Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Collected Valerian Volume 1

Valerian Volume 1 (1967-69/ Collected 2017): written by Pierre Christin; illustrated by Jean-Claude Mezieres; translated by Jerome Saincantin: Before it was a blockbuster financial bomb of a movie directed by Luc Besson, Valerian was a beloved French comic strip ('Bande Dessinee' or 'BD' for short). It began in the late 1960's and influenced Besson and many others French and otherwise.

This volume collects the first three Valerian story arcs. Thankfully, as anyone can attest who lived through the awful English translations of major European comics appearing in Heavy Metal in the 1980's, the translation here is excellent.

Writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mezieres start off slowly, but by the third adventure ("The Empire of a Thousand Planets"), they've really hit their stride. Valerian is a science-fiction adventure set in the far future. Agent Valerian can travel through both time and space to protect his present day, and he does, recruiting medieval peasant Laureline in the first adventure. The first two adventures involve time travel and are intermittently enjoyable.

By the third adventure, Jean-Claude Mezieres's art has progressed immensely from the awkward cartooniness of the first two adventures. Things are still cartoony, but Valerian and Laureline no longer look like Keane kids. His visuals of alien planets and space battles also take a great leap forward. The third adventure is thoroughly engaging. It would have made a great movie. Too bad Besson chose to throw a bunch of Valerian adventures into a blender and then throw the result on the screen.

Christin's writing doesn't have as far to go as the art, but he has also improved markedly by the third adventure. One can see how the strip became beloved. It may have elements of the then-contemporary and the classic science-fiction strip, from Barberella back to Alex Raymond's beautifully illustrated Flash Gordon of the 1930's, but Valerian is also its own comic strip. BD, that is. Laureline and Valerian are hyper-competent without being boring, and the third adventure involves a pretty solid 'Twist' towards the end.

I don't know that I'll revisit Valerian. But I may -- it's certainly superior by the end of this first volume to an awful lot of science-fiction comics. And the second story arc demonstrates that even French comic-strip creators love them some Jerry Lewis. Recommended.

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