Valerian et Laureline: 22 – The Order of the Stones


Valerian

…is part 2.
I didn’t want to stop and think about this story, or write this post. I wanted to leap immediately to the final part, the last story. Which is in itself a measure of how much ‘The Order of the Stones’ turned things up to eleven, intensifying the expectations for the end, setting in place a future to be avoided yet which cannot be resisted, and opening a door to that million-to-one chance that comes up nine times out of ten.
There’s no stopping to remind us how we’ve got here, just straight into the action, in the darkness and emptiness of the Great Void. A skiff leaves Captain Roog’a’s ship, piloted by the Captain herself, crewed by a motley band. At the bottom of the opening page there is a panel centred on Valerian and Laureline, into which Mezieres puts one of the most important moments of the entire saga. The panel hits you in the face, depicting the importance of what the two Terrans are doing without once showing any amateurish excess: you understand just how important this is to both of them.
It’s a big and full episode, despite being no longer than other stories. Even the opening sequence, in which various members of the expedition speculate not so much on what they expect to find but the ideal fantasy of what they wish to find, which for Laureline is a famous Impressionist painting, an open air cafe on the banks of the Marne, where she wears a white dress and a pretty hat.
These idyllic portraits create an atmosphere which is quickly dispelled when the skiff lands on the planet that the mothership has identified. It’s a dark, barren place, of dirt and dust, empty of everything, until a gigantic stone materialises in their way. Nothing can get them past it. More appear, caging them. These stones are the same as those the Triumvirs of Rubanis met before, so it’s no surprise when they part to allow the expedition to move forward, and meet the Triumvirs. Who order them to go back, to stop poaching.
The Triumvirs are still working for the Wolochs, but the Wolochs are the stones, and the Order of the Stones. They are the future of the Universe. They are not and will not create a civilisation but all civilisations will have to be cleared to make room for them. They do not do or think or feel: they just are. The Triumvirs are agents for them, they and others: there are always creatures willing to do evil without qualms.
For Captain Roog’a, a hint is dropped, that somewhere in the Void exists a planet or planets with enough ultralum to replenish the nearly-exhausted deposits controlled by the Serene Caliph, or Ephebe pearls enough to control the economy of the Universe. But they also recognise the two young people at the back, and sneer at their hunt to find their lost planet.
Roog’a refuses to back off. A toppling Woloch crushes half her crew, another her skiff. They are stranded, except that Laureline still has her ever-useful Tracer-Tsheung, which flies back to the mothership to bring rescue.
Meanwhile, back on that unnamed planet on the edge of the Great Void, young Ky-Gai’s factory is going great guns and her now almost-completely business-minded Schniarfer is in his element, but she’s still worried about Miss Laureline and Mr Valerian, and is prepared to neglect her business as she senses they’re in trouble.
Indeed they are. The Rubanis Triumvirs deliberately let slip that bit about ultralum and ephebe pearls to tempt Captain Roog’a. Her ship trips from planet to planet before finding, on the 27th attempt, a place that corresponds to the vision of paradise dreamed of by the sadly-crushed Rott Otto. It has the pearls, but sadly for the vision aspect, which Laureline shares, it also has the ultralum: exit paradise, enter heavy machinery.
The Triumvirs are in an awkward position. They’re assisting the Wolochs for their own advantage, but that advantage isn’t going to last, not given that the Wolochs’ ultimate and soon-to-be-initiated plans involve sweeping them away with all the rest. Once Roog’a’s led them to the sources of unimaginable wealth, they’ll have them destroyed by the Wolochs and seize the booty.
But they also plan to betray the Wolochs. There is only one thing that the Order of the Stones fears. It’s a fabulous and ancient device, called The Time-Opener. If wielded by sufficient strength of mind, it can change the past. It could be used to return the Wolochs to the dust and miasma of unstructured creation. The Triumvirs plan to use it for that very purpose, tailored to their own personal proclivities. To avoid the risk, they’re going to use Valerian and Laureline to find it, under close supervision, so that, like the ultralum and the pearls, they can take it away from them once the danger is passed. So they start a rumour from the Labyrinth Prison that Val and Laureline are in the Void to hunt for it.
And once Captain Roog’a’s ship has been destroyed by the Wolochs, and she and Cortes left to suffocate in space, that’s if T’Locq’s troops haven’t shown them the ‘mercy’ of a swift death, S’treks will make a cowboy run on our heroes’ peddler ship and casually let slip about the Time Opener to them.
As for the Time Opener, it was an artefact of a once-great civilisation, now vanished into poverty and anonymity. And in all the planets there were, only one was able to wield it. Not Rubanis. Not Hypsis, with its ‘false gods’. Not Syrte, the richest planet, where Val and Laureline have left their spatiotemporal craft under the care of Jal, and where the length of their absence is causing concern. No, the only planet who could bring together the strength of mind to carry out the change that is needed was… Earth.
At the end of the tunnel, a light appears.
But the Triumvirs have miscalculated. Ky-Gai is concerned about her friends. She hears the rumour. She trades with the stinking ragmen, the Limboz. And it is they who have the Time-Opener. Ky-Gai uses it to transport all of them to where Valerian and Laureline are, crashed on a kind of soft cheese moon, and stuck. Ky-Gai unbinds the Schniarfer to burn away the cloying stuff holding Val and their peddler truck, but not S’treks. She becomes the one who tells Laureline about the Time Opener. Laureline asks it to show her Earth. It does. But that’s all she has the strength for.
Ky-Gail releases the Schniarfer back to Val to control again. She’s whispering to Laureline. They head on their way to meet allies. The girls giggle together. Val accepts being kept in the dark. Until part 3, and the last story…

