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By, er, Toutatis. The year is 50 B.C. and Gaul is now entirely occupied by Romans as part of their mighty and very extraordinary Empire. Well, not quite entirely. One small village of indomitable and eccentric Gauls still holds out against the bemused invaders and life is certainly never easy or dull for the unfortunate Roman legionaries who garrison the surrounding fortified military camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium. Asterix and Obelix All at Sea was published in 1996 and is the thirtieth book in the classic French comic book series by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. This is one of the later books illustrated and written by Uderzo alone after the death of Goscinny and while the later books are often hit or miss affairs Asterix and Obelix All at Sea is not bad at all. It's a reasonably inventive and generally enjoyable later adventure that begins with a group of rebel slaves - headed by Kirk Douglas lookalike "Spartakis" - from numerous different countries and continents staging a mutiny and stealing Julius Caesar's personal galley on the high seas. "If word gets out that a bunch of slaves stole my own personal galley I'll be the laughing stock of the entire ancient word!" he tells Cleopatra in Rome as they munch grapes surrounded by opulent splendour. Uderzo's Roman interiors are always amazing right down to the last crack in a pillar. Anyway, Caesar is absolutely furious of course and wants his ship back pronto - a task that falls to the oleaginous Admiral Crustacius. Crustacius had better not fail in his task either or he'll end up as lunch for the Lions at Circus Maximus.
The liberated slaves argue where to take their plundered galley until one of the British slaves recalls that his uncle once told him about an Amorican village where indomitable Gauls lived in no fear of the Romans as they had a magic potion brewed by their druid that made them invincible. So they head for the one place they know will be safe from the Romans - the village of Asterix and his friends. After the Romans arrive and attempt to take back the galley and slaves by force they are handed a predictably one sided and comically violent magic potion enhanced bashing by Asterix and company. The Gauls then head back to the village where the druid Getafix is mortified to discover that Obelix has secretly drunk the second cauldron of magic potion he whipped up for the battle (just in case they needed more). Obelix of course fell into the magic potion when he was a baby and so is banned from ever taking any by Getafix in case of strange consequences. The potion has turned Obelix into stone granite (like a statue) and Getafix must try all manner of means to restore him to normal and dig into his resovoir of druid tricks. When Obelix is made human there is one small problem. He's now about six years old. Our hero is not so happy being a little boy though because he can't eat many boars and the Romans merely laugh at him now rather than fear him. When he is kidnapped in the forest by the Romans, Asterix and his new friends must go and save him. Moreover, they must find a way to make him the adult Obelix again. This will require great magic and power beyond even the knowledge of the venerable Getafix. Getafix belives there is only one solution to this problem. A trip to Atlantis! But first they have to save Obelix from the Romans.
Asterix and Obelix All at Sea begins and ends with droll Roman humour and the subplot of the stone/child Obelix is clever and amusing. It's different at least (although there are distinct traces of How Obelix Fell into the Magic Potion As a Baby) and we therefore savour the inevitable Obelix Roman bashing even more when it finally arrives. I really love the village panels here as usual and the pesky Obelix potion guzzling problem is an excellent McGuffin. Attempts are made to get through to the granite frozen Obelix with various means of stimuli. Will wafting some roast boar under his nose do the trick and wake him up? How about a kiss from the beautiful Panacea? Great series of panels that features the village at night under the glow of the Moon. Only two huts still have lights on in the darkness. That of Getafix - where in his cosy firelit hut he examines potions and ponders the Obelix problem, deep in druidical (that's probably not a word but it should be!) thought and contemplation, desperately trying to find a solution as shadows loom on the stone walls. I love the panels where the white bearded Getafix is alone in his hut lost in thought. Then we cut to Asterix sitting by the bedside of the stone granite Obelix, unable to leave his friend even for a minute.
As ever, Uderzo is also superb at depicting the high sea capers. The Roman galley is illustrated in wonderful fashion with great attention to detail and the backdrops are wonderful without being too busy. Big blue skies and puffy clouds. As usual there are plenty of in-jokes too based around popular culture and the Roman world ("Nunc est Bibendum, nunc pede liberi pulsanda tellus!" and look for a references to Disney's Fantasia, Neville Chamberlain, Liberty boats from World War 2, Sherlock Holmes and of course Kirk Douglas - who the book is partly dedicated to. Uderzo's art is fantastic at times with these little jokes and diversions. One of my favourite jokes occurs near the start when Caesar vents his wrath at the loss of his prize ship and declares he'll be a laughing stock. Cleopatra comments that he already is a laughing stock because of the tiny Gaul village that defies his rule. Caesar replies that he was very selective when he chose what to put in his famous book about his Gallic wars! Cleopatra is drawn slightly differently here than from Asterix and Cleopatra. Her nose is smaller! The Atlantis panels are fun too and very far out. I like the fact that this one has an epic feel and never jumps the shark when it tries to do something new (as some later Asterix books do, simply becoming too silly in the end even for the world of Asterix). I think fans of the series will enjoy Asterix and Obelix All at Sea a lot and regard it to be one of the more enjoyable and solid solo efforts by Uderzo.