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Recap / Asterix in Belgium

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For the twenty-fourth Asterix book, Goscinny and Uderzo's satirical eyes turn to France's northern neighbour. It is the last book René Goscinny was involved in, as he died during its making. 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).

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 Gauls' 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 equally crazy! - and leaves. The Gauls and Belgians interpret this to mean that it's a draw. Then there is a banquet, of course.


  • 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 tribes collectively called the Belgae (more specifically the Nervii, described as "the most warlike of 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.
  • Art Shift:
    • The ancestors of Thomson and Thompson are drawn in ligne claire style and have rectangular speech bubbles similar to Hergé’s Tintin comics.
    • The Belgian banquet near the end is halfway between a comic and a classical oil painting. It is a parody of Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder 's painting "Peasant Wedding" and was done by Marcel Uderzo, Albert’s brother.
  • Badass Normal: The Belgians give the Roman occupiers almost as much trouble as that undefeatable little village in Gaul, without any access to magic potion. While they're not quite the same level of One-Man Army as the Gauls are, they've become such a nightmare to fight that the Roman soldiers considers returning to Armorica a vacation, since at least there it's just one village that's the problem instead of the whole country and, barring overzealous commanders, they are not expected to fight the Gauls.
  • Barbarian Tribe: The Belgians' reputation has made them this in the eyes of the Romans.
  • Been There, Shaped History: The events of this comic inspired French Fries (which are really Belgian Fries) and the Belgian national dish Moules Frites (Mussels with French Fries).
  • Big Eater: The Belgians are depicted as being this, with long banquets full of food and drink. They are this even in comparison to Asterix's village, who usually reserves these kinds of feasts to their end-of-story banquets, and otherwise eat relatively normal levels of food (with the exception of Obelix).
  • Blatant Lies: The Roman commanders send word to Caesar that the Belgians are in a massive uprising, and are being assisted by huge hordes of Gauls swarming in from Armorica, bringing packs of savage hounds with them. It's two tribes of Belgians, with three Gauls and a small, white dog backing them up.
  • 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.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase:
    • While the quality of Caesar’s own quotes is deteriorating, one of his officers dares to say “alea iacta est”. Caesar is not pleased.
    • When a general refuses to surrender, a legionary says “These Romans are crazy”.
  • Bullying the Dragon: Vitalstatistix and Beefix' attacks on Roman camps obviously provokes a Roman counterattack led personally by Caesar, at which point Beefix admits that it's no longer a game but war.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: When Obelix mistakes the village council meeting for a banquet, Asterix points out that they are "only just starting this story". A bit later, Obelix insists on following Vitalstatistix to make sure that there will be boars "at the banquet at the end of the story".
  • Brick Joke: When Vitalstatistix leaves for Belgium, Impedimenta asks him to bring back mackerel. On his triumphant return he is greeted with “Did you remember my mackerel?”
  • Call to Agriculture: A senator suggests that Caesar should plant brassica. "Planting cabbage" is a French expression for retiring.
  • The Cameo:
    • Thompson and Thomson, or rather their ancestors (and their catchphrase) 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.
  • Continuity Nod: The legionaries at the first camp flattened by the three Armoricans upon their arrival in Belgium 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. There are no familiar faces, though.
  • Cue the Rain: The rain has a meta function, as a memorial to Goscinny, who died partway through the volume.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: For once it's the Romans who are dishing it out thanks to their catapults. Had Vitalstatix' group not stumbled on the Roman cohort that was supposed to attack the Belgians from behind, the Romans would have achieved a devastating victory with ease.
  • Death Before Dishonor: A general refuses to surrender. In the original he says “The guard dies but does not surrender” (an actual Waterloo quote). His legionaries have different ideas.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Beefix did not expect his friendly competition with Vitalstatistix to get Caesar personally involved. On the other hand, Belgians and Romans already were at war and when Caesar joins the fight, the Belgians do not hesitate to meet him.
  • The Dreaded: Beefix does not exactly fear Caesar. His praise of Caesar is mostly self-serving, after all Caesar called Belgians the bravest of all the Gaulish peoples. Still, Caesar's arrival in Belgium convinces Beefix that the game is over and it's war now.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Impedimenta calls Vitalstatistix “Piggywiggy” in front of visitors, just like she did in Asterix and the Soothsayer.
  • Face Death with Dignity: When Caesar is confronted by the three chiefs in the end. (He has that in common with Cleopatra.) Same as her, he's informed that the "barbarians" have no interest in killing him.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: When Vitalstatistix waxes eloquent on defending his honor as a veteran of Gergovia, Impedimenta asks him to get some mackerel on his way back.
  • Food Porn: Every meal in the Belgian village is a banquet as lavish as the ones that the Gauls have at the ending of each album.
  • Friendly Enemy:
    • When the Gauls attack the first camp, they smash legionary Pseudonymus into the ground. After the battle, he joins the discussion between Gauls and Belgians and even the introductions, though both sides ignore him.
    • Caesar is a downplayed example. His legions have been fighting the Belgians for months, yet when the Belgians have him at their mercy, they merely ask him to adjudicate who is the bravest.
  • Hard Head: A Belgian takes a catapult projectile to the head and is only stunned but annoyed.
  • The Horde: When the Belgians attack they really fit that definition.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Vitalstatistix finds the Belgian strategy of charging straight at the Romans “rather crude”.