Valerian et Laureline: 20 – In Uncertain Times


Valerian

The endgame starts here.
As befits the title, we begin with uncertainty, as to when, and where. Two wheres: the indeterminable save in philosophical terms whereabouts of Valerian and Laureline’s spatiotemporal craft, and within the silent craft, hanging in space, lit only by its own lights and the stars of such zone as it occupies, the whereabouts of Valerian. Laureline, who doesn’t like to be separated from him for too long, finds him where he’s so often to be found, in a VR set-up in which he can see lost Galaxity, his Earth, his home (beautiful CGI images created by Guillaume Ivernel).
Valerian longs for his home, from which he’s separated. It calls to him. Laureline is half-angered by the way he cannot forget. She can’t understand, it isn’t in her nature. It was never her home and she is a creature of now, every now there can possibly be. And as the only other Terran who still lives, other than Jal, whether she understands it or not she’s afraid of losing her love, her partner, afraid of him being sucked into whatever hole Galaxity disappeared, willingly, leaving her alone.
And there’s the unicorn in her, a flashback to how she was transformed so very long ago in the first story in the series, ‘Bad Dreams’, the first of many such references to past adventures, to eleven of the previous nineteen stories all told. But Val’s disturbed, has a premonition of something bad happening to Galaxity. Partly to humour him, and partly because she does love the big dope, she places his hands on hers to initiate a spacetime jump to somewhere uncertain: a leap of chance.
But their destination is not the point. The point is that events and factions are gathering, in Earth, at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century, and our heroes will be called upon to make a deliberate journey there when they are shown the edges of the pattern forming.
It’s the beginning of the 21st Century on Earth (‘In Uncertain Times’ was the first story of the new Millennium). On Hypsis, the planet of the Gods, a familiar family of three are facing difficulties. Other Gods show their contempt by congregating around the base of their tower. This family’s fortunes are declining. Apart from having a cheap and crappy Solar System with only one viable planet, said planet is not delivering them the goods they deserve. The future is clear: annexation of their system to a bigger economic unit, followed by Absorption, and finally Expulsion. And once Gods are expelled, there is no coming back.
Or is there?
God is getting pretty wrathful. The lightning bolts are out. There’s a Multinational mega-corporation on Earth, full of hubris, that’s getting a visitation. Their smug response to the idea of a creator isn’t going to do them any good. But unbeknownst to even them, two totally unconnected research projects, in widely-separated locations, are nearing completion, at which point the combination of the pair will change the game irrevocably.
One last set of players need to be introduced. This is a new mover, tall, red-skinned, with horns, a goatee beard and a forked tail. His name is Sat, or to be more formal, L.C.F. Sat. Once upon a time he was a God of Hypsis, but he gambled and lost (including his personal immortality) and fell. Yes, he is intended to be exactly who you think. The religious are once again about to be offended.
Sat is working in an underground industrial environment at Point Central that’s a combination of a mine, a blast furnace, and a smelting plant, when he’s summoned to the surface by the double-detectives, Harry and Frankie. On the way up, he discorporates and reappears. Sat is prone to dying on a frequent basis, without proper explanation. Harry and Frankie are working for him. They’ve found out about the goings on on Earth, which Sat has anticipated. They’re all off there to take advantage of what’s coming.
How they’ve found out is left unexplored. Ordinarily, we’d suspect the Shingouz, one of the most useful devices Christin and Mezieres created, a universal catch-all for the inexplicable acquisition of knowledge, but not this time. The Shingouz pick the information up off them, and locate our heroes to pass it on, or anyway pass it on to Laureline for free (one of the Shingouz has an entirely understandable crush).
So this brings them back to Earth, and the expected reunion with Mr Albert. Everyone’s now in place.
God’s stern appearance at the Vivaxis board meeting has not impressed them, even though he’s blasted both their new logo and the top floor of their building in Paris. They just won’t believe in him, preferring to ascribe what’s happened to anything else their limited minds can conceive, such as the Unions, or the French tax-payers association. But the troubles being attracted to the company are causing their share prices to dip.
This is all to the good for Sat who’s looking at taking control of the company, having been guided to a good, unprincipled lawyer (sigh, the stereotype) as to the best way to start exploiting the situation. They also guide him to high quality tailors and hairdressers, to turn his overall appearance a bit less outré: hide the horns and tail. They can’t do much about the red skin, though at least it’s dull, not shiny. Nor about the flies that accompany Sat wherever he goes on Earth.
Then there’s Mr Albert, who may have updated some of his technology since the Nuclear Disaster was averted but who still has his reliable carrier-pigeons, like the one incoming from his old friend Professor Petzold, of Vivaxis. Thus our heroes have to split up, Laureline to Romania, via the Parisian shops, leaving her looking simply elegant but perhaps a bit too chic, whilst Val heads to South Africa.
Both penetrate the respective Vivaxis bases. Both learn what’s being created there, Laureline a facility creating ready-to-use clones, Val a complex developing genetically perfect humans. You can see where the combination might freak God out. Both also meet old friends from ‘The City of Shifting Waters’, Schroder in Romania and Sun Rae in South Africa (Valerian gets a bonus with the presence of Irmgall, Ortzog and Blimflim from ‘Heroes of the Equinox’). Neither recognise our heroes, but this is natural: with the Nuclear Disaster in that book having been wiped from history, the only place Val and Laureline’s mission took place was in their diverted memory.
Armed with this information, and with Schroder in tow, our heroes return to Paris and to a public meeting affecting the future of Vivaxis, and by extension Earth. God is determined that this pestilent planet should recognise its obligations to him, largely financial but also by not fundamentally changing the nature of human beings. Everyone’s present, including Mr Albert and Professor Petzold.
And this is where Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres up their game the traditional more than somewhat. This episode is written upon the dawning of the 21st Century, and it’s set at the same time. Christin and Mezieres have been writing and drawing Valerian et Laureline for over thirty three years. It’s been a long strange trip, but neither man is immortal, and a time is looming when the series will need an ending if it is not to be carried on by other hands. What better ending can there be than one?
So everybody’s been brought together for one more massive blast and classic farce. Vivaxis’s President wants to recreate public trust but doesn’t yet know that he’s been bought out by Sat, whilst God’s repeated demands to cancel the immortality programme run up against Sat’s presence, he having lost all right to immortality beyond Hypsis. God’s got lightning bolts but Sat’s got the Law on his side, not to mention an arm round the neck of the Son.
But Valerian’s got a bloody big gun, and one of Schroder’s clones… an inducement to negotiate under the chairmanship of Mr Albert. Deals are made that are, at least, not unsatisfactory to all parties (except Vivaxis’ ex-President). And Val has gotten close enough to God and his counterpart to ask the most important question in the Universe: where is Galaxity? Laureline also has a question, about how there can be two versions of history.
That gets only a philosophical answer, and nothing practical in the service of knowledge, but Valerian gets what he wants. Galaxity, his home, does exist. It was hidden in a massive super Singularity, a Black Hole. He has a mission, at long last, a thing of doing to escape all this being. And Laureline, for all that their idle tourist lifestyle has been her kind of living, loves him so much that she will be with him all the way. On the search. And to the end.

Valerian et Laureline: 19 – Orphan of the Stars


Valerian

‘Orphan of the Stars’ followed more or less directly on from ‘Hostages of Ultralum’, as Valerian and Laureline play out their impulsive role as informal Guardians to the Caliphette of Iskaladam. Full marks then for continuity but a considerable demerit for saddling the story with the brat… I’m sorry, the mischievous young thing.
Add in that his father, the Serene Grand Caliph, has put up another massive reward for the return of his tentacle-headed little tyke, which is being relentlessly pursued by the Quatuor Mortis, now conducting their attacks by reference to musical terminology (pretentious or what), and we have an adventure that repeats far too many motifs from its predecessor, but without anything like so serious a point.
By being nice, a fact that Valerian regrets far more than Laureline, and even she’s getting sick of the sight of the brat since he hasn’t learnt an atom’s worth of maturity or selflessness, the pair have condemned themselves to life on the run, chasing around seeking not so much sanctuary from their pursuit as brief respite, and unable to trust anyone, no matter how much a friend, not to turn them in for that reward.
All for the sake of the ungrateful Caliphette. The replay is far less satisfying for lacking anything of substance to it, such as the attempts of the Ultralum workers to claim a decent life from their fascist employer.
As such, I didn’t think much of the story. It introduced a new trick, in short-term time travel devices, given to Val and Laureline by the grateful workers they rescued last story. These are handheld devices that allow them to shift backwards and forwards in time by up to five minutes. They’re of immediate use when the story begins, in media res, on the backwater planet Shimballil, with our two heroes and their burden cornered by the Quatuor Mortis, with no escape. Four minutes earlier, they can take an alternate route, though this doesn’t do much for them at first, until they knock Glu, a mature student puffuz deliverer (think pizza) off his ‘bike’ and bribe him using the grumpy transmuter into helping them escape to a luxury island, currently occupied by film mogul Ty Koun IV (groan!), his scriptwriter Herman and his two triple-breasted starlets (someone’s clearly caught up with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
Once again, we’re reading something that is less a story than a chase sequence. Ty IV challenges Val to a Mug-Wrecker game, which is something like a movable joust, winner chooses his prize. It’s clear that Ty IV has his eye on Laureline, who’s guaranteed not to like that. Thanks to that time device, Val wins the bout, very publicly, and takes a space yacht as their prize. Ty admits he would have demanded Laureline, who he reckons would make a superb film star (she would, you know, but our favourite redhead is not into being told what to do).
So they intend to drop off Glu at the University, but he’s given them an idea. They can’t go on running forever, putting the Caliphette in danger and neglecting his education, so they start looking for somewhere safe and secure for him to go to school, despite his rooted objection to being separated from his ‘nanny’. Meanwhile, the Quatuor pursue them from pillar to post.
In order to pose as the little brat’s Guardian, Laureline once more changes costume. This time it’s nothing overtly sexy, just a pale-blue floaty top and a knee-length skirt, but no matter the look Mezieres gives her, you’d follow her a long way down the street. Fret not, something more overt is coming.
Because finding education at the university that isn’t based upon ridiculously outré psychological principles is harder than you might think, not to mention expensive. And without being able to return to their ship, which is doubtless staked out, to recharge their grumpy, our heroes are rapidly running out of funds.
The solution has already been foreshadowed, so Laureline swallows her pride and agrees to become a movie star. She is welcome instantly by Ty, who has his entire shooting schedule re-written to accommodate her. Rather than a film, it’s like a daily soap, without continuity, with each day’s filming deleted after transmission and the next day’s written on the basis of audience perception as to what they want to see. A satirical vision.
Currently violence is out and sex is in, and despite her having only two breasts to their three each, Laureline is in and the starlets out. Her costume is basically a cross between a swimsuit and a showgirl’s outfit, in bright yellow, and she gets one line, which is a come on to the leading man, who drops into a clinch and gives her an unscripted passionate snog (well, it wasn’t in Laureline’s script).
No need to worry. She’s a hit alright, but whilst she’s being lauded, Laureline is also plotting. She tells Val to follow her back five minutes and be ready. Once again she cruises, once again she recites her line, but this time she gives her leading man one almighty punch in the gob, causing enough confusion for her, Val and the Caliphette to get away.
You see, they’ve found a school. It’s safe and secure. It’s also based upon Eton, down to the school uniform. Naturally the Caliphette hates it, for more reasons than that it’s taking him away from Laureline. It’s also damned expensive and they don’t have quite enough… That is, until the noble grumpy exhausts itself to the limit to fill up the covers.
So now the annoying little brat is off their hands and Val and Laureline can breathe, and move, a lot more easily. They intend to leave their informal charge there until the heat, and the reward, dies down, so there’s the threat of the selfish little bugger reappearing in the future, which I’d rather not see.
But ‘Orphan of the Stars’ has moved us inexorably nearer the end. At this point there are only four more books remaining, and the last three of those are a trilogy. Will the Caliphette return to plague us again or will he come a loose end, left unknotted? It won’t be too much longer until we find out.

