Thursday, January 12, 2006

Comic: *

Asterix and the Falling Sky; Written and Illustrated by Albert Uderzo, Orion Books.

I'm a fan of Asterix from way back. I first encountered them in an early French class, and when I was in college collected as many of them as I could find. Written by Rene Goscinny and drawn by Albert Uderzo, the comic series was about a plucky band of Gauls fighting off the Romans, who had conquered the rest of the country. They manage to keep their independence through the wiley hero Asterix, his hefty companion Obelix, and the wizard Getafix (named Panoramix in the French) who brewed up a magic potion that functions for Gauls like spinach for Popeye.

So when I heard there was a new book coming out, I was interested. Goscinny had passed on a few years back, and Udzero was taking on both roles. More interestingly, the news I got was that the story was the gauls facing two alien races, who were based on Americans and Japanese. There was the standard ruffle over the French picking on us Yanks, and why politics should show up in a comic book, but I was interested in knowing how things were going in the little Gaulish village.

I was not the only one. When I was in Europe, the book rolled out to a good deal of fanfare. I'm talking window stickers announcing its arrival and obelisk-shaped book dumps in prominent locations at the bookstores. And in the airports, I saw French, German, and Dutch editions. But nothing in English.

But when I was down in Portand, I mentioned I stopped at a store called CounterMedia, which has comics, art books, and fringe literature in the front, and erotica in the back. A British edition ofFalling Sky was on the racks (in the front of the store) and I picked it up.

So is it worth the kerfuffle about politics? Not really. Here's the plot. Two rival alien races, the Tadsilweny (anagram for Walt Disney) and the Nagma (Manga), both show up at the village, wanting to seize the magic potion (something the Romans have been trying to do for 30+ issues). The Tadsilweny looks like a purple mickey with bobbed ears, and has a legion of super-clones - identical, humorless supermen. The Nagma flies a ship like a shogun warrior, and has beyblade/pikachu robot rats. Oh, and the Tadsilweny' rule an interstellar nation of fifty stars, and their leader is named Hubs.

And that's about it as far as the deeper political meaning go. I don't know from reading it if the story can be applied to American and Japanese foriegn policy or just the influence of those cultures as far as European comics are concerned. The Tadsilweny is generally helpful and technologically advanced (sometimes haughty), while the Nagma is aggressive, funny-talking, and comic-threatening (sort of like the Romans). After much chasing about, the alien races realize they can't use the secret weapon they seek. the Nagma leaves in a huff, and the Tadsilweny erases everyone's mind to reset the story back to the beginning.

Of more interest to me than the supposed politics is seeing how the artist does without the writer. The art is a lot more animated that I remember from the past, and Goscinny makes use of larger panels and epic, sweeping action. But the writing itself is not a clean and pun-filled as it earlier (yeah, I am talking about making puns in French work in English, but they pulled it off). And the pacing is very much a trotting out of all the familiar faces and routines of the Gauls - Unhygenix throwing a fish, Cacofonix singing badly, Romans getting beaten up, and a pirate ship sinking (why? because in an Asterix book they ALWAYS sink a pirate ship). In other words, its not the supposed political or sociological bent that bothers me, or the presence of aliens in Asterix (the Romans have always been a jumble of modern-day anachronisms - that was part of the fun). Its just that from a story angle, it unspools like one more episode of a time-worn favorite comedy. OK, but not great.

So in the end, its a nice little visit to an old familiar place and some familiar faces. And that's about all it needs to be.

More later,