[Very important note: all of the reviews will be based on the English language publications researched and painstakingly translated by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge.]
Synopsis. We are introduced to Asterix and the cast of characters. Obelix, Getafix, Vitalstatistix, and Cacafonix. We learn that…
“The year is 50 BC, and all Gaul is occupied. Well, not entirely…One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium…”
In this story, Asterix and Getafix are the main protagonists. It begins by giving us a little lesson in history in which we learn that the Gauls were conquered by Julius Caesar and divided up into the main provinces. But up on the Armorican coast, a small village of obstinate Gauls, with the help of their druid, Getafix, and his magic potion, create havoc for the Romans who have set up camp around the village to contain them. For the most part, the indomitable Gauls are content to catch and eat wild boars, fight each other, and engage in the typical gossipy affairs of a small bit of nowhere. However, the Romans have better ideas. To discover the secret of the magic potion, a hapless Roman legionary is tagged to dress up as a Gaul and spy on the villagers. Through a course of events, Getafix is captured and Asterix takes action to rescue him.
Funny Names. Centurian Crismus Bonus, Legionary Caligula Minus (Caligulaminix).
Details of Particular Interest. The comic book was first serialized starting in 1959 in Pilote, a french comic. It was compiled for publication from those strips. The wonderful wordplay that Goscinny was so good at (and the English translators were painstakingly able to convey) appears prominently. The coloring is horrible. Thank goodness the creators were able to get some help with future publications.
The story is relatively simple. It’s Goscinny’s and Uderzo’s first go, so they had no significant character backstory to work with yet. Obelix has a relatively minor role and is depicted as more oafish and dim-witted than in future stories. Fulliautomatix the ironsmith is first introduced in the book but looks nothing like his future self. Cacafonix is actually at the table in one of his rare appearances at the end-of-story banquet.
It’s no wonder the comic book was a success. The characters, though only partially developed, are clearly defined in their roles. The premise, of course, is outlandishly francophone in such a tongue-and-check manner and often self-depreciating manner that even Americans won’t be uncomfortable with it. The Romans get the worst of it as they will throughout the series and are perfect foils for the Gauls. By no means our favorite Asterix, it is a perfect beginning for one of the best comic book series to enjoy international success.