Valerian et Laureline: 17 – The Circles of Power


Valerian

It seems that Laureline didn’t earn anything like as much as everyone anticipated for her MC role at the end of ‘The Living Weapons’ for the next story begins with our travelling partners on the Planet Rubanis, which we visited in ‘The Ghosts of Inverloch’, in desperate need of getting their spatiotemporal craft repaired, and only 700,000 Blutoks short of the price. It looks like they’re going to have to go to work.
When last we were here, the Shingouz were doing a deal with Colonel T’Locq, the Chief of Police, to provide him with an antidote to Scunindar disease. Clearly, it worked. Not only is the Colonel still the Police Chief but the thanatologists no longer operate. But that’s not to say things have improved: in fact, the contrary. Rubanis is now a planet of chaos and corruption, where everybody is out for themselves, the Police and Colonel T’locq not least.
And T’Locq is concerned about where power lies, even if he is ignoring it for the most part. Rubanis is divided into five Circles. The First is that of Heavy Industry, like spatiotemporal craft repair. The Second is the Business Zone, prone to recessions and multiple suicides. The Third is Art and Entertainment. The Fourth is Administration and Religion. This is where T’Locq’s instructions used to come from, in the days when he used to follow them. The Fifth is the one no-one knows, that no-one enters or leaves. It is the Circle of Power.
Images are sent from the Fifth Circle. T’Locq wants to know who or what is sending them.
Valerian and Laureline’s mission is to find a way in and find out what is going on. For which they’ll be paid 700,000 Blutoks. Less the Shingouz’s 10%, and the taxi fares of their combative squirt of a driver, S’treks. So just add another million Blutoks on top, for danger money, and for expenses on the way, Laureline gets her second Grumpy Converter from Bluxte, the creature that we recall from Ambassador of the Shadows. And off we go.
Our pair’s only real ally/asset is the taxi-driver, S’Treks. The moment I saw him, with his very distinctive and cartoony blonde lock sticking out several inches from under his cap, I thought to my self that this must be a caricature of some other French bande desinee character with whom I’m completely unfamiliar because we English are too bloody insular to treat European cartooning with the respect it deserves, but no. On the other hand, S’treks has had an influence in completely the opposite direction.
In the early Nineties, Film Director Luc Besson, of the controversial Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, hired Jean-Claude Mezieres to design his acclaimed film, The Fifth Element. Filming was delayed several years, during which time Mezieres fed some of his ideas, notably the flying taxis, back into ‘The Circles of Power’, which so impressed Besson that his leading character in the film was reset from a steelworker to a taxi-driver!
S’Treks is cheery, cheeky, aggressive, self-confident and the epitome of Rubanis lawlessness, driving his taxi like a fighter pilot in combat, and that’s just with his fellow cabbies. He takes everything in his stride, weighing up what it can do for him, and that includes Laureline, who he has the temerity to turn his eyes to.
This brings him into running conflict with Val, who he winds up just by his presence. It irritates Laureline too, who doesn’t take kindly to being regarded as belonging to anyone, not even Val, whose betrayals have been relegated to the past and, now they are wholly dependent upon each other, is committed to him. Not that that impresses – or stops – S’treks as one impromptu snog demonstrates: he doesn’t lack for confidence.
As for the mission: the Shingouz guide our pair to a man who can identify a way to access the Fifth Circle for them. Unfortunately, they have a rival on their tail, a tall, dominatrix type of woman called Na-Zultra, background unrevealed but out to seize power for herself ahead of T’Locq and attempting to crash their cab to do so. S’Treks is too good for her at that game but, by brandishing a handful of mercenaries and another one of those increasingly popular bullroarer-like moronisers she’s able to steal Laureline away.
This gets everyone to the Fourth Circle where Laureline is playing dumb to Na-Zultra’s attempt to find out what her contact told her. Na-Zultra likes her and wants her to come in with her, not that Laureline is prepared to play, being well aware that only one hand can wield the One Ring. Meanwhile, Val and S’Treks have also gained access to this Circle, and discover the precise effect of the Scunindar Virus, which is to elongate the neck, shrink the head and, well, reduce the intellect.
Which seems to occur through prolonged studying of brightly-lit screens of a kind that dominated late Twentieth Century Earth. This couldn’t be a dig at Television, could it?
Our two rescuers switch clothes with one Administrator and one High Priest to infiltrate further but are discovered, possibly because their heads are normal sized. The distraction this causes sees Laureline left behind with one lone corrupt and stupid guard (an unbeatable combination) so that’s it for her captivity. Pulling Valerian and S’Treks’ fat out of the fire, the three team up to complete their mission. Laureline will get up-to-date schematics of exactly how to access the Fifth Circle, S’Treks will raise an army of drivers and truckers to attack, and Val will collect their pay from Colonel T’Locq, who will, in turn, raise his own army, as does Na-Zultra.
Who will get there first? Why, it’s Val and Laureline, with the Shingouz in tow. S’Treks stops to go into battle with the other two armies. It’s all going loose and impossible, which is a good description of the ending because, no matter how often I read it, I don’t get it. The only occupant of the Fifth Circle is the Hyper-Prince, who appears to be a giant, automated hologram, powered by a ring of authority that shuts itself down and makes the Prince disappear as soon as Val rips it off his pseudo-finger. And that ends the semblance of authority on Rubanis.
Outside, the three-way war goes on. S’Treks seems to have forgotten his passion for Laureline in the fun of battle, which is convenient since she wants nothing to do with him. The Shingouz take the ring, Val and Laureline just want to get out. Off they go in their totally refurbished spatiotemporal craft, on which the mechanic has gone OTT with chrome everywhere.
Still, they’re back in independent business again which is the most important thing, and as for who’s come out on top on Rubanis, it turns out to be S’Treks: you might have guessed.
I’m not over-impressed with the story in itself. It’s a bright and active affair, and there are lot more incidents to it than I’ve given mention to, but overall it’s a loosely structured episodic tale with no great cohesion and an ending I still can’t parse, even with Wikipedia to help.
Something better is required for the next adventure.

