The Homage Crossover

ACTION COMICS #579, DC Comics, May 1986
Not a crossover per se, but still finishing Company Crossover Week with this: Superman kind of met the world of Asterix in Action Comics #579 by Cheval Noir translator Jean-Marc Lofficier. He's also paid homage to Tintin, but with disastrous results (unless a postapocalyptic Hergé is your idea of good), but "Prisoners of Time" is a much tamer attempt at revisionism. Still, is it any good? With Keith Giffen and Bob Oksner on art, it's at least got style.

The story occurs during the last few issues of Action before the post-Crisis reboot, another in a series of what looks like inventory material for the power-bloated, slightly ridiculous, Superman. Many stories in this era were all premise and no insight, and there wasn't a single menace Superman couldn't handle with two hands tied behind his back. Everything hinged on his powers getting out of control or his being "not himself". This comic takes that second option.

It all starts with Jimmy Olsen visiting a museum with his girlfriend Lucy Lane, when a couple of thugs try to steal the Arverne Shield, the very same surrendered to Caesar by the Gaul chief Vercingetorix when everything but one tiny village fell to the Roman Empire. French-speaking readers will already know the story, as we were all raised on Asterix comics and cartoons. Anyway, as per Action Comics' standards at the time, don't look for too much logic even in this early scene: Jimmy uses his signal watch to call Superman, thinking "I hope they don't spot me pressing my signal-watch!" Well, Jimmy, even if they do, are they really gonna care that a hostage just looked at his watch? And then one of the mooks bent on stealing the priceless shield slams it upside Jimmy's head and destroys it like so much pottery (no wonder Gaul fell). You might've seen it on America's Stupidest Criminals.

Meanwhile, back in 253 AD (only in comics would a phrase like that make any sense)... waitamminit, doesn't Asterix take place in 50 BC? Yes, but see, here's Lofficier's "what happened next": Panoramix the druid (here, "Picturix") not only makes the magic potion that gives the villagers super-strength and thus keeps the Romans at bay, but he also cast a spell that put the region in a time bubble, free from the ravages of time. So it's been the same old stand-off for 300 years, with the 4 surrounding Roman camps also frozen in time.

So a soothsayer from Lutecia's looking for the village and comes upon those archaic Romans. His plan to get his hands on the magic potion is to grab a super-strong person from the future using the Arvergne Shield's location in time. So that's how Superman and Jimmy Olsen get whisked to Gaul. The soothsayer gives Superman a whiff of something that makes him a slave and he is dubbed Superix. (Tell me, if you have the power to control men's' minds and grab people from the future, why do you need the recipe to a super-strength potion so badly?)

Jimmy will instead be found and adopted by the Gaul village, and they dress him up in Asterix's clothes:
If you've ever seen Asterix, you should wonder how the thing fits tall Jimmy here, but as with everything else in the comic, I don't think you're supposed to ask questions. They probably couldn't use Asterix as he's too distinctive, but it's a shame to pay homage to his book without having him in it. Obelix (called "Columnix") IS here though, but they never show his face. Oh, like the body, small white dog, menhirs, and origin story of him falling into the potion when he was a baby aren't dead giveaways. I do kind of like Giffen's Obelix though.
If you're familiar with the source material, all the old shticks are there: puns in every name (Mikimus probably being the best), the old "how do I know this potion isn't poison?" dilemma trick, the big banquet at the end, and cowardly Romans. For example, here's something that's been done before: After saying they were attacked by a "slew" of enemies, they negotiate it down...
So there's nothing new here, but if you haven't read Asterix before, do track it down. This is a fun enough wink at Uderzo & Goscinny's landmark series, but there's really no substitute for the real thing. And I've read the English translations. They took particular care in crafting all-new puns and jokes of the same quality as the French version, so you don't have to learn another language if you don't want to. As Superman himself says at the end of this (frankly daft) issue when Jimmy feels like writing their story: "It's already been done."


SallyP said...

Well ok, it does sound a bit silly. REALLY silly. But sometimes that is exactly what I am looking for in a comic book. Plus I harbor a deep affection towards Asterix, it was the first comic book I ever picked up, when I was about five years old.

LiamKav said...

I used to enjoy getting Astrix books out of the library when I was younger. Most of the puns went completely over my head at the time. I still have no idea how they got away with calling the druid "Getafix" for the UK translations.


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