Some time ago I announced that I would force every Asterix comic to fight against each other in a bid to find out which is the best book. That made sense in the summer when I had very little else to do in my life, but I quickly got too busy to actually follow through with it.
Also, I realised that by writing in such depth (full reviews of every book and hand-scanned, web-optimised images), I was creating a rod for my own back. Why? Well, if I wrote a full review of every book in round 1, what would I write in round 2? The whole concept was ill-conceived and stupid and I soon regretted it.
BUT I am determined to finish it. So I'm going to cheat. I found a great guy called Alexander Matthews - he's a writer and artist who has written for Private Eye, the Beano and more. He has a blog post where he rates all the Asterix books up to Picts. So - without asking his permission - I'm using that as the basis to decide the winners of the rest of the matchups in round 1. Don't tase me, bro!
Asterix and the Banquet vs Asterix All at Sea
Alexander's ranking (out of 10): 7 vs 5
The main problem with Banquet is the inconsistency of the plot. Why do the Gauls run away from Romans one minute then smash them effortlessly the next? It's just to further the story, which Alexander calls 'flimsy'. And I heartily agree. But as he notes, there are lots of funny bits and we can forgive a few plot holes if the book is entertaining.
All at Sea has a similarly weak plot but with no redeeming features. Alexander uses the word 'desperate' to describe the plot.
Winner - Banquet
Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield vs Asterix in Belgium
Alexander's ranking (out of 10): 9 vs 6
Another clear winner. Alexander offers high praise for the structure of Chieftain's Shield, but takes away a point for some racist drawings. Belgium, the last of Goscinny's books, is called 'self-indulgent' and relies too heavily on references to Thomson and Thompson and similar 'gags'.
Winner: Chieftain's Shield
Asterix and the Olympic Games vs Obelix and Co.
Alexander's ranking (out of 10): 8 vs 9
Olympic Games scores well because Alexander likes the judicious use of magic potion in the story. He has a particular bugbear about magic potion solving all problems (where it should be Asterix's wit), and I know that's a thing that bothers many people. One weakness of Games is the relative lack of ... well, Games. The Olympics themselves are shoved to the very end - a missed opportunity.
Obelix and Co. was one of my favourites when I was a boy, so I was happy to see Alexander rated it highly. Perhaps he docks a point because it's somewhat similar to Roman Agent and Mansions of the Gods.
Winner: Obelix and Co.
Asterix and the Cauldron vs Asterix and the Great Crossing
Alexander's ranking (out of 10): 7 vs 8
Cauldron has a 'darker tone' but is well-plotted. In some ways it's a better all-round story, but not as funny as earlier episodes.
Great Crossing is the second comic in a row where the adventure starts accidentally. Alexander likes the fresh take on the series - there are no Romans and the art has never been better.
Winner: Great Crossing
Asterix in Switzerland vs Asterix and the Soothsayer
Alexander's ranking (out of 10): 7 vs 7
Well, that's annoying. Now I have to think for myself. First let's see what Alexander thinks about each volume.
Switzerland, he says, is one of many where the plot only works because the characters forget they are carrying magic potion that makes them invincible. Soothsayer isn't really anything new, but has no major weakness.
I'm going to give this one to Switzerland, because having lived there for many years I see all too well how on-the-money the jokes are. The cheese fondue scene is one of the most vivid in the entire series.
Winner: Asterix in Switzerland
Mansions of the Gods vs Asterix and the Laurel Wreath
Alexander's ranking (out of 10): 9 vs 6
Though slightly shorter than normal because of what Alexander thinks of as an unnecessary double page spread (which I liked as a kid) - Alexander praises the tone of the book, describing it as 'classic Asterix.' High praise.
Laurel Wreath employs a non-linear structure that is probably a cover for a dull story. And, as so often, the magic potion is not used simply because the plot needs the characters to magically forget it exists.
Winner: Mansions of the Gods
Boom! It's over!
Round 1 is complete, and the following 16 books have survived. How will I whittle them down into a final 4? I have no frikkin idea! Ask me next year.
- Asterix the Gaul
- Asterix and the Golden Sickle
- Asterix the Gladiator
- Asterix and the Banquet
- Asterix and Cleopatra
- Asterix and the Big Fight
- Asterix and the Black Gold
- Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield
- Obelix and Co.
- Asterix and the Great Crossing
- Asterix in Switzerland
- Mansions of the Gods
- Asterix and the Roman Agent
- Asterix in Britain
- Asterix the Legionary
- Asterix in Spain