Valerian et Laureline: 8 – Ambassador of the Shadows


Valerian

In which we finally come to the beginning, or at least my beginning, for it was ‘Ambassador of the Shadows’ that was my introduction to Valerian and Laureline, and the most enjoyable of the four volumes then translated by Fantagraphics.
It’s also one of the prominent contributories to the 2017 Luc Besson film, as we’ll see.
City of a Thousand Planets takes two of its central ideas from the beginning and the end of this story, these being the impossibly sprawling structure that accommodates more alien lifeforms than you could possibly imagine (you, but not Christin and Mezieres), and the hidden, internal elysian world of the Shadows.
The creators devote almost six pages of build up to the creation of Point Central, an enormous, unstructured, impossible to grasp creation that began as a tiny meeting place between lifeforms and which expanded to incorporate a piece and a peace for everyone. Christin and de Mezieres start in philosophical form, mythologising the urge of every lifeform there ever is to look outward, to go outward, where there is more, drawing the strands together to introduce Point Central and some of its disparate lifeforms. Does some of this look in any way familiar? Hold that thought.
In the meantime, in the final panel of page 6, there’s the white silhouette of a very familiar spatiotemporal ship. Enter Valerian and Laureline, a more than usual study in contrasting attitudes. They’re escorting an Ambassador from Galaxity, heading for Point Central, where our native planet is to head up the Council – the only body even approximating to Order and Government in this incredible mishmash – for the first time.
The Ambassador is basically a jerk, a far-up-himself dictatorial type who’s got Val and Laureline as bodyguards whilst he’s here. He’s planning to lay down the Law, show these alien dimwits what’s what, and even before we learn that he’s got 10,000 Terran spaceships trailing him to take over the place, he’s going on about how Earth’s superiority has to be recognised, Point Central governed and how many of the aliens there are already unconsciously crying out for firm governance.
It’s outright bullshit, and very contemporary bullshit too in how it sounds like Vladimir Putin’s claims about how Ukraine wanted him to invade.
You can just picture our pair of Agent’s reactions. Laureline has already started acting to orders before she hears anything of this, and is plainly disgusted, whilst Val, the straight shooter, the inflexible lummox conscious of his duty, isn’t exactly happy but is determined to accommodate his duty. Even more than having to be a bodyguard to such an out-and-out arsehole, our favourite redhead is equally disgusted at being made carrier for their financial resources, the Grumpy Bluxte Transmuter, looking like a diamond-shelled armadillo, which can provide any currency you want. Admirably, we very quickly learn that it shits it out. No further comment.
This far, we’re still building up, but we’re now very near to the bit where the story really kicks-off. The Ambassador descends to the Terran section, his bodyguards five paces behind, making a grand and dignified entrance befitting his position. Only to get no more than two words into his speech before the wall is blown in, everyone is hit by paralysing cocoons, the Ambassador is kidnapped and Val goes after him, but not before ensuring Laureline has her helmet on and is protected, an instinct to save his partner for which he will receive absolutely no thanks whatsoever.
And this is where the story really begins. Because ‘Ambassador of the Shadows’ is really a Laureline solo. Determined to save Val, deliberately and cross-temperedly binding herself to her own orders to take no personal initiatives and with only the Grumpy and a weak-kneed bureaucrat whose forte is protocol to assist her, our little redhead sets out to go wherever in, on or around Point Central she has to go in search of her partner, oh, and the Ambassador as well. If she has to.
Which is the excuse Christin and Mezieres want to conduct a picaresque tale, which can last as long or as short as they wish, throwing in alien cultures one after another, taking Laureline on a wandering trip as she keeps pursuing Val’s trail. There are plenty of scenes in here that Besson mined for his film, and one scene in particular, set in a cantina, that someone not a million miles from the planet Tatooine mined without giving credit where it was due.
If I were minded to be critical, then I would put an emphasis on the absence of any story-progression. It’s just a long sequence of one-thing-leading-to-another, with little or no actual development of an on-going story-line.
Such approaches have to be handled very carefully, precisely because they’re not a story but a succession of scenes, being presented for their own sake, without even the actual development between levels of a video game. But what makes this work so well in ‘Ambassador’ is the sheer quality of the creators’ imagination. Every section is an amazement in itself, sustaining the interest.
And Laureline herself, whether acting alone or displaying her contempt for the ineffectual, scared and hopeless ‘Colonel Protocol’ (actually, Diol) as he trails in her wake, provides the thread to bind all these scenes together, growing increasingly frustrated at not catching up with her partner.
Along the way we meet those walking vulturine information-traders, the Shingouz, for the first but not last time. Laureline finds herself translated into a comfortable, clingy short shift for a visit to a paradisial Greek island full of handsome, well-muscled young men, queuing up to snog her passionately. And eventually she finds her way to where Val and the Ambassador have been taken, Point Central’s first unit, constructed by its original race.
Who have taken the Ambassador because they are very well aware of his plan, and the spaceship fleet. They live in what could only be defined as another dimension, removed from the reality of Point Central. They have removed themselves from the drive to power, they do not want to run Point Central. But they will not allow anyone else to do so.
It makes a great impression on the Ambassador, though not as deep as it ought to. He goes from there to the Council Chamber, calling himself the Ambassador of the Shadows, intent on bringing the message he’s had delivered within that ideal place, but still set on enforcing it with Earth’s fleet, under Earth’s name and pre-eminence. They never learn, do they? All it gets him is expulsion, not just him and his fleet, but everyone from Earth, banned from Point Central for a hundred years.
But what, we may ask, of Laureline and Val? It’s the long-awaited reunion and it goes as you might expect. She’s delighted and relieved and runs into his arms, kissing him. He’s delighted, and condescends to her how she needn’t have worried, her Valerian comes out on top. Then he starts wondering why she turns and stalks away. On second thoughts, maybe Dane DeHaan was right for Val in the film.
Having spent all her time obeying orders in her own unique fashion, Laureline finally announces she’s going to use her own initiative. This means using the suddenly-redundant spacefleet to transport everyone and everything off Point Central, for the long retreat to Galaxity, with the Ambassador of the Shadows still unable to understand why he, in all his dignity as a Terran, has been treated like this. Some people never learn, and Christin and Mezieres knew exactly who these were.
The energy and invention of this story, not to mention Laureline in the leading role, made this my favourite story forty years ago, and my favourite story of reading the entire saga. That doesn’t make this the last great story, however, not by a long way.

