For nearly a decade now, Thanksgiving has afforded us a chance to spend time with family and friends, and when we have had our fill of pie, we kick back at the adventures of Asterix and friends. This year, we’re changing that. With Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets arriving in theaters in July 2017, now seems like as good a time as any to dive into the 1968 adventures of Valerian and Laureline in The City of Shifting Waters.
Previously in Valerian and Laureline: Originally published in 1967, the series focuses on Valerian, a spatio-temporal agent (that’s time traveler to you and me), as he attempts to keep the timeline in tact from nefarious villains of all shapes and sizes. Laureline, on the other hand is the real brains of the group, but as this is the 1960s expect a fair amount of subtle sexism to enter the tale – even from the very liberal writer Pierre Christin.
THE CITY OF SHIFTING WATERS
While on leave following a recent adventure, the renegade scientist Xombul has escaped into the past – 1986 to be exact, a time period that the founders of Galaxity of forbidden anyone to travel to. Knowledge of the time period is completely lost to history, save for one fact – a nuclear bomb detonated at the north pole causing the polar ice to melt instantly. The subsequent rise in water levels has submerged coastal cities around the world, throwing everything into a dark age. At the risk of being thrown in jail, Valerian travels to the forbidden time period to hunt Xombul.
Xombul, as you might expect is a stereotypical villain. While not quite a rip-off of Doctor No, the influence is there, and hard for a modern reader to escape the similarities between the two. That’s not the only stereotype found in the book, and while some may be off putting, it does give you a look at a specific point in history. When finally Laureline shows up, she recounts her adventures as she made her way from Brazil to the United States – a story that could fill an entire issue by itself. Valerian’s reply?
“The cheek of these spatio-temporal agent chicks!! I always thought the service should be exclusively for men – you’re all to smart for us…:
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the backhanded compliment seemed odd. I’ll let you use the comment section to sound off on this.
Back to the story –
Xombul’s plan is simple; he wants to take all of the knowledge the United Nations has collected and use it to shape this post apocalyptic world. Working with captured scientist Julius Kelp, Xombul has built a robot army, and a number of gadgets and gizmos one might expect to find in a Johnny Quest adventure. For those who are hip to the greatest comedies of the early sixties, it will come as no surprise that Professor Kelp looks an awful lot like Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor. While intended to throw humor into the story, it became a bit distracting for me, as the character looks like Lewis, but doesn’t perform any of his antics.
Initially, Valerian is captured by the pirate Sun Rae, who is pillaging the flooded streets of New York for any valuables he and his crew can salvage. When Laurenline shows up and rescues Valerian (see, she really is the smart one), the two strike a deal with Sun Rae – help them defeat Xombul, and he can have any scientific knowledge they recover.
Through a lot of back and forth, crossing the country that leads to a high speed chases through the burning wastes of Yellowstone National Park, Laureline getting shrunk to a few inches in size, and a climactic fight aboard the only functioning space satellite still in operation, the group is able to stop Xombul, return everything to normal, and head home.
From the story perspective, this is a fun retro look at the future. While we don’t have automatons, flying platforms, or time travel, The City of Shifting Waters does give a surprising look at what would happen if our polar caps continue to melt away. There is definitely a feeling of “what did they know and when?” if you are feeling conspiratorial.
THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, TODAY?
I really love the art style of Jean-Claude Mézières, as it reminds me of legendary Mad Magazine artists Jack Davis and Sergio Aragones. At first that may seem like an odd combination, but when you look at the highly detailed environments next to the simplistic character work, I think you’ll see the two mesh together nicely. Since this story originally appeared in Pilote in 1968, I’m sure there have been touchups to the color, which is okay by me. If nothing else, this volume is worth picking up for the art alone.
BOTTOM LINE: VALERIAN 101
With the recent release of the Valerian trailer, I’m sure a number of people are wondering what the movie is about. The City of Shifting Waters is an interesting introduction to the world of Valerian, and those who have studied the trailer, may recognize the cover is referenced in at least one shot from the movie. There are only 50 pages in this volume, which means the story has to move at an incredibly fast pace in order to get all the necessary plot turns into the book. While it reads fast, in the end I could swear the page count was double that. Valerian and Laureline: City of Shifting Waters is a wild romp through time that is told with a nice mixture of humor and adventure. The art is wonderful to look at, and if you are looking for a classic comic to read over the weekend, this is worth checking out.