Asterix the Gladiator is the fourth book in the popular Asterix series by Goscinny and Uderzo and first saw the light of day in 1962. The story begins with Odius Asparagus - the Prefect of Gaul - paying a visit to the Roman camp of Compendium. The Prefect is about to go to Rome on leave and custom dictates that he takes Julius Caesar an unusual and valuable present. He tells Compendium's Centurion Gracchus Armisurplus that as a gift he would like to take Caesar one of these local invincible Gauls he has heard so much about - the invincible Gauls being of course the magic potion enhanced Asterix, Obelix and friends. 'But, Prefect,' complains Gracchus Armisurplus. 'About these invincible Gauls. There's just one snag! They happen to be invincible!'
Gracchus has a think though and recalls that one of the Gauls - Cacofonix the Bard - seems more harmless than the others and often goes for walks alone in the forest for inspiration. Cacofonix duly gets kidnapped by the Romans on his woodland walk and ends up in Rome where an unimpressed Caesar decides to throw him to the lions. Chief Vitalstatistix is less than pleased when he hears that the Romans have had the cheek to kidnap one of the Gauls and sends Asterix and Obelix on a rescue mission that takes them to Rome and into the world of gladiators...
Asterix the Gladiator is quite a fun entry in the series although perhaps not one of the very best of the Asterix books. The start of the story is excellent with the Prefect of Gaul demanding that Compendium's Centurion gives him one of these invincible Gauls to take back to Caesar. When Cacofonix the Bard is captured, the Centurion reminds the Prefect that they can now expect reprisals from the Gauls. 'Oh, er...well, yes...I really must be going! The prisoner and I will leave at once,' stammers the nervous Prefect, leaving Compendium's men to take a typically comical bashing from the magic potioned up Gauls. In this book we see Obelix start his habit of collecting Roman helmets to keep count of how many legionnaires he has duffed up. 'We must give these Romans a good lesson by Toutatis!' declares Chief Vitalstatistix. 'And remember we have nothing to fear but the sky falling on our heads!' I like the way the Asterix books have fun with the superstitions and very human nature of the Gauls.
Cacofonix the Bard plays more of a role in the story here than usual. He's the truly awful singer who thinks he's a genius and - in a funny recurring joke - is always shown tied up and gagged at the big celebration banquet at the end of each book so he can't sing. Obelix asks him not to go in the forest because he scares the boars away ('The boars appreciate my music better than you!' replies the Bard) but Cacofonix goes nonetheless and is kidnapped by Romans who have to resort to putting parsley in their ears to withstand the murderous racket he makes when singing. 'These Gaulish secret weapons ought to be banned by the Helvetia Convention!' To find Cacofonix, Asterix and Obelix hitch a lift to Rome with Ekonomikrisis the Phoenician merchant where they have what I think was their first ever encounter with the incompetent pirates who always end up sinking. 'I thought they had a bigger crew on these galleys,' says a disappointed Obelix after they've clobbered the pirates in short order. After all this Roman effort to kidnap the Bard as a gift though, a bored Julius Caesar decides to have him thrown to the lions!
The story is fairly simple and involves Asterix and Obelix wandering around Rome looking for their kidnapped friend and bashing Romans by the dozen. Their encounters with Roman customs and officials are good fun though and things become more interesting when gladiator trainer Caius Fatuous sees how strong they are in a sauna and tries to get them for his gladiator school. Obelix has some funny stuff in this one as he keeps accidently bashing doors in when knocking on them and yearns for roast boar as the Roman grub is not really to his liking. 'They cost a fortune!' says Caius Fatuous, introducing Obelix to a Roman pastie. 'Nightingale tongues imported from the north of Gaul. Sturgeon's eggs from the farthest barbarian lands...' Obelix's catchphrase - 'These Romans Are Crazy!' - also makes its first appearance here. The book builds to an amusing and incident packed climax at the gladiator circus as our heroes seek to help the gladiators and free Cacophonix.
As ever, the art is very pleasant and detailed with lovely drawings of Roman baths, candle lit dungeons, ships, chariots, buildings and the huge gladiator arena. There are some really good drawings of lions here too. It's fun to dwell on the backdrops and spot all the little details and jokes. Julius Caesar is amusingly given a few ironic exchanges with Brutus in the big gladiator set-piece at the end of the book. 'That Brutus... I can see I'm going to have trouble with him!' There is a pleasant moral message in the story too (about how it is wrong to benefit from the exploitation of others) that is done quite nicely. Although Asterix the Gladiator is a great deal of fun and an incident packed and colourful adventure I would not place it in my own list of favourite Asterix books. I find the constant bashing of Romans with the magic potion sometimes becomes a little tiresome and slightly prefer the stories where the Romans try to cause division amongst the Gauls with brains not brawn like Asterix and the Roman Agent and Obelix and Co. These types of Asterix plots are just a little more interesting I think.
