Monday, October 29, 2018

33. Valérian - L'Intégrale Volume I by J.C. Mezieres and Pierre Christin

In the past, I would only count a comic book (or bande-dessinée) if I had read the entire series.   Well desperate times call for desperate measures and I am changing that policy to consider an "intégrale" of a series (usually a collection of 3-4 of the books) a book in my 50 books counting.  I believe this policy choice is defensible, as they are written in french with a lot of text and tend to be as much effort and take me as long to read as a short crime novel.  I also tend to avoid french comics and non-fiction and several of these have been sitting on my on-deck shelf for a while.  Over the weekend, I went hard on that shelf, culling out books I wasn't going to read and re-organizing it to take advantage of my current reading energy.  My plan is to alternate fiction with french comics and non-fiction until I have emptied that shelf!

Valérian and Laureline is an all-time classic of the french language bande-dessinée world.  I knew about it for a while but was motivated to read it after the Luc Besson movie came out.  The movie is not as terrible as some would have led you to believe.  It's not great either but had enough of a cool space sci-fi vibe that I wanted to check out the source.  That led to an impassioned 20-minute discourse by the comic book store guy and a recommendation to get the first volume of l'intégrale which is made up of the first 4 books. Interestingly, he recommended that I skip the very first one, which he said was not indicative of the rest of the series.

I have to say that while so far really cool and enjoyable, the series so far hasn't quite lived up to his hype.  It's not quite Thorgal level of connection and emotion for me.  At least not yet, I can see the potential is there.  Even with what I have read, I can also understand why Valérian is so well respected. It is not unlike the original Star Trek. Valérian and Laureline are spatio-temporal agents from the 28th century where almost everybody on earth sits around connected to dream boxes.  This pinnacle of leisure society is thanks to the time-space technology allowing humans to go anywhere anywhen.  The space-time agents are the only people doing anything productive and their main thing is to just make sure nothing goes awry.  The first 3 books are sort of origin stories where you get some insight into what happened to earth since the 20th century.  The 4th book, the Empire of a Thousand Planets, I suspect will be more indicative of the series, where the agents go visit some new civilization and have to deal with a problem there, a lot like Star Trek, but with time involved.

And this is where some of the qualities of this series come in.  This some trippy space shit!  The art starts out in that very traditional slightly goofy style of the 60s and 70s (à la Lucky Luke), but the exaggerated features and floppy hair calm down.  The places and the concepts even in these early albums are really cosmic and imaginative.  They also have a great voyage through the United States being ripped apart by cataclysmic weather effects (Manhattan is drowning, the Rockies exploding in volcanoes).  There is also a strong anti-authoritarian vibe running through the stories.  While the main evil is defeated at the end of each of the stories here, there is also a rebel group left who will be shaking up that society going forward.

Like Star Trek, there is a code of not messing with the local societies.  It doesn't have it's own name but Valerian mentions it twice.  Like Star Trek, he and Laureline don't seem to follow it too closely.  Again, I suspect this will all tighten up and get more complex and interesting as the series evolves.

Good news for us all and especially those of you who don't read french, almost the entire series has been translated into english.  Ask your local comic book store!

 [Link to article on the order of books in the series]

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