Luc Besson’s movie Valerian has brought the classic French sci-fi comic Valerian and Laureline back into the limelight. Cinebook has been republishing the series in English for a few years now, one 48-page album at a time (as it was originally published in the French editions) and it’s still going strong. This reboot of the series, collected in hardback this time, will run concurrently. This first volume of the collected edition brings the first two of the original graphic novels together under a single cover, along with a previously untranslated prequel.
Originally started in its native French in the mid 1970s, Valerian is a sophisticated comic that quickly finds its feet. To those of us brought up on British comics it seems instantly more grown-up. At the time, our comics were anthologies with only a few short pages dedicated to each story. Valerian and Laureline, in the French style, carries the same characters through different adventure in each self-contained story, but the stories are spread across 48 pages, giving plenty of room for development. They’re also full colour, and more impressively and technically produced than most comics the British or Americans were publishing at the time.
The three stories presented here lay the groundwork for the series. The prequel feels like an apology to science fiction, using time travel to immediately transport the hero, Valerian, back to a sort of medieval fantasy world, where he’s chasing an enemy from his own time to stop him carrying out an evil plan to alter the past and change the future. It’s in this first chapter that we’re introduced to Laureline, who ends up being Valerian’s sidekick but offers a lot more to the story than just being a stunning-looking female assistant.
The second story sees Valerian travel to a near-future America (actually set in 1986!) where climate change and seismic activity has seen New York flooded and Yellowstone set ablaze. New York is ruled by criminal gangs, gathering the city’s riches by boat from evacuated tower blocks. Again, Valerian and Laureline are there to chase after the same baddie they were hunting down in the first story.
The final story of three is the most ambitious. Here Valerian and Laureline travel across the galaxy, using time travel to enable them to cover vast distances and go to an empire of worlds that hasn’t had contact with humanity before. There’s all sorts of interesting concepts explored in this one, with a fantastic twist worthy of a time travel adventure, and it’s here that the series really kicks into gear.
Mézières’ art is simple by modern standards but it’s crammed with character. Christin’s writing is more sophisticated, working some standard sci-fi tropes by today’s standards, but blazing a trail for the time. Frankly, you can tell it’s from another era but it hasn’t aged nearly as much as contemporary English-language comics. With the addition of a short batch of interviews and essays at the beginning, this book marks the start of a definitive collection of Valerian, and is definitely something to treasure.