Valerian et Laureline: 7 – Birds of the Master


Valerian

After two strong stories, each with substantial depth beneath the pure excitements of the thriller aspect, ‘Birds of the Master’ comes as rather a disappointment. It begins in media res, with Valerian and Laureline’s spaceship crashed and inextricable on a strange planet and the two agents travelling on a skiff across the ocean trying to get somewhere, without instruments, having to hope that there is somewhere for them to get.
Except that they are swept unstoppably over a great, Niagara-like falls, sinking stunned into algae in which they will drown, except for their rescue, dredged up onto a great boat touring various ocean spots, harvesting the algae. Whereupon they are made slaves, each given different roles. Slaves of whom? The Master, who has no other name and no other role than to rule this planet, exacting tribute from everyone, of whatever offworld race, whose vessel has crashed here.
And the Master’s rule is enforced by his birds, great swirling flocks of vampire-like birds, distributing poison with their bites, but sufficiently effective by their appearance in the skies, a dark and foreboding mandala.
Naturally, what Val and Laureline have to do is to lead a rebellion, find the Master and force him to relinquish his power – if his be an appropriate pronoun here – and free his planet’s slave population.
And that’s what they do, in a story that is rather dismally limited to just doing that, by means of a literally linear pursuit across the planet’s ever-changing surface. No sidesteps, no diversions, no curlicues of story, just straight from point A to point Z, featuring twenty-four other alphabetical points between. Not literally, of course. But a straight line.
Val and Laureline are not the only ones prepared to rebel at the outset. They fall in with Sül, of the planet Manadil, another recent crash landing who has not yet been broken to the fear the Birds of Madness induce: Sül does not yet have the whips in his head.
Laureline’s flash of independence over the last couple of stories is undercut, surely consciously, by her attitude to the slave work clothes she has to wear. True, they’re disgusting rags that any self-respecting human would object to, but it’s not the filth, stink and raggedness that has our favourite redhead wrinkling up her nose in disgust, but the design: the ensemble lacks in chic… The problem is that, if this is meant to be a joke, it’s an ill-fitting one for emphasising Laureline’s feminine instincts by making her appear more concerned with slave-clothes than actual slavery.
The first phase ends with arrival at the cities of the Master. The planet’s entire population has gathered, bringing ingredients to be prepared for the Great Meal of the Master. It is taken into a great carved entrance to a massive cavern and tipped in, in front of a starved population. Meagre leftovers are returned for the starving, half-crazy masses. Everyone can rest until the Master is hungry again, whereupon the whole cycle begins afresh. Though there is nothing fresh about this.
Sül tries to fight back but ends up being thrown into the Pit of the Loonies. Val and Laureline try to defend him, to organise resistance, but are turned on themselves. Laureline is knocked out by a thrown stone, at which point Val turns a bit violent. Once he’s treated her, there’s another dubious moment when Laureline throws a hissy-fit over everything that’s happened to her, including being dressed like a hag and wants to abandon everyone, go back to their ship and get off this planet. Val manages to get her back on track over the need to rescue Sül.
Down in the Pit, the inhabitants are a bit more independent minded and capable of intelligent talk, even if a couple of them haven’t grasped that this is more than just a badly-organised travel tour. They’re the ones who have been bitten by the Master’s Birds, who have been poisoned, and who are going very slowly out of their minds.
They’re not exactly prime rebellion material, but they’re game. Val’s promised his partner they can go after they’ve recovered Sül, but their plan for a silent running departure gets blown to high heaven by the Pit-denizens’ rather loud leaving, so rebellion it is. As soon as they cross into the mist-shrouded Forbidden Lands, the Master’s private domain, pursuit ends and the linear journey resumes. The two tourist ladies design some chic and hot looking clothes for Laureline, mini-skirted of course: no more fashion blues for her.
They’re almost there when the Birds attack. The poisoned try to shield Val, Laureline and Sül, but are unsuccessful. Finally, our trio and the least affected descend into the pit, where they find the Master, a massive, shapeless, jelloid substance, writhing with tentacles beneath its pale sheath. It’s still feeding. Val tries to disrupt it by cutting off the inflows from the Klaar prepared in this cycle but is beaten down telepathically by fury and anger, a denial of his moral right to challenge the Master in the light of the obscenities of Earth’s past actions. Laureline is similarly stopped, and Sül and everyone else. All are helpless.
Until Laureline redeems herself for everything in the story so far, determined to resist and understanding that they are being ripped apart because they are individuals, but if they stand together, present a collective front, they can drive the Master away.
And they do.
For a moment the ‘Loonies’ waver about taking over, until one of Valerian’s better speeches – well, Laureline applauds it – shames them out of it. A united planet, a free planet can and will benefit all. It will also lend a hand to freeing the Spatiotemporal cruiser so our Agents can head back to Galaxity. There’s a comic twist: where did the Master go? If they were to only look in their rear-view mirror…
Is that a serious ending, boding consequences, or just a joke? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Despite some decent moments throughout, ‘Birds of the Master’ is still a massive let-down, a one-note story with a predictable ending and nothing larger to show or tell us. If I were rating these stories, I’d mark this one down to a C, maybe even a C minus. Better things are to come. Starting with the next story.

