The biggest science fiction comic strip in the French language world is not, as you might think, Barbarella but rather a series called Valerian and Laureline. Running for over 40 years it has reached a total of more than 20 albums, all written by Pierre Christin with art by Jean-Claude Mezieres. The books tell the stories of two time/space agents, the 28th century born Valerian and his female companion Laureline who comes from the Middle Ages, and with both spacecraft and time machines available to them, the series has the same potential as Doctor Who for a vast range of settings. The City Of Shifting Waters is the first book in the French series.
Valerian and Laureline are spatio-temporal agents of Galaxity, the Earth of the 28th century, who are dispatched back to 1986 to recapture Galaxity’s only political prisoner, Xombul, who has escaped and travelled back to just after a devastating nuclear accident changed the planet into a flooded world. Valerian goes undercover in a flooded New York with hippy thieves who take what they can get from the upper, dry, stories of the skyscrapers as well as using scuba gear to target bank vaults. With them he discovers robots taking scientific secrets and traces them back to Xombul who effectively kidnaps Valerian and Laureline to his lair in the Rocky Mountains from which he plans to take over the world.
Yet the biggest problem for me is Mezieres artwork. In itself it is good with the partially submerged cityscapes in the first half and a decent representation of a heli-plane based on the Canadair CL-84 amongst other things in the second, but his style doesn’t seem to fit with the story as this is an adventure story with humour artwork. Valerian and Laureline themselves are bland, with out of proportion heads, making them look rather like Terrahawks puppets, while the rest of the characters wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of Mad magazine, with Xombul’s mad scientist, Mr Schroeder, apparently based on Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor. For a tongue-in-cheek series like Clifton this would work but, for me, it looks out of place in what is basically a straight good versus evil adventure story. Which is a pity since, with the conclusion of The Chimpanzee Complex and the Aldebaran/Betelgeuse cycle, Cinebook is in need of a new mature science fiction series to add to their schedule and unfortunately Valerian and Laureline is not it – not yet, anyway.
Valerian and Laureline – The City of Shifting Waters will be of interest to younger readers but adults will probably not find it satisfying enough either story-wise or art-wise. Since the series has lasted for so long in France, I can only assume that it gets better than this.
• There are more details of The City of Shifting Waters on the Cinebook website
• There are more details of the Valerian and Laureline books on by Jean-Claude Mezieres’ website (in French)