Film review: Asterix – The Mansions of the Gods

One of the few non-Marvel comic books that I adored as a child were the adventures of Asterix the Gaul. The art was crisp, the characters funny  engaging, and the scripts were very witty, with an effortless ability to speak to fans of different ages at the same time.

The basic set up: The Romans have conquered all of Gaul (France) apart from one lone outpost, the small village populated by Asterix and his fellow holdouts. They have a druid who makes a special potion which gives them superhuman strength, and they are such fierce fighters that the Romans are petrified of them.

There have been many attempts to bring these stories to the screen, and the latest version is the 3D computer animated movie, Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods.

The plot (based on the 1973 comic book story of the same name), sees the Gauls resist Roman colonialism in the form of a housing development being erected on the doorstep of their independent village.

This is a French-Belgian movie that has been dubbed into English by an eccentric British cast, including Jack Whitehall as Asterix, Nick Frost as Obelix, and the wonderful Matt Berry as druid Vitalstatistix. Other cast members even include Dick & Dom!

To me, Whitehall as Asterix is a bit too public school for the rural Gaulish villager/warrior, but Nick Frost makes a good Obelix. The satirical nature of the comics is well represent here.

For me, Asterix will always be something that belongs on the page – but this is the best screen version I have seen, and is a great introduction to the adventures of the indomitable gaul. Just make sure you buy any converts after watching this some Asterix comics.

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Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods has an RRP of £19.99 (BluRay). We were set a copy for the purposes of this review.

Review: DC Comics Secret Hero Society – Study Hall of Justice

Existing somewhere between a comic and a book, DC Comics Secret Hero Society – Study Hall of Justice, is a fun way to explore the characters of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman in an all new setting.

Set in an alternative timeline, this sees a young Bruce Wayne attending the exclusive school Ducard Academy, where he befriends a certain Kansas farm boy and a foreign young woman of royal descent (Superman and Wonder Woman in case you were wondering).

But all is not right in the school, and if you’re a follower of the DC universe in either it’s comic, film, or TV forms, the names of the teachers – and the academy itself – should be a hint at what’s really going on there.

It’s written by Derek Fridolfs and illustrated by Dustin Nguyen, who were the team behind a similarly cute Li’l Gotham. While ostensibly a comic book, this also has tracts of text and graphics as part of the story – such as text messages, letters, articles, diary entires, and more. It’s a book equivalent of a multi-media story telling approach that works really well, and encourages more reading than your usual comic book.

The characterisations are spot on, and close in spirit with their comic equivalents while being a wry commentary on them. While this centres on the young dark knight detective, it’s also nice to see the bond forming (and sometimes cracking) between him and Superman & Wonder Woman.

I liked a sequence when Diane Prince (Wonder Woman) tried to go undercover and get on the cheerleading team, followed by an unsuccessful athletics try-out. There is also a nice nod to her mission in fighting war – by trying to stop Superman and Batman fighting. Plenty of other female characters from the DC universe show up too such as girls called Harley, Pamela, and Talia 😉

This is a fun little book, that’s may be of particular interest to a young reader looking for something a little more relatable to them, while still staying true to the classic characters.

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DC Comics Secret Hero Society – Study Hall of Justice

by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen, is published by Scholastic and is available now.

Marvel UK’s 1978 Star Wars Weekly Comic

While recently rifling through the boxes of stuff I still have cluttering up my parents house, I found one containing copies of my old Star Wars Weekly comic from the seventies.

For many a young Star Wars fan in 1970’s Britain this was their first exposure to the galaxy far, far away.

While the movie was released in London at the tail end of 1977, over half a year after it debuted in the US, it took many months to reach the rest of the country outside the capital. The Marvel Comics adaptation first appeared on UK shores in the shape of a reprinted large format 2 issue US Treasury Edition, but more widely in February 1978 with Marvel UK’s immensely popular Star Wars Weekly comic.

The 6 issue monthly US run was divided and published across 12 black & white weekly UK issues – with various age-innapropriate back up stories making up the rest of the comic.

While it shared a few covers with its monthly US cousin, the vast majority were different – and at times bear little resemblance in terms of look, plot, or character to the actual movie. What they do have in spades is bombast and melodrama.

This was the way I understood Star Wars until I was actually taken to see it (in April 1978, a year after it’s US release). Seeing these covers reawakened evocative memories of those months before I saw the movie, of what I thought was happening in the story, rather than what actually did.

So here they are – to experience for the first time or to rekindle childhood memories – the first twelve Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly comic covers.

Star Wars Weekly, Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 1
The same cover as the US Marvel issue 1. Quite how Luke was on course to destroy the galaxy remains to be seen. The promise of the cut-out X-Wing far exceeded the reality.
Star Wars Weekly, Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 2
I love the colours of this cover, and the scene depicted is a striking one that really made me want to see the movie. The cut-out Tie Fighter was even less exciting when assembled than the X-Wing.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 3
I love the fact that this cover (a US one) shows Luke taking charge in the cantina fracas – when of course we know he was pushed around while Ob-Wan dealt with it.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 4
Enter Han Solo, but with Luke once again shown taking charge and telling everyone what to do. As a kid, I always thought the faces looked more like they originated from Asia.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 5
I can only assume this cover has some kind of Close Encounters of the Third Kind idea going on with the 3 phases concept. And of course we didn’t see Luke – or anyone – battle the Death Star yet. Han looks far more scared than his onscreen space pirate persona was.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 6
Our first look at Princess Leia on this (badly) reprinted US cover, who looked more ‘exotic’ to me than the photos I had previously seen. I was also struck with how completely unlike the real actors Han and Luke had also been drawn here. Having said all that, it was a pretty exciting looking cover.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 7
I loved this cover. Great colours, dynamic action – and pretty fair to the scene in the movie too.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 8
I always thought this was a rather mundane cover given the part of the story that’s being depicted.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 9
Again a fairly functional cover, but I like the panel approach.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 10
A wonderfully melodramatic scene of what was one of the calmest parts of the story – going to the rebel base. I think by this time I had seen the movie, and it was my first realisation that you shouldn’t judge a (comic) book by it’s cover. It’s interesting that the base is referred to as “The Hidden Fortress” – the name of the Kurosawa movie that was cited by George Lucas as a key inspiration on Star Wars.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 11
A rather loose interpretation of Luke’s part in attacking the Death Star (or “Death-Station”). I remember I kind of wished this scene had happened, as it looks like Luke’s X-Wing is about to fly into the same room as Vader, who is then going to fight it off with his lightsaber.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 12
This cover made me realise what the film was missing – a lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader. As it is, this is a nice rendition of the conflict in both spirit and (filmic) reality – although the way Luke is holding his lightsaber has always annoyed me.

Checking out these covers was quite a blast down memory lane. One thing I do remember is that I was often more excited than my friends about the latest issue coming out. For instance I have a vivid memory of taking issue 5 out on the playground to read (in the rain) because I couldn’t wait until later, while my friends just wanted to run around. Even then it seemed I was a bigger Star Wars fan than my peers.

Star Wars is now back with Marvel Comics (as they are both owned by Disney), and a new generation of Star Wars fan is going to grow up with their own movies – starting with The Force Awakens – and hopefully a Marvel Comics adaptation too.

I can’t help but wonder if my daughter will have her own memories of Star Wars comic covers, as vivid as those I have for these British ones.

Star Wars Weekly Cover Gallery

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