Valerian et Laureline: 6 – Welcome to Alflolol


Valerian

‘Welcome to Alflolol’ was another of the Fantagraphics edition of Valerian et Laureline stories from the Eighties. It’s a clash of cultures outing, coding the Establishment and the Counter-Culture into a opposition of civilisations on the distant planet Alflolol, a story of two races that are incapable of understanding each other, one of which is incapable by its nature of comprehending, and the other which is determined not only not to understand but to do everything within it’s power to make the other confirm to its version.
And in splitting up our two spatiotemporal agents and attaching one to each side, Christin and Mezieres not only personalise the conflict, not only emphasise the depth of the gulf between sides but, for the first time, allow Laureline to assert her independence as an operator. Though she gets the short straw in terms of exposure in the story, this is Laureline serving notice that she will no longer be the sidekick.
The set-up is that Earth has colonised a distant, massive planet that they have called Technorog, which they are exploiting industrially. The planet seems to have been abandoned: there has been no sign of its original inhabitants for at least two centuries. The colonists live in artificial domes that duplicate Earth’s circadian rhythms and enable them to ignore completely the natural life of Technorog.
Things start with our familiar pair leaving after a routine tour of inspection. They are divided on Technorog’s merits. Laureline has been put off by the workaholic ethos of the colony whilst Valerian, the trained Agent and the more willing Company Man, is much more forgiving of the attitude. Still, neither are too disheartened at moving on. They request a gap opening in the massive planet’s protective shield. They fly out into space. Val’s all set to start the jump back to Earth but suddenly Laureline is enveloped in and paralysed by a cold blue aura, a cry of distress emanating from somewhere.
Searching for its source, they find a strange, unstreamlined spaceship falling towards the protective shield, which rebounds to the asteroid belt and is wrecked. The Agents follow the ship, looking for survivors.
Laureline is possessed again, floated off to the survivors, a family of gigantic, horn-headed humanoids, big, jovial, unaggressive and positively Rabelasian in demeanour. Each has a distinct mental ability, telepathy, telekenesis etc. They are also incredibly long-lived. And, but you’ve seen this coming, they are the original inhabitants of Alflolol, as the planet was named when they and their friends and neighbours left for a brief trip, about 4,000 years ago.
Now they’re back to return to their old haunts.
All of this has to be explained by the family head, Argol, to the increasingly concerned Val, who can foresee loads of trouble. Laureline’s still effectively a prisoner of the grandmother, who’s dying at the incredibly premature age of 220,000 years. Only once Val saves her life is Laureline back to her old self, only she’s a bit different. Prolonged exposure to the Alflololians has placed her firmly in their camp, to an almost unreasonable degree. Val’s delighted, overjoyed and relieved to have her back, but Laureline isn’t accepting it. She’s an afterthought, as usual. She doesn’t believe in Val’s love for her, especially as she’s found somebody who loves her more. This is the family’s gumun, a furry, four-legged and two-armed beast with a serious case of infatuation (good taste, mind you).
I have to stop and question one thing here. Val and Laureline have been a team, a good team and, we have to assume, lovers for some time, despite their vastly different backgrounds. Suddenly, she’s revolting against everything he stands for and, by extension, him too. Whilst her reaction, and her identification with the big-hearted, unregimented, unconventional Alflololians is entirely in keeping with her less-repressed instincts, this all comes directly after a prolonged spell of being under mental domination. And throughout almost all of the book she’s going to be thoroughly unreasonable about things, until a re-conversion that’s almost a spin on the spot.
So I have to ask myself, how much of this is an imposition on our favourite redhead’s mind?
I don’t expect for one second that that’s what Christin and Mezieres intended, or want us thinking, but it’s in my mind.
And I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for Val for the rest of the tale. Val’s in the middle. He knows his duty to Earth. He knows his responsibility to see that the rights of the Alflololians are fully respected according to Galaxity’s directives. He knows just how important Technorog is to Earth’s forces and the Spatiotemporal Service. He also intuits, not that it’s difficult to work this out, that the Alflololians are going to be the equivalent of a whole herd of bulls in one great big china shop.
And he’s the only one who’s trying to see all points of view at once and prevent the whole thing going septic, because the Alflololians can’t see the Earther’s side, the colonists aren’t bloody well going to see their side and Laureline is no help whatsoever. She has gone native with a vengeance and, what’s more, has decided that as Val is not 101% with her and Argol’s family, he is 110% with the doctrinaire Governor of the colony.
To the extent that, if Val were to actually to mention to her that his co-operation with the colony is being blackmailed by the Governor’s threat, completely legitimate in view of Laureline’s total abandonment of her duty as an Agent, to have her arrested and sent to the mines if Val doesn’t play ball, she would simply refuse to acknowledge it as part of her current world-view and indeed treat it as yet further evidence that Val is in league with the colonists.
As tension grows higher, you actually start to fear that it might end up as war, even as you know that, without being the least bit war-like, the Alflololians would wipe the floor with the colonists and not notice what they’ve done.
There’s only one way out of here, and it’s a bit of a cheat. The ever more desperate attempts to make the Alflololians fit in with ‘Technorog’s ways are an absolute disaster and bring production to a complete standstill. At last Val has got the strongest negotiating position and secures an agreement to allow the Alflollians to live on their planet as and where and how they choose, with Technorog fitting in around them.
Except that when he goes to them with his valedictory solution, he finds they’ve all decided to pack up and leave. It’s just not their planet any more. The fact that Val had achieved the kind of solution she had wanted all along, i.e., total surrender, not to mention the chance to be condescending to him, is the key to Laureline’s almost 100% swing back and the gumun’s heartbreak. Mind you, Val does have a practical advantage: he can kiss her and, well, we won’t go there, and the furry thing can’t.
There’s a sting in the tail, of course. Once everyone’s left the planet, the Governor closes the protective shield behind them, and makes it clear it won’t ever be opening to nasty, trouble-making Spatiotemporal Agents ever again. And as Argol and his family no longer have a spaceship, they’re leaving with our reconnected pair for Galaxity, where they’ll be honoured as Ambassadors, and their every wish indulged…