Valerian et Laureline: 16 – The Living Weapons


Valerian

‘The Living Weapons’ represented another stage in Valerian and Laureline’s progression towards the second phase of their career, but whilst it contained some excellent moments, and allowed Val himself to emerge as a convincing planner on a par with his red-headed companion, I still found it altogether too little engaging, and its philosophy confused.
Basically, our heroes are in space, having been commissioned to make a delivery – contents unknown, to us and Laureline, that is – to a planet in the Orpher system. But their ship is starting to break down, understandably, because there is no Galaxity to maintain, repair and upgrade it, no support of any viable kind, and not even money for food, let alone fuel.
There’s a moment of fun when a system breakdown somehow changes Val and Laureline’s physical integrity, turning him into Mr Fantastic and her into the (nearly) Invisible Woman, before an emergency back up system is used for one final jump, destination unknown. They end up crashing on an unlovely and barren planet whose inhabitants, they learn, call it Blopik. The ship is not seriously damaged, Val and Laureline are restored to normality and, by fortune, they are on the right planet for this mysterious cargo Val is toting.
The cargo is an interesting point. Laureline is curious. Valerian has kept what they are delivering a strict secret from her, but it’s out of character for Laureline to be merely curious and to allow Val to keep their mission so private. They are greater partners now than they have previously been, both professionally and emotionally, and our girl has never been one for being kept in the dark, even when it was a matter of Service Orders. And as all those past missions where it’s been so have ended up being shitty manoeuvres she’s protested angrily, I don’t find it convincing that she’s let and is still letting him get away with it.
Anyway, whilst Val fixes the ship as best he can, Laureline investigates the terrain, which is a vast, burned to the roots forest. She discovers – in fact, she almost treads on – Brittibrit, who looks and smells like a disgusting swamp monster, but who is instead an artiste who, along with his two companions, Doum A’Goum and Yfysania, was supposed to be undertaking a theatrical tour of the planet, until their Impressario, a Katubian, abandoned them after the first show.
A Katubian, eh? Valerian’s client was also a Katubian. He claims he’s introducing something to improve the livestock, but this is a planet of herbivores, and besides Katubians are known as arms dealers…
And so it goes. The Blopikians are a war-like, tribal race, who are both pretty stupid and know themselves to be pretty stupid. They are a cross between a bull and horse, appearing like inelegant and thuggish quasi-centaurs. Every year, just as the forest reaches mature growth, full of wonderful fruits and other produce, they burn it down to prevent rival tribes getting anything of it.
But one such leader, who rightly regards his forces and himself as beasts, only he is less beastly than others, wants to put an end to this cycle. He can’t defeat everybody else so, in order to end wars, he has to wage war on War itself. It’s an impressive conception, and one of which Laureline approves. Until she learns that Lord Rompf’s idea of waging war on War is to have one final war that overwhelms everybody else and makes him ruler of the planet.
And, since the Blopikians are too primitive and stupid to handle, let alone maintain, what you and I would term conventional weapons, he has contracted with the Katubians for the delivery of four Living Weapons, three of them artistes: Brittibrit, who can read an audience members thoughts and transform himself into whatever thing of beauty they see (such as a gold-skinned Val in Greek Sportsman pose, holding a discus or, more practically, a top hatted and tailed Fred Astaire to dance Laureline around), Doum A’Goum who is invulnerable, and Yfysania, who can enter a person’s body and manipulate it with skills its owner doesn’t have, such as teleportation.
The artistes are shocked. They don’t do War, they do shows, even on planets too primitive to understand let alone appreciate Art. But wait: I said four Living Weapons. The fourth is Val’s cargo and, to Laureline’s disgust and anger, it’s a Schniarfer from Brohm. Schniarfers are small, irascible, aggressive, nasty and horrible creatures who schniarf (or spit) acid. They are also horrible little bastards to be more vernacular about it.
Laureline berates Val for doing this, for sinking this low, although it’s noticeable that, unlike previous instances whilst in the Service, she doesn’t abandon him. Actually, Valerian himself feels bad about sinking this low, but his is a more pragmatic position: they need the money, for repairs and fuel and food. And he doesn’t want our favourite redhead having to belly-dance for peanuts in sleazy Point Central dives, even if Laureline finds that morally less repugnant than what he’s doing.
We don’t get to see her in a belly-dancer’s outfit, but in accordance with the recent trend of getting Laureline to dress up in something different but gorgeous, the artistes ask her to become their Master of Ceremonies for the demonstration of their abilities, so she dresses up in ornate and spangly leotard and knee-length boots, just for our male titillation (it works, oh yes, it works).
And she stays in costume, as well as pissed off, as Lord Rompf leads his cretinous hordes into disgustingly destructive War against the cretinous hordes of Lord Wuhnk (somebody’s being less than subtle here). The whole thing degenerates. Val, sick of being taken for a low-life, and having been paid, jets off. He returns with the ship, to call his partner and the artistes on board, along with the psychically controlled Schniarfer. Laureline is impressed, telling herself she should have known better, because Valerian never intended to leave the Schniarfer, and by extension the three artistes, any longer than was necessary to get payment.
The ship’s still on its last legs, however. The circuits are frozen and only one destination for a Jump is available: good old 20th century Earth. So everyone comes down on Earth, in Russia, where Mr Albert’s contacts get the artistes – and Laureline, their spectacular MC – a very successful tour, during which her fees will add up to enough to repair the ship. All’s well that ends well.
And, to prolong the Shakespearean touch, the final panel is of Lord Rompf gazing up at the stars and pondering in a very familiar manner, ‘to wage war, or not to wage war’…
It’s very familiar stuff from Christin and Mezieres, and enjoyable for that, but it still misses the mark for me. It’s a welcome development to see Laureline mellow towards the more ignoble yet practical side of Valerian, though her letting him keep the Schniarfer secret for as long as he does smacks more of authorial convenience than it does character consistency. As for the nasty little Schniarfer, the rough equivalent of a hyperactive seven year old, it transforms in terms of character by the simple genetic modification of binding up its shubinal gland, and if you want to know what that means, buy the book. Despite my doubts, it is worth it, you know.

