|Submitted by Penny Kenny |
(Nov 28, 2010)
The megalomaniac Xombul has traveled back in time to 1986’s New York City. Spatio-Temporal agents Valerian and Laureline follow in an attempt to capture him before he can alter history.
Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières’ Valerian and Laureline series has had a spotty history in English translation. A storyline here. Another there. Very frustrating. Thanks to publisher Cinebook, however, English language readers can now follow the adventures of the intrepid spatio-temporal agents from their early days as partners.
“The City of Shifting Waters” is a post-cataclysmic adventure. Christin’s world of 1986 has been devastated by a hydrogen bomb explosion, resulting in global warming, tsunamis, and earthquakes. The survivors are divided into gangs and the helpless, though the latter are really only seen in one panel. New York City is deserted, save for looters and thousands of gulls and other sea birds. The plant life has run wild. The streets are flooded. Artist Mézières creates a landscape that is frighteningly possible, but also beautiful. There are several panels that are absolutely stunning, such as the one showing a boat travelling between the vine-covered buildings. The boat and buildings are black. The water is yellow, with ripples of red-orange. The lowering sun is a red-orange ball against the white sky. There’s a beautiful eeriness to it. Much like some of Will Eisner’s best work, the city takes on a character of its own under Mézières’ pen.
Mézières doesn’t just do scenery. His characters are also memorable. They’re almost caricatured in appearance. Valerian has a long, square jaw and long, skinny legs. His boss has a large cranium and a scrawny neck. One of the scientists Valerian and Laureline encounter is a dead-ringer for Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor. These distinctive appearances make it very easy for the reader to keep the characters straight.
There’s a strong sense of motion throughout the book. Mézières doesn’t pose the characters. He catches them between movements. Even when the characters are standing still, it feels like they’ve just come to a stop and are catching their breath before moving on.
Christin’s story bursts with ideas, from Galaxity, the future capitol of the Terran Galactic Empire, to prison bubbles and molecular miniaturizers.
The narrative moves at a brisk pace. Christin sets up the plot in two pages and then throws the reader into the action. Often he uses a caption to cover several hours or days worth of events or explain a character’s motivation. The prose style ranges from the prosaic to pulpish, as in “It is run by Sun Rae, whose Herculean strength and knowledge of the city seem to make a mockery of obstacles.” It’s a narrative device that’s not in vogue now, but I rather like it. It adds information and color to the story.
Because this is an adventure story, there’s not a lot of character development. However, the characters are appealing. Valerian is charming, with a laid-back air that’s belied by his ability to think quickly on his feet. Laureline isn’t given much more to do than show fear and annoyance, but given that she’s miniaturized at one point that’s understandable. Xombul is your basic megalomaniac, chortling with glee over his plans, patting himself on the back too soon, that sort of thing. But Christin makes the cliché work through the energy of his presentation.
Valerian and Laureline, volume one is highly recommended for fans of light SF adventure, Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales and Gardner Fox’s Adam Strange.