Asterix Review: Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield

Obelix throwing a centurion aroundTime for a new Asterix review. We’re up to Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield. The story starts out with a narration of the defeat of Vercingetorix, the mighty chieftain who united Gaul but ultimately succumbed to the Roman forces. In the comic’s next scene, the chieftain’s shield is shown lying forgotten at the place where Vercingetorix dropped his arms in front of Caesar. A legionary absconded with the icon, loses it to a legionary in a game of chance, who in turn loses it to centurion, who in turn trades it for some Gaulish wine in a pub. This is the prelude.

Vercingetorix is an actual historical figure. He was a member of the Arverni tribe which occupied the southeastern portion of Gaul. The Arverni tribe was powerful and was able to successfully repulse the Romans on several occasions. There was significant drama in the community as part of the nobility of the tribe preferred to avoid conflict with the Romans and subject themselves to Caesar, and those that opposed the territory grab from Rome.

Vercingetorix by Lionel Royer

Vercingetorix Throws Down his Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar (1899) by Lionel Royer.

Vercingetorix in Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield

Here’s Uderzo’s version. High art, suck it.

Vercingetorix’s father was king of the region and ruled from the ancient fortified city of Gergovia (you’ll see that location pop up on various occasions in the Asterix books). Celtillus, the father, was put to death for his ambitions to take over all of the Gaulish tribes. The Avernian nobles apparently feared that the king’s motives would create a greater risk of motivating the Romans to attack. Vercingetorix assumed the leadership role, but was expelled from Gergovia. He did next what his father was unable to do by rallying the other tribes to take on Caesar. They attacked Gergovia and defeated the Romans in 52 BC, successfully warding off a Roman siege. However, the victory was short lived. That same year, Caesar engaged Vercingetorix in Alesia, an ancient Gaulic city that no longer exists and is actually lost to history because experts are not able to agree on its precise location. There have been recent discoveries that lead many to believe they’ve found the ancient battlefield because of buried fortifications that look like those Caesar described. Here’s an image at the supposed location. Apparently, Asterix is now a time traveller.

Asterix at Statue of Vercingetorix in Alesia

The defeat of the Gauls at Alesia was historically significant on a broad scale. It positioned Caesar to consolidate his power in Rome, created a wealth of resources for the Roman empire, and eventually created what became in essence modern day France.

There is a recurring joke in the Asterix books that even in ancient time, the Gauls have no idea where Alesia is. This Gaulish pride plays into the antics of the hold-outs in our favorite little Armorican village.

Alesia, ancient Gaulish City

Asterix and Alesia

Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield Review

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Gérard Depardieu renounces wine: “I’m strictly a vodka drinker now.”

Vladimir Putin signed an Executive Order a couple of weeks ago to make Gérard Depardieu a citizen of the Russian Federation. The French breathed a sigh of collective relief, until they realized Gérard intended to keep dual citizenship.

At a public gathering to show support for the actor with the ever-increasing girth and Karl Malden nose,  Vlady stopped short of pronouncing Depardieu the greatest actor in history and instead settled for “Well, he’s very popular in Russian cinema. As you know, our national symbol is a bear so it makes sense to embrace this large, oafish, hairy man as one of our own.”

Anyway, immediately after the event, Depardieu signed a 3-film deal to star as Oleg in Asteriskin the Vyborgian.

The year is 1700 A.D. Vyborg is entirely occuped by the Swedes. Well, not entirely … one small village of indomitable Vyborgians still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Swedish soldiers who garrison the fortified camps of Nyenskans, Nyslott, and Köttbullar…

Gérard Depardieu and Vladimir Putin

The Russian version of the Great Northern War is a bit suspect, but the Asteriskin series is popular nonetheless.

Asterix the Legionary Review

Asterix the LegionaryTime for a new Asterix review. Today we take a look at Asterix the Legionary. In this installment, our heroes sign up for service in the Roman army in an attempt to save a beautiful Gaulish girl’s fiancé. Panacea, the daughter of one of the villagers, has returned from Condatum (ancient Rennes) to visit her family. Obelix develops a heady crush on her but when he learns that she is betrothed because she in turn learns that her beau has been conscripted to the Roman legion, Obelix is crushed.  Nonetheless, in spite of his disappointment, Obelix swears to return her man safely and soundly. This act of gallantry may seem odd given that she has given herself to another man, but there is precedence for this sort of behavior.


Don Quixote (or as our British friends call him: Don Quick Oats) was a lady-less knight-errant.

In the Middle Ages, a common knightly practice was the execution of a quest on behalf of or in the name of a lady. If the lady was married or betrothed, the act of sullying forth to commit some heroic action would have been an accepted event given that the knights-errant, as they were called, were acting on a conceptual rather than actual play of love. Still, we imagine that the gallant fealty would cause at the least discomfort for the lady’s husband. We have to wonder how many knights ended up in some ditch with his acorns missing.

Speaking of weird medieval customs, here’s a silly one. The unusual ritual of bundling was a practice which allowed a man to bed his betrothed woman by lying next to her but being separated by a barrier of sorts such as a rolled blanket or wooden board.  The idea was that this would afford some pre-marital intimacy minus the verboten sex act. Seems like a horrible way of creating unnecessary sexual frustration. Unless there were nuns in the room, we suspect that a lot of bundling ended up in bumping.