Valerian et Laureline: 15 – On the Frontiers


Valerian

An unusually long volume at 62 pages, because Christin and Mezieres have shifted from producing Valerian et Laureline as a serial in Pilote and from hereon will release new stories complete, as a graphic album. ‘On the Frontiers’ is a transitional story in two senses, depicting how Valerian and Laureline are handling their new status as ronin, confined effectively to Earth in the late Twentieth Century, without masters, without instructions, without the future behind them. It’s a bit like Dr Who, when Jon Pertwee first took over from Patrick Troughton.
What they have done is to become mercenaries, whose specialist skills and equipment make them valuable, to operate on borders and hinterlands, physical representations of the differences between modes of thought and living. Mr Albert negotiates their contracts, Laureline plans and directs their actions, and Val does the dirty work.
It’s a way of living. Albert and Laureline have taken to it admirably, but Val, still pulled by the feeling that as a citizen of a time and a place that has now never existed, he is out of place, is doing his tasks as a kind of distraction from the hollowness he feels. Laureline, in complete contrast, is happy to be alive, and to have her Valerian with her, to go about the sheer pleasure of being.
But there’s a limitation as to how far Christin and Mezieres can go with Val in this light, he being one of the stars of the series, which is where we come to this story’s villain, or protagonist, who is introduced in an extraordinarily long prelude before Laureline finally appears, on page 19.
This introduction takes place on an interstellar cruise, a vast spaceliner filled with passengers of all shapes, sizes and planetary origins, a luxury affair of multiple tastes and interests that provides an ironic foreshadowing of the story’s end. Among the passengers are two ornately armoured humanoids, distinctly female and male. She does most of the talking, he very little, and his responses are equivocal compared to her forthrightness. They are of a race that is superior, a long-lasting, widespread civilisation whose lifeforms live paradoxically short periods. She regards herself as being of an elite, impatient and contemptuous of those who are beneath her – namely everyone – and who can throw blue electrical bolts as well as use other abilities that make her most unwelcome at the gaming tables.
Ordinarily, we would regard her as a rather unpleasant specimen on whom sympathy should not be wasted, but even as she’s like this, and before we see what happens to her, that response is tempered by her happiness in her companion. Having expected loneliness all her life, she is beyond delighted to have found another member of her kind. She is almost delirious in her love. Their child will be a Prince. That’s the thing that goes almost unnoticed: he hasn’t had sex with her yet because he’s refused to.
Because he’s been waiting. Waiting for the ship to near the end of its cruise, to pass close by to a particular Solar System, one with planets in it known as Jupiter, and Pluto. Home to a planet whose inhabitants call Earth, which is just starting to go into space.
So he tells his female counterpart that it is now time. In her bedroom she disrobes, removing her armour both shyly and coquettishly, revealing blue skin and two pairs of eyes. He is much slower at undressing. This is because, to her dismay and shock, he is not of her kind: he is human, tall, with a blonde pudding bowl cut, a short beard and a twisted mouth. She shies back, he can’t, it will kill her… but he rapes her anyway, causing her to disintegrate, and transfer her powers to him.
Which he then uses to force the Captain to give him a shuttle, to return to Earth. Because his name is Jal, and he’s from Galaxity, and he’s determined to reinstate it in all its glory. So we cut to Laureline, in snowy wastes, beside a lake that divides Finland from the USSR, awaiting Valerian’s return. She and he are on the first of several frontiers they will visit during the story.
This is how they’re maintaining their existence, whilst their ship sits uselessly in the greenhouse at Inverloch Castle, slowly but carefully being cannibalised for weaponry and tools for their new role, with a cautious eye on the point where any further steps will destroy its capability of getting them back into space and time, from which they are self-exiled, having no point or purpose to go there.
But that’s what the story is about. Jal is a former Spatiotemporal Agent of Galaxity, and a pretty much gung-ho one, a believer in Galaxity’s strength and purpose. In his way, he’s the Anti-Valerian. He will not accept the future’s disappearance. He is determined on bringing it back.
Hence the series of jobs Val and Laureline are undertaking, on frontiers and borders across the world. There’s a common factor to each of them, nuclear reactors that have been sabotaged, nuclear weapons to be set off, or transferred across frontiers, where two kinds of ways of living rub shoulders, clash and compromise, maybe learning from each other.
It’s clear to us after that extended prologue that Jal is behind all this, but the team is not aware of the identity of the protagonist for a long time. Until they meet their ’employers’, a joint US/Russian grouping concerned about nuclear security and safety and these co-ordinated blackmail threats. They have a suspect, and Laureline is sent to confirm those suspicions.
This means an elegant hairdo and a low-cut, figure hugging red evening dress, the former decorated by what seems to be a flower but which is actually a naturally photographic receptor Lüm from Tüm Lüm. This scene plays out in a Hong Kong casino where a powerful figure is breaking the bank: this is Jal. When the House refuses to play him any longer, a desperate millionaire sets up a private game, using his own money. Laureline gets in to observe, but unexpectedly for her Jal recognises the Lüm, dashes it against the wall and kidnaps her.
The dead Lüm is brought back to Val and Albert, where Val is able to extract its final image. He recognises Jal immediately. Meanwhile, Laureline is playing dumb, and uses another handy alien creature, a kind of hyped-up homing pigeon, to find her colleagues, knowing that it stores its flight and that they can track it back to her.
So it’s Val to the rescue. Jal knows someone’s coming and uses Laureline as a human shield. Once Val identifies himself, Jal’s guard is dropped a little. Val wants to know how he can still be here but when Hypsis acted, Jal was on a mission to a strange and contingent area of space that has somehow both preserved him and displaced him in time. His goal is to recreate Galaxity, by recreating the nuclear disaster that led ultimately to its founding.
The problem with fanaticism, especially the bit when you start explaining your nefarious plot, is that you focus on entirely the wrong things. Jal’s problem is that he thinks Laureline is just some ‘generic bimbo’. He doesn’t know she’s a Spatiotemporal Agent as well. He gets so worked up about his plan that she’s able to smack him in the chops quite powerfully and escape, with a bit of help from her Valerian. Jal goes mad, staring down frustration, leaving him vulnerable to Val’s handy-dandy bullroarer-style ‘moroniser’. By the time Jal wakes up, on their ship, the powers he stole have been removed. He no longer has the means to pursue his goal.
How to handle Jal now? There’s a good case for execution, but Val would not have permitted that, finding Jal only too understandable, nor is Laureline so cold-blooded. But there is an answer, and a solution to his predicament, especially now that he is broken. This means leaving Earth, and the Twentieth Century, and Mr Albert. Where can Jal be taken that is in the least Terran, when Terra has been removed from existence?
The answer in Point Central, from ‘Ambassador of the Shadows’, that now seems so very long ago. Point Central, a multiplicity of lifeforms, like the cruiser we saw at the beginning. Earth has been torn out of it, there is no official dock, nor any Terran zone. But the Shingouz are present and, in exchange for all their mercenary fees, they can direct Val and Laureline and Jal through a mysterious barrier into a sector of Point Central that retains all the zones for destroyed and broken civilisations.
The Terran quarter is a wreck, but it is Terran, and even though there is nothing in it to make you or I consider it a place to be, even just to stagnate, it is Jal’s answer: he is content. A downbeat, elegiac, and powerful sad ending as he watches the craft move away.
To where? Val misses Galaxity still. But Laureline wants to live, or rather Live. They have survived frontiers and now they will find new ones, to cross or to simply experience, but not on Earth, rather their own home environment, Space and Time. Doesn’t Val want to Live? Yes, he does.
Transition over. What Life comes next?

