La Saga d’Atlas & Axis, T. 3, by Pau – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
La Saga d’Atlas & Axis, t.3, by Pau.
Roubaix, France, Ankama Éditions, November 2015, hardcover €12.90 (60 +  pages).
Once again, Lex Nakashima & I present our conspiracy to get you to read French animalière bandes dessinées that aren’t likely to be published in English.
Has it really been 2 ½ years since I reviewed tomes 1 & 2 for Flayrah? Well, Jean-Marc Pau has been busy. Not only has he written & drawn this volume, he has made a “movie” of the whole series. If you look closely, you can find a little animation in it. The 3:25-minute “movie” starts with images from the first two albums; tome 3 starts at 2:09 minutes.
I described La Saga d’Atlas & Axis as “Their world looks like a doggy version of Astérix & Obélix …” Cutely drawn but without the humor. The setting, allowing for the anthropomorphic animals, is around the 9th & 10 centuries when the Vikings were taking over Armorica so thoroughly that it’s been called Normandy ever since. This series also differs from Astérix & Obélix in being one continuous adventure rather than standalone albums.
This tome 3 begins right where tome 2 ended in 2013. To repeat my translation of the blurb of the first two volumes:
In the world of Pongeo, where all the animals talk and walk on two paws, Atlas and Axis are two mutts of very different characters and pedigrees: the first is intelligent and rational, while the second is controlled more by his feelings. One day when the two companions return to their village for a festival, they discover it ravaged by the cruel Vikiens, bloody brutes from the North who pillage and kill all who fall under their claws. So begins the saga of Atlas and Axis, the astonishing epic of two friends overflowing with courage, who leave to brave the great North to avenge their folk. In the grand tradition of adventuring duos, prepare to live a story funny and terrible, tender and epic …
I thought that Atlas is a golden retriever, but the dialogue establishes that he’s an Afghan hound. Axis is a mutt; mostly a terrier mix. Atlas is the cool, thoughtful one of the pair; Axis is the hothead who rushes into trouble.
To quote again from my review of tome 2:
But after only a couple of days [in Miel’s tavern], they can’t help overhearing a noisy argument between two traveling scholars. The older claims that dogs are evolved from wolves, while the other insists that dogs were created by the god Toby in his own image. The believer in evolution offers to outfit Atlas and Axis for an expedition to bring back proof of the Tarses, a legendary missing link tribe halfway between wolves and dogs, which incidentally is connected to the magic bowl of Khimera. The quest leads to what is clearly central Asia, a canine Genghis Khan, and living mammoths and dinosaurs. The volume ends with Atlas and Axis impressed into a barbarian fleet en route to conquer a thinly-disguised Constantinople. Obviously the story is to be continued.
Volume 3 begins with Atlas & Axis learning that they’ve been tricked. Their canine armada isn’t heading for Constantinople and rich loot. It’s going to the fortress of the rival Maka raiders, to kill them all and annex their territory. “We’re finally going to annihilate the Makas and take their lands. No more of their pillaging and unpunished murders! Today marks the end of these criminals! This time, we’ve got the larger army… and if you’re tempted to spare them, think of our assassinated families and our pillaged homes! Remember them? Are we going to let these murderers see another day!? NO! It’s now or never! To the Maka fortress! Don’t take prisoners… I don’t want to see a single Maka alive! And we’ll take their lands!” (pages 5-6) As far as Atlas & Axis are concerned, one tribe of ruthless (and penniless) barbarian dog warriors is no better than the other.
The first 22 pages are Viking longboats landing and the siege of the Maka fortress. Attacks! Arrows! Sword killings! Beheadings! Boiling oil! Battering rams! (with live rams tied to them) Catapults! Battle axes! Atlas’ & Axis’ side kills deserters so the sneak away during the battle, killing anyone who comes after them.
They are successful, sort of, until they meet Vulk, the king of the Makas. (That’s him on the cover.) He’s not a dog; he’s a wolf. (You can’t tell the difference in Pau’s cartoony art style.) He sneaked out of the doomed fortress through a secret passage. He tells Atlas & Axis how he was a homeless wanderer who gradually collected dog robbers and built them into an unstoppable army with himself as their king. He was a bloody conqueror (I’m sorry I can’t include one panel in the review; you never saw such a berserk, blood-soaked – but cute – cartoon wolf warrior before), but he was fair to his own people (as long as they paid their taxes). Atlas & Axis leave Vulk to his destiny, and after several more adventures while getting further and further away, they are totally lost – but in sight of what is probably a clue to the magic bowl and lost dog-wolf mix lost tribe that is their original goal. A caption promises that tome 4 will be the climax and final volume of the series.
If you haven’t started La saga d’Atlas & Axis yet, get it from the beginning rather than jumping into the middle of the story. It’s a funny-animal fantasy, but it’s also good history in presenting how northern France came to be settled by the Vikings in the 9th & 10th centuries. The animalicity is mostly in the vocabulary; the dogs call their wives and girlfriends bitches and their children puppies. The peasantry is helpless prey animals like rabbits, goats, and sheep, and the dogs including Atlas & Axis casually oppress (eat) them. You won’t find anything like this in American cartoons.