The new Asterix comic packages a truly modern theme into a Roman toga – the power of wireless communication. The result is a great comic book.
The Asterix comic series is evolving all the time. The new comic, which hits shelves Thursday, closely approaches the genius shown during the best days of the series, before the death of Rene Goscinny in 1977.
Asterix and the Missing Scroll is well-drawn, hysterically funny and a chip off the old block – topical while also timeless.
The guest star is an alter ego of Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks fame. In the comic, he becomes the blonde investigative journalist Confoundtheirpolitix, leading the comic to take on the internet age. It’s carried to such an extent that one of the characters is even named Wifix, a riff on wi-fi.
And the action is moved along by wireless networks. Of course, this being 50 BC, it merely means the Romans have discovered the carrier pigeon as a means of communication. But the messages carried on the legs of the birds work in much the same way as emails – they are copied, decoded, manipulated, traced back and intercepted.
At the centre of the network sits Confoundtheirpolitix, who stumbles upon a sensational story in Rome. “Caesar’s exclusive admissions will shake the empire to its foundations,” the Assange figure says in a thought bubble.
In this 36th adventure of the intrepid Gaul, Asterix must cope with Caesar’s admission: that Caesar failed to conquer all of Gaul. On the advice of his spin doctor, the Roman dictator has censored the publication De Bello Gallico, meaning his many unflattering encounters with Asterix and Obelix are cut out.
That can only lead to problems. After all, the whole point of the Asterix and Obelix series is that the tiny village where tiny Asterix and giant Obelix live remains unconquered by the Romans, thanks to a magic potion that grants the residents super strength … in Obelix’s case, permanently.
Most of the books revolve around the Romans attempts to take over this last tiny bit of free France.
In the story, Caesar agrees to fool the Senate into believing he has secured the entire province to gain funding for his subsequent campaigns, but the leaks are smuggled out.
However, the Gauls have problems of their own. A newspaper horoscope has advised Obelix to avoid conflict, become more self-aware and to eat less wild boar. Beating up Romans – one of his favourite things – is taboo.
Elsewhere, one of the pigeons lands on a pirate ship, but the pirates are all illiterate. One recalls a saying from the poet Juvenal: “Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura columbas” – Censure pardons the crow but is visited upon the dove.
It all leads to the journalist Confoundtheirpolitix becoming everyone’s target, even as the main culprits get off scot-free, a clear reference to WikiLeaks and Assange.
Assange remains hold up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London because British authorities want to arrest him, which could ultimately lead to his deportation to the United States on charges related to WikiLeaks move in 2010 to release top-secret US State Department missives, a major diplomatic scandal for America.
Asterix and the Missing Scroll is the second comic by the current team of author Jean-Yves Ferri and illustrator Didier Conrad. The drawings hark back to the classics of the series.
Two years ago this team put out Asterix and the Picts, the first Asterix to come out without the work of either Goscinny or Albert Uderzo.
At the time, Asterix fans praised the illustrations but were less happy with the story.