Valerian et Laureline: 14 – The Wrath of Hypsis


Valerian

Once again I found the conclusion to a two-parter less satisfying than its set-up, not on this occasion because of its depressive and downbeat atmosphere but instead because I thought the most prominent aspect of its conclusion was flat out ridiculous. But let’s set this out in proper order.
‘The Wrath of Hypsis’ continues directly on from the end of ‘The Ghosts of Inverloch’, breakfast at Inverloch Castle the morning immediately after, a very civilised affair as might be expected, except for the late arrival of Valerian and Laureline, who’ve been having the kind of reunion that was highly unimaginable at the end of ‘Brooklyn Line, Terminus Cosmos’. Our favourite redhead is positively giggly: all is once again well.
And as an adventure, things go well. Everybody has pooled their information, except for the Superintendent keeping to himself the vanishing of Galaxity until pretty late in the book. That an impending nuclear incident at the North Pole will effectively destroy the planet causes a mild degree of perturbation to Lord Basil Seal (but not Lady Charlotte). This demonstrates the importance of the task ahead, and leads to a task force consisting of all the assembled, except the good Lord himself, initially, to head for the North Pole to intervene in whatever Hypsis has planned.
The vehicle for this is the Royal Navy, HMS Crosswinds, under the command of the splendidly bearded Lt. Commander Merrywhistle (the rather more natural Merrywhether in the Wikipedia entry on the story), demonstrating true naval sang-froid towards the motley crew he’s being asked to transport. They’re looking for the ship that will be responsible for the incident.
Military navies can be discounted, as both inappropriate and subject to the escalating interferences that caused such concern. But there are rogue ships, not ghost ships as Val suspects they’d be termed but pirates and smugglers, crude vessels whose registered nationality doesn’t correspond with the languages spoken aboard, whose ports of call have been erratic. Once inspected, by Val pretending to be a Meteorologist, and Merrywhistle as an actual seaman, these can be dismissed as irrelevancies.
But there’s another ship, a tall, elegant three-master full of sail, whose appearance Laureline instinctively admires, earning her Merrywhistle’s approbation. This is the ‘Hvexdet’, supposedly Albanian but, when found in the ice floes, totally silent. And Ralph, the Glapum’tian, who has been engaged in enjoyable information-gathering from a less sophisticated but in many ways more akin Earth species, the Orcas, or Killer Whales to you and I, reports that they tell him there is nothing at all human about that ship.
By this point, and despite the overwhelmingly joyful relationship that he and Laureline have resumed, Val is frustrated. He is, after all, the man of Action, however good or bad that might be. They are acting passively, pursuing only, with no thought of any positive step being taken. He and Laureline have their Superintendent, their ultimate boss, on board, but he is keeping to his cabin, giving out no information, giving out no instructions. This isn’t Val’s thing at all. He’s still having dreams, of what happened in The City of Shifting Water, and he’s starting to get premonitions that Galaxity has gone. And that he, as a citizen and native of Galaxity, is also gone. Something has to be done.
And that something is an attack.
Merrywhistle doesn’t like it. It’s against Naval tradition, not to mention that the ‘Crosswinds’ is his ship (except that the Shingouz have won large sections of it playing their version of poker with his crew). But Val’s plan is backed by Lord Seal, who remains at hand at Inverloch Castle, communicating from the Spatiotemporal craft. The Superintendent’s hiding in his cabin, giving no directions. This is Valerian’s initiative.
Ralph can given them a course to the ‘Hvexdet’. Merrywhistle is to pretend an accidental collision course, across the sailing vessel’s bows. When he does… at the last second, the ‘Hvexdet’ blasts out of the polar waters and arrows into space! Val wishes he had their craft with him but the Superintendent corrects him: with that on board they would never have got near the ‘Hvexdet’.
Ralph is focussing his concentration upon tracking the ‘Hvexdet’ into the stars. ‘Crosswinds’ has been holed and is sinking, and all must abandon ship. Merrywhistle and his crew will be rescued by other ships, but Val and Co await Lord Seal, flying their craft like his Spitfires of old under Val’s remote direction and then into the stars into pursuit.
The nuclear threat to the North Pole has been removed, at least temporarily, but now the pursuit is to lead them to the mysterious whereabouts of the planet of Hypsis. Except that the course is erratic, irregular, illogical. It’s easy enough to suspect that they’re being led on a wild goose chase, to keep them occupied, never to find Hypsis which, for all they know in their absence, is substituting another attack ship to complete the intended destruction.
But Val has another ingenious idea. They’re not making the fullest use of Ralph’s abilities. If he’s plugged into the shipboard computers, he can not only better track ‘Hvexdet’s course but get out ahead of it. With his co-operation, of course, which he gives willingly.
And so the mysterious Hypsis, home to towers and domes of all SF sizes and shapes, is located and landed upon at last, and the party can begin to get to the bottom of the attack on Earth, and Galaxity.
But this is where the story starts to head off the rails into incomprehensibility as far as I was concerned.
It begins with the Superintendent suddenly having doubts about the mission, and whether to continue the pursuit to Hypsis itself, throwing the decision over to Valerian. Sense starts to dissipate as Valerian cannot decide either, because Galaxity is the place of his birth and death. So Laureline, who wasn’t born there and isn’t going to die there, decides for them and lands. Then she and Val go onto the planetary surface.
The first tower is classic SF imagery, an array of low domes on a metal tower of tremendous height, but they are not allowed to enter because it does not belong to them. The Shingouz direct them to the right tower, much more downmarket, a lumpy dome on a stone pillar. Everyone goes up. Inside, the tower is racketty, jerry-built and crumbling. But it is occupied by three people. The boss is a big, heavy-jowled, big-bellied and loud-voiced man in a trilby, trenchcoat and loose tie, who can throw lightning bolts. No, not Thor: wrong God entirely.
He is accompanied by his son, long-haired, bearded, casually-dressed in not so much the hippy style of the past as the hanger-on-to-the-hippy style. He looks both shifty and slightly out of it. The third is a talking machine, a portable one-arm bandit with a scratchy voice. Their family owns our solar system. The father started life on it. The son spent 33 years on it. Yes, this is Earth’s Holy Family, the Father, the Son and the Faulty Ghost.
Pass on. They are behind Hypsis’s attack on Earth and its immediately forthcoming destruction. And why not? God started it, why can’t he end it, he’s entitled to. Their fellow Hypsisians constantly complain about Earth sticking its nose in where it’s not wanted, always causing trouble. And it’s not as if he’s made as much as a penny off it in all that time.
Here is where the story logic started to get beyond me. The disaster in 1986 started a near four century period of total silence before what became Galaxity first emerged. Galaxity has been dealt with in its present, or rather Hypsis’s present by being teleported away to somewhere both unpleasant and undiscoverable.
But Mr Albert argues against destroying Earth in 1986, as well as Galaxity being banished in the Now, because that is what causes the subsequent appearance of Galaxity: doing that will only leave them having to tackle Galaxity again. Why not leave it alone, see how it develops? Meanwhile, Lord Seal can negotiate with Earth’s Governments for regular payments to their owners. The case is hardly expressed with this clarity in the story: I had to get an explanation that made sense from Wikipedia.
The Superintendent decides that no matter how horrible it is where Galaxity is, he wants to be there with them, so off he’s sent. Ralph wants to go back to Glapum’t, and the same goes for him. The Shingouz will trade out. But what will now happen to Valerian and Laureline? That we’ll begin to find out in the next volume. Let’s get back to that Holy Family, shall we?
As an atheist, I’m not personally affected by the adolescently blasphemous aspects of this portrayal, but even someone of my opinions can be offended by the cheap, nasty and altogether too unthinking Humanness of such creators. The only point to this portrayal, so far as I can see, is to poke stupid fun. Unlike Philip Pullman’s depiction of God in The Amber Spyglass, it has all the depth of a seven year old waving his willy at his parents’ guests.
It has no point to it other than to shock, and even less creativity. It’s meant to be offensive for no better reason than offensiveness, and the absence of anything approaching thought is insulting to the readers’ intelligence, unworthy of the series thus far and, quite frankly, thoroughly disappointing.
Now the series has undergone a radical transformation that will provide a new underlying structure to the remainder of the Saga, but I wish it wasn’t built on a foundation that is less brick than dung.
There isn’t an explicit explanation of the Superintendent’s cryptic comment last story about Galaxity’s ongoing disappearance being due to events he had set in motion, but I’m assuming that by sending our stars to frustrate the destruction of the Earth in 1986, we’re meant to see that as the gods’ retaliation.
And Valerian and Laureline? They end up back at Inverloch Castle. Though once more it was not that openly expressed in the story, Laureline saw Val as wanting to go with the Superintendent, and made him stay with her. And for her, the Shingouz arranged for them to retain their Spatiotemporal ship, so that she could keep him. We’ve come a long way from the end of the volume before last.
But Valerian was of Galaxity. It is part of him in a way Laureline can never understand. It will be on his mind, especially as he stares up at the stars…

