Valerian and Laureline v7 On the False Earths cover detail

Valerian and Laureline v7: “The False Earths”

The Pulpy Roots

This story feels like something you would have found in sci fi magazine in the 50s or 60s after John Campbell had given his approval.  Given how big an influence on “Valerian” writer Pierre Christin that era of stories is, it makes sense.

It is pretty high concept. It’s one that might seem repetitive or unoriginal to a reader today, but this story was published in 1977, before “Groundhog Day,” or the Holodeck in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” or “Edge of Tomorrow.”

In this story, Valerian is inserted into different periods of Earth history looking for something or other.  Each time, he meets an untimely end before being reinserted into a different period of history.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  It doesn’t matter what it is he’s looking for.

As Valerian repeats this cycle, new anachronisms show up in the time line, and his awareness of what came before help him out in the new iteration. The cycle and its problems are accelerating.

Valerian on earth, in disguise

Pinball machines did not belong to this era…

The whole set-up is cloaked in mystery that’s slowly revealed as the story progresses. It keeps the reader engaged, guessing at what’s going on without getting so confused that they give up.

Christin tells you what’s going on about halfway into the book.  The antagonist of the story is only revealed in the last third or so.

Once the mysteries are revealed, they’re satisfying and makes sense.  It involves a crazy far out there alien creature doing weird things, but that’s OK.  It’s the kind of thing you expect in this series.

The only tricky spot is that Christin stops everything to explain it all in what has to be a four page sequence that’s solid text.  The characters are suffocated from the panels by the enormous word balloons.  Everything about the high concept of this story comes flying out then.

While Valerian is going through this cycle on earth, Laureline is back on the ship observing his progress, getting upset to see him killed each time, before heading to the back of the ship to restart him each time.  And she’s not getting much in the way of emotional support up there, as we’ll see after this one quick aside:

 

Speaking of Walls of Text

Blake and Mortimer make a guest appearance on the far right side of this panel:

Blake and Mortimer make a guest appearance in this panel from Volume 7 of "Valerian and Laureline"

If ever you want to see a comic that’s covered with text that squeezes the art out, there’s Exhibit A for you.  I’ve never reviewed a book in that series if only because I’m intimidated by the volume of reading necessary to get through one.  Comics need pictures, too…

 

And You Thought Laureline Was the Feminist?!?

Any number of articles have been written now about Laureline’s feminist position in the series.  She’s the strong capable woman in a sci-fi which lacks such role models, etc. etc.

In this volume, Laureline is in charge of sending Valerian off to his death multiple times.  It’s natural that this might wear on her a bit. She’s also put into the position of defending Valerian for his various missteps on this mission, which might be pushing him too far, as it is.

Jadna is Laureline's boss and a real not-very-nice-person

The funny thing is that there’s another woman on the ship during this mission. Her name is Jadna, and she makes Laureline look like a Stepford Wife by comparison.

“Sloppy sentimentalism caused by years of male supremacy, young lady!  It’s high time you got a grip!”

Ouch!

Jadna, a historian, pushes this mission hard, not letting either Laureline or Valerian take a break.  She’s all business, to a fault. She focuses in on the mission and doesn’t seem to care about the people involved. She wants to get to the heart of this mystery, first and foremost.  This infuriates Laureline and will likely do the same to the reader.

In the end, Laureline gives the most powerful dressing down to an annoying character in a comic in a long time at the end.  Not to get all political, but Christin’s politics lean towards the hard left, so when he has Laureline lump together Imperialism, Colonialism, and Capitalism as three evils of the world — well, you know where it’s coming from.

One other note: While in the course of events in the series, Laureline sometimes shows up in crazy and revealing outfits — or even mostly-naked in the process of getting changed into one — this book features full frontal Valerian nudity.  There’s a bit of a shadow and lack of detail in sensitive areas, but he’s buck naked in that scene…

 

Mezieres Goes Historical, Not Alien

Mezieres doesn’t have to dream up an enormous number of alien species and landscapes in this book.  He likely needed a few reference books to draw the proper locations Valerian visits, but at least they’re known historical locales: London, San Francisco, India, and Paris, in particular, in and around 1900.

The density of detail and intricate line-work is eye-opening, particularly for someone like me who’s been looking at so much of his later work recently.  Even the pages in the desert — not exactly a skyscraper-laden architectural delight — include plenty of detail, with extras like a group of soldiers all riding horses. Mezieres was a cowboy, so I’m sure he enjoys drawing horses.  I don’t know many artists, otherwise, who would enjoy that work.

Of course, not drawing convoluted alien designs means more time to spend on the buildings and surrounding locations.  Mezieres uses his inks to carve out the bright areas by surrounding them in shadows. He’s great at defining his light sources and then following through on those for the final image.

This is one of my favorite panels of the album, just for the way Mezieres sketches out the shadows on the columns with some fine ink work revealing details in those columns:

Jean-Claude Mezieres draws the light sources by surrounding them in inks.

 

The More Realistic Art of Mezieres

With this book, we’re at the other end of the yardstick that represents Valerian’s career as a series.  While recently I’ve reviewed volumes 14 – 17 that were published in the 1990s, this book debuted as volume 7 in 1977.  That’s a big jump in the span of an artist’s career.  As we’ve seen with lots of artists over the years, their later work gets a little looser.

It happens with Mezieres here, too.  Jumping back to this book, you can see the art tighten up tremendously. It’s an entirely different style.

It’s not just the level of detail in the background architecture, either.  You can see it in the aliens and in the characters.  OK, there aren’t really any aliens in this book, but the humans look much closer to “realistic” than “iconic” on the McCloud scale. Faces have more human characteristics than cartoony stand-ins. It’s often a subtle difference if you’re comparing one panel to another, but the overall impression is obvious when you read the whole book.

Jean-Claude Mezieres uses thick ink brush strokes to make a vignette

“False Earths” also shows Mezieres really slinging around the black ink brush.  He’s a master of lighting and he uses the shadows to define that.  But he also lays down strokes of black to create the impression of shadows, vignetting, and design.  Those black areas add a sense of weight to the page, which is always important in things like black and white comic strips, and pre-digitally colored comics, where the color palettes were so limited.

 

Ahead of Its Time

There’s a lot of stuff in this book that feels ahead of its time. In one of Valerian’s later trips to earth, we see through his point of view, complete with crosshairs and a Head’s Up Display.  It’s like we’re playing a First Person Shooter as much as we’re looking through his eyes..

Maybe this is Augmented Reality, c. 1977?  “Doom” 20 years too soon?

Heck, there’s a bit of it that even reminds me of The Matrix, as the new Valerian is woken up and sent into this new world.

But I’m trying not to give away the entire story here, so let’s move on from that…

 

Recommended?

Yes, because this is a fun historical fiction earth-based romp that still feels fresh and modern today.  It beat the fads it trades on by decades, which is exciting.  And it’s fun to see Mezieres’ old art, with its historical Earth feel.  The pace-stopping wall of text that explains everything is the one negative to this volume, but it doesn’t ruin the rest of the book for me.

 

Valerian and Laureline v7 On the False Earths

Click to buy on Comixology

 

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #48.)

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