I was at the mall yesterday. One thing led to another and I found myself browsing for books at the only bookstore in the mall. Since I hadn't planned out on what to buy, I was mostly flitting between the aisles, thumbing the spines and standing on tip-toes to look at the ones beyond the reach of my vision. I ended up at the graphic novels section (I always feel like saying 'comics' instead of 'graphic novels'; the latter is politically correct, but 'comics' has a happy ring to it), and my eyes stopped over a shelf full of Asterix. I went home, among other things, with Asterix and the Black Gold.
The thing that caught my attention was the cover illustration of Obelix in a desert, carrying a camel on his back.
The plot is fairly simple - the Gaulish village has run out of rock oil (or petroleum to you and me) which is apparently an important ingredient for the potions that druid Getafix brews. Consequently, there is nothing that can save the little village from being annexed by the Romans. Enter Asterix, Obelix, a happy-go-lucky swindler Ekonomikrisis and the shaken-not-stirred Roman double-agent Dubbelosix (he works for the Romans and for himself). They leave in search of rock oil and the adventure hence begins.
Rock oil inevitably draws the mind to Middle East, and the story thus parks itself eventually in the kingdom of Judaea (modern day Israel). Before reaching Jerusalem though, there is plenty of the usual delightful skirmishes with the pirates and the Romans, both on land and at sea. After persistent efforts by Caesar to prevent them landing at the harbour, the Gauls manage to sneak their way into the land. Hence begins the discovery of a new land, along with the fulfillment of the mission at hand.
Black Gold achieves quite a lot in the way of Asterix in Spain, or Asterix in Switzerland but it stops short of Asterix in Britain. The story however captures a lot of the history associated with the land - right from biblical times to the present-day strife - within a few pages of hilarious graphics. There are also mentions of the devils associated with modern socio-economic issues - oil spills and the plight of local small traders. The prize of the narrative - to me, at least - is the unbelievably impeccable characterisation of Dubbelosix (he has been based almost entirely on Sean Connery's Bond, eyebrow and moustache and all) and the benevolent-looking camel. The ending is a tad weak though, but from an intellectual point of view (as is often wont in Asterix), it sends a good message.
It was a fun read and when I was done, I couldn't help but laugh to myself and say, "The crazy Gauls !"
SPOILER; Read at your own risk
I think it makes for a very good concept that Getafix manages to get by without the rock oil, and instead uses beetroot juice. Maybe that sends across a message about the substitutability (and vanity) of petroleum.