Newest Review: ... 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 deman... more
Asterix the Gladiator - René Goscinny
Member Name: Jake Speed
Asterix the Gladiator - René Goscinny
Advantages: Good fun
Disadvantages: Not quite one of the best Asterix books
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.
Summary: Asterix adventure
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