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Asterix and the Falling Sky is the thirty-third volume in the classic series of Asterix adventures and was published in 2005. This is one of the later entries produced by artist Albert Uderzo alone and it's widely acknowledged that the books produced since the death of his former partner René Goscinny have been patchy to say the least. Goscinny was the writing half of the team and while Uderzo managed to produce a couple of good books alone on the whole the series took a turn for the worse when he had sole charge and took over the writing duties too. It's like someone else writing the Tintin books instead of Herge. Never quite feels right or the same as it used to be. Asterix and the Falling Sky is one of the strangest and weakest books in the series and has a rather juvenile atmosphere and style of art that doesn't serve the venerable comic book terribly well. It is also one of the most controversial entries in the series and was probably intended to be so (although you wouldn't really pick this up immediately yawning your way through the book). The subtext is not exactly subtle and rather heavy handed and the preposterous story tends to negate whatever message was intended. The plot dispenses with the usual historical Gauls versus Romans intrigue and is sort of Asterix meets Close Encounters meets Manga meets DC Comics without being anywhere near as good or interesting as that blurb sounds. Uderzo laces what on the surface is the most childish Asterix book of all with a topical political subtext and seems to have a swipe at the Japanese and (to a lesser extent) the American comic book industry and their creeping encroachment on the hallowed European market that Asterix has always been such a revered and fundamental part of. The most noticeable thing about Asterix and the Falling Sky though is that it seeks to do something very different (which is laudable enough as Asterix books can be very samey) but contrives only to deliver a silly and never terribly interesting story that feels rather inappropriate for Asterix.
The story begins with Asterix and Obelix hunting in the picturesque green forest that surrounds their wonderful village and finding that the boars they love to hunt and eat so much have all been frozen to the spot as if they are statues. Very peculiar. Back at the village they find the same thing has happened to their friends and fellow villagers (this is all very Star Trek/Twilight Zone and mildly intriguing) and so they are naturally rather puzzled and bemused. To their relief, Getafix the wise druid is completely unaffected though and has been testing a big batch of the magic potion (that gives the Gauls superhuman strength) he has just brewed in one of those huge cooking pots he always uses. It appears - they deduce - that Asterix, Obelix and Getafix have not been affected by this strange freezing phenonmeon because they have all taken the magic potion recently (Obelix fell into the potion as a child of course so the effects are permanent with him) and it must have made them immune. The cause of these uncanny strange events soon becomes clear when a spaceship from beyond the stars in the form of a huge yellow sphere suddenly appears over the village and scares the life out of them. An alien "Tadsilweny" (an anagram of Walt Disney) named Toon - who looks like a cross between a Teletubby and Mickey Mouse - emerges into this world of sandals and spears and tells our heroes that he is here to confiscate the magic potion because it is a feared and dangerous weapon known throughout the universe. Rival aliens the Nagma (an anagram of Manga) are already here and want to get their extraterrestrial mitts on the potion themselves. Cue a power struggle with Asterix and Obelix caught in the middle.
That's more or less it as far as the story goes. Obelix tangles with a Nagma, Toon becomes super large after taking the magic potion, the Gauls think the sky might have fallen on their heads at last. Uderzo gets to riff on comic book characters like Superman and (apparently) have a swipe at the influx of Japanese comics into Europe. It all seems rather out of place really though and grows tiresome fairly quickly. With previous Asterix volumes you would linger on the wonderful Roman exteriors and fantastic interior illustrations of things like Gaul huts with their crackling fires and wooden beams. Here you get a lot of surreal art and characters drawn to look like DC, Manga or Disney characters. For a few pages it's relatively interesting by virtue of its strangeness but you soon begin to wish all of these cultural riffs and alien characters would get out of the world of Asterix and feel they probably shouldn't have been there in the first place. The cover deliberately evokes the first ever Asterix adventure Asterix the Gaul and is intended to be some sort of full circle celebration but one is merely reminded of how far the series has fallen since its golden years by this reference. Asterix and the Falling Sky was supposed to be a tribute to Walt Disney essentially but it comes out as too twee and childish. Tintin faired much better with his alien encounter in Flight 714 because the aliens were more implied than seen. And you sort of accept Tintin encountering aliens more than you do with Asterix. Tintin traverses through different decades. He's been to the Moon and met the Yeti. He's gone on a treasure hunt to a remote tropical island and encountered a meteorite that makes spiders ten feet tall. Herge had more freedom in the world of Tintin and yet still always made it a much more "realistic" comic than Asterix. It doesn't really work to throw cartoonish aliens into the Roman horse and cart universe of Asterix.
Asterix is obviously a less "adult" comic than Tintin but even so this is desperate stuff in the end after the mildly interesting opening sections. Obelix tangles with a Nagma robot thing (more Manga riffs) and proves completely invulnerable - duffing up this interstellar invader with ease just as he does with the unfortunate Romans that cross his path. It turns out then that magic potion even makes the Gauls impervious to advanced alien technology from beyond the stars. No wonder the Romans didn't stand a chance against the Gauls. They only had swords and spears! Although Asterix and the Falling Sky appears on the surface to be one of the most childish and uninspired of all the Asterix comics it did, believe it or not, provoke some controversy for what was perceived to be a subtext about George Bush and the Gulf War and a general anti-American message. I think though that Japanese comics seem to bear the brunt of Uderzo's irritation more (he does make the Nagma the villains) and his depictions of American characters (disney more so than the DC riffs) are quite benign and even a trifle romantic. The magic potion is used as a metaphor for weapons of mass destruction though and at one point Toon produces a hot dog as an example of his favourite food (aliens sightings are most frequent in the United States so you get the joke) and the reaction of Asterix and friends to this cherished American food icon is absolute revulsion and horror that anyone could eat anything so disgusting. There are many more references to more modern comics and a political thematic undercurrent should you wish to look. I've probably this volume sound much more dense and complex than it actually is but out of all the Asterix books this is the one I flipped through the quickest and had to stifle the most yawns to complete. Curious fans will want to have a look but Asterix and the Falling Sky is not much of an entry in the famous series and I don't think anyone would have missed it if Uderzo hadn't bothered.
The Gauls have only one fear: that the sky may fall on their heads tomorrow. But tomorrow never comes, says Chief Vitalstatistix. Or does it? It looks as if it's come at last for Asterix, Obelix and the other villagers. And some surprising new characters fall along with the sky. Our friends soon find themselves in the middle of a space race... This new Asterix story, the first in four years, is a brilliant and hilarious tale of misunderstandings that will be loved by his millions of fans around the world.