My Top Ten Asterix Books
by Goscinny and Uderzo
by Augie De Blieck Jr.
Of the 24 books they did together, which ten Asterix titles stand out? Which are the so-called “best Asterix books”?
Part of me is critic and part of me is raging Asterix fanboy. This list combines those two halves. It’s the best I can do. Your list will likely be different. We will disagree, and that’s OK. This is a good place to start the discussion, though. I can only promise to be transparent and give you my reasons for these choices.
The list is also in no particular order. This is a hard enough job as it is. In all likelihood, an ordered top ten list would show very little difference between any two books. If any stand out, in particular, along the way, I will point them out.
Let’s get to it.
Asterix and Economics
I appreciate these two books, in particular, for their thinly-veiled lessons in economics and human behavior.
Also, their titles don’t fit the usual “Asterix and” formula.
With “Mansions of the Gods,” Caesar hits upon a new way to force Asterix’s people out of their Village: He’ll build big apartment buildings right next door. Who’d want to live next to those? The Villagers, of course, nearly fall for it, despite Asterix’s begging and pleading not to.
It’s a story so good that they made a great animated movie out of it!
In “Obelix and Co.,” Obelix discovers a brilliant money-making scheme related to his menhir delivery business. It nearly destroys the village, of course, as he creates a new industry, drives the town into a single economic model, and then floods the market with sub-par crap.
It becomes an economic battle for the Village, as Caesar and Obelix throw new wrinkles into the business model to tilt the flow of money to their own businesses.
Goscinny’s script is super perceptive of human behavior and economic swings. Everything makes sense.
The best part of it all is that Asterix sees it coming, and opts to stand out of its way to let nature takes its course. This might be the only case ever where I’m OK with the star of the story taking no part in its resolution, on purpose.
It’s one of the most clever stories in the series, and was the first book I thought of for this list.
Asterix’s Tour of Europe/Africa/Asia/America
I have a feeling that this might be slightly controversial. And I admit my personal feelings get in the way of my critical ones here. But, like I said at the top, these are my favorite books, not necessarily the most darling of my critical faculties.
I wrote 4000 words about “Asterix in Belgium“ already. It’s not Goscinny’s best book. It’s, sadly, his last and comes with a certain weight because of it. But my personal connection to Belgium — having had grandparents come to America from there — no doubt lifts the book in my eyes. I can’t help it.
“Asterix and Cleopatra“ is where it felt like the series was hitting its stride. In my initial review of the book, I wrote, “The book is chock o block packed with gags, both verbal and visual. It’s like a Best Of book for all the previous jokes in the series, with a helpful scoop of brand new, Egypt-themed gags. It’s arguably the best book in the series so far.”
And that’s why it makes the list. All the elements are established in previous books, and now they’re running with it. The character designs are still morphing about a little bit, but they’re pretty close to finalized.
And, from a historical perspective, you get Cleopatra and Caesar in a story together. That’s pretty cool.
Honorable mention in this category goes to “Asterix the Goths,” mostly for the border skirmish scenes.
A Village Invader
These two books follow very similar paths: someone comes into the Village from the outside and disrupts everything. The Villagers’ natural human emotions get the better of them.
This is Goscinny firing on all cylinders as an observer of humanity and its foibles, but the books also work as strong character-based stories. Those jealousies and disagreements come out of pre-existing characteristics.
I might give “Soothsayer” a slight leg up if you asked me to choose between the two. The clash of characters feels a little more natural in it, and there’s a larger commentary on how easily people can be misled by empty promises of charlatans. It’s a lesson we continuously need to be taught, sadly.
For a close third place runner-up in this category, check out “Asterix and Caesar’s Gift,” where Caesar gives The Village as a gift to a Roman citizen, who shows up and darn near takes over the place. The election is a predictably silly affair, and then the Romans attack.
Vaudeville at Its Finest
I love a good Marx Bros. movie. It captures a lost era now of the classic Vaudeville comedy acts, but those bits of humor continue to trickle down in entertainment to this day. Much of the classic Warner Bros. animated shorts are echoes of that era, and those continue to be the high point in American animation to this day.
I don’t know how direct the influence was on Goscinny and Uderzo, but they channeled that same energy often across the “Asterix” books. You can compare Asterix and Obelix to Laurel and Hardy at times, then Groucho and one of his brothers at others. It’s not an exact 1:1 relationship, but it’s close enough.
These two books have plenty of great moments and running gags that you could easily see in one of those old black and white early Hollywood movies inspired by travelling comedians on stages before then.
“Asterix the Legionary” is a particular favorite of mine. Asterix and Obelix’s turn in the Roman armed forces is a bravura performance, antagonizing the Romans at every turn and sowing chaos amongst the other troops.
There are so many brilliant bits of comedic showmanship in this book, just from putting the pair in such a ridiculous situation. The two dismantle the Romans so quickly, you almost start to feel badly for them. That goes for everyone from the cook to the tailor to the military leaders.
“Asterix and the Golden Sickle” is only the second book in the series, but there’s so much already in the book. It’s amazing how fully formed the series came out of Goscinny’s head at the start. Asterix and Obelix have their snappy banter down, and the off-handed beatings they game the Romans along their way are always hilarious, too.
And, of course, this is the book with the running gag of the drunkard from jail proclaiming Vercingetorix’s glory repeatedly.
Fits No Convenient Categories
“Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield” might be a controversial pick. I even said it in my review: the plot is not the strongest in this book. The Romans are after the Gauls, and the Gauls are after the Romans, and ne’er the twain shall meet yet all will be resolved. I include it in this list because, as you can see in the review, it’s heavy on the ancient Roman history. I had a field day explaining some of the historical references for this book in my review, so it holds a special place for mt.
“Asterix the Gladiator” might be best remembered for being the first book in which Obelix said, “These Romans are crazy”.
But I like it for more than that. It’s Asterix versus Caesar, with Cacofonix, of all people, at the center of everything. This is the book where I had to rethink Cacofonix’s character. You can’t hate him — he’s a victim of early bullying.
Again, though, Asterix is able to think his way out of trouble and impress Caesar to the point of winning the day.
Those Are My Top Ten Asterix Books
Ask me again in a month and I might tweak a choice or two, but I’m generally very happy with this list. I’ve thought about doing this write-up for months, and most of the books above were no-brainers for me. They didn’t budge from the list at all.
I know you’ll have other books you feel like I left off eggregiously. You may even be right. I still can’t shake the feeling like I’m forgetting an obvious one. And one or two choices I think a lot of people would have been happier with had little faults that removed them from the list for me.
That’s half the fun of these kinds of lists, though. They just instigate
trouble controversy internet feuds participation discussion.
The comments are below. What’s your favorite book that didn’t make my list here?