Comic book review: Asterix and the White Iris by Fabcaro (writer) and Didier Conrad (illustrator)

(courtesy Hachette Australia)

If you don’t have a magic potion to revive your spirits and strength every so often, or at least when a semi-threatening Roman legion is nearby, it can be easy to flag a little and to not be quite as peppy as you once were.

That was very much the case with the 39th book in the Asterix series, Asterix and the Griffin (2021) which tried to embody the zest and hilarity of the Gaulish resistors to Roman rule but which never quite seemed to get up the head of steam displayed by the classic titles penned the franchise’s originators, writer René Goscinny and illustrator by Albert Uderzo (who worked together on 24 titles prior to Goscinny’s death in 1977 after which Uderzo took over both writing and illustrative duties).

Asterix and the Griffin never really seemed to channel the irreverent vivacity of the previous 38 instalments, and all too often felt it was phoning it in, all Asterix trademark narrative points and pop culture referencing but without the irreverently goofy wit that buoyantly carried every story aloft as the titular character and his best friend Obelix, along with the rest of their idiosyncratically populated village of Gauls, took it to the Romans who frankly weren’t used to be bested by anyone, and certainly not at the height of their power in 50 B.C.

The good news is that 40th title, Asterix and the White Iris, the first to be published with any involvement from either of Asterix’s two original creators, is back to the series’ original best, full to a roasted boar’s tusks with all the whit, irreverence and comedic chaos of the best of the titles.

Reading White Iris, which features new writer Fabcaro, a French novelist, comic book writer and musician, who took over from Griffin writer Jean-Yves Ferri, feels like picking up one of the classic titles in the series and while it may not quite reach the dizzyingly laugh-inducing heights of Goscinny and Uderzo, it still a wonderfully funny and very clever addition to the adventures of one of the most beloved characters ever to emerge from France.

For a start, while White Iris goes to great trouble to include many of the elements of the classic stories from boar hunting to fights between village fish seller Unhygienix and blacksmith Fulliautomatix to wise counsel from druid and potion brewer Getafix and fun-filled Roman-bashing on an industrial scale, it feels less like ticking off the tropes boxes, and more vital and fun and fresh.

(courtesy Hachette Australia)

The Romans are as hapless as ever and while Caesar thinks there might be merit in the positivity approach of Isivertuus who believes that eschewing negative thinking is the path to beating the rebellious potion-filled Gauls, we all know it’s doomed to failure.

Still, there’s a great deal of fun to be had, and Fabcaro and Conrad certainly have it in cauldrons full of hilarity with Isivertuus’s initial success in positivity-ifying the Gauls and the local Roman camp of Totorum soon giving way business as usual and Asterix, as usual, keeping his head and his perceptive insight, rescuing Chief Vitalstatistix’s wife, Impedimenta, from a plot to hand her over as a hostage to Caesar.

It’s a grand and fun-filled adventure in classic Asterix style that as well as giving us lots of pithy oneliners and well-judged quips, manages to sneak in references to West Side Story, the wellness industry and technological progress such as the all-new High Speed Chariot which is a new service between Roman urban centres that suffers from more than few very modern issues.

The joy of any Asterix adventure, and White Iris is right up there with the best of them, is that they poke fun, primarily at the foibles and silliness of the French primarily but also at universal ideas of power, freedom and the desire everyone has to feel empowered and in charge of their lives.

There was of course no rebellious village in Gaul as the Romans swept all before them BUT after reading Asterix in general, and White Iris in particular, you wish there was because these guys, in all their chaotic eccentric and weirdness – only Asterix has a sane and level head and thank goodness because he is the voice of reason everyone else needs – embody the desire we all have to take it tp the big guys and win.

And laugh a lot while doing it; you will laugh endlessly in White Iris because it not only nails the various idiosyncrasies of the characters but it also delivers up the very best parodic moments that Asterix has always done so well, and does it in a way that feels fresh, vital and gleefully mischievious.

A near-instant classic that had this reviewer giggling frequently and often at the sheer clever silliness of it all, White Iris is proof that even 40 instalments in there’s still bountiful life in the long-running franchise and that with the new team of Fabcaro and Conrad at the creative helm, that all the flagging and ticking of boxes of some of the later issues is a thing of the past and that Asterix is back at its best serving up hilarity and thoughtfulness and making us happy that sometimes the good guys do in fact finish first.

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