Valerian and Laureline volume 13: On the Frontiers


By Méziéres & Christin, with colours by Evelyn Tranlé; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-312-3

Valérian is possibly the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in that undoubtedly contentious statement. Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips formed the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have experienced and marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling of Méziéres & Christin creation than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined. Now with a big budget movie of their own in the imminent offing, that surely unjust situation might finally be addressed and rectified…

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent debuted in weekly Pilote #420 (November 9th 1967) and was an instant smash-hit. The feature was soon retitled Valérian and Laureline as his feisty distaff sidekick rapidly developed into an equal partner and scene-stealing star through a string of fabulously fantastical, winningly sly and light-hearted time-travelling, space-warping romps.

Packed with cunningly satirical humanist action, challenging philosophy and astute political commentary, the mind-bending yarns struck a chord with the public and especially other creators who have been swiping, “homaging” and riffing off the series ever since.

Initially Valerian was an affably capable yet ploddingly by-the-book space cop tasked with protecting the official universal chronology (at least as it affected humankind) by counteracting and correcting paradoxes caused by incautious time-travellers.

When he travelled to 11th century France in debut tale Les Mauvais Rêves (Bad Dreams), he was rescued from doom by a tempestuously formidable young woman named Laureline whom he had no choice but to bring back with him to Galaxity: the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital of the vast Terran Empire.

The indomitable female firebrand crash-trained as a Galaxity operative and accompanied him on subsequent missions – a beguiling succession of breezy, space-warping, social conscience-building epics. This so-sophisticated series always had room to propound a satirical, liberal ideology and agenda (best summed up as “why can’t we all just get along?”), constantly launching telling fusillades of commentary-by-example to underpin an astounding cascade of visually appealing, visionary space operas.

Sur les frontièrs (or On the Frontiers to us English-speakers) is the 13th Cinebook translation and symbolises a landmark moment in the series’ evolution.

When first conceived every Valérian adventure started life as a serial in Pilote before being collected in album editions, but with this adventure from 1988, the publishing world shifted gears. This subtly harder-edged saga was debuted as an all-new, complete graphic novel with magazine serialisation relegated to minor and secondary function.

The switch in dissemination affected all popular characters in French comics and almost spelled the end of periodical publication on the continent…

One clarifying note: in the canon, “Hypsis” is counted as the twelfth tale, due to the collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters: the second actual story but the first to be compiled in book form. When Bad Dreams was finally released as a European album in 1983, it was given the number #0.

In the previous storyline the immensity of Galaxity was eradicated from reality and our Spatio-Temporal Agents – along with a few trusted allies – were stranded in time and stuck on contemporary (late 20th century) Earth…

In the depths of space a fantastic and fabulous luxury liner affords the wealthy of many cultures and civilisations the delights of an interstellar Grand Tour. Paramount amongst the guests are two god-like creatures amusing themselves by slumming amongst the lower lifeforms as they perform the ages old, languid and slow-moving mating ritual of their kind…

Sadly the puissant and magnificent Kistna has been utterly deceived by her new acquaintance Jal. He has no interest in her or propagating their species: he simply intends stealing her probability-warping powers…

Jal is actually a disguised Terran and once he has completed his despicable charade he compels the ship’s captain to leave him on the nearest world… a place the natives call Earth…

Stranded on that world since Galaxity vanished, partners-in-peril Valerian and Laureline have used their training and the few futuristic gadgets they had with them to become freelance secret agents.

At this moment they are in Soviet Russia where Valerian has just concluded that the recent catastrophic meltdown of the Chernobyl reactor was deliberately caused by persons unknown…

As the officials on site absorb the news Val is extracted from the radioactive hotspot and ferried by most laborious means across the frozen wastes to Finland and a belated reunion with Laureline and Mr. Albert: once upon a time Galaxity’s volubly jolly, infuriatingly unflappable 20th information gatherer/sleeper agent…

The topic of discussion is tense and baffling: who could possibly profit from sparking Earth’s political tinderbox into atomic conflagration?

And far away in a plush hotel a man with extraordinary luck discusses a certain plan with his awed co-conspirators, unaware that in the Tunisian Sahara near the frontier with Libya, three time-travelling troubleshooters are following his operatives…

That trail leads to a nuclear mine counting down to detonation, but happily Valerian and Laureline are well-versed in tackling primitive weaponry and the close call allows Albert to deduce why Libya and an unknown mastermind are working to instigate nuclear conflict in Africa…

After another near-miss on the US-Mexican border the investigators finally get a break and isolate the enigma behind the multiple manufacture of near-Armageddon moments. However, when Laureline later approaches the super-gambler financing global nuclear terrorism through his bank-breaking casino sprees, she is astounded to realise her target recognises her Galaxity tech…

Moreover, as Valerian hurtles to her rescue he discovers the villain is an old comrade. For what possible reason could a fellow survivor of Galaxity orchestrate the destruction of Earth; the home and foundation of the time-travelling Terran Empire they are all sworn to protect and restore?

This stunning caper was writer Christin and artist Méziéres’ further deft rationalising of the drowned Earth of 1986 (as seen in 1968’s The City of Shifting Waters) with the contemporary period that they were working in, and had the added benefit of sending Valerian and Laureline into uncharted creative waters.

Thus the agents’ solution to the problem of their deranged, broken and super-powered comrade is both impressively humane and winningly conclusive …

Smart, subtle, complex and frequently hilarious, the antics of Valerian and Laureline added outrageous satire to blistering action, stirring the mix with wry humour to create one of the most thrilling sci fi strips in comics. If you’re not an addict yet, jump aboard now and be ready to impress all your friends with your perspicacity when the film comes out.
© Dargaud Paris, 1988 Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.