* Prices may differ from that shown
Asterix and the Actress is the 31st book in the famous French comic series and was published in 2001. This is not so much phénomène Astérix as I'm almost out of new ideas Astérix and not one of the finest hours in the much loved collection. The Asterix series was a perfect unison between the talented and amusing artist Uderzo and the equally talented and amusing writer Goscinny. They met in 1951 and emerged together at a time when the French comic industry was starting to become irritated by the cultural domination of America and expressed a desire for some patriotic swashbuckling homegrown heroes of their own to read and enjoy. So they created Asterix, a diminutive but cunning and brave Gaulish warrior lives in a little picturesque village by the sea that defies Roman rule because they have a magic potion brewed by their wise druid Getafix that gives them super strength and enables them to bash Roman soldiers by the hundreds in absurb violent comic fashion. Asterix was surrounded with memorable supporting characters too and this was a huge part of the appeal. From his portly boar munching menhir obsessed best friend Obelix to the long suffering Chief Vitalstatistix (who always insisted on being carried around on a shield and frequently got dropped). The books were funny and very clever and the art was often a delight. When Goscinny died though in the seventies after writing Asterix in Belgium, Uderzo decided to contine alone and write them himself. Sadly, while Uderzo's art was still great, he was no Goscinny when it came to conjuring up Asterix plots and jokes and apart from a few bright spots here and there the series went into a very steep decline to the point where some fans wish he had retired both himself and the characters they had come to know so well. Asterix and the Actress was the first volume in the series for several years and it was sort of presumed that Uderzo had retired at the time so this was a big deal when it came out. The end result isn't so great though. It's not the worst of the solo Uderzo Asterix books but it is terribly uninspired and seems to noticeably run out of steam and start to tread water (literally in this case) about half way in.
The story begins with Asterix and Obelix returning to their village after an afternoon spent hunting boars in the forest. The village is deserted though for some reason. All is soon revealed. They've been hiding ready to jump out and wish Asterix and Obelix a happy birthday. A big celebration is planned. Asterix and Obelix didn't seem to share a birthday in an earlier volume so continuity is clearly not a major obsession with Uderzo! It's a promising start anyway and the village panels are always enjoyable with those cosy little thatched huts framed by a blue sky, puffy clouds and the sea beyond. I would love to live in that village I think. The Gauls have a good set up there. This is a unique book in a way because we meet the parents of Asterix and Obelix. Their mothers have arrived in the village for the birthday festivities and are soon treating them like children. Combing their hair, fussing about and commenting on the untidy nature of thier huts. They are also determined - much to the annoyance of confirmed bachelor Asterix - to find them some wives too. This does lead to some amusing panels where the shy Obelix is forced to dance with a woman and his super strength (he fell into the magic potion as a baby of course) leaves his dancing partner very dizzy. Meanwhile, in Condatum, their fathers run a 'modernities' store and are about to get in some very big trouble without realising it. Drunken and permanently sozzled legionary veteran Tremensdelirius (from Asterix and Caesar's Gift) has pawned Prefect of Condatum Pompey's sword and helmet in the store and they were then passed onto Asterix and Obelix as birthday gifts and now reside in the Gaul village by the sea. Pompeius is planning a coup against Julius Caesar and wants these possesions back desperately. Why the sword and helmet are so crucial and important in relation to Pompeius and his feud with Caesar I couldn't actually tell you to be honest. It's merely a somewhat contrived plot device as far as I can see.
The fathers of Asterix and Obelix are thrown in prison by the Romans loyal to Pompeius and they then the scheming Romans have to work out a ruse to get the artifacts from the Gaul village. Not very easy. The village is surrounded by military camps loyal to Julius Caesar and the Gauls themselves are invincible. The solution? They decide to hire the famed Roman actress Latraviata to disguise herself, go to the village and pose as the beautiful blonde bombshell Panacea. Panacea is the Brigitte Bardot lookalike who featured in Asterix the Legionary. Obelix has a hopeless crush on Panacea and all the Gauls love her. Will Latraviata be successful in her deception in the village and manage to retrieve the possessions of Pompey? Asterix and the Actress starts off in relatively promising fashion but soon begins to become slightly tiresome and feel as if it is recycling jokes and situations from old books. It's weird how Uderzo seems to completely run out of things to do at some point and presents somewhat bizarre developments that seem like padding more than anything else. Latraviata as Panecea uses her beauty to her advantage and pits them against one another in her cunning scheme to get her mitts on the sword and helmet they each own. A jealous Obelix even biffs Asterix (I think this must be the first time we've ever seen Obelix give Asterix a clout). Anyway, Asterix goes a bit doolally and is given some potion by Getafix to speed his recovery. He then goes completely bonkers and starts jumping around like Superman, eventually swimming out to sea where he comes to a stop when he crashed against a solitary lonely rock in swirling seas. When he wakes up the effects of the potion are gone and he has no idea how he ended up there. He then hitches a ride with a dolphin!
I have no idea what Uderzo was thinking with this particular segment but it is one of the most pointless things I think I've ever encountered in an Asterix book. The only good thing about it is Asterix being spotted by the Barbe-Rouge inspired pirates on the rock. He's illuminated by a crackle of lightning in the dark and they think he's a ghost. It's a great panel. The introduction of the fathers of Asterix and Obelix seems contrived and they don't really feature an awful lot. It doesn't help that we've never seen these characters before in all the books - save for a brief cameo in one of those atypical Asterix compilations. They are drawn to look exactly like Asterix and Obelix only with grey hair. One thing that did bug me about the story here was the way that even the venerable druid Getafix is made to appear stupid. Latraviata pretends to be Panacea and suffering from amnesia but no one ever cottons on (I suppose she must be a good actress) and even Getafix's potions seem to be a bit on the wonk here. Latraviata is drawn to look like Angelina Jolie when she takes her blonde Panacea wig off. If nothing else the art is always clever and colourful. The use of Pompey in the plot has promise but Uderzo never really does anything with it and it merely ends up as a rather flimsy device to give Latraviata a reason to go to the village pretending to be Panacea. Panacea was a hugely popular character but the fact that she is wheeled out again (the real Panacea does of course turn up in the story) here does smack of a lack of inspiration. The jokes are not terribly good here either. Waiting for Godotrix and Latraviata being given the first ever César Award are the only ones that really stand out.
Asterix and the Actress is a disappointing later entry in the series on the whole and once again has some strange interludes that seem symbolic of a writer who has run out of plots. It's readable with good art but one of the more forgettable books in the long running series. This runs to about 50 pages (paperback) and at the time of writing is available to buy for around a fiver.