Valerian et Laureline: 13 – The Ghosts of Inverloch


Valerian

One two-parter is followed by another, and a continuity from the past two stories is maintained by the mysterious and evidently hostile planet of Hypsis. But there is also a significant continuity to a much earlier two-parter, or rather it’s first half, ‘The City of Shifting Waters’. Because our intrepid heroes, or at least one of them to begin with, are back in the Twentieth Century. A short but important jump from 1980 to 1986. The year a nuclear explosion at the North Pole melted the Polar icecap and flooded and ultimately destroyed the Earth. As Valerian and Laureline have already seen.
Once again, this episode is used to set everything up. There are multiple protagonists, whose experiences slowly dovetail, until everyone is brought together at Castle Inverloch in the Scottish Highlands. I’d also just like to add that this is my favourite cover of the whole series.
It’s a slightly-modified Rashomon approach, as each of – in order – Laureline, Valerian, Mr Albert, the Shingouz, Lord Basil Seal (a highly-respected member of British Intelligence), and Galaxity’s Chief of the Spatiotemporal Service start to assemble the edges of the jigsaw puzzle, whose centre only begins to become slightly clear after everyone gathers at Castle Inverloch, which is where we begin.
The Castle, set remotely in Northern Scotland, is an idyllic place, presided over by Lady Charlotte, an elderly aristocrat of the fictionally best kind, of the Clan McCulloch, whose ancestral home this has been for centuries. She has a houseguest, a certain red-headed young lady who rocks a riding habit and who has been here for several days, upon orders, doing nothing but occupy her time gently, going for rides with the implacably calm Lady Charlotte (who rides side-saddle).
It reminded me most strongly of Powell and Pressburger’s I Know Where I’m Going, which also presents Scottish lairds who enjoy the deference of the folk because their thread of continuity makes them as much a part of the land as the grass and the rocks. Lady Charlotte commands a deference that she receives for her own qualities rather than her title, and exhibits an unshakeable confidence and intelligence that is built upon that long association with the place.
Idyllic though the setting is, Laureline is worried. She doesn’t know why she is here, nor what it is she is supposed to do. She’s separated from her ‘usual partner’, who’s off doing some menial task (so there’s going to be no emotional carry over from ‘Brooklyn Line, Terminus Cosmos’).
This is our cue to switch to Valerian. It’s turnabout time: Laureline’s on Earth in the past, he’s in space in the future, on the aquatic planet of Glapum’t, ordered to capture a native Glapum’tian without any idea of why. Val’s talking to himself, there being no-one else about, which is rather an awkward device to dump exposition on us. He’s been there for days, going at things like a bull at a gate, starting with all manner of physical force, most unsuccessfully. Now he’s being smooth and subtle, by concealing a strong sedative in something the Glapum’tian will eat.
What significance they have is indiscernible at this point. The creatures resembles crustaceans, a broad shell above long feelers that it uses as legs. They are preternaturally fast, with the innate ability to instantly plot the trajectories to any projectile fired at them and evade it. Valerian hates what he is doing: this is not Spatiotemporal Agent work, and besides, whether it be for good or otherwise, he has never liked collecting native specimens.
His monologue to himself tells us the next piece of most significant information. After instructions not to return to Galaxity, as is standard, but to go to some late Twentieth Century location on Earth, all communications with Galaxity have shut down. He, and by extension Laureline, are on their own.
This brings us to Mr Albert, in London, catching a train to Edinburgh. He too is largely talking to himself, but we don’t learn all that much about the overall state of affairs, and rather more about contemporary conditions in Britain, enduring wave after wave of strikes. It isn’t helped by the printing error that omits page 13 of the story and gives us page 14 twice. There is one portentous line about the unassailable optimism for the future of two upper class ladies with whom Albert shares a carriage, a simple ‘if only they knew…’ then we’re off to the planet Rubanis, briefly mentioned in ‘Chatelet Station, Destination Cassiopeia’.
This is where the Shingouz reappear, meeting with security chief Colonel Tlocq, who has information our expert barterers want. But they have to have something that the smug Colonel doesn’t know in order to exchange, and all the stuff about his planet and its rebel forces and gangs he has already. Looks like no deal… until the Shingouz produce his extremely private medical records, showing he has the incurable Scunindar Virus.
That properly puts the wind up Colonel Tlocq, as the Rubanis Medical service is less Doctors than Thanatolgists: anyone who gets Scunindar is killed by them before it can actually affect him, but more importantly before he can spread it to anyone else in their tightly-packed population. But the Shingouz do have information to barter, namely the hidden whereabouts of the only person who has cured Scunindar. In exchange for which they want everything the Colonel has on the mysterious planet Hypsis, ‘that’s threatening Earth’.
So now we have a centre to focus upon. Why Hypsis is attacking Earth we have yet to discover, but Tlocq confirms they are taking over key concerns in an era they are interested in, that they have agents in human form on the planet and that Hypsis itself is strangely peripatetic: all he can give the Shingouz is the planet’s last known position as an artificial moon orbiting Anubil, a gas giant.
The Colonel departs, ahead of the Thanatolgists. The Shingouz head for their ship, discussing how well that went, and remarking how pleasant (and profitable) it always is, working for Earth.
Our next scene is a remote West Virginian valley, and an old building taken over by US Intelligence, because Washington is no longer remotely safe, for a meeting with Lord Seal. Like his wife, Lady Charlotte, the noble and unflappable Lord, dressed in pin-stripe suit and bearing a stereotypical moustache, is both highly intelligent, overwhelmingly secure and the kind of aristocrat that would make that part of the social spectrum bearable if it existed in real life.
He’s there to be briefed about the situation that has arisen. Suddenly, otherwise stable and trustworthy military officers are cracking up and destroying their nuclear commands. Intelligence officers are going nuts, command systems and encryption have been broken. People are having their brains scrambled by devices concealed in cheap toy gifts. Intelligence reports suggest the same thing is happening in Russia, at which point we’re treated to a cameo by two of Christin’s characters created for The Hunting Party, as drawn by Enki Bilal.
The picture is becoming clearer. But there is one final episode to draw the strings together. And this is the Superintendent, in Galaxity. But it’s a Galaxity empty of life, filled with concealing mists, that is slowly dissolving. Against all his responsibilities, the Superintendent has to flee, into time, before he too is erased ‘by the devastating process (he’s) allowed to be set in motion’.
Now we have all the straight edges in place, it’s time to bring our players together at Inverloch. One by one they arrive: the Shingouz, Lord Seal, Mr Albert, and lastly Valerian, who gets lost in the Scotch Mist but who is greeted with all her old enthusiasm by Laureline, who has now become the dominant voice in their partnership, role reversing by calling him her little Valerian.
All are gathered for a traditional evening meal, before Lady Catherine rises to inform them that Castle Inverloch has a Ghost, who appears at certain times, and who has helped… advance the family fortunes. Everyone adjourns to the isolated chapel where the Ghost appears, everyone including Ralph, which is the name the over-looked Glapum’tian gives himself.
The Ghost manifests itself by means of a Spatiotemporal Relay, which was how Laureline got here in the first place, in case we’d wondered. But the ‘Ghost’ is the Superintendent, shocking Val by being in the field instead of at his post. But he shocks Val even more, forcing him to recall the devastation of The City of Shifting Waters. And telling him that Galaxity itself might disappear, leaving the three of them as Ghosts more unreal than the Ghosts of Inverloch.
They have a new mission, and its outcome is unknown. By now, Christin and Mezieres have told us enough to know that it will be of supreme importance, with incalculable consequences. We are already sketching in the middle of the jigsaw for ourselves, anticipating the picture. Is it to be asked for Time to change? We’ll see.
I am really anticipating the next episode.

