Valerian and laureline v15, Circles of Power header

Valerian and Laureline v15: “The Circles of Power”

Skipped a Few

“The Circles of Power” is volume 15 of the “Valerian and Laureline” series.  I’m reading it after reading volumes #1 – #6.  (Links to all the other reviews in the series are here.)

Valerian and Laureline are no longer with the time police organization they started with.  They’re on their own.

wThat’s the big change.  After that, this book is self-contained.  They reference previous volumes a couple of times — notably a plot point from volume 11, “The Ghosts of Inverloch” that gets called out explicitly in case you haven’t read that one — but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this book at all.

I had a great time reading this one as a standalone adventure.  The story has a great sense of humor, and the design elements — particularly the ships and the cityscapes — are fantastic.


Where Are They Now?

Valerian and Laureline are on the planet Rubanis with their broken down ship.  The planet is poorly organized and a bit of a sketchy backwater dive. Without getting a lot of expensive repairs to their ship, they’re stuck in port.

Valerian and Laureline v15 things tend to work out

But, as the saying on the planet goes, things tend to take care of themselves.  (This is just a cheap way of explaining away some fantastically fortuitous turns of event in the book, really, but it works.)

It starts when our old friends, the anteater-looking Shingouz, return to make an offer of work that Valerian and Laureline can’t refuse.  The two are to report to the planet’s Chief of Police for their assignment immediately.

There’s two things you need to know about this book before we go any further:

  1. It’s a comedy.
  2. Here comes The Fifth Element.


It’s a Comedy

As much as my first reaction to this book is that it’s Mezieres’ tour de force, my more analytical thoughts point to writer Pierre Christin as the star of the book.  He handles a lot in what seems like a lighter tale than usual.  But it’s his sense of humor combined with the imaginative setting that makes this book such a big winner.

There’s a serious science fiction world building exercise at the core of this book.  The planet is divided into five circles, each with its own distinct personality and set of pitfalls.  You have the grungy blue collar section all the way up to the power players’ circle, and then the final super powerful circle that nobody ever visits.  Those are the people in control of the world; they’re aloof and mysterious.

The police chief is likely rotten to the core.  His first in command is a known traitor.  Nobody on this planet isn’t double dealing. Nobody can be trusted, but at least everyone knows that and is open about that.  It’s the kind of mind-bending insanity that creates great humor for an outside looking in.

In Valerian v15, policing and politics are a confusing and hilarious thing

The whole book feels like it would fit into a chapter of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Everyone is so transparent about their lies and their double-dealing, without fear.  It’s just the way it is.  And the city is built up around ridiculous things, like the way the second ring feels so well organized but is subject to random explosions that people are just used to.

The many aliens in the book, with the possible exception of the big bad one who mostly means harm, all contribute to this farcical world.  Everyone has a sardonic wit or a dry sense of humor. It all adds up to a wacky book where every assumption will be challenged.

There’s even humor in the situation where their taxi pilot has the obvious hots for Laureline and doesn’t hide it.  That causes some friction with Valerian.  More drama means more humor.


This is The Fifth Element

Valerian flying taxi design

No, literally, it is.

Let me run down the timeline for you:

Luc Besson was a “Valerian” fan.  He hired Jean-Claude Mezieres to do designs for him on a movie he was developing in 1990 that would later be known as “The Fifth Element.”

After three years of working on the project, Besson dropped it to go to something else, namely “Leon the Professional.”

Mezieres used some of the concepts he had done for Besson on the now-dead movie in his next Valerian book, which is this one.  That includes the flying taxi cab.

Mezieres sent the published album to Besson.

Valerian flying taxi design

When “The Fifth Element” resumed production soon after, the lead character of the movie changed professions to become a flying taxi cab driver.

Now, in 2017, Besson is finally doing a “Valerian” movie and everything comes full circle.


The Art of Jean-Claude Mezieres

Mezieres’ art loosened up a lot over the course of the series.  This book came out in 1994 originally, 25 years after the first.  The difference is dramatic. Everything feels looser and more wide open.

But Mezieres’ command of the fundamentals is still at the top of his game.  The ships and cityscapes and general technology has never been more impressive, more imaginative, or more spectacular. His sense of scale and composition are second to none. He integrates characters into their environments well, and then makes interesting environments for them to walk through, sit in, or fight their way out of.


The first page from Jean-Claude Mezieres gives you plenty to study.

The first page from Jean-Claude Mezieres gives you plenty to study.

This is just the first half page of the issue.  There’s so much to analyze in this one panel.  Look at the way Mezieres shows us the scale of the ships by placing people around them.  Look at that black underbelly of the ship, obscuring all the details. See the way the line work gets thinner and sparser as you move to the far background, to help set that back a bit.  (No color holds necessary!) Love that one ship in the upper right corner in the extreme foreground that helps add depth.

Mezieres has lots of opportunities in this book to draw what are essentially car chase scene.  They’re flying cars through high tech cities, but they’re still chase scenes.  Those are the highlights of the issue, visually.  Mezieres excels at drawing all that mechanical and architectural stuff that would drive most comic book artists off.

But, then, Mezieres isn’t a typical comic book artist.  He describes himself as more of an illustrator or designer. His panel to panel storytelling is pretty good despite that, but his best work still shines in the more designy elements of the series.

Part of me wonders how much of those chase scenes are lifted from the “Fifth Element” work he had already done, beyond just the designs.  Did he borrow storyboards from the earlier versions of the movie directly for this comic?  They feel very cinematic. It’s tough to tell a car chase story in comics, and most artists hate drawing them.

The only thing in this book that suffers, to be honest, is some of the alien life forms.  Many of them are starting to look incomplete and, somehow, off.  It’s tough to compare alien humanoids to the amazing design and detail work of the technology surrounding them, but the difference is just too much to ignore. The detail level drops off significantly, and then the anatomy starts to get wonky.

Valerian 15 and Na-Zultra's misshapen head

Na-Zultra’s misshapen head and mouth.

It’s especially noticeable on the main villain of this book, Na-Zultra.  Just look at the weird shapes her face winds up in, and how cartoony she looks in isolated panels.


Heck, yes.  If you like your science fiction with a good dose of humor and silliness, this is a great book.  Right up my alley, at least. Mezieres’ art is a wonder to behold, and Christin shows a great sense of humor in this book.  It’s a strong combination.


Buy and Read It Now

This volume just came out this month from Cinebook. You can buy the dead wood version via Amazon for $12, or the digital version on Izneo or Cinebook.


(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #33.)


What do YOU think?

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