Valerian et Laureline: 5 – The Land Without Stars


Valerian

‘The Land without Stars’ was the first Valerian and Laureline story I recognised from that brief, four album strong attempt to break into America in the Eighties. Though it wasn’t one of the better of those four to me back then, it’s grown in my imagination since those times and I enjoyed it immensely.
The initial set-up is deliberately misleading, and deliberately comic. In fact, it’s the beginning of the series’ shift to setting up Val as a bit of a fall guy to Laureline’s evidently sharper mind, his slow turn towards being the big dumb handsome hero. It’s introduced with an edge of mild mockery that also cleverly foreshadows the meat of the story.
We’re out in a remote area of the galaxy, on the edge of mapped space, beyond which is only darkness. Earth has colonised all four planets of the Ukbar system and the plug is about to be pulled. By mutual consent, of course: pioneers go out on their own, into the wild, to carve out an independent life that they can shape to their own ends. Val and Laureline are there for the farewell, Galaxity representatives wishing its distant sons and daughters a future in which it cannot play a part. Val’s there to wear the ceremonial robes and make the valedictory speech, and Laureline as his partner and second.
And on each of the first three planets, working outwards from the sun, once the ceremony’s over, the men take Val on one side to introduce him to their first and most important discovery: the local booze. By planet three he’s a mere 100,000 solar miles off course and by the last one, he’s stinking.
Except that no-one’s there. They’re all watching the thing that’s going to spell doom to the entire colony that’s racketing through space, lurching here there and everywhere (a bit like Val, really). It’s going to destroy the gravitational balance of the four existing planets, end the colony before it’s begun. Something needs to be done about it. After a bucket or two of coffee, for Val, the spatiotemporal agents set off to find out what’s going on.
And what they find is an inverted planet, a hollow earth, surrounded by a penetrable membrane that keeps its atmosphere from peeling off into space, with its sun inside, orbited by a shadow-casting moon.
It’s an old idea, dating back at least to Burroughs, but Christin and Meziere have better things to do than just come up with another barbarian wonderland. There are three peoples inside this unstable planet. The first are the Lemm. The Lemm are nomads, following the shadow of the moon, cultivating flogums, living crystalline forms that have to be quarried, jewel-like, out of the ground. The thing about flogums is that they explode, especially when thrown against things. Who wants such things? That’s the Valsennaris and the Malkans, respective occupiers of the only two cities on /in Zahir. Why should two rival peoples want exploding things? To make War, of course, an unending War. And it is the violent mass explosions of flogums that are sending Zahir careering all over the place. Why are they at War? The Lemm do not know and are not curious. They mine and sell flogums. It is their only industry, their entire economy. They could stop the War by stopping mining and selling flogums, but the Lemm are not curious about the use of flogums. They exist to mine and sell. And, like everybody else on Zahir, they do not understand the very idea of another world, because they are in the inside and cannot see out. A very intriguing situation.
So why are Valsennar and Malka at War so determinedly? A first clue might be that only men and allowed into Malka and only women are allowed into Valsennar, so Val and Laureline have to split up, not to mention dress up (Laureline loves missions where she gets to wear costumes). And indeed that clue is on the mark. Though I would have preferred something to establish why these two civilisations have become so much the diametric opposite of each other, though the people are of the same race, we very quickly get to see that the two cities exist on basically identical terms, except that in Malka the women are in charge and the men despised slaves and cattle, fit only to do all the work, get killed in battle and, only if they survive that, service the caste of women (a prospect they regard with horror and disgust) and in Valsennar it’s the men who are the privileged caste (with a decided undertone and overtone of blatant effeminacy to balance out the extreme virility of Malka’s women) and the women are despised, used and downtrodden.
One of those two states seems far less exaggerated than the other.
It’s interesting that only in Malka does Christin have the put upon men openly protesting that their ‘civilisation’ is wholesome, good and proper and the women are right to be on top, whereas the women of Valsennar merely live that way without comment, positive or negative.
So Val and Laureline each sneak into their respective targets and come to identical points, though by different courses. In keeping with the introduction of a comic mockery of his heroic posture, Val has to swim in through the sewers before getting caught up in some kind of military draft, whilst Laureline is taken for a candidate to become handmaiden to the Prince, is bathed, perfumed and dressed, fails comprehensively at all the domestic tasks but is chosen by the primped and pampered Prince for no better reason than the obvious one: she’s a shit-hot redhead.
Once they’re in, though, the route to the solution is almost too simple. Both go to the War, Val as a soldier, Laureline to look pretty. But Val makes a bid to be noticed by stealing a flier (with wings) and putting his pilot skills to use in single-handedly turning the battle until he reaches the Prince’s floater where Laureline, having gotten sick of the overall incompetence of everyone around her, has taken over the bow equivalent and shoots down the bird carrying the other side’s leading fighter before discovering it’s Val.
Once again, I have to compare their reactions – after all the whole story is built around the opposition of the genders – and note that whilst Laureline is horrified at the realisation she may have killed her partner, Val’s response is an untimely pride at the fact she must be learning from him!
Of course he gets out of it – the comic representation of the hero only goes so far – and our heroes get to communicate from private quarters that night, before late-night assignations with their respective leaders. At which they both avoid amorous encounters by knocking the poor, ugly, overweight pair out, spiriting them back to the ship and taking them up. And out.
Out into space. To show them what Zahir really is, what the Universe really is, and, most importantly, what peril they and everyone in the Ukbar system are in.
Needless to say, the whole population, Valsennari, Malkan and Lemm, work together at top speed to mine and prepare every bloody flogum they can lay their hands on before Val goes off to pull the same multi-jump flight as in the last story, albeit with fewer concerns about the effect on himself. With every flogum going off simultaneously at the properly calculated places, Zahir’s erratic progress is ended. The planet settles into a permanent place as Ukbar 5, the Zahirans work out deals with the colonists and all is well that ends well.
Except for Valerian’s hangover from sampling the home made Zahiran brew…
I enjoyed the story tremendously. It demonstrates just how well Christin and Mezieres had gotten a handle on their creation, and the richness of their imagination, especially visually. That doesn’t stop me being critical of the areas where, like writers have done since time immemorial, they try to rush us past weak spots in the story logic. Not only is Zahir saved but suddenly its citizens, men and women of centuries-old civilisations conditioned to see each gender as beneath contempt, are now marrying in droves. I know that sex and danger are powerful forces, but the advancement to equality is way too rapid.
And having the two leaders tying the knot on top of it really is a case of lobbing in a cheap and convenient wrap-up without the slightest consideration for plausibility. I mean, even I, on half a minute’s notice, could come up with a workable explanation as to why two dynastic leaders might do such a thing, and it has nothing to do with the appeal of fitting one thing inside another.
Still, such a quibble can be treated as minor in a series rapidly heading towards a sustained run of high quality. As the next story will evidence.

