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Asterix and Son is the twenty-seventh book in the famous series created by Goscinny and Uderzo and was first published in 1983. This is another of the books written and illustrated by Uderzo alone after the death of Goscinny and sadly one of the weakest volumes in the series. The story begins with Asterix waking up one morning in the Gaulish village that continues to defy Roman rule to find a baby boy has been left on his doorstep. Along with Obelix, he consults Chief Vitalstatistix who says they must find out where the child came from and why he was left in the village. Getafix the wise druid suggests that as the child has taken a shine to Asterix and Obelix they should both care for him while they clear the matter up. This arrangement proves to be more difficult than it appears as Asterix and Obelix are both bachelors with no experience whatsoever of looking after children or babies. Obelix still believes that storks deliver babies that people have ordered and suggests the stork must have delivered it to the wrong house!
To complicate matters further, the baby accidently drinks some magic potion and is given super strength, a development that creates much comic carnage in the village and for the Romans. In the course of their investigations, Asterix and Obelix soon discover that the Romans are very interested indeed in the baby, though for what reason they don't know yet. Only that morning, Crismus Cactus, Prefect of Gaul, visited the Gaul village with soldiers and attempted to take a census (before being predictably bashed and sent on his way by Asterix and Obelix). Does this all have something to do with the treacherous Brutus and his scheming against Julius Caesar?
There is a general consensus that the Asterix books produced by Uderzo alone after the death of Goscinny are not as good as the ones they produced together and Asterix and Son was probably the first obvious sign of decline. While Uderzo's first two stabs at doing Asterix alone were not bad (Asterix and the Great Divide) and excellent (Asterix and the Black Gold), Asterix and Son is a bit of a clunker and is fairly tiresome for much its duration. The comic elements here are too broad at times and book hits a low when Prefect Cactus dresses up in drag and disguises himself as a nursemaid to get into the Gaul village and try and swipe the baby. These panels soon grow repetitive and aren't terribly funny. Again and again the story resorts to the super strength baby whacking someone for comic purposes and I soon grew tired of the baby minding capers in the village. I'm amazed actually that, looking around a few Asterix sites, the book seems to be quite well regarded.
It's a shame Uderzo couldn't have produced a better and more consistent story here because there is an occasional darkness in Asterix and Son that only really features in a few other Asterix books. The fate of a baby is at stake, which is about as dark as you can get, and the revelations near the end of the book are excellent with the appearance again of two major figures from the Asterix universe. The final pages of Asterix and Son are very dark, dramatic and bold, surprising even. If the rest of the story had been like this we would be looking at a classic Asterix volume but much of what comes before is uninspired and forgettable. The really good stuff here definitely comes at the end with some very atmospheric night panels and the Romans, under the command of the nasty and cunning Brutus, more ruthless and dangerous than they've ever been to the extent that, just for once, we fear the Gauls are in big trouble.
Too often though, Asterix and Son descends into farce with Romans in drag and the super powered baby shenanigans. There are only a handful of jokes of situations that manage to rise above this and maintain interest. I liked it when Chief Vitalstatistix's wife Impedimenta snorted at the idea that Asterix had simply found the baby on his step and has nothing to do with it. 'When a baby is pointedly left outside a bachelor's hut, people are bound to think things! One might even think Mister Asterix would have no trouble in finding that baby's mother!' There is a nice joke too, worthy of inclusion even in classic Asterix volumes, where Brutus arrives at a fortified Roman fort which we see from above with all the red and yellow tents inside in perfect formation. One solitary tent though has been pitched outside the fort with a few wooden fortifications around it. 'I can't stand the way the others snore in bed!' the legionary explains to Brutus.
Asterix and Son is a strange entry in the series. At times it is absolutely terrible and then suddenly displays the type of darkness of volumes like Asterix in Switzerland. The last section of the book displays flashes of past glories with developments that Goscinny might not even have gone as far as. There is one (faintly) controversial change in this book that is out of step with the series and also makes the book seem slightly strange. It concerns the final panel. Every Asterix fan knows exactly what the final panel of each Asterix book will be. It's a classic tradition. Here, Uderzo departs slightly from this tradition and although it fits in with the story it does seem a bit weird nonetheless to go out on this note. On the plus side, there is a brief appearance by the Barbe Rouge inspired pirates near the end of the book though. It's never quite a proper Asterix book if the pirates don't show up at least once.
Despite its bold third act, Asterix and Son is a weak entry in the series and a book that becomes slightly tiresome and repetitive at times. It's not a total loss but does provide clear evidence that the golden age of Asterix was over.