Valerian and Laureline book 8: Heroes of the Equinox


By Méziéres & Christin, with colours by E. Tranlé; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-213-3

Valérian and Laureline is the most influential science fiction comics series ever created; an innovation-packed, Big-Ideas bonanza stuffed with wry observation, knowing humour, intoxicating action and underpinned throughout by sardonic sideswipes at contemporary mores and prejudices.

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent debuted in weekly Pilote #420 (November 9th 1967) and was an instant hit. It swiftly evolved into its current designation as his feisty, fire-headed female sidekick developed into the equal partner – and eventually scene-stealing star – of light-hearted, fantastically imaginative, visually stunning, time-travelling, space-warping fantasies.

Nevertheless the so-sophisticated series always found room to propound a satirical, humanist ideology and agenda, launching telling fusillades of political commentary and social satire to underpin the astounding imagination of the space opera.

At first the tough, bluff, taciturn affably, capable – if unimaginative – by-the-book space cop just did his job: tasked with protecting official universal chronology (at least as per Terran Empire standards) by intercepting or counteracting paradoxes caused by incautious time-travellers.

When Valérian landed in 11th century France during debut tale ‘Les Mauvais Rêves (‘Bad Dreams’ and infuriatingly still not translated into English), he was rescued from doom by a capable young woman named Laureline. He brought her back to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital, Galaxity, where the indomitable firebrand took a crash course in spatiotemporal operations and began accompanying him on his missions.

Heroes of the Equinox was originally serialised in the monthly Pilote (issues #M47 to M50 from 21st March to June 27th 1978) before being collected later that year as eighth album Les héros de l’équinoxe: a sparkling, over-the-top spoof of superheroes and political ideologies which also found time and space to take a good-natured, gentle poke at the eternal battle of the sexes.

Spectacularly visual and imaginatively designed, the story starts as a quartet of vastly disparate planetary champions depart for the distant and distressed world of Simlane, where an ancient and cultivated civilisation is experiencing a uniquely tragic crisis…

The heroes comprise three dedicated – almost fanatical – supermen whilst Galaxity – far more concerned with courting public opinion than actually helping – have packed off a handy and presently unoccupied Spatio-Temporal agent named Valerian, just to show willing…

With Laureline mocking him for the entire trip, Earth’s Prime Champion touches down on Simlane to be greeted by a crowd of effusive oldsters from a glorious city of once magnificent but now crumbling edifices with an incredible story to tell.

The inhabitants of the derelict tourist trap are uniformly old and sterile and desperately need a new generation of children to repopulate the world, but their manner of achieving their goal is unique. For the lifetime of their civilisation, every hundred equinoxes the best and bravest males of Simlane venture to isolated Filine, Island of Children in a fierce and often deadly competition. The winner then somehow spawns a whole new generation who sail back on little boats to re-people the world.

That didn’t go entirely according to plan last time so the planetary leaders have invited four prime specimens from other worlds to do the necessary this time – much to the anger and dismay of a creaky host of crotchety, doddering indigenous old would-be sire-heroes…

At the packed but painfully weathered Great Theatre the assembled geriatrics are treated to a destructive floor show as the brazen alien warriors display their prowess. Bombastic Irmgaal of Krahan is a godlike superman wielding a flaming sword whilst proletarian technological wonder Ortzog of worker’s paradise Boorny reveals the power of a united people through his blazing, flailing chains. Mystic nature boy Blimflim of elysian, arcadian Malamum calmly displays the gentle irresistibility of the spirit harnessed to willpower. Each couldn’t be more different yet the result of each display is catastrophic destruction.

When eager eyes turn to Galaxity’s representative, Valerian simply shoots a chip off a distant stone cornice with his blaster… to tumultuous disinterest…

Dwarfed by the Herculean alien supermen, he shambles off to prepare for the great contest and dawn finds him with his fellow contestants ready to brave the stormy skies for the grand prize and glory…

This is one of the most visually extravagant and exuberant of all the albums, with a huge proportion of the book dedicated to the fantastic foursome overcoming their particular challenges and monstrous foes in astounding demonstrations of bravura puissance and awesome might… well, three of them anyway. The earthman’s travails are generally nasty, dirty smelly and ingloriously dangerous…

Eventually however all the warriors prove themselves a credit to their particular lineage and system before facing one final test. It’s in the form of a simple question: “If you sired the next generation how do you envision their future?”

Each strange visitor propounds a glorious agenda of expansion according to the customs and principles of his own culture but it’s the rather diffident and lacklustre vision of the Terran slacker that wins the approval of the incredible being who is the eternal mother of Simlane’s repopulation…

When the trio of failed supermen wash up on the shores of the city, the people realise who has fathered their soon-to-arrive new sons and daughters and patiently wait for the equinox tide to bring them over.

Laureline, horrified to discover that each successful father is never seen again, quickly sails to the Island of Children and navigates the trials which so tested the wonder men with comparative ease. She arrives at the misty citadel atop Filine in time to see an army of disturbingly familiar-looking toddlers tumble into little sailboats…

Broaching the idyllic paradise further she finally meets the Great Mother and sees what the breeding process has made of her reprehensible, sleazy, typically male partner…

Reaching an accommodation with the gargantuan progenitor, Laureline negotiates the release of her partner and they are soon winging home to Terra, with him having to listen to just what she thinks of him whilst praying Galaxity’s medical experts can make him again the man he so recently was…

Sharp, witty and deliciously over-the-top, this tale is a wry delight, spoofing with equanimity human drives, notions of heroism and political and philosophical trendiness with devastating effect. Whether super-heroic fascism, totalitarian socialism or even the woolly mis-educated, miscomprehendings of new age eco-fundamentalists who think aromatherapy cures broken legs or that their kids are too precious to be vaccinated and too special to share herd immunity, no sacred cow is left soundly unkicked…

However, no matter how trenchant, barbed, culturally aware and ethically crusading, Valerian and Laureline stories never allow message to overshadow fun and wonder and Heroes of the Equinox is one of the most entertaining sagas Méziéres & Christin ever concocted, complete with a superb sting in the tale…

Between 1981 and 1985, Dargaud-Canada and Dargaud-USA published a number of selected albums in English (with a limited UK imprint from Hodder-Dargaud) under the umbrella title Valerian: Spatiotemporal Agent and this was the fourth, translated then by L. Mitchell.

Although this modern Cinebook release boasts far better print and colour values plus a more fluid translation, total completists might also be interested in tracking down the 1983 edition too…
© Dargaud Paris, 1978 Christin, Méziéres & Tran-Lệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.