[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. The story begins with a Roman prefect making a stop-over at Camp Compendium, one of the four camps surrounding the village of indomitable Gauls. He is en route to Rome and as custom would have it, intends to take a gift back to Caesar. The prefect thinks acquiring one the villagers to present his present presently would proffer the necessary sycophancy to stay in the good graces of the Divi filius. The camp’s centurion isn’t keen on the idea but follows orders nonetheless and sends a sortie out to find an unlucky gift-to-be. Cacofonix has gone to the forest to relax, meditate, and destroy the serenity of all living things. It is he whom the legionaries encounter and accost.
Shortly after his apprehension, a village boy runs back to tell the rest that he has seen the bard carried off. While Cacafonix is nobody’s favorite villager, he is one of their own and his kidnapping will not stand. After attacking the Roman camp, Asterix discovers the meaning behind Cacofonix’s illegal transport to Rome. Intent on bringing him home, the boys set off for the beacon of civilization at the center of the universe. Upon arrival at the great city, Asterix and Obelix discover that getting to their tone-deaf bard will be much more difficult than they had hoped. They are told that Cacofonix is to be thrown to the lions at the Circus Maximus in just a few days time (apparently Caesar didn’t care for his gift). Asterix devises a plan to have himself and Obelix become gladiators, thus putting them in a better position to get close to Cacofonix before he is consumed. After voluntary recruitment, the boys show their disdain for the traditional gladiatorial regimen and go about making their famously innocent but pesky difficulty for the trainer. Nonetheless, they comply insofar as making it possible to rescue their bard. Eventually, they make it to the house of games and give the biggest entertainment venue in the ancient world an event that they have never seen before. All ends well and the boys take home their bard, of course.
Funny Names. Prefect Odius Asparagus. Centurion Gracchus Armisurplus. Phoenician trader Ekonomikrisis.
Details of Particular Interest. This is the first time Asterix and Obelix travel to Rome. It’s also the first appearance of the Pirates. Obelix utters the phrase “These Romans are crazy” and plays his legionary helmet gathering game for the first time.
This is also the first time that our heroes embark on a sea journey. And it is the first time we see Geriatrix (although he’s not named – he’s the fellow that Obelix asks to deliver his menhirs while he’s away). The artwork is getting more robust and since it’s the first time the boys are in Rome, we start seeing some significant pieces of Roman architecture and culture. This is one of the reasons we love Asterix books. Clearly, the details are well-researched and Uderzo does an excellent job of capturing realistic historical elements and merging them into comic book form. This is the first book we think deserves top stars.