Bell and Hockridge give him great dialogue. Tough to tell.)
Uderzo sells every bit of this book with his acting chops. I like the grand finale, particularly in the way Uderzo lays it out.
3. Asterix the Big Fight (v7)
Pure sit-com craziness. Not a terribly deep plot, but with a great ending and every gag milked out of the premise that Goscinny possibly could pull off. It also gets credit for directly addressing the problem with Getafix’s Magic Potion monopoly.
A lot of the humor comes from knowing what’s about to happen, even more than what does happen. This is a good one to watch.
2. Asterix and Cleopatra (v6)
It almost feels like this is where the series begins. It’s a perfect blend of geographic humor, running Asterix gags, and Julius Caesar.
It feels packed full of funny bits. Even the stuff that might seem obvious today works well here. For example, there’s a gag about the Sphinx losing its nose. I’ve seen that gag a bunch of times, but Goscinny/Uderzo still get a laugh out of me on it.
The relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra in the book is, as in real life, a complicated and tricky thing. Caesar is portrayed as both a lovestruck boy and the ruthless ruler that he was, though not without a sense of humor or honor.
Dogmatix makes a big save, Cleopatra makes a big entrance, and Obelix makes a big deal out of always being second. Good stuff.
And now, my favorite of the first ten volumes:
1. Asterix the Legionary (v10)
This is the book where everything comes together for me. It’s hilarious. It’s a Marx Brothers movie on paper, as Obelix and Asterix join Caesar’s military forces and show the Centurions how they should be running the show. It’s a series of running gags, great joke construction, and gags that are both visual and verbal.
It even includes a trip overseas to Africa, where the duo accidentally provoke a battle that makes Caesar look good.
It combines some elements of Roman history, which I’ve become very fond of over the course of this series, with the best gags Goscinny could write and Uderzo could lay out. It may not be the strongest or most complicated plot, but the humor more than makes up for that.
If the world was going to end in an hour and I had to pick one Asterix book to re-read, this would be the one.
That Was Not Easy
I wasn’t sure what I was going to come up with when I started this list.
I knew what the first and tenth books would be. Everything in the middle had to jockey for position. It was fun to move things around as I picked favorites moments or characters from different books to try to justify my decision.
In the end, though, I like all of these books. The difference from one position to the next is often paper thin, or just a matter of personal taste. Your list is probably in a slightly different order. Maybe it’s in a completely different order. I’m OK with that. There’s just a lot to love here.
This is an exercise to look back at these ten books one more time and to relive funny bits that I often had forgotten about already.
Mission Accomplished, By Toutatis!
The Asterix Agenda returns with volume 11, “Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield.” This one will require some historical background, so get ready for a history lesson, too!