Asterix World Cup: Quarter Final 4

About 3 years ago I decided I would make all the Asterix books go through a bracket knock-out to decide which is the all-time best one. It's fair to say I didn't expect it to take this long and my attempts at speeding it up had the opposite effect. I have 10 other things I should do today, but it’s cold out and I’m going to stay in bed and read 4 comic books like the manchild I am.

On the positive side, what with it being a year since I last read any Asterix comics, I will be seeing the competitors with fresh eyes.

(Puzzled by all this? Here's the introductory post.)

The line-up:

  • Obelix and Co.

  • Asterix and the Great Crossing

  • Asterix in Switzerland

  • Asterix and the Mansions of the Gods

I’m going to read Great Crossing first and get it out of the way. I have bad memories of it. Something about landing in America on the back of a whale?

The other 3 are strong, though.


Asterix and the Great Crossing

Interesting start - an almost all-white first page with just some text. Page 2 is about strikes and protests in Paris, and as I write this the Yellow Vest (Gilets Jaunes) movement has France in chaos. Like in the comic, the protests were started by drivers protesting the cost of fuel (ox cart drivers/price of hay).

Things get going pretty quickly and there are some top gags. (Did you say smelt?) Page 10 has some great ocean scenes - now that I’m older I recognise the bottom left one as an homage to the Great Wave.

Then there’s an almost totally BLACK page, with just some text. It’s cool!

I laughed when the pirates turned up. Then it’s hearty adventure fare - A+O wash up in the New World, and we have a rare scene of Obelix thinking.

The next wedge of the book is A+O living and hunting with some Red Indians. It’s fine, but there’s no conflict or something to drive the story forward. They just exist there for a while. And then they come home.

Hey, surprisingly good first half and no talking whales or anything. I must have mixed it up with some other book.


Asterix in Switzerland

I’m pretty familiar with this comic - I lived in Zurich for 10 years and wrote an article for Newly Swissed about it. It’s the book that taught me most of what I knew about the place - fondue, banking, mountains, cheese with holes, cleanliness.

The book gets off to a strong start - the early pages are densely packed with jokes - and then the plot fairly races along. When we hit Switzerland we get the famous fondue orgy, and a quite subtle running gag that I never noticed until recently - Obelix never sees the mountains because he travels through fields, at night, or while unconscious.

There are a couple of jokes that I never really laughed at until this latest read-through. (Who do the gods think they are with their holier-than-thou attitude? and Do you know what time it is? while looking at a sundial. At night.)

They do all the ‘nationality cliche’ jokes perfectly. Jabs at neutrality, all the international organisations based in Geneva, the lake, the love of paperwork, William Tell, the Red Cross.

All in all, a good romp and one of the better ‘Asterix in’ books.

Augie De Blieck Jr. over at Pipeline comics, amongst others, finds the orgy scenes dark and disgusting:

it starts the book off on a sour note.

He also points out that the first scene in the village has nothing to do with the rest of the story. Good point!


Asterix and the Mansions of the Gods

This one is pretty drab. The Romans try to beat the Gauls via town planning? Urban sprawl? Basically they cut down the nearby forest and build some houses, which for a while causes chaos and discord in the village.

It’s an okay story but there’s something missing. I think the problem is the ‘villain’ - Squareonthehypotenus. He’s an architect with modern ideas. He gets beaten up but always gets back to his feet again. Apart from that, there’s nothing to his character. He isn’t strong, or cunning, and I couldn’t tell you what his motivation is, except ‘architect’.

All in all I feel this is capitalism vs the village, but that’s a story done better in a different book. Which brings us to:


Obelix and Co.

This was one of my go-to comics when I went to Withington Library. It’s very much like Roman Agent - Caesar appoints a brilliant man (Caius Preposterus) to go and stir up trouble in the village. This time the weapon is economics.

As a kid I marveled at the plan - flood the village with money and destabilise it via the flow of capital. Is this how things really work? I used to wonder. How are prices set?

Obelix plays along, enjoying his moment in the spotlight. But then the moment of genius comes at the end of page 29. This is what separates the good Asterix books from the bad - our hero solves the problem with cunning and cleverness and not the contents of a gourd.

make menhirs.JPG

That’s Asterix bringing some competition to the market - knowing full well how it will all turn out. Soon half the village is making menhirs and half is out hunting boar to sell to the menhirrers.

All the while, the Romans are buying menhirs and inflating the price every time. Rome is flooded with the things, so Preposterus explains to Caesar how to use marketing to create demand for the useless things. It was my first exposure to marketing doublespeak, and it’s as fresh today as ever.

marketing nonsense.JPG

It loses steam a bit when the focus switches to Rome and the menhir-driven financial crisis. It’s good and everything but I’d prefer to get an overview of that and spend more time watching the village implode under the weight of its new wealth.


Conclusion

When I sat down to read this bunch, I did expect Obelix and Co. to breeze into the next round. Now I’m not so sure. Switzerland is a worthy contender and everyone else seems to love Mansions.

I didn’t want to just hand the W to Obelix and Co. based on my fond childhood memories, so I dipped into Alexander Matthews's ratings for every Asterix book.

He gives Switzerland 7/10, which I feel is a bit low. His main quibble is:

The book settles down into a good chase romp and is very enjoyable, but once again the magic potion must be all but forgotten for long passages to facilitate the chase.

He gives Obelix 9/10, calling it ‘brilliant’.

It’s a satire on capitalism centred around creating a market for the totally useless menhir.

I also read the reviews on Pipeline comics - those articles are about 20 times better than these. (Though he’s a professional comics guy and I literally don’t have time to do this half-arsed job.) He loves Obelix and so do people in the comments section.

All that said, the real test is: which one do I want to read again in a few weeks/months?

Switzerland is a charming but simple romp, while Obelix is a flawed masterpiece that legitimately might have been the catalyst for my lifelong interest in business and economics.

Into the semi final goes Obelix and Co.!