Superman and Batman

Medieval Devices Which leads to another bizarre practice from the Dark Ages. If leaving his home for a period of time, a husband might make his lady wear a chastity belt. Chastity belts are inhumane devices created to keep wives from wandering into lustful territory while their husbands were away killing Moors and getting syphilis from their own untoward escapades. The devices were cruel objects made of iron that fit around the woman’s pelvis and could only be removed by unlocking them (or disassembling them if one was resourceful). These belts were most likely extremely uncomfortable and undoubtedly unhygienic since a woman had no easy way to evacuate her bladder or colon. Some of the more sinister versions had inward pointing prongs that ensured anything entering the hole that was directed towards the woman’s nether regions would be impossible to extract without damaging the member. Ew. And ouch.

So what does this have to do with Asterix the Legionary? Nothing.

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Asterix the Legionary Review

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Asterix Review: Asterix and the Normans

Asterix Comic BooksThe ninth installment of Asterix comic book series, Asterix and the Normans, brings an outsider to the village for a change. Others have visited briefly, but in this tome, Justforkix (the nephew of Vitalstatistix) has come to stay with the tribe for a while.

Originally conceived by Goscinny and Uderzo as a story about a band of Normans (Norman Mailer, Norman Schwarzkopf , and Norman Gentle) waging underground warfare against the might of Rome. The idea was that the “Three Normans” would operate with subterfuge against Caesar’s plan to build new and terrible instruments of war. The weapons were decried by even the highest echelons of Roman society as barbaric because of the magnitude of their ruinous properties and the  capability they had to inflict indiscriminate and massive destruction on civilian populations. Captured during a particularly valiant  but doomed attempt to prove to the Senate that Caesar had developed a horrific strain of bubonic plague, the Normans were sentenced to die in the Circus Maximus. In a mocking gesture, Caesar allowed the trio to perform before the masses for their lives. A new type of Colosseum game pitted circus prisoners against each other in a performance competition. The elimination format allowed the mob to rate a performance; if it was superlative, they competitor would advance in progressively diminishing rounds. The ultimate winner of the competition would be set free. The remaining performers were sentenced to die. Unfortunately, in spite of the jaunty little number the boys led off with, the crowd savaged The Normans’ performance and they did not advance to the next round.  Shamed by their humiliating loss, the three resigned themselves to their fate and demanded to be sacrificed to the lions.


Minnesota Vikings QuarterbackThe fiction couldn’t write itself any better, but in the end Goscinny and Uderzo felt that the story was too dark and didn’t focus enough on Asterix’s and Obelix’s attempts to rescue the Normans. Instead, the story was completely re-written with a humorous stab at Vikings. Incidentally, in 1966 (the year this album was published), Fran Tarkenton played the last season of his first stint with the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota Vikings footballThe star quarterback spent the next several years helping the New York Giants improve their competitive position until being traded back to Minnesota in 1972. Hitting his stride in the 1970’s, Tarkenton had successful seasons with the Vikings, leading them to three Super Bowls. Sadly, the Vikings lost all three. Combined with one other Super Bowl appearance (in 1969 without Tarkenton), the Vikings have never won a Super Bowl.

Anyway, back to the Normans of the Asterix story. They are actually an anachronism given that Normans were descendents of the Nordic and Gallo-Roman people that rose to prominence about 1000 years after the stories of the village take place. But no matter. In the Asterix stories, history serves to promote the fictional timelines not the reverse. And there you go.

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Asterix and the Normans Review

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New Asterix Review: Asterix in Britain

Asterix in Britain

The infamous Tower of Londinium!

Next up in the series is the eighth album, Asterix in Britain. In this adventure, the Gauls head north to help distant cousins in their own fight against the invading Romans. We rather like this story, old fruit. Goscinny and Uderzo have a bunch of fun with the traditional stereotypes of the motherland.

The Roman occupation of Britain lasted approximately 400 years. As with elsewhere the occupation had its pluses and minuses. Obviously, the invasion of another nation means bloodshed and repression, but the Romans brought technology and new social ideas, and unified the country’s disparate tribes.

Genetically and culturally related to the northern tribes of Gaul, the Britons aided their cousins in resisting the Roman invaders. Later, Caesar crossed the channel to challenge the island’s affront. It’s this  period of Roman encroachment that Goscinny and Uderzo capture in their album.

One quick history note as a nod to the red-headed scrappers to the north of Britannia: the ancestors of the Scots (the Caledonians) did a better job of resisting the Romans than did their southern counterparts. This may have been because the Romans had already stretched themselves thin and didn’t see tremendous value in taking over the north. The tribes were terribly difficult to control and antagonized the Romans to no end. What history has discovered is that the Caledonians actually had their own magic potion of sorts. Buoyed up by a recipe of horrific ingredients that only the ancient Scots could digest, haggis turned the typically grumpy tribesmen into angry and violent warriors. Haggis, for the novices, is a combination of onion, oatmeal, animal fat, salt and spices, sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs all stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and cooked up for saliva-slurping yumminess. It’s good mood food (bleh) but is one of the primary reason the Caledonians only had a life-expectancy of 35 years at the time (the other major reason being that when a Scotsman got sick, he was reticent about spending any money on medical care, thus leading to more serious illness and usually death; how’s that for our own stereotyping?).

Asterix comic books

Rugby: a hooligan's game played by gentlemen (in a pig's eye). Get thee to the Asterix in Britain review!

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