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Asterix and the Roman Agent is the fifteenth book in the popular Asterix series by Goscinny and Uderzo and first saw the light of day in 1970. The story begins with Caesar once again pondering the apparently insoluble problem of the magic potion enhanced Gaul village that defies Roman rule and makes him look weak. His critics in the Roman Senate are not shy when it comes to giving him their two pence worth on this delicate issue. 'Caesar still asks us for money and men to wage war and yet he's not even capable of keeping the Pax Romana in the countries he's already conquered!' Some suggestions are thrown around by the inner circle with brute force and buying the Gauls off soon dismissed. As Caesar points out, if the Gauls were motivated by money they would have put their secret magic potion on the market long ago.
A possible solution is then suggested in the form of Tortuous Convolvulus - a famous troublemaker who is legendary for sowing jealousy and discord wherever he goes. When Caesar witnesses Convolvulus's uncanny knack of quickly having people at each other's throats by his mere presence, he decides to employ him as an agent and send him to the village where Asterix and the Gauls live to break up their solidarity and drive them apart. Convolvulus begins his underhand scheme by presenting a vase to Asterix for being 'the most important man in the village' and makes sure a very annoyed Chief Vitalstatistix is on hand to witness this...
Asterix and the Roman Agent is another of the better entries in the long running series and once again mines a plot device used more than once by Goscinny and Uderzo where the Romans attempt to undo the Gauls not by brute force but by introducing some sort of outside element to corrupt them or split them apart from one another. The weasly Tortuous Convolvulus is a great character to put at the heart of this story and has a memorable introduction where the Romans are soon all at each other's throats and shouting at one another when he is introduced to Caesar's inner circle. The arguments he provokes are in green speech bubbles to emphasise the jealously and envy that he causes wherever he goes. The comic pirates who are always scuttling their ship fall foul of these strange powers when they attempt to board the ship that takes Convolvulus to Gaul and Convolvulus claims one of them is a traitor who promised not to attack him for a bag of gold. The pirates are soon at war with each other in green speech bubbles as their ship inevitably goes down.
Some of the highlights of Asterix and the Roman Agent include the preparations for Chief Vitalstatistix's birthday, an event that will culminate in a huge banquet. His wife Impedimenta is as ever less than a ray of sunshine and not looking forward to the orgy of food he will undertake and the prospect of yet more useless presents like shields, swords, fish and menhirs with ribbons. 'We could never expect your friends to give you anything worthwhile! Oh no! No artistic sense! Just savages...' Enjoyably, there is more of a role for the wives in Asterix and the Roman Agent and we see Impedimenta attempting to retain her status amongst them after the deliberate snub to Chief Vitalstatistix by Convolvulus. I liked the panels of the wives meeting together for a goats milk - with their gossip leading the village to suspect that Asterix might have given the Romans the secret of the magic potion, this all part of the twisty and crafty scheme by Convolvulus. It's quite funny though when Impedimenta serves cake to the other wives. 'Oh, it's only milk, sugar, flour, eggs and boar fat. Not at all fattening.'
As usual, the art is lovely in Asterix and the Roman Agent with many panels catching the eye. The Roman Senate with everyone in robes and stone pillars and marbled floors, the Gaul village with its thatched roofs and the silhouettes of Getafix's flame lit hut where a cauldron of potion is always bubbling, trees in the forest, clouds in the sky and old wooden ships at sea. The most famous illustration in Asterix and the Roman Agent is one that takes up a whole page and depicts a battle between the Gauls and Romans for the village in the usual comic fashion. This panoramic drawing uses numbers to tell you who is who and has pictures of the key characters across the bottom of the page. It's a lot of fun and an example of the invention and attention to detail that went into the Asterix series once it got into its stride. It of course helps a lot that the story is a very good one with (as was often the case) Asterix, Obelix and Getafix cast adrift somewhat from the rest of the village to solve the problem. In this respect they sort of like the Kirk, Bones and Spock of the Asterix series.
One other thing I quite liked about Asterix and the Roman Agent is that the action is mostly set in and around the Gaul village and on the whole I rather like the stories that take this approach. Although many of the books where Asterix and Obelix are required to undertake a long journey to distant lands are great, the stories set closer to home do allow the various characters in the village to feature more and this is always fun. It's a bit like in Tintin where the characters simply pottering around Marlinspike Hall is often as much fun as Tintin and Captain Haddock on an adventure in some far flung locale. This is perhaps not the funniest of the Asterix books (and not everything translates smoothly) but there are some very amusing moments nonetheless with the comical arguments in the village and plotting in Rome (with an appearance by Brutus).
Asterix and the Roman Agent is an enjoyable entry in the series with an interesting story, lovely art and plenty of jokes. Great fun for all ages.