Valerian et Laureline: 4 – The Empire of a Thousand Planets


Valerian

As far as I’m concerned, this is where the Valerian et Laureline series really starts to get into its stride, and it’s not surprising that it’s the first story to break free of Earth, its history and the now-dispatched Xombul.
The story takes place on Syrte, the centre of the eponymous Empire. This gives Christin and Mezieres a first real chance to use their imaginations, freed of the restrictions of humanity’s customs and geographies. The story is introduced by a fantastically atmospheric swirl of dark, star-filled space, a galactic curve using less than half a page amid acres of white space, as if being looked into via some kind of portal. It’s a grand and glorious tease, and the creators give themselves three full pages to depict the glories and curiosities of Syrte, the races that trade, the goods they trade, the market, the palace, the landscapes, the alienness that invests in the familiar. For the first time we feel we are really a long way from home.
This kind of dazzle, this flair, will be an intrinsic part of the series hereafter, but we still need our heroes, so enter a very familiarly-shaped Galaxity ship, exiting from a spatiotemporal jump on the penultimate leg, Val and Laureline halting to record a mission log that sets up their visit: to observe Syrte, to not get involved, to determine if it is a potential threat to Earth’s own Empire.
Unfortunately, good intentions don’t count for much. Syrte is led by a Prince, an example of decadence, and no doubt inbreeding, in his pleasure-loving, easily-led state (easily-led by Laureline, of course). But it is increasingly dominated by a kind of priest-caste, the steel-masked Enlightened, the villains of the story, suppressing and repressing science and space routes, increasingly dominating the world and the Empire.
And they identify Laureline as a threat, an enemy, an emissary from the Earth which they hate and are sworn to destroy, because she has bought a strange and wonderful object in the marketplace that she understands and can name, where it and its purpose are wholly unknown to Syrtians: it is a watch. It tells Time, and Syrtians tell time innately, internally infallibly. What need have they of Watches and Clocks?
But the Enlighteneds know what a watch is and what it’s for and by that token they know our intrepid pair are not from round here and have them seized. However, seizing and keeping are two different things, and the resourceful agents are soon on the run, into the hinterlands and the forests and swamps.
With the aid of Marcyam Hunters, Val and Lauerline return to the capital. Their first attempt to penetrate the Palace, disguised in gorgeous robes as Ambassadors, is rebuffed but it draws them to the attention of Elmir, the clothes merchant, who agrees to get them smuggled in. There’s a high degree of paranoia surrounding the palace that has grown over the near hundred years since the Enlighteneds first appeared.
This is where our pair get separated, Laureline winding up enchanting the Prince, Val captured and drugged to tell all about their spaceship. However, our favourite redhead is growing into her role as a successful and independent Agent who does the thinking whilst Val does the heavy-lifting, and she gets the Prince to release her partner, unharmed, over the heads and the will of the Enlightened.
And their reunion is marked by the first overt arms-round-each-other kiss, establishing quite clearly just to what extent Val and Laureline are a pair.
Outside the Palace again, the Agents need to find a bolthole safe from the Enlighteneds. Elmir has given them an address to find, Black Street, which takes them into the seedy darkness of the city, the underclass, the poor who are overlooked in every city and Empire. Where Elmir reveals he is more than a mere clothes-seller, but rather the Grandmaster of the Guild of Merchants. The Enlighteneds are not merely substituting religion for science, ignorance for knowledge, isolation for commonality, but they are buggering up trade, and that’s serious.
With Val and Laureline’s ship, and its spatiotemporal capabilities, at their head, the Merchant’s Guild intends to foment rebellion and overthrow the Enlightened. A fleet of ships from dozens of planets of the Empire, each specialists in some discipline or another, just as a city contains quarters where the masters of one industry or another cluster. They will make a direct attack on the lonely, isolated dusty asteroid of Slohm, in the Constellation of the Eagle. This is the Enlighteneds’ base, in an enormous shipwrecked spaceship. The Enlighteneds are aliens, from out-system. Who are they, and where are they from? The answer is meant to be the twist and, who knows, in 1970 it might have come as a genuinely unexpected revelation, but we are older now, we have read more, and we can foresee where Christin and Mezieres are heading.
By now, most of the comic elements of the story have been brushed into the background. The fleet, its silent approach across empty space, it’s solemn seriousness takes the story into the realms of the epic. There are still human moments: Elmir identifies Val and Laureline’s craft as having spatiotemporal capabilities, and more or less extrapolates their base to be Earth, but fear not, their interest is expanding markets, not Empire.
There’s a magnificent single page for a deadly act as Val pilots the ship through a complex series of Jumps through microseconds of time and a small space, appearing practically simultaneously at every point and destroying all the Enlighteneds craft.
And finally there is the invasion of their Headquarters where the Enlighteneds have acknowledged they have been beaten. What’s more, by one of their own The Enlighteneds are Earthmen, survivors of a first expedition that was believed lost in space, destroyed, but instead crashed, its crew poisoned by radiation yet made immortal by an extract made from a liquid found on Slohm with a mythical background.
So they became immortal, and hated immortally, took Syrte in hand for the purposes of an attack on the Earth that made them this way. In vain, Valerian argues that they could return, in honour, that Earth could repair its damaged children. But hatred is too powerful. The Enlighteneds cannot give up what has sustained them for so long, their only purpose for surviving. They have lost, and the fate for losers is death.
And with their death, rebellion rises on Syrte. The Royal Family aren’t going to last this one out, we realise. A very mercantile and middle-class Empire is being born, that one way or another will find its own way to Earth but in Elmir’s hands it will be to trade not to fight.
As the title makes plain, part of this story went into Luc Besson’s 2017 film (I’d still love to see another, even with Dane Dehaan as Val), the market place and the idea. It deserves that status. Though a much less mixed treatment might have been a better bet, ‘The Empire of a Thousand Planets’ having quite enough of a story in itself for a decent little flick. Although it might have had to face accusations of being too much like Star Wars if it had.
And we know why, don’t we, boys and girls?

