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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, September 24, 2016

NEAR MYTHS: ASTERIX AND THE BIG FIGHT

At the end of Part 5 of TWO SUBLIMITIES HAVE I, I came to this conclusion with respect to the differences between the two sublimities.

I've stated before that the three phenomalities are absolutely equal in terms of their potential for mythicity-- defined as the complexity of symbolic discourse-- and in terms of their potential for what I now define as "dynamic sublimity."  But I'm reversing myself on the first of these. The sublimity of combinatory power is not one where equality reigns.  The marvelous possesses the greatest power of this kind, followed by the uncanny, with the naturalistic possessing nothing more than the power to  recover "the freshness of vision."

But although the phenomenenality of the marvelous possesses the greatest "power," in the actual world power not used is only "potential." No one would be surprised by the observation that there exist thousands of marvelous texts whose combinatory power is almost never used-- but I'm sometimes surprised to see works that almost go out of their way not to use that power.



The French album-comic ASTERIX rates as one of the best-known postwar European comics, with a total of 36 volumes to date. I've read the series in a spotty fashion, and it always seemed a pleasant, if repetitive, comedy. But did any volumes qualify as "mythcomics?"

I still have not read the full ASTERIX corpus, but I did take samples from both early and late phases, and-- it all reads pretty much the same. The series takes place in pre-Christian Gaul (later France), at a time when the Roman Empire has dominated most of Europe, and almost all of Gaul-- except for one tiny village. Within that village, the local druid has perfected a serum that confers super-strength upon all those who drink it. Thus, whenever Roman soldiers seek to add the village to their conquests, they are simply beat to shit by the superhuman Gauls, who are usually led by diminutive warrior Asterix and his dumb-as-a-post friend Obelix.

Comedy is of course not at all hostile to myth, as I've shown in assorted posts here. But even though ASTERIX does reference bits and pieces of druid lore, it's always in a predictable sitcom manner. Most stories begin with the Gauls being threatened by the Romans or some other force. Asterix and his allies sally forth, and while they're not clobbering adversaries, they're making wry comments on other nationalities. Even with explanations, my taste for this sort of repetitive "insider" humor is limited.

The 1966 volume ASTERIX AND THE BIG FIGHT is, of those volumes I've read, the closest the series comes to a mythcomic. The authors apparently delved a little deeper into Gaulish customs than usual, setting up the action by declaring that a new chieftain can depose the chief of another village-- such as that of Asterix-- if he challenges him to single combat. The Romans arrange to have a "Gallo-Roman" ally issue a challenge, and then try to fix the fight by eliminating the druid who supplies the village with its super-serum.

The primary asset of this tale, though still pretty uninventive, does manage a few jibes at cultural appropriation in the form of fashion-conscious Gallo-Roman Crassius. But nothing is very well developed.

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