    • The comic “cast[s] a modest veil over this deplorable and most unusual scene of violence”, meaning the second Gaulish attack which is heavily implied to be just like any other magic potion fueled attack.
  • Mirroring Factions: 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.
  • National Stereotypes: The Belgians are depicted as jolly and petulant people who enjoy having a laugh, a drink and some tasty food.
    • In France, Belgians are famous for their large meals (compare Mannekenpix the Belgian chef from The Twelve Tasks of Asterix).
    • Belgian jokes are popular in France, though Belgians are more likely to be portrayed as country bumpkins than as strong.
    • Belgium is divided into French-speaking Wallonia and Flemish-speaking Flanders. This is reflected by the Belgian village having two chiefs and especially their quarrel over an ox tongue which causes Beefix' wife to note: "Ils ont toujours une problème de langue" ("They always have a problem over tongue", langue also means language).
  • 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.
  • Neutrality Backlash: The pirates have their ship sunk by Gauls (though by accident this time). To be fair, though they had no part in the Belgian war, they were pirates and thus everybody’s enemy rather than everybody’s friend.
  • Never Heard That One Before: The Romans are sick to death of Belgian jokes (in France, Belgians are acceptable to mock to the point where most jokes featuring them share a punchline with Dumb Blonde jokes).
  • Precision F-Strike: Implied; Julius Caesar uses one in the form of Symbol Swearing:
    Julius Caesar: (shouting at a pirate holding a board) YOU KNOW WHAT YOU CAN DO WITH THAT %^*& BOARD OF YOURS?!
  • Punny Name: The Roman prefect in Belgium is named Wolfgangamadeus, after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. One of the other soldiers is named Saintlouisblus, after the jazz standard St. Louis Blues.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Caesar often has reason to brood or grumble, but he rarely loses his temper the way he does in this comic.
  • Opening Shout-Out: Asterix quotes the introductory page when he tells Caesar that only one small village is holding out against the invaders.
  • 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.
  • Running Gag:
    • People comment on the classical quotability of Caesar’s various utterances.
    • Across the comics: Vitalstatistix falls off his shield, this time because he told the fighting villagers to drop everything and his shieldbearers obeyed.
    • Across the comics: The pirates lose their ship to the Gauls, though by accident this time.
  • Separated by a Common Language:A major source of humor in the original, most of which was Lost in Translation.
    • Déjeuner refers to the midday meal in France but means breakfast in Belgium, hence the early dinners.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The legionaries sing „When Gaius [Johnny] comes marching home again” and “We’re going to hang out the washing on the Armorican [Siegfried] line”.
    • Belgian jokes are actually a thing in modern France.
    • Vitalstatistix is horrified that people should come to Aremorica for a rest cure. Modern Normandy and Brittany are the second-most popular holiday area in France after the mediterranean coast.
    • Beefix says that the Belgians went to war “after weeks beneath the conqueror’s yoke”, an allusion to the Belgian national anthem which begins “after centuries of slavery”. (The allusion is more obvious in the original French.)
    • “The only hills in our flat countryside are called oppidums” refers to Jaques Brel’s song “Le Plat Pays” (The Flat Land), which substitutes oppidums [fortified towns] for cathedrals.
    • Thomson and Thomson from the world famous Belgian comic strip series Tintin appear, as two messengers announcing Caesar's arrival.
    • Botanix’s family eat Brussels sprouts, his wife makes Brussels lace and his son looks a lot like the Manneken Piss (except he wears pants and pees offscreen). The city does not exist yet (Brussels is much younger than Lutetia/Paris), but there is a little Economic Community (EEC) that would later become a not-so-little Union (EU).
    • The final battle is one big reference to the battle of Waterloo with Caesar as Napoleon, Wolfgangamadeus as Grouchy, Beefix as Wellington and Asterix as Blücher.
      • Caesar's army arriving on the battlefield by horse is a parody of a painting by Ernest Meissonier showing Napoleon campaigning in France.
      • In the original, the narration for the final battle is based on Victor Hugo’s “Les châtiments” about the battle of Waterloo. Some of the dialogue also references the battle, e.g. “The guard dies but never surrenders”. 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).
      • Asterix arriving to turn the tide of battle instead of Wolfgangamadeus references Blücher's arrival at Waterloo instead of French general Grouchy. (Grouchy was supposed to intercept Blücher's Prussians but missed them, which contributed to Napoleon's defeat.)
    • The Belgian banquet near the end is a parody of Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder 's painting "Peasant Wedding".
  • Silly Reason for War: Caesar does not take The Reveal of the Belgian uprising (they were having a contest with the Gauls to prove which are the bravest) well.
  • Take a Third Option:
    • When Caesar arrives in Belgium, Asterix and Obelix ask him to be the adjudicator in the contest between whether they or the Belgians are the bravest, causing him to lose his temper and vow to demonstrate that he is the bravest by wiping them all out with his legions. Whereupon Obelix complains that the umpire can’t take part in the contest.
    • At the end of the story, the Gauls and Belgians corner Caesar and demand that he say which of them is the bravest; he replies that he's got no idea, and that all he knows is that they're all equally crazy.
  • Theme Naming: The dual chiefs Beefix and Brawnix.
  • Torture First, Ask Questions Later: Not quite torture but Obelix starts beating a legionary in order to make him answer a question no one has asked yet.
  • Unknown Rival: The plot kicks off when Vitalstatistix is outraged to hear the Undefeatable Little Village is considered a vacation spot for veterans of the Belgian wars.
  • Vacation Episode: Asterix, Obelix and Vitalstatistix travel to Belgica, aka Belgium.
  • White Flag: Asterix and Obelix use one, though Obelix takes some time to get used to the neutrality thing.

“These Belgians are Crazy!”