Valerian v2 The Empire of a Thousand Planets cover

Valerian and Laureline v2, “The Empire of a Thousand Planets”

It didn’t take as long as I had feared to fall into the rhythm of “Valerian and Laureline.” After a first volume that I found too slow and ponderous, the second story feels positively speedy.
Valerian v2 The Empire of a Thousand Planets cover
 

The Story of “A Thousand Planets”

Pierre Christin’s script ventures off into the galaxy this time. While the first volume in the “Valerian” series sticks to planet Earth and its orbit, this one sends Valerian and Laureline out to the far reaches of space, using the SpaceTime ships they have.

This feels like the beginning of a true space opera now.

Their goal is to visit Syrte, the home of an empire that spans a thousand local planets. They don’t have space-time travel yet, so there’s been no previous contact with humanity. Valerian and Laureline are sent out there to scout them out. Are they friendly? Are they a threat to Galaxity?

Valerian and Laureline explain everything to the reader by talking at each other.

In a review, it’s called a “recap.” In a comic, it’s called “plot exposition” or “brain dump.”

It’s a simple mission: get some information on site and get out.

Only, as you might have guessed, things don’t go that easily. All it takes is one honest and simple mistake, and everything goes crazy.

For starters, the situation on the planet is deteriorating. Even with a bustling market and a huge space port, the economy isn’t what it used to be. The dynastic rulers may have been replaced by The Enlighteneds, a small group of people hidden behind masks and long robes, who offer cures and healing but begin to take power. They are a twist to the story that our intrepid protagonists will soon have to face up to and deal with.

And that’s really where a series like this differentiates itself from the likes of “Star Trek.” There is no Non-Interference clause here. There is no Prime Directive. The two are free to act as needed for the best results. They can fight their way out, they can overthrow the government if they have to, etc. Valerian and Laureline are very active in this story, sneaking around, running away, and putting up a fight when need be.

They’re resourceful, active, and smart. They can think quickly and get the job done, even when that requires working around obstacles they never saw coming.

Valerian ships pass through an ice cavern

The story begins to open up, including this spaceship chase scene that ends with a serious cliffhanger at the bottom of the page.

This leads to a rollicking space adventure, filled with exotic locations, spaceship battles, hidden hijinks, and crazy creatures. It has the feel of a Saturday matinee serial, which isn’t too surprising since the story was originally serialized in Pilote magazine (in 1969-1970).

There are still pages that are walls of text, but they’re far more sporadic and necessary to pull off the story in the available 48 pages or so.  When the final plan is unfolding near the end of the issue, the reader needs to be let in on what’s going on.  This is our first time at this location and making plans with these people and these ships.  There’s not enough space to set that all up with a series of events. It has to happen now, and so it does through the dialogue.

Overall, though, this is a much smoother reading experience.  Not a quick one, but an enjoyable one. It has moments where the story opens up, the art can carry fast-moving events, and the dialogue and captions don’t feel quite as heavy.

 

The Art of Jean-Claude Mezieres

Jean-Claude Mezieres’ style combines elements from the likes of Andre Franquin and Jack Davis. (His drawings of hands are pure Franquin.) His characters have slightly more cartoony proportions and detail, at least in these early volumes. On the scale of realism, it’s far ahead of Spirou, but well short of Largo Winch, for example.

In other words, if you liked Rick Remender and Tony Moore’s “Fear Agent,” there’s material in this series you might enjoy.

As the series goes on, the art style slowly morphs into proportions that are more realistic, though the details are still fairly cartoony. We’ll get that eventually, I’m sure…

Mezieres excels in creating believable environments and building a world. With this second volume, he’s creating his first alien world for the series. This one looks to be based on the kinds of bazaars you’d find in Morocco or somewhere else in the Middle East.

A marketplace bazaar on an alien world in Valerian

Here’s just a sample of the goodies you can buy on this particular planet.

It’s a busy small town centered on the royal palace that grows ten times higher than the low buildings around it.  Picture the world of “Aladdin,” but filled with aliens selling weird trinkets instead of fruit dealers wanting to cut off the hands of orphans.

As this story centers on a planet at the heart of an empire that spans, literally, a thousand planets, there’s a wide variety of alien life forms and practices in the page. They’re all vaguely humanoid, but with different features and themes.

While other planets referenced in the book are your typical one-environment-planets, the planet for this book, Syrte, has a few locales for Mezieres to draw. That includes the city, some ice caverns, and open oceans. (All ships are solar powered, though, because there is no wind.)

There’s a lot of detail if you look carefully enough. The buildings include rubble, overgrowth, high tech machinery, and engraved stones.

Mezieres chooses interesting angles to build his scenes with. He knows when to use a wide shot and when to go tall with his panels. He can move his camera in and around where the scene is going to give the reader enough information as to what’s going on, but also to make interesting single images. He also isn’t the kind of artist who wants to draw figures above all else and will do everything he can to skip the backgrounds.

If anything, I wish he’d simplify some backgrounds and pay more attention the characters in them at times.  I went to do a piece of fan art based on a scene in the first book and couldn’t find a good shot of what someone was wearing. They were too small in every panel, as the environment surrounded them.

I mentioned this with the first book, but I think Mezieres’ strongest element continues to be his lighting. He knows how light acts, how to draw the shadows to reveal the thin slivers of light, and where to position people for maximum drama.  He doesn’t go full chiaroscuro one this book, but he does add a certain amount of detail and dimension with his shadows.

The backlighting works often. Seems like George Lucas liked it, too…

One example of the type of shot Star Wars borrowed from Valerian.

Coincidence?  Lucas even used the two suns thing! I’m sure the door would have been bigger to match Valerian’s, if only Lucas had the money or computers at that time.

 

The Star Wars Thing

Let’s just get this out of the way now:

There’s a back page after the story that shows some comparisons between Valerian and “Star Wars.”  I don’t think you can deny that Valerian was an influence on “Star Trek,” just as much as Donal Duck comics and Akira Kurosawa films.

This video does a credible job in showing more examples.  “Valerian” is just one of the many Franco-Belgian influences shown in this video (which also includes Moebius), but is still worth watching:

 

Mezieres saw the obvious influence his work had on “Star Wars,” too, and drew this cartoon:

 

Star Wars "influenced" by Valerian and everyone knows it.

Leia is saying that it’s funny meeting Valerian and Laureline here.

Laureline pulls out the claws with, “Oh, we’ve been around this place for a long time.”

Luke, as he likes to do these days, stares blankly and says nothing.

Later on in another volume far in the future, we’ll talk about Mezieres’ work on “The Fifth Element,” how it ended up in a Valerian comic, instead, and how that changed the movie.  We can all then cringe together when the Valerian movie gets negative reviews this summer for being a rip-off of “Star Wars” or “The Fifth Element.”

 

Recommended?

Moreso than the first volume, yes.  You don’t need to have read the first to understand the second, at all.  And this one has a story that is less impeded by the amount of text on the page, plus a more interesting set of environments.  It includes space ship battles and skulking around. What’s not to love?

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #11 of 100 for 2017.)

 

Previously…

Valerian and Laureline v1 The City of Shifting Waters cover header

Valeria and Laureline v1

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