Review by Frank Plowright
The final Asterix book written by René Goscinny before his sad and early death returned to the holding pattern of volumes preceding the wonderful Obelix & Co. Having plotted the entire story, he died midway through artist Albert Uderzo drawing it, commemorated by a sudden shift to rain and the remainder of the story occurring under dark skies.
It’s noticed that the Romans posted to the camps around the Gaulish village are unusually cheerful, attributed to their return from Belgium and no longer having to deal with what Julius Caesar has called the bravest warriors he’s ever faced. Slighted by this, Chief Vitalstatistix sets off to defend the honour of the Gaulish village, with Asterix and Obelix told to accompany him. Assorted tests of rivalry occur, with the Gauls and the Belgians devastating the local Roman camps. Recognisable figures seen along the way include Thompson and Thomson from the Tintin books, Belgian singer and actress Annie Cordy, cast as Beefix’s wife Bonanza, and then world champion cyclist Eddie Merckx as a messenger.
The sad circumstances under which this book was completed often overshadow the very slim plot. It’s nowhere near the best of Goscinny’s scripts, although considerably better than most of the albums that directly follow produced by Uderzo alone. A feel of going through the motions pervades, and the satirising of Belgian customs and achievements is forced. It picks up with the arrival of Caesar, the creators rarely failing to deliver some good gags around his pomposity as his plans are yet again shredded.
Uderzo’s cartooning is, as ever, stunning, and as a tribute to Belgium the volume ends with a copy of 16th century Flemish painter Pieter Breugel’s The Peasant’s Wedding. It substitutes the book’s cast for the people seen on the painting, and reputable European sources credit this image to Marcel Uderzo, then assisting his older brother on the Asterix books.