Valerian And Laureline: When The Conclusion Of An Epic Isn’t The Epic Conclusion You Want

by Richard Bruton

 

If all you know of Valerian and Laureline is the 2017 Luc Besson-helmed movie Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets, then you’re missing out on one of the finest sci-fi comics ever produced.

But before we get into the series in general, and these final two volumes, in particular, a word on the Besson film. Although it was pretty universally panned, it’s something that had at least the elements of greatness in it. But as anyone who’s had the pleasure of reading the comics will tell you, the movie was pitched badly from the title onwards. Simply titling it “Valerian” totally missed the point. It’s Valerian and Laureline. A team, with Laureline proving herself time and again the better of the pair.

First published in France’s Pilote in 1967 and ending in 2010, it’s hard to overestimate the genius and influence of Pierre Christian and Jean-Claude Mézières’ creation. It certainly had rather a large and controversial impact upon a certain George Lucas, with many European comics fans commenting on the similarities between Valerian and Laureline and a certain Star Wars trilogy. To their credit, Christian and Mézières took it in good spirit, with Mézières even gently reminding people of the “coincidences” with this Pilote illustration:

(Roughly translated: “What a nice surprise to meet you here!” … “We’ve been regulars here for a while now!”)

Volumes 20 and 21, The Order of the Stones and The Time Opener, bring us to the end of the Valerian and Laureline series, with just one final anthology volume to come; Memories From The Future.

If you’re unaware of the basis for the series, it’s the 28th Century and Valerian and Laureline are time agents, with a mission to travel through space and time, investigating threats to the Earth for their bosses at the Point Central. Valerian is Earthborn and serves Point Central with unwavering, often blind, devotion. Laureline is a far more independent spirit, plucked by Valerian from 11th Century France and trained as a time agent. Independent, rebellious, and far more likely to question authority and the ethical ramifications of her orders, it soon becomes obvious that she’s far more intelligent and capable than the headstrong Valerian.

Christin’s stories are full of wild invention, liberal and humanist, incorporating complex political and social ideologies alongside epic, action-packed adventures. Alongside Christin, Mézières’ art gives the ideas flesh, his artwork detailed, imaginative, full of spectacular alien landscapes and bizarre alien species. Together, they created a work of brilliance that stands the test of time.

Mézières visuals are perfect for capturing the interplanetary, time-traveling madness with style and imagination. His stylised layouts, incredible use of backgrounds, a color palette just this side of perfection, tight cartoon-ish character work, all of it is simply sublime. In fact, it’s a series that, unusually for me, I’ve come to appreciate more in digital form than printed. And it’s solely because digital allows me to zoom in on the incredible work Mézières puts into every single panel.

(The advantage of reading digitally, zooming in on Mézières’ incredible artwork to reveal every detail.)

Amongst fans, there’s some debate as to where the series truly peaks, with the general consensus being that the high point is somewhere between volumes 5 and 10. Personally, I found the earliest volumes a little heavy, with far too much going on, and Christin’s script exposition heavy. But when the series hits its stride, the results are incredible.

It’s a series of the spectacular, but in my favorite tales, it’s also capable of capturing a subtle, emotional nuance, particularly when exploring the complex relationship between the two leads. At its very best, Valerian and Laureline is a masterpiece in mood, a masterpiece in expressive art and a masterpiece in creating something truly epic whilst retaining a perfect sense of the personal and emotional.

HOWEVER, and it’s a massively important point, these two final volumes are NOT the place to start this incredible adventure. In fact, the footnote on the very first page of volume 21 has this warning:

This volume is the conclusion to Valerian and Laureline’s saga. It brings back characters and refers to events from just about every book from the series. It is highly recommended that you read those first.

And that’s absolutely right.

The Order of the Stones and The Time Opener would be a terrible place to start with Valerian and Laureline. And for me, it wasn’t that great a way to end this majestic series either. Sadly, I felt it all rather ended with a whimper, not a bang. These final two volumes rather run away with themselves trying to get as many previous characters and events involved as possible as Valerian and Laureline use the Time Opener to attempt to rectify the mistakes of the past. These two books make up the finale of the In Search of the Lost Earth trilogy of volumes 19, 20, and 21. Because, yes, Valerian and Laureline have managed to wipe Earth from time after attempting to undo a devastating nuclear attack on New York in 1986. Oops.

The plot seems thin, all to do with Valerian and Laureline attempting to restore the Earth, whilst marshaling forces against the mysterious Wolochs, giant stone monoliths traveling the galaxy looking to destroy all civilizations. And although there’s a great deal more going on through these two volumes, none of it seems particularly important, more a tidying up job for all involved. Having said that, the post-finale revelation of the future for Valerian and Laureline has a satisfying, almost sentimental touch to it, something very fitting for these spectacularly gifted time agents.

So no, don’t start here. Don’t even think about it. Start from the beginning. Or possibly even with volume 2, City of a Thousand Planets, the moment the series truly started with fabulous space and time adventuring. Or go for volume 6, Ambassador of the Shadows, many fans’ particular favorite. Personally, I adore volumes 9 and 10; Métro Châtelet, Direction Cassiopeia and Brooklyn Station, Terminus Cosmos, where I think the series hit its peak in terms of the characterization of both Valerian and Laureline. But whatever volume you start with, please start somewhere. It’s well worth exploring this trail-blazing science fiction epic.

Valerian and Laureline Volumes 20 and 21; The Order Of The Stones and The Time Opener are available from all great comic shops and via the Cinebook website.

Valerian and Laureline was created by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. Colors for Volumes 20 and 21 by E. Tranlé & Mézières. Published in the UK and USA by Cinebook.