Valerian et Laureline: 3 – Earth in Flames


‘Earth in Flames’ picks up where ‘The City of Shifting Waters’ ended, with the arrival of Valerian, Laureline and Sun Rae at Xombul’s base in and under Yellowstone Park, Americana at its finest. There we are quickly introduced to Schroder, a brilliant scientist and the only one on Earth of our era associated with Xombul, grateful for the opportunity to run wild on his inventing whilst never mistaking his situation as anything other than that of prisoner. Schroder, incidentally, does not have a mop of blond hair and a tendency to sit at toy pianos but instead looks like Jerry Lewis at his goofiest.
We’re still in the series’ early days yet, so it’s no surprise, however disappointing, to see it take a chauvinist turn. Valerian’s the hero, he’s brave and resourceful, and Laureline is the spunky girl sidekick, so when Xombul wants to enforce Valerian being his right hand man, he does so by submitting our favourite redhead to a shrinking ray, intent keeping her in his pocket, literally, whilst Val follows orders.
But Schroder wants out and, as soon as he disables the robots, big brave Val breaks loose, tackles and captures Xombul, only too late to keep a furious Laureline from being shrunk to about six inches tall. Laureline is angry at her treatment, putting the blame where it truly lies, on her creators – this always happens to the girls! – as a metafictional warning that if they don’t sharpen up pretty quickly, she’s going to take action about it.
However, for now it’s everyone back to the spatiotemporal craft to return the renegade Dictator to Galaxity, whilst Val does his best not to cause his colleague to fall off his shoulder. Sun Rae’s going to stay behind and take over the base, and Schroder’s going to stay behind because he belongs to Sun Rae now, until he breaks out himself. Unfortunately, not all the robots have been disabled and, in the shooting, Val drops Xombul, but not Laureline, who starts growing of her own accord as if Christin and Mezieres have worked out they’ve done a dumb thing.
Naturally, she grows faster than her clothes, though the proprieties are decently observed.
The story opens out in its middle section, as the runaways decide to put distance between themselves and Xombul. This takes us out into America the Big Country, the wild open, a favourite real-life setting for Mezieres, and the ever-increasing effects of the series of disasters that will, so soon, shut Earth down in its Modern Dark Age. Heat and flames, fleeing and despair. Civilisation has already broken down, and only the old-timer, the phlegmatic westerner, the self-reliant self-image of America’s psyche, knows how to live in these times. He provides Laureline with clothes that suit their environment (and which cover more than about 30% of her) and kits out Val likewise. They ride off to look for America.
What they find is the land breaking down as fast as the country. The old-timer stays, in his element, the Old West rising to help the people, like the troubleshooter of old, only not with guns but skills, skills to gather and hold tight a herd that will feed people for at least a time. It’s an apocalyptic time treated in a determinedly non-apocalyptian manner for which Christin and Mezieres are to be praised.
We return to the plot with a deft jab at America and its exceptionalism in a more contemporary context as the agents find a military base, abandoned by all but its Commander, and he’s abandoned it too metaphorically, choosing drinks, smokes and burgers over his duty, and easy prey for a practical Laureline to slap around. Once loaded up with weaponry, it’s back to Yellowstone, and Xombul to be dealt with finally.
Once they arrive, Xombul’s defences are raised to greet them, It’s a two-point attack, Laureline laying down covering fire to distract from Val’s heavy-artillery attack with a bazooka – when a grand moose can be got from immediately in front of the sights. These are the touches I love, the moment of comedy slipped in in a quasi-bathetic manner which reflects the non-fictional natural obstructiveness of the Universe (like Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder Gang as opposed to his Parker hard-boiled crime stories).
But then the creators let things slip back a little as Val goes in alone after Xombul, leaving Laureline behind. However, the Dictator has fled, using the President’s personal rocket ship to relocate to a secret satellite in Earth orbit, from where he plans to rebuild. How can Val and Laureline follow him now? By Schroder’s space/time ship of course, if it worked, that is.
Which is where future and past turn in upon themselves and meet. Val’s knowledge of spatiotemporal principles and mechanics, with Laureline’s assistance, enables him to bypass Schroder’s lack of comprehension, his misguidances and lack of material to produce Earth’s first, ramshackle, unsleek, held-together-by-spit-and-baling-wire Spatiotemporal machine, and undertake that first ever flight.
To the space station, and to Valerian’s final confrontation with Xombul. Who’s built himself a space/time machine from twentieth century plans that he doesn’t understand will not work, because it cannot work. And instead of jumping into time, Xombul is destroyed, his component atoms spread far beyond recovery.
Killing Xombul off this soon was a very sensible idea: the series is still a little rough and ready, and relies too much on foursquare Hard SF, for all that there are moments when the picture painted hangs at an angle. The last thing it needed was a perpetual enemy. Without Xombul, the series had time to grow, to cultivate a sense of the alien, the infinite possibilities of the Universe. Without a recurring foe, it could stop and look around, and it would.
Cannily, our principal pair knock out Schroder and Sun Rae whilst assisting them to escape from the destruction of the Yellowstone base. And they dismantle the space/time ship and retrofit Schroder’s inaccurate workings so he can’t retro-engineer such a ship prematurely. And then it really is back home, but with a side-trip first. After all, no matter when they get back, Valerian and Laureline will be sent on a new mission inside an hour…

