valerian 8 heroes of the equinox cover header

It’s Superhero Time! Valerian and Laureline v8: “Heroes of the Equinox”

You say you like superhero comics? Give this book a try. It’s as close as you’re going to get with this series.

Valerian 8 superhero team shot in silhouette

This has nothing to do with this section of the review. I just wanted to include it somewhere.

Pierre Christin’s story in this album is his take on a superhero tale.  Valerian is sent by Galaxity (earth’s new capital of the Terran Galactic Empire) to represent them in an effort on another planet to overcome three major obstacles to reach an objective and save the next generation of the planet’s population from isolation and harm.

It’s a challenge nobody generally returns from, but that doesn’t scare Valerian.  He’s too confident, and enjoys the regal trappings of his mission, while Laureline carries his bag and constantly pokes at him for being such a stubborn egomaniac who buys into this world-savior identity.  Love is a strange beast, what can I say?

Valerian is joined by three aliens from three other worlds, each with their own unique power and point of view.  This being political hound Christin, each character’s point of view maps to a specific political ideology, from democracy to ecofascism and a couple in-between.

Together, they must take on the elements and the creatures in their way to save the children of the planet located on a far-off island on this planet.  It’s a story formula that’s tried and proven: a quest with clearly laid out obstacles.  The fun is in watching how well Christin and Mezieres collaborate to make those battles and the moments in-between them compelling.  I think they do an excellent job here.  It’s in those moments of the quest that the true stylistic risks take place. I think they all pay off.

No, really, this is all a take on superheroes.  Here’s all the proof you need:

In Valerian v8, Pierre Christin goes for a superhero comic

Here, let’s zoom in on those word balloons:

Pierre Christin's dialogue on this page removes any doubt that it's a superhero story: "Those four really are fantastic! Yes, as heroes go, they're super..."

 

 

Spread ‘Em!

Much of this book concerns itself with structuring the story to tell four stories at the same time.  Each hero who’s come to the planet gets their own tier of panels on each page.   Each character is introduced to the planet on a page of their own, but they take turns.

I’ve mentioned some of Jean-Claude Mezieres’ double page spreads in previous reviews. Once freed from the more restrictive format of the earliest stories, Mezieres’ artwork lit up. His page dynamics are easy to follow and it’s a joy to see them laid out across a page or two.  Or three or four or five.

In this book, there’s a sequence where the four heroic character on their epic quests are seen in parallel taking slightly different paths to their intended target.  Each character gets a tier of panels.  A double page spread of this kind of layout is novel and exciting.

Five page spread by Jean-Claude Mezieres in Valerian and Laureline v8 Heroes of the Equinox

At this size, it looks more like a color script from Pixar than a comic

 

But Mezieres pushes this layout to four and five pages.  It’s not a true spread, necessarily, but it feels like one when you’re turning the page and don’t notice the breaks between panels so much.  Also, Mezieres makes sure all of the pages in the middle of the sequence are full bleed, while the first and last only bleed to one side.

It’s more like back-to-back double page spreads, with a final page added with the same layout.  It just feels like a five page spread. It breaks it up nicely, while expanding the action and creating something that feels consistent for the duration of the scene.

And then there’s that great trick with the fall Valerian takes on the last three pages that frame those pages down the left side and then across the bottom. (That’s the black vertical stripe on the right half.)

If you’re reading this book digitally, you’ll definitely have to read it in the 2-page view.  Even better, buy the printed version of this book.

The layouts feel inspired by a bit of Will Eisner and a bit of Neal Adams.  The story was originally serialized in 1978, so Adams’ presence in the industry and his popularity would have been well-established by then.  It’s a whole montage sequence laid out in imaginative ways that sings.

 

And Then It Ends

The Architecture of Valerian and Laureline by Jean-Claude Mezieres

I love a good architectural drawing. This has nothing to do with this section of the review. I just wanted to include it somewhere.

Honestly, the ending is a little strange.  It’s obvious where this quest is going, but after we get there, another curve hits the story in a most bizarre way. I didn’t even catch onto it at first. What I thought was some kind of figurative panel layout turned out to be more literal, warping character sizes and adding a new complication to the story for some reason that isn’t explained and won’t be fixed inside this book.

Actually, there’s an interesting thing to talk about: Continuity and open endings.  It’s been another one of those things I’ve been thinking about lately, and noticing in all sorts of different places, from kids’ tv sit-coms to humorous comics.  There’s a certain style of storytelling where the status quo resets automatically in time for the next story to begin.

And as long as the premise of the story is paid off, additional complications can be played for laughs and written off at the end without worrying too much.

For one made up example, imagine a story in this series ends with Valerian growing a pair of donkey ears as a side effect from time spent on an alien planet.  It’s just a silly sight gag shown on the last page.  Laureline makes fun of him, he looks grumpy, and we hit the end.  Do we expect to see him with those ears in the next book?  Of course not.  But why not?

Do we assume it’s something they “fix” between volumes?  Or something we accept as the reading audience that might happen in the story, but will be ignored as soon as the next one starts and we’re fine with that?  Continuity isn’t everything, after all, is it?

This book ends with a radical change in Valerian which is meant to be a gag, really.  By the opening of the next volume, everything is back to normal.  No mention of it is ever made again.  I’m glad. It’s a cute throwaway gag, but not anything worth spending more page time on.

 

One More Thing About That Ending

There’s a bigger morality play question I can’t discuss without going into major spoilers, but it’s a little weird.

The final thing Valerian has to do to save the future of this planet gets him in trouble with Laureline, and — well, who can blame her?

People looking to read into stories for political issues might take exception to the ending, but hopefully will realize the absurdity of the whole thing, take it in context, and carry on.

And, hey, doesn’t Valerian do something stupid in every book to get Laureline mad at him?

 

Recommended?

But of course. If you’re new to “Valerian,” this isn’t the best book to start with.  It’s a fairly simple and straightforward tale. Laureline is fairly stagnant in it.

If you’re a superhero or fantasy quest tale fan, though, you’ll recognize and appreciate the framework this story fits into. It’s a complete popcorn movie of a book.  Sit back and enjoy.

Valerian 9 Heroes of the Equinox cover

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #49.)

5 Comments

  • JC Lebourdais July 27, 2017 at 6:34 am

    One of the reasons I always loved French BD is that it never played into formulas and 3-act crap (used to, at least); it’s totally unpredictable. Whenever we try to ape Americans’s way of storytelling we fail miserably because it’s so full of clichés and tropes that we just can’t take it seriously. Read Superdupont (also from Pilote, Mâtin) for a great take on this. Then again, science now tells us that global population is getting dumber each year, so who am I to criticize. Michael Bay Rules 😉

    Reply
  • Augie July 27, 2017 at 9:58 am

    I can appreciate different “formulas” and type of storytelling. Nothing’s sacred, not even the three act structure. It’s just that once you’re so used to one structure, seeing the other kinds at work can be tricky. Expectations are tough to meet, especially when those expectations are unrealistic.

    Michael Bay rules in China, which is why there’s still hope for the “Valerian” movie…. 😉

    Reply
  • JC LEBOURDAIS July 27, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Is that so? Well, then there’s hope for everyone.

    Reply
    • Augie July 27, 2017 at 7:27 pm

      I’m the eternal optimist.

      Reply
  • The Devil, You Say: Valerian and Laureline v18: "In Uncertain Times" - Pipeline Comics August 4, 2017 at 6:51 am

    […] a particularly hilarious appearance from people from “Heroes of the Equinox” that I never saw […]

    Reply

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