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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 19:08 GMT
Asterix acts up
drawing
The scene where Obelix dances hits the spot
By BBC News Online entertainment editor Jackie Finlay

Reading the first Asterix book published for five years is like seeing your favourite dinosaur rock band on their long-awaited comeback tour.

All the old characters are there looking just the same, and all the set pieces are brought back for the fans.

But somehow the old originality is lacking - and the new part of the set just doesn't gel.

Asterix and the Actress brings the wily Gaulish warrior and his menhir-delivery man friend Obelix back for their 31st adventure.

Asterix
Asterix is on his 31st adventure
Its their joint birthday - no, we don't find out how old they are - and their parents give them weapons, which turn out to have been stolen from Caesar's enemy, the consul Pompey.

An actress is despatched to the Gaulish village disguised as everyone's favourite character from Asterix the Legionary, the beautiful Panacea, to charm the weapons back into Roman hands.

From then on the usual trouble ensues. Not only does the real Panacea make a guest appearance, we get all the villagers including Cacofonix the tone-deaf bard, the obligatory brush with the sinking pirates, and a finale from Julius Caesar himself - usually the mark of the best Asterix tales.

Also back in harness are devilishly witty translation duo, Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge.

Potion

But there a few things that jar with the Asterix books of old.

The usually wily Asterix is for once as far behind the action as slow-witted Obelix, as he squirms like a teenager in front of his mother and is given a potion that makes him jump like a flea for a rather pointless few pages.

The story attempts the usual delicate twist of sub-plots as it moves towards its conclusion, but doesn't maintain momentum, and only succeeds in chopping and changing between scenes like a minor Pulp Fiction copy.

Asterix purists maintain that Albert Uderzo, the illustrator, should have stopped when his partner Rene Goscinny died, after Asterix and the Belgians.

Later books like Son of Asterix lose the edge in terms of wit, characterisation and plot, and sadly this is no exception.

However, this is one of the better of the later crop, thanks to its reliance on tried and tested characters and formulas - and the drawings, which are as much of a delight as they have always been (Asterix and Obelix's parents in particular are imagined well).

Like the purists, in theory I'd like to see Uderzo hang up his pen in deference to his old partner - but like the millions of other readers out there, the bottom line is I just can't resist a new Asterix.

Links to more Reviews stories are at the foot of the page.


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