Valerian et Laureline: 2 – The City of Shifting Waters


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‘The City of Shifting Waters’ is where Valerian et Laureline, shifts, surprisingly quickly, into its natural gear. The story may be, technically, the first of a more comprehensive two-parter, but Christin and Mezieres find a quite natural break point that not only separates two phases of the conflict but which, in itself, is a quite atmospheric resting place, with the sense of a natural ending.
The second story does begin with a stunningly flat notion. Our intrepid pair have settled into a spatiotemporal agent’s routine and are found relaxing in an idyllic country scene after a particularly tricky job that they have resolved skillfully. In short, they’re picnicking by a stream fed by a low but graceful waterfall, with wine and a 3D chess machine that all turns out to be a holographic image on the back of Valerian’s space flyer when they’re summoned back to Galaxity. What’s happened? Xombul has happened.
We’re only on the second story and already we’re repeating the same set-up. Xombul has escaped. He’s stolen a spatiotemporal ship. He’s gone off to tinker with history so that he can become master of Galaxity. Again, already?
Nevertheless, it’s not unknown, when a creator’s first story has been undercooked (as I think it fair to say ‘Bad Dreams’ was) for them to re-tackle the same thing to demonstrate that they know better now. It was like that with Terry Pratchett’s first two Discworld books: though the two stories weren’t quite as close as that, The Light Fantastic was very much a case of a writer having thoroughly absorbed what had not worked out before and showing they could ‘get it right’.
Which is pretty much the case with Christin and Mezieres here.
The story quickly gets essential exposition delivered upfront. The agents are to split up, Valerian to track Xombul, Laureline to wait behind as back-up, a role she accepts with more passivity than we’ll come to see. The big thing is that Xombul has been traced to New York in 1986 (the story was started in 1968), the beginning of a massive hole in History, a blank, a modern Dark Age of which nothing is known until space flight was invented in 2314. Access to this time is strictly forbidden, because nothing is known, there is no safety, and the risk of overturning history is far too great to risk.
You can see why Xombul’s hitched up his skirts and headed there, can’t you?
So Valerian heads off, his ship disappearing in a white silhouette on black letratone image that will be a shorthand throughout the entire series. And we emerge in a New York under water, newly-abandoned, dead, already decaying. An accidental H-bomb explosion at the North Pole has melted the icecaps, flooded the world. Rot and decay, exotic plants, creepers, vines and the miasma of the swamp has come to the concrete jungle. It’s a horrifying sight, even now when it has been replicated so much. It’s like a jungle out there, sometime, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.
The story makes good use of that atmosphere in the serio-comic manner established in ‘Bad Dreams’. The relay station turns out to be in the Statue of Liberty’s torch. Getting down from there isn’t going to be easy until the Statue’s weakening arm falls off, just ahead of another tidal wave that destroys the Statue (a less than unconsciously unflattering riposte to Tricky Dicky’s America). Protected by his spacesuit, Valerian survives the fall, though not in a conscious state, and is saved by a boatload of what turn out to be hijackers, part of a gang engaged in the biggest, but ultimately most-short-sighted looting operation ever.
Valerian wakes up to find himself bound, cuts his ropes, gets away under gunfire. Seeing a light at the United Nations building, the only light in New York, he finds robots stealing scientific records. His enforced departure from the building sees him emerge underwater, from which it’s a short step to his being captured again and being made slave labour.
The looting gang is under the control of Sun Rae, a cool jazz-type of goatee-d black guy and a passionate flautist. Sun Rae is planning the biggest heist of all time, everything is being looted. Well, not everything: cash, jewellery, gold, silver, easily transportable stuff: priceless and beautiful statues from the abandoned museums get dumped in the river. So easily and irreversibly is the irreplaceable past dumped by the short-sighted present.
As soon as he gets a chance, Valerian has it away on his toes again, only to run into an opponent, smaller, slighter, very familiar-looking silhouette, who’s simply a better combatant than him: we are relieved to see the belated arrival of Laureline, Miss Back-up (when Valerian failed to report after four days, she was sent in to rescue him, taking a roundabout route through Brasilia, whose President lends the dear red-head his Presidential plane: not willingly, of course).
Now the two are together, the plot can really take-off, but first there’s a slightly dodgy little scene. Laureline has snagged herself a tasteful and well-appointed apartment as her base of operations, where she prepares a meal. As she brings him up to date on how she’s approached her mission far more intelligently and professionally than he’s done so far, Valerian expounds on ‘the cheek of these Spatiotemporal Chicks!’ and how he always thought the organisation should be exclusively for men. That ought to be cause for flaming daggers not flaming candles, but he undercuts his case with the cheerfully rueful ‘you’re all too smart for us…’ Even so, Laureline seems to accept even the joke too easily, pointing to her success at… cooking.
Valerian has a theory. In the world that’s obviously coming into being, neither money nor power will be of any use, but knowledge will be. People who can think. Laureline confirms that there were scientists aplenty in Brasilia, attending an International Symposium and staying there, whilst Valerian goes back to the robots in the UN. It may not be Xombul, but it could be.
So, adopting local colouring – Laureline in poncho, mini-skirt and knee-length boots, a wonderful fantasy – they get in to see Sun Rae, who demonstrates that he is genuinely smart by understanding instantly how genuinely worthless his looted horde is, and joining with them to enter the UN building and seek further. Sun Rae has an eye for leadership, and God knows Earth is going to need it.
But yes indeed, the robots are Xombul’s and he, though not present by anything but a viewscreen, spots the intruders and directs his invincible robots to capture all three. Xombul is the only one to know what’s coming in the detail that’s essentially. A final tidal wave is due, the one that will destroy New York completely. They will be given a motorboat on which to escape, but they will head west, west only, not one degree of deviation, or they will be destroyed utterly
With Sun Rae as an expert pilot, the trio fight their way out, racing the wave, the one whose curl no surfer will ever wish to ride, as the City of Perpetual Motion falls silent and still behind them, destroyed down to its every stone. Only Valerian and Laureline, looking at what lies behind, seeing what is no longer there, know that there is still a future, that there will again be something instead of the nothing that is all that they observe.
It’s a moment that brings this story to an end, a glimpse into the vastness of time, the essence of infinity, the faintest kernel of What will Be, promised far beyond the end of As and When.
There is more, there is a response, an outcome, but for that we will need to read ‘Earth in Flames’. Which will be next.

Just because you know it’s coming…


… doesn’t leave you any less sad. George Perez, comic book artist of great reknown, repute and influence, and a man nobody had a bad word to say about, died yesterday, aged 67, of cancer. The artist of The Avengers, The Justice League of America, Crisis on Infinite Earths and above all The New Teen Titans, without which there may well not have been a DC Comics for the last forty years, died without pain, in the midst of his family, or should I say the family related to him by blood and marriage: the whole damn comic book industry and its fans were his family and we all mourn our loss.

Valerian et Laureline: 1 – Bad Dreams


Valerian

Dedicated to my pal Garth Groombridge, to whom I promised this series at the beginning of 2020.

