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Asterix Versus Caesar

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Paperback: 64 pages / Publisher: Hodder Children's Books / New Edition: 1 Jun 1995

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      24.03.2013 19:23
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      Not really worth the bother

      Asterix Versus Caesar is a non-canonical book adaptation of the 1985 animated film Astérix et la surprise de César. It's hardly essential but curious completists will probably want to have a look at some point. Astérix et la surprise de César was based on Goscinny & Uderzo's Asterix the Legionary and Asterix the Gladiator. Pierre Tchernia (a friend of Goscinny & Uderzo) shunted the two books into one story for the film (which I'm not familiar with to be honest) rather in the same manner that Steven Spielberg's disappointing The Secret of the Unicorn borrowed from two or three Tintin books to make one story. I find this approach to adapting Tintin and Asterix for the screen irritating but I suppose to be fair to them the original books are not terribly long (usually fortysomething pages) and it does make sense for cinematic purposes to cherry pick what you think are some of the best plotlines and situations from the graphic novels in the same way that, for example, Christopher Nolan borrowed from famous Batman comics for his Dark Knight films. Plus of course, Asterix and Tintin are somewhat niche and most people won't even notice or care anyway. So Asterix Versus Caesar is not going to be hugely novel or fresh for anyone familiar with the books that it filches from and to be honest you'd be much better off digging out your copies of Legionary and Gladiator. You should also be warned that this is not the traditional speech bubble graphic novel in the Goscinny & Uderzo style. The structure has narrative text of Asterix telling us the story alongside cells taken from the animated film.

      You can see what the salient weakness is. It's a copy of a copy of a copy and this sense of abstraction is not exactly a selling point. The cells are wonderful to look at but the flow of the story doesn't work as well as it does in the more standard Asterix books. It reminded me somewhat of Michel Regnier's Tintin and the Lake of Sharks - a 1973 "Tintin Film Book" based on an animated feature of the same name. Like that book, Asterix Versus Caesar lacks that trademark charm and nuance you get from the bona fide series. An occasional feeling of depth (inherent from its construction as stills from the animated feature) is mildly interesting though. The story begins much as it does in Goscinny & Uderzo's Asterix the Legionary. Obelix falls in love with the beautiful blonde bombshell Panecea (drawn as a curvaceous caricature of a young Brigitte Bardot) but is heartbroken when he learns that she is already engaged to the square jawed Tragicomix. Our portly hero is now completely distracted and not his usual uncomplicated boar guzzling self. In Asterix the Legionary, Tragicomix was forced to join a Roman Legion to fight in Africa (where Caesar is fighting against a rival Roman faction headed by Caecilius Metellus Scipio), thus sending Asterix and Obelix on a rescue mission that involved them joining the army (1st Legion, 3rd Cohort, 2nd Maniple, 1st Century to be pedantic) as recruits so they could go to Africa and rescue him.

      This plot is more or less the same except that here both Tragicomix and Panacea are kidnapped by Romans in the Gaul forest and taken to the Sahara where panels of them wandering the desert evoke the Tintin adventure The Crab with the Golden Claws. So Asterix and Obelix duly join the army to facilitate a trip to Africa where their friends might be and then the story eventually branches off to incorporate Asterix the Gladiator. The young lovers escape but are captured and given to Julius Caesar, their ultimate fate - it seems - to be thrown to the lions at the Circus Maximus. Asterix and Obelix, as ever always on the trail of the lovestruck duo, must now join a gladiator school to save them and matters are complicated because Asterix has lost his magic potion (lest we forget the Gauls have a potion brewed by their venerable druid Getafix which gives them super strength and allows them to bash up those pesky Romans by the hundreds should they feel the need). The fusion of two fine books certainly gives Asterix Versus Caesar a good story with plenty of action and comic capers but unfortunately because of the narrative structure the pacing always seems somewhat off and while the illustrations are very good they do seem to lack a certain something and don't have the charm of the standard Goscinny & Uderzo albums.

      There is an uncanny valley quality at times. It's Asterix and Obelix and the characters we know but somehow slightly different. The comparison to Tintin and the Lake of Sharks is the best I can come up with really. It's like an alternate universe story. I think the fact that (unlike Tintin and the Lake of Sharks - which was an original story) this uses canon plots from the real Asterix series is both a plus and a weakness but mostly a weakness. It's like a curiosity riff on something that you already know very well. There are some other recurring characters (besides the Gaul regulars) from the books this is based on like Cauius Fatuous from Asterix the Gladiator and Ekonomikrisis the trader. I liked the depiction of the cells where Asterix is in prison and nearly drowns from a huge rainstorm. This adds some tension to the book even if you are always aware that they aren't going to kill him off. I enjoyed flipping through and looking at the polished film panels and it's nice for completist purposes to have this in the collection but I can't say that I'm likely to return to it too much if at all. Asterix Versus Caesar is really one for Asterix collectors only. If you are new to Asterix this is really not the place to start and will only ruin Asterix the Legionary and Asterix the Gladiator for you.

      This is an interesting oddity in the Asterix universe and a nice companion to the film but never much more than that. At the time of writing you can buy a used copy of this for a few pounds (a new one seems to be over £100 for some reason). Look out for one of the Asterix omnibuses as this features in a couple and they are usually quite reasonably priced.

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