Recap / Asterix in Belgium
For the twenty-fourth Asterix
book, Goscinny and Uderzo's satirical eyes turn to France's northern neighbour, Belgium.
When the Gauls hear that Caesar stated the Belgians were the bravest enemies he's ever faced- which was an actual quote by Caesar, by the way- Vitalstatistix, Asterix and Obelix go to Belgium to defend the Gaul's honour. There, they meet the clans of Belgians, led by the chiefs Beefix and Brawnix. They propose a competition, razing Roman camps and telling the Romans who beat them to make the Romans decide for themselves which side is fiercer.
When wind of this reaches Julius Caesar, he amasses an army to restore order. When he learns that the whole revolution is a mere competition, he angrily declares war on the Belgians, who decide this is now a local issue and tell the Gauls to stand aside. In the end, the Gauls save the day by helping out anyway and Caesar is sent limping home.
On the way from the battlefield, he again meets the three chiefs, who ask him for his decision there and then. Caesar replies that he does not care - they are all crazy! - and leaves. Then there is a banquet, of course.
The last book that René Goscinny
was involved in the production of (he died during production). Word of God
says that this is why the skies are constantly overcast once the Gauls reach Belgium (in particular, the rain that begins falling on p.29 marks the point at which Goscinny died).
- Artistic License – Geography: The Belgian landscape is depicted as being flat, which is Truth in Television, though the way it is portrayed here is a huge exaggeration. Everything is shown as one large grass field without any other vegetation in it! One gag has Asterix, Obelix and Vitalstatistix running towards one tiny forest in the middle of this monotonous landscape. In reality Belgium does have trees, hills and even a few small mountains in the Ardennes. Many Belgian readers have pointed out that the way Belgium's flatness is portrayed here looks more like some parts of the Netherlands. Though the way Belgium's landscape is portrayed in this album can be interpreted as a caricature following the Rule of Funny one scene is clearly an honest mistake. We see the pirates sail past the Belgian shore which is again shown as grassy ground. In reality the Belgian shore is one long sandy beach.
- Artistic License – History:
- It's historically true that Julius Caesar did indeed claim that the "Belgians were the bravest of all Gauls." It's stated in his Commentaries on the Gallic War. However he was referring to the Celtic tribe the Belgae and not the actual Belgians, because Belgium was only founded in 1830. Though the Belgae did live in modern day Belgium the Roman colony "Belgica" actually also comprised a huge southern part part of the modern day Netherlands (below the Rhine) and a large chunk of modern Northern France too. This makes Obelix' fondness of the Belgians and the remark that their village is very much like theirs a case of Fridge Brilliance, since at the time they were practically part of the same Roman colony!
- Though the Belgians defeat Caesar in this story they were in reality genocidically rubbed out by Roman troops in 52 BC.
- Barbarian Tribe: The Belgians' reputation has made them this in the eyes of the Romans.
- Big Eater: The Belgians are depicted as being this, with long banquets full of food and drink.
- Body-Count Competition: Sort of. Vitalstatistix and Beefix start a competition in demolishing Roman camps to get Julius Caesar's attention and make him judge which one of their peoples is the bravest.
- The Cameo:
- Thompson and Thomson from the Tintin series make an appearance.
- World famous Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx has a cameo as a "fast runner".
- Walloon actress, singer and comedian Annie Cordy is cast as Beefix' wife. Also note that this joke will only be noticed in the francophone world, because in Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium) Cordy is virtually obscure compared to her superstar status in Wallonia.
- Catapult to Glory: Caesar decides to use catapults to fight off the Belgians. This is, by the way, the only time he uses this idea when fighting opposing armies in the comics. Seeing how successful the plan is you wonder why he doesn't use it more often.
- Continuity Nod: The legionaries at the first camp flattened by the three Armoricans upon their arrival in Belgian are members of the 1st Legion, 3rd Cohort, 2nd Maniple, 1st Century - the same division to which Asterix and Obelix were assigned in Asterix the Legionary.
- Face Death with Dignity: When Caesar is confronted by the three chiefs in the end. (He has that in common with his wife.)
- Food Porn: Taken Up to Eleven, with every meal in the Belgian village being a banquet as lavish as the ones that the Gauls have at the ending of each album.