There are better Asterix adventures but Asterix the Gladiator is still an enjoyable entry in the series with the usual enjoyable art and jokes that come thick and fast.
Another of the famous Asterix series of books by Goscinny (text) and Uderzo (drawings), Asterix the Gladiator is a prime example of just why these books are so popular not just among children but with adults, too.
The opening scene gives a classic example of the humour in this series of books; Odius Asparagus, the Prefect of Gaul, pays a visit to the Roman camp of Compendium, situated just outside the little village where Asterix and chums, thanks to the magic potion that gives them superhuman strength, brewed by their Druid. The camp Centurion, Gracchus Armisurplus (these names were completely lost on me what I first enjoyed the books many years ago!), is well aware of the need to avoid conflict with these Gauls, who represent the only place in Europe not to succumb to Roman rule. However, the Prefect wants to give Caesar a gift a valuable gift in fact, he wants to give Caesar one of the Invincible Gauls!
But, Prefect, about these invincible Gauls Theres just one snag! moans the Centurion.
Well, what is it? asks the Prefect, sipping some wine.
The Cenurion paces around. They happen to be invincible!
But the Prefect is undeterred. Thats what makes them so valuable! Get me one of these Gauls and you wont regret it!
The Centurion then remembers that one of the Gauls seems a bit more harmless than the others the village Bard, who often goes walking in the forests by himself (as no-one can stand his sining.)
Cut to the Gaulish village, where Cacofonix, the Bard, is waving goodbye and off on a walk in the forest
No, Cacofonix! Dont go into the forest! shouts Obelix, the fat Gaul who fell into a cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby and thus has permanent superhuman strength.
Im touched by your solicitude, Obelix!, gushes Cacofonix.
Its not that! Only when you sing in the forest you scare the wild boars away!
Cacofonix gathers his cape. Boor! The boars appreciate my music better than you!
Asterix joins in at this point, Thats only natural. You sing like a pig!
As Asterix and Obelix laugh heartily, Cacofinx storms off, muttering Barbarians! Philistines! Savages!
Having given you a good example of just why you should never try to describe a cartoon in words, Ill leave you to guess what happens next.
Yup Cacofonix gets kidnapped by the Romans (though they need the aid of parsley in their ears to get near him). A young boy named Picanmix gives the news to Asterix, who rushes to tell the village chief, Vitalstatistix, that their bard has disappeared. Youre just saying that to please me . When he realises that its the Romans whove taken him, of course they must avenge this insult (even if it is a funny idea of the Romans).
And we have a typical Asterix story full of Roman-bashing, corrupt officials, gladiators, bad jokes (bad, but still funny! :-D), sight gags, and the trademark energetic drawing style of Uderzo. The Phoenician Traders make a welcome re-appearance (theyre part-time regulars in the series), and many of the running jokes (such as Obleix insisting that hes not really strong at all, sometimes while holding up a house etc), and fans of the series definitely wont be disappointed. One particularly memorable moment is in the Colleseum, while the other Gladiators are saying Ave Caesar! Morituri te Salutant! (Latin for Hail Caesar! We who are about to die salute you!), Asterix and Obelix say Hi Julius, old boy! Caesar is not impressed, and when the games start with the gladiators all throwing down their weapons, hes even less pleased. Then the gladiators all sit in a circle, and the one in the middle asks questions, the answer cant contain the words yes, no, black, or white, else the answerer is out. The fighting only begins when soldiers are sent in to make them fight but they end up fighting the soldiers instead. Cacofonix wants to sing a song to inspire them to courage, but he is quickly and decisively silenced! When going to an inn, Obelix knocks on the door in the nex scene, Asterix is angrily reaching for his money as they are charged 20 sestertii for the night and 40 sestertii for the door!
There isn't much in the way of subtle humour in this one to be honest, but the non-subtle humour comes thick and fast, and is easily funny enough to make up for the lack of subtelty. Despite the Roman-bashing, the story is (like most other Asterix books) actually quite moralistic, teaching some good values such as loyalty and the wrongness of exploiting others.
Well, its always tough reviewing an Asterix book, and this was no exception. I guess youll already either love or loathe the series and the humour. Personally I love these books, perhaps even more than when I was a child. And yes, there really are as many exclamation marks in the book as suggested by this review!
Asterix the Gladiator has always stood out to me as one of the most enjoyable in the series, and thus gets 5 stars.
Any decent bookstore, you might find it in either the childrens' or comics sections. Amazon.co.uk have it for £5.59 in paperback format (RRP £6.99) or £6.99 in hardback (RRP £9.99). My copy is so old that the RRP listed on it is just £1.50! :-D
Gaul was divided into three parts. No, four parts - for one small village of indomitable Gauls still held out against the Roman invaders. BOOK 4 The Romans capture Cacofonix as a gift for Caesar who plans to throw him to the lions. To get into the Circus Maximus and rescue their bard, Asterix and Obelix have to become gladiators.