Monday, November 13, 2017

Asterix and the Chariot Race Review

Has it really been two years since I blogged? That's what having a real job and a toddler will do to you, you lose sight of the important things. Like Asterix. Yeah, they've been at it again and have added the 37th volume 'Asterix and the Chariot Race' to the canon.

The previous book was hailed as the best in 30 years and it was pretty good (if flawed) and part of that was because it was ambitious in its attempt to parody a big issue of the day. This one is certainly not so ambitious as its focus is on making gentle fun of Italy and its regions and local customs in much the same way as Asterix and the Banquet did for France all those years ago. It also introduces chariot teams from all over the Asterix world, including the Goths, Lusitanians, some Russians and all sorts of others. It's trying to press the right buttons, basically. The plot hangs together well and it reads very smoothly with none of the slight incongruities and non-sequiturs in the translation that snuck into Asterix and the Picts. I should say that the eminent Anthea Bell (who along with the now passed on Derek Hockridge translated all the previous volumes) appears to have handed over the reins (yeah, good joke) to Adriana Hunter, who has done a fine job.

So the story doesn't waste any time in getting going. On the second page a senator comes up with the plot on the fly and it's off we go.
Next we get Obelix deciding to buy a chariot for no good reason and wow they suddenly stumble across the 'Transitalic' race and enter on behalf of Gaul. Bit clumsy, but forgivable. There have been equally tenuous ways of getting Asterix and Obelix involved in a plot over the years. We are also introduced to the Roman charioteer, Coronavirus who is mysteriously masked. Obviously this mask plays a major part in the plot later and all the other scenes just buy time until this part of the story is revealed. 

Ok, so now to the bit I find really frustrating about this book. Jean-Yves Ferri has decided to make one of the chariot teams female - Nefersaynefer and Kweenlatifer of Kush, a small Egyptian kingdom. All good you might think. Since Secret Weapon in 1991 Asterix has increasingly featured strong female characters along for the adventure instead of just remaining in the village and bookending the story, which helps to keep the series relevant and to vary the plots, so more of it is welcome. Do they have any funny lines you might want to know? Well, no. They talk in heiroglyphics because they're Egyptian, but they barely get to even use them. One of them adores Dogmatix and Obelix mistakes that for fancying him, and that's it. They crash and fight a bit, but essentially that's all they do. Meanwhile the male Lusitanians, Russians, Goths and Brits all get good lines. In fact, the Kushites get 9 speech bubbles between them in the entire book, and all of these are simply expressing a basic thought. In 2017 that's frankly not good enough.

Putting that aside it's a pretty solid book and it all rockets along in a fun way. One other strange thing, which I've noted in other books (see my post with reviews of all the books) is that Asterix himself doesn't really do much. He is once again a pretty boring stick-in-the-mud who keeps the plot on course. I hope one day we will get our mischievous, singularly intelligent Gaul back, but sadly not in this book.

Lastly the art is magnificent once again, and as a cartoonist I do not envy the task given to Didier Conrad. So what I am thinking is there's going to be 50 pages of chariot races featuring at least four horses in every panel. You what, monsieur?

This one gets 6/10

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