Valerian and Laureline v14 The Living Weapons cover detail by Jean Claude Mezieres

Waging War on War: Valerian and Laureline v14, “The Living Weapons”

Reading Out of Order

For those of you following along as I write these reviews: Yes, I’m out of order.  Having reviewed volumes 15 and 16, now I’m going back to 14.

The good part of this is that I get pleasantly surprised sometimes that things in later volumes didn’t just appear out of thin air.  They came from an earlier volume.

So it is with the Schniarfer.

Laureline reacts to a Valerian Schniarfer

This is the little blue guy we saw in volume 16 (“Hostages of Ultralum”) who was, well, “a living weapon” who could be stopped only if you tied up his gland that stuck out from the top of his head.  Yes, he’s an alien rendered useless by a man bun.  Insert your own joke here.

We’ll get back to him in a bit.  Let’s look at the overall story, because there’s a bunch more to talk about here.

 

First, a Quick Spoiler Warning

I keep these reviews spoiler free as much as possible.  In looking over the final text, I realize that this one probably goes a little further into spoiler territory than most of my reviews.  If you want to be completely surprised by the book, don’t read this until after you’ve read the book.

I’m not giving it all away, but there’s enough here to warrant a warning.

 

A Cautious Tale of a Mercenary’s Needs

At this point in the overall “Valerian and Laureline” saga, the two are near broke, flying a beaten up ship badly in need of repairs, and without a regular job thanks to the disappearance of human culture from the universe.

The book begins with the ship getting caught up in a space and time warp, with some quick thinking by Valerian saving them both and landing them randomly exactly where they wanted to go.

Worst piece of hack writing in Valerian history

“How’s that for a stroke of luck?” is code for “How’s that for bad writing?”

This is the author hanging a lamp on a ridiculous plot point that negates the drama of the opening scene of the volume.

Yes, sometimes, Pierre Christin’s plotting is a bit thin.  It’s like he needed to fill a few pages to finish up the album and created some false drama to make two humdrum panels of a ship flying through space into something visually more interesting.  There’s probably a quicker way with a single word balloon to explain why they crash-landed on the planet they did…

The story of this book is about arms dealing and the morality of being a mercenary.  Valerian has made a deal to deliver to this planet a living weapon — a Schniarfer. He knows Laureline wouldn’t approve of this, so he kept that part from her, only telling her he’d explain when the time was right.  Over and over again.

Valerian is a man of action who leads the way

The differences between the two have never been more clearly drawn.  Laureline is peace and beauty and smarts and, when necessary, action hero. Valerian is a man of action, whose desperation to be doing something will lead him justifying questionable things.  He dwells in the gutter, living off the action of a mercenary’s life.

In this story, those two points of view collide, and things get a little tense.

Once on the planet, Laureline befriends a trio of theater performers, who wander the planet in their covered wagon looking for a place to stage their show, and an audience to appreciate it.  The problem is, the world is at war with itself, one side destroying everything to ensure the other half won’t have anything. It’s an annual rebuilding crap show.

You can see where this is going.  Laureline is the performers’ friend and defender.  Valerian is basically selling them out, but turns out not to be feeling all that great about it.

Things are going to explode.

 

Other Media Comparisons

This book feels a bit “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” to me, too, just like parts of volume 16 did.  It’s not that it’s played for laughs, but that things are just over-the-top in so many ways. The theater people are a little weird and crazy, to start, but the natives of the planet they’re on takes the cake.  They illustrate the absurdity of war in an absurd fashion with their crazy plan.

It’s the kind of off-kilter thinking Douglas Adams could mine for laughs for 100 pages.

Brittibrit makes his Valerian and Laureline debut in "The Living Weapons"

I need to also mention that Brittibirit, who Laureline first meets when she gets out of her crash-landed ship, reminds me of Fraggle Rock’s Marjory the Trash Heap, with a side of Swamp Thing.  (To be fair, both references are older than this book, which debuted in 1990.)

The People

The performers, you discover immediately, have powers that are superhuman and might be useful to one side of the war or the other. They’re too ignorant to understand how that might happen, though, and they’re easily taken advantage of.  They just want to perform for an audience.  They’re about to learn that one possible audience is a military at war time.

Valerian comes off looking like a real jerk in this book, too.  I don’t have a problem with that, though.  He’s never been a perfect person, and Christin’s plots over the volumes have gently pushed his character in different directions.

Valerian’s never been perfect, to begin with.  He’s not quite Han Solo, but there are similarities. His change of heart in this book is almost too simple, too direct, too good to be true. Christin might have been better off using those few pages he has in the first scene of the book to flesh this part out at the end so it is better reasoned and explained.

Laureline explores outside the ship, and you just know stuff is about to go down.

Laureline is, once again, the star of this book.  She’s the heart and the moral center.  She stands up for the little guys, she questions the nature of war, and she fights for what the reader will no doubt see as being “right.”  She’s all action when she needs to be, and takes down a couple of bad guys on her own in remarkable ways.

Then the book ends in Russia in the late 1980s. Maybe I’m missing a specific reason for that.  It’s fine and it gets the job done, but I can’t help but feel like Christin is referencing a specific event or institution or person in Russia with this ending that was contemporary to the time he wrote it that I don’t remember, or maybe never knew about at all.

 

Mezieres Still Works His Magic

This review is focused on the story, but I do have to put one section in here for Jean-Claude Mezieres.

I love the lighting on this panel, which is the bottom half of page 1:

Valerian v14 lighting spotlights the subject perfectly

It’s perfect.  The light source highlights Valerian’s figure in the middle of the panel perfectly. He’s in silhouette like most of the walls of the ship he’s in, but the background light source and the circular pattern of the hallway spotlight him perfect.  You can’t miss the subject of the panel.

Mezieres uses every trick in the book to drag your eye to Valerian.

 

Recommended?

Yes.  There’s a bit of weirdness there when you try to work out what Laureline is doing and whether she realizes completely what’s obviously going on, but she does enough great things in this book to balance it all out.

 

Valerian v15 The Living Weapons cover

(Click to buy the Kindle or paperback edition.)

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #46.)

 

2 Comments

  • Jerome Saincantin July 12, 2017 at 8:44 am

    The Russia thing is linked to previous volume “On the Frontiers”, where they make some Russian friends around the 80s. Or at least some Russian friendly contacts.

    Reply
  • Augie July 12, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Ah, thanks. Reading out of order occasionally throws me off. This is one of those times. Good news is, I just got my hands on volumes 7 – 12, so I’ll be filling in the gaps quickly…

    Reply

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