Valerian v20 Order of the Stones cover detail

Valerian and Laureline v20: “The Order of the Stones”

Writer: Pierre Christin
Artist: Jean-Claude Mezieres
Colorist: E. Tranle
Lettering: Design Amorandi
Translator: Jerome Saincantin
Published by: Dargaud/Cinebook
Number of Pages: 50
Original Publication: 2007

 

Hunh. So, that happened…

 

What Just Happened, Exactly?

Beats me.

The triumvirate of characters from past continuity

These guys are back.

Here’s what I’m guessing: Christin and Mezieres came back together to create one final Valerian story arc to finish the series.  They knew it would take three books to finish it.  They knew they wanted to bring back lots of characters from previous volumes.  They knew they wanted it to include some BIG DAMNED IDEAS.  And given the history of the series and the expectations they’ve created from previous much-beloved stories, they felt this one had to go out with a bang. It would have to involve plots and double-crossing and questionable characters and new nearly-cosmic notions.

I’m not a cosmic comic kind of guy.

What you get from mixing that all together is a book like this one: a muddled mess where everyone seems to be making things up as they go along, where a simple idea to get the two main characters to the deus ex machine of the entire series is expanded to fill 48 pages, by splitting the story up into at least four different points of view.

In short, you get a book that has a few strong moments, but drowns itself in self-referential stuff that you’d have to be a series expert to get, while piling on new things left and right in vague hand-wavey ways.

 

What Is the Story?

Beware the Wolochs in Valerian and Laureline

Laureline and Valerian make it into The Great Void.  The new bad guys — giant stone monoliths named Wolochs who may have been behind previous bad things in the series, too! — attack and strand them there.  The get out.  They go back.  The Big Bad Guys subcontract out their dirty work to three prior villains of the series, who take particular glee in hunting down earth’s favorite and most resilient children.

But are the subcontracted bad guys in over their heads?  Are Valerian and Laureline just walking into their trap?  Is anyone chasing after what they truly want to find? Does any of this matter when there’s a — wait for it! — Time Opener involved? But, wait, we can’t get to the Time Opener yet. It’s right there, but it’s displaced from time and space or something, so we’ll have to get to it in the next and final volume.

Laureline has a plan.  Valerian is now completely a buffoon, and Laureline’s brains are the only thing keeping him and their mission alive.  (In the next volume, by the way, the roles partially reverse. Valerian becomes the put-together one with a master plan, while Laureline is left behind.)

Don’t ask what her plan is, though. That’s what volume 21 is all about.

Oh, and lots of people die, including one gruesomely just barely off-panel, but in a way that you’d never know it was him.  Just a disembodied arm.  Mezieres prides himself on his direction, but that bit feel like a major oversight.

Knowing Pierre Christin’s work, I’m sure there’s a larger socio-political point behind all of this.  I’m sure the concepts of evil subcontracting its work and people being unwittingly used as seen in this volume are a harsh criticism of politics at the time in France or something.  I don’t know.  It just doesn’t read terribly well to me today. It’s just too much piled up on each other, unnecessarily.  I miss those isolated single-album adventures.

 

Mezieres’ Magnificent Art

There’s a great interview with Jean Claude Mezieres in “The Comics Journal” #260 (May/June 2004) that I read over the summer.  Gary Groth and Gil Kane conduct the interview, which dates back to the late 1980s.

Mezieres’ attitude towards comics is… interesting.  “Valerian” is the only book he’s ever drawn. He has no interest in drawing any other.  He doesn’t see himself as an artist.  He sees himself as a director.  I think he also enjoys the design work — and did lots of it for movies — but doesn’t see himself as an illustrator.  He professes to not enjoying drawing and never drawing “for fun” in his spare time. He wants to serve the story and get out.

Laureline dreams of her perfect world in the Great Void

As if to keep himself interested in drawing the series, he inserts various new styles into his art almost at random.  The opening scene in this volume has characters explaining what dream world they hope to find in The Big Void, and those worlds are painted into the backgrounds.  A scene later in the book with the villains of the piece is entirely painted over the black ink lines.  Why?  No good reason.  I guess it just seemed like a good idea at the time.

Mezieres draws dramatic foggy planets

That all said, there are some great and memorable moments in this book, all of which come from Mezieres’ artwork.  Whether it’s the dramatic shadows used with the Molochs, or the foggy windy air of alien planets, or the design of space ships and environmental suits, Mezieres has some great tools in his art box at this point. But it’s not often the panel-to-panel storytelling that I remember of his, with a few exceptions where he did interesting page layouts.

Na-Zultra continues to be the worst designed alien in Valerian and Laureline

That’s Na-Zultra on the far left.

That said, Na-Zultra returns in this book as one of the Big Bad Villains, and she still looks ridiculous.  She’s not well designed, and her head has a strange skinny flat appearance to it. It still bugs me today as much as it did when she first appeared in the book.

 

Two Bright Spots

Molto Cortes in Valerian is an obvious homage

The new character named Molto Cortes, naturally.

Use the Force, Valerian

And how about this for a Star Wars reference in the series?  Goodness knows Star Wars owes Valerian a credit or two, so this reference feels fun.

 

Recommended?

Valerian v20 Order of the Stones cover by Jean Claude Mezieres and E. Tranle

No, not really.  Not unless you’ve read everything else so far, in which case you’ve come this far, you only have two books to go, so you might as well finish things off.  Certainly don’t start here, where you have 10 or 12 volumes of continuity weighing down the work.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #110.)

 

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2 Comments

  • JC Lebourdais December 27, 2017 at 3:22 am

    I’ve always been meaning to read the whole series in one sitting. Now that we’re pretty sure it’s done for good, maybe it’s time. Although we never know, sometimes creators strapped for money do crazy things. For lack of a decent Integrale in French I’ll have to go volume by volume I guess. It’s great of you to stick all the way to the last album. I’m not sure I like the idea of having one big bad retconned at the last minute as having engineered “everything” but Mezières & Christin have a fairly good track record so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and see how it goes.
    Funny that someone like you who’s such a Savage Dragon diehard fan doesn’t like cosmic stuff, since Larsen goes that way a few time in the course of his Image series.

    Reply
    • Augie December 27, 2017 at 3:50 pm

      Then it wouldn’t surprise you to find out which are my least favorite parts of “Savage Dragon.” Actually, I think I still kind of resent everything that’s happened after issue #50 and parts of the world started getting swapped out and duplicate characters happened. Oh, and also Norse gods. I never got into them, either. Even Walter Simonson can’t get me into that. I have a mental block, I guess.

      But you’re right — there’s always the possibility that one of their kids will change the game plan just before they die and cause a public brawl with lawyers involved. 😉 And the Big Bad Retcon thing doesn’t cover quite ALL the bases, just a few. But I think the hint is that there’s more at work there.

      Reply

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