- Friendly Enemy: When the Gauls trash a Roman camp to prove they are equally brave as the Belgians Obelix smashes one Roman soldier to the ground. When Asterix, Obelix and Vitalstatistix return the Belgians appear not to be very impressed about the fact that the entire camp has been demolished by just three Gauls. Vitalstatistix flies into a rage and starts arguing with the Belgian chief. Out of nowhere the smashed down Roman soldier agrees with Vitalstatistix and sides with him in the argument. Then it turns out the Belgian chief was just pulling Vitalstatistix' leg and they start introducing themselves to each other, which the Roman soldier also starts doing. What makes this scene especially funny is that both the Gauls and Belgians seem to ignore the Roman and only Asterix notices him when he leaves at the end.
- The Horde: When the Belgians attack they really fit that definition.
- National Stereotypes: The Belgians are depicted as jolly and petulant people who enjoy having a laugh, a drink and some tasty food. The bilingual communities are addressed too in the original French version where both leaders fight over an ox tongue, causing Beefix' wife to note: "Ils ont toujours une problème de langue." ("They always have a problem over tongue", with the double meaning of "tongue" and "language" for the word "langue".)
- Negative Continuity: If this story is to be believed, the Belgians are invincible and Belgium is far from becoming a part of the Roman empire. But in The Mansion of the Gods and The Laurel Wreath, Belgian POW slaves seem to be common in the empire, and in Asterix the Legionary, a Belgian is one of the volunteers for the Roman army along with Asterix and Obelix.
- Not So Different: The Belgians are dressed mostly the same as the Gauls. They also eat a lot and enjoy beating up Romans. Even Obelix notices that the Belgian village "is very much like ours" and later expresses fondness over the country and its people. Later, when Vitalstatistix and Beefix, ask Caesar which one of them is the "bravest" the Roman general shouts that he doesn't know, doesn't care and feels they are both equally "nutty". This makes both chiefs laugh and fraternize.
- Punny Name: The Roman prefect in Belgium is named Wolfgangamadeus, after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. One of the other soldiers is named Saintlouisblues, after the jazz standard St. Louis Blues.
- Reference Overdosed: The authors have tried to cram in every possible reference to Belgium they could think of.
- Allusions to Belgian fries, mussels, Brussels sprouts, waterzooi, Manneken Pis, lace from Bruges and Brussels, Belgium being the head of the European Economic Community (the line: "There's a small economic community further up."), the Atomium, Tintin, cyclist Eddy Merckx, Pieter Bruegel the Elder,... are made. The jokes told about Belgians at the start of the story is also a reference. In modern times Belgians are frequently ridiculed by their neighbouring countries in jokes that target their stupidity, rather than their bravery as shown in this story.
- When Beefix describes "his flat country" in the original French version he quotes a line from the refrain of Belgian singer Jacques Brel's song "Le Plat Pays".
- Several references to the Battle of Waterloo, since Waterloo is located in Belgium. The giant battle near the end is a direct parody, with Caesar as Napoleon, Beefix as Wellington and Asterix in the role of Blücher who came to Wellington's aid in the nick of time, causing Napoleon to lose. The accompanying text on the parchments is a reference to French author Victor Hugo's text "Les Châtiments" about the battle. In the English version the text is replaced by quotes from Lord Byron (many from his poem "The Eve of Waterloo", which forms part of the third canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage), John Milton ("Chaos umpire sits" and "With ruin upon ruin, rout on rout, confusion worse confounded" from Paradise Lost) and William Shakespeare ("But yesterday, the word of Caesar might have stood against the might of the world" and "let slip the dog[s] of war" from, fittingly, Julius Caesar, albeit after Caesar's assassination).
- Something Only They Would Say: Julius Caesar is speaking in the Senate and a scribe writes down everything he says. When another senator tries to start a debate about the local brassica ("cabbage") a messenger arrives from Belgium and asks permission to enter. Caesar allows this, which causes the senator that start a tirade on why the brassica topic is far more important to discuss. Caesar snaps back at him: "Stuff your brassica!". The scribe is then informed by the tribune: "Better leave that line out, for future generations may ask questions about Caesar's reputation." When Caesar hears that a revolt has broken out in Belgica he decides to leave immediately and says: "I shall go, I see and I shall conquer." To which the tribune says to the scribe: "You may write that one down!"
- Vacation Episode: Asterix, Obelix and Vitalstatistix travel to Belgica, aka Belgium.
- Villainous B.S.O.D.: As much as Caesar is really a villain in this series.