In the wake of Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which I loved but far too few others did, Cinebook, the self-proclaimed Ninth Art publishers, put out a series of seven hardback volumes, collecting the complete run of Valerian et Laureline, the forty year long comics series written by Pierre Christin and drawn by Jean-Claude Mezieres. Given the chance to read the complete story, I slowly accumulated all seven books.
This was my second attempt at Valerian (apologies, lovely red-headed Laureline). I’d first heard of the series in the Eighties, thanks to the late Kim Thompson, writing in The Comics Journal. Four individual stories from the series had been translated into English and published in slim, individual albums, out of chronological order. I enjoyed the first of these that I found, ‘Ambassador of the Shadows’, but was less enthusiastic about the other three, and ended up not retaining the books.
Some of it was the failure then to appreciate them, but a lot of it was that the series clearly was a series, with a chronological impetus, and to have such a small, and random portion of that, without any ability to fill in all round these elements wasn’t really tolerable. I am very wedded to completeness and a start-to-finish reading order.
So now let’s read that series, from beginning to end, and render unto Caesar my thoughts, one by one, on each story.
To begin, we go back to November 1967, when ‘Bad Dreams’ debuted in Pilote. Christin and Mezieres started a vivid SF series that was going to call for fantastic visuals and countless alien races, planets and technology. They came from the France of General DeGaulle, a France they describe as grey, dull, regimented, hard though it is for us Anglos to imagine from Frenchmen. The escapist note, out of tedious reality into the colour of imagination is as hard to overlook as the Eiffel Tower from anywhere in Paris.
First stories are always difficult. They’ve got to set things up, they’ve got to introduce us to the characters, and hopefully without too much by way of exposition dumps. Then they’ve got to establish a tone as well as construct a plot that will, again hopefully, inspire the readers to want another story and, more importantly, an editor to commission it. When you’re dealing with SF, there’s going to be a ton of exposition to drop on the audience’s heads.
The first Asterix story is a long way from the best. Some creators need time to adjust, to fine-tune, knock off rough edges, recognise what works. There’s a general consensus that ‘Bad Dreams’ is not very good, and I’d agree in part with that. The faults are obvious: Mezieres’ characters, who are all human in this first outing, shade too much towards cartoons, especially Valerian and the First Technocrats. And Christin’s basic plot was already a cliché that SF had long outgrown that far back.
Nevertheless, let’s occupy ourselves with a bit of detail. The background is laid out in a lengthy introductory caption block, rather like the opening of Star Wars (there will be more than one such moments of correspondence with George Lucas’s famous series but as most of these are visual and I’ve only ever watched the renamed A New Hope once and the rest not at all, I doubt I shall spot them).
It’s 2720. Instantaneous spatiotemporal travel was discovered in 2314. Earth, ruled by a Council of Technocrats from Galaxity, has a Galactic Empire and a bad case of laziness. Deprived of the need to work, the population simply dreams (though unlike in Wall-E they haven’t turned all fat and flobby, despite several centuries extra advantage) courtesy of the Dreams Department. Only the Technocrats and their Spatiotemporal Agents, a few hundred or so, remain active and intelligent. These agents guard the timestream from interference.
One such is Valerian.
But there is a serious problem. Xombul, Director of Dreams, has stolen a spatiotemporal ship and disappeared to 1,000 AD where he intends to steal the magic of Alberic with regard to transforming human beings into animals, which he will lead back to 2720, frightening the dreaming population with horrors and forcing the First Technocrats to install him as Emperor. You see what I mean about cliched.
In it’s favour, the story is bright and breezy, not hanging around at any point. Valerian is a fairly conventional hero at this point, black-haired, square-jawed, obviously professional, but given a comic element of being almost unpunctual, which thankfully doesn’t last beyond the first couple of pages.
The famous partnership doesn’t appear until the very last panel of page 10. A silhouette of half the back of a girl’s head, looking down on Valerian, preparing to sleep on an oversized fallen leaf in the forest at night. In the morning, it’s curled itself around him, prison tight. Valerian can only escape with the assistance of the red-headed forest girl and her local knowledge: Laureline.
Valerian’s from the unimaginably distant future, Laureline from less than a millennium in the past. The slim, independent, courageous girl from the Middle Ages shows no sign of concern about the Spatiotemporal Agent, joining him on a quest to find Xombul and keep him from taking Alberic’s spell back.
The pair quickly form an effective team, even after Xombul captures him and changes her into a Unicorn.
And that’s the significant moment. Unicorn’s are magical creatures to begin with, they know things. And when Laureline is changed back, she knows Valerian is a man from the future and, what’s more, she knows that because she knows this, he has to take her back to his future with him. The weird thing is that she doesn’t seem in the least bit concerned about being dragged out of her native era, 1,760 years into a future that’s about as removed from her every experience as could be. Yes, Valerian pops her into the Mnemonic Machine, back at his craft, which updates her quite considerably, but it’s a bit far-fetched to have a girl from the Middle Ages taking what she would have to consider sorcery of the most Black so much in her stride.
Though, as Laureline will go on to take most everything in her stride for the next forty years, I suppose it’s a case of Start As You Mean To Go On.
But when we get back to Galaxity, and Emperor Xombul I, it’s Valerian who saves the day, by bringing back Alberic’s antidote to the magic and instantly destroying Xombul’s power. After 30 pages, ‘Bad Dreams’ is over.
The unorthodox length of the story has made it impossible to reprint down the years, and indeed it’s only availability is in The Complete Valerian Volume 1. The truth is that the first story is primitive on several levels. The rough (in comparison) art, the unimaginative plot, the implausibility of Laureline bouncing from the 11th to the 28th Century without the least qualm. And to pick out an example of the somewhat old-fashioned ideas going in, I’d draw attention to the early scene with three of his fellow Spatiotemporal Agents, before dropping into the past. Valerian, male, Caucasian and three unnamed colleagues: one female, black, one male, Asian, one male, in temporal disguise. The white, male hero.
I may be being a bit too sensitive at this point. I don’t believe either Christin or Mezieres are consciously racist, but in 1967 unconscious assumptions were probably more prevalent than when they had developed the series further.
One final point I’d like to mention is that gulf in attitudes between the positivity and attack of the story overall,and its two characters in particular and the sad and cynical vision of humanity portrayed in 2760, that people have to have their dreams fed to them mechanically, depicting them as lacking the imagination to dream for themselves.
But ‘Bad Dreams’ is only the start. There are forty years to cover. Be back soon.

The Ultimate Artist: Neal Adams R.I.P.


Very little comes as a shock any more. I woke up late, checked my e-mails and found an alert from downthe tubes: In Memorium, Neal Adams. Another of the ‘gods’ of my youth goes from us. It’s only to be expected: I am now 66, and the men and women whose worl stirred me were all older. They will go before.

I asume I don’t need to explain Neal Adams for you. He was comics’ premier artist, drawing the most real and dynamic of scenes, in demand from the fans. He took Batman back to the night. He redesigned Green Arrow. Dealers in back issues would flag comics he’d drawn and these would be more expensive, often twice as much as the issues either side of a guest pencilling. I remember finding two Adams’ Batman or Detective in Dave Britton’s comics shop on Peter Street whose name I’ve forgotten, at 45p each, buying them, and walking down Deansgate almost trebling at my audacity in buying two comics that were 45p. Each.

Adams was a fan favourite alright but only to the fans. The general audience comics then had were less enthused. Adams only drew a dozen issues of Green Lantern/Green Arrow and it was cancelled for low sales (admittedly, the comic was in trouble before he and Denny O’Neill took it over).

The run is probably the most famous run of Adams’ career. The art’s superb but the comics haven’t weathered well, their earnestness too blatant. Now we have neither of the creators, nor its editor, Julius Schwartz.

I’m not the person to speak of Adams’ career. After those days at DC in the Seventies, and some memorable work at Marvel on The Avengers and X-Men he took advantage of the independent boom of the Eighties to take control of his work, most of which he also wrote. He wasn’t half the writer as he was the artist.

But he was yet one more who was there when I needed stimulation, and my head expanding, and my eagerness satisfying. He is, once again, another good one gone.

P.S. Reading other’s tributes has reminded me of one thing on Neal Adams’ list of credits that I should not have forgotten. In 1978, he went in to bat for Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, the creators of Superman but then two old men, living in impoverishment and virtually forgot. Thanks to Adams’ energy, determination and advocacy, there is now and for over forty years never has been an interation of Superman that does not have his creator’s names indelibly applied, and whilst they were still not party to the uncountable billions their character has earned, Adams’ efforts secured for them an easeful and comfortable old age. Without him… it doesn’t bear thinking about, and I should have said that without needing to be prodded.