Valerian et Laureline: 12 – Brooklyn Line, Terminus Cosmos


Valerian

To be honest, I didn’t think the resolution of the story in Brooklyn Line, Terminus Cosmos was of the standard of the first half of the story, although it had some splendid moments to it, notably Laureline completing a mission that was beyond Valerian’s capacities, let alone his ambit. And we were given a complete, if somewhat underwhelming explanation for every mystery raised in the previous volume.
Our heroes remained separated throughout the end of the story, not just by time and distance this time but in head and heart. And you couldn’t blame Laureline, not with any proper sensibility, but I found myself unwilling to blame Valerian in the way she did because, to put it simply, the lad wasn’t himself.
When we last saw Val, he was wandering the rain-driven streets of Paris at night and letting himself be picked up by an attractive blonde that we knew to be spying on him, if not necessarily for whom. She offered to take him dancing. Val’s the straight man, the company man, long on action, short on intelligent deviousness: the action hero in short. Action heroes get the girl, any girl, several of them. Val’s as susceptible as any of them, but he’s also got a partner, and not just a fellow Agent. Outside of the unusual circumstances of Heroes of the Equinox, we don’t see him getting off with other women.
But he’s succumbed here. Dancing led to a meal which led to a room for the night, and finally an interruption at 4.00am by a phase communication with Laureline, who’s busy out there in space, progressing their mission on her own and in the face of multiple threats. She’s not happy to see Val in bed with a naked, fat, bleached-blonde (who isn’t any of these things except naked but reason and fact are not required in situations like this). Laureline is not happy with Valerian, not least because he’s not pulling his weight on this mission, not like her.
Whilst I wouldn’t normally be sympathetic to a bloke cheating, the thing is here that Val is exhausted and his mind is being increasingly fuddled by nothing less than these phases. How they’ve been put into instantaneous mental connection over centuries and light years is unknown but whilst Laureline has encompassed it seamlessly, the whole process is much more stressful for Valerian. And she has the advantage of solitude and being able to concentrate on their link whereas he has been running from pillar to post, disintegrating monsters, investigating the involvement of Bellson & Gambler and WAAM, and never a moment to himself.
As I said, he’s not himself. He’s been pursued and seduced, not for his handsome face and his manly charms, but to be pumped. Ego-deflatingly, having stiffened his sinews under Laureline’s sarcasm and contempt, he starts to spy on the spy, only to learn she thinks he’s a moron who knows nothing.
Now back in harness, Val teams up with Mr Albert again. There’s a meeting at the Pompidou Centre, at which both WAAM – for whom Cynthia works in the advertising department – and B&G, who are tailing Val, are in separate attendance. Mr Albert correctly surmises that the fourth creature, the Air monster, is about to appear.
Though it takes him three shots, and massively depletes his disintegrator rifle, Val succeeds in despatching the Air monster, but not before it lays a claw and an electrical discharge on his head. The effect is to massively exacerbate his mental problems, short-circuiting his consciousness, allowing him to only experience events in dribs and drabs, and further cutting him off from Laureline, who isn’t minded to take this injury into consideration.
On the other hand, it conveniently allows Christin and Mezieres to get Val across the Atlantic by air, in a haze of disconnected panels, without wasting any time. Val arrives in Brooklyn, at the home of one of Albert’s other network of contacts, a small, stereotypical Hassidic Jew named Schlomo Meilshem, a Talmudic scholar and an expert on the Kabbalah. Valerian is still giving off like Xmas lights from his eyes and other orifices, and Schlomo’s talented wife succeeds in alleviating, but not eliminating the symptoms.
Now that things are in position, we start getting explanations from both directions. In Brooklyn, Schlomo identifies that B&G has been calling upon all sorts of fake and ignorant shamen, none of whom have any actual understanding or cognitive abilities among them, to give them advice (though the truly intelligent ones like Schlomo having been keeping their distance), whilst WAAM have been recruiting all manner of eager young Ph.Ds to their research and, uh, advertising departments, these latter including a certain blonde.
Laureline is in erratic contact with Val, who is seeing things he’s never seen before, and hasn’t seen yet. He’s coming close to cracking up, but he’s still being taken to a big meet in an empty area in Brooklyn, a circle of limousines awaiting the ultimate demonstration.
And in their spacecraft, Laureline is stripping bare and dressing herself in a tight, dark leather dominatrix’s uniform, similar in design (and effect!) to Diana Rigg’s in the notorious Hellfire Club episode of The Avengers. She’s got the answers. The four elements on Zomuk were not stolen but conned out of the natives by two low-rent and squabbling space pirates with silly names.
Somehow, they identified a planet at a time in its history when its technology was burgeoning but they were still too stupid to be scared of it, i.e., Earth 1980, in France, a rational and sceptical country. They contacted the computers of B&G and WAAM, as the two biggest multi-nationals in the world, to offer them new and unlimited energy sources that these greedy bastards wanted to secure themselves even more obscene profits,
Now, on Earth, in Brooklyn, the four monsters erupt from the empty ground within the circle. Val’s disintegrator doesn’t have the power to affect them. But he has been removed from the case, by both Galaxity and Laureline. She is to resolve things, in a manner ‘smooth, subtle, even delicate’. After which Val is to make his way home by himself.
It’s a cruel moment, and despite Val’s role as being at least fifty percent fall-guy, not one that I feel is fair to him at this point. But Laureline carries out her task with splendid aplomb, first catching Rackalust and Crocbattler’s eyes with her appearance (bigod, she’d catch mine) and smoothly talking them into a duel to decide who will get her. A duel in which they blow each other’s heads off, leaving Laureline to destroy the Elements in her time, causing the instant and irretrievable disappearance of the monsters in 1980.
Mission accomplished.
But not perhaps as smoothly as everyone would like. Val is still badly affected. One of the things he’s seen from his personal future involves the world of Hypsis, foreshadowing future stories, and it is he, not the otherwise smarter Mr Albert, who sees that the idea of Jeremiah Bellson and the CEO of WAAM discussing a merger is not necessarily an ending to be relished.
He’s invited back to Schlomo’s to celebrate a religious feast but he has his orders: return at once, alone. In a remarkable last page of diminishing panels, in a structure tapering down to one central panel two-thirds of the way down the page, Valerian heads down to the waterfront, hires a boat to take him out to Liberty Island and the statue, where he boards the craft concealed there, that he knows of from ‘The City of Shifting Waters’, and disappears into time.
Though the ultimate explanation from the monsters was in keeping with the series’ anti-glory instincts, its roots in dirty, cheap and stupid crime did not grab me. It was, as I said above, underwhelming. Perhaps my response was conditioned by the way Valerian was put so mercilessly through the mill throughout this second volume, through Laureline’s cold anger at his ‘betrayal’ of her.
Hall hath no fury like a redhead scorned, eh?
Overall, it made for a very downbeat reading experience, and it leaves me concerned as to how this new situation will play in the next story. I’m assuming there will be some after-effects, as this is not Star Trek with its instant resets. I hope.

Valerian et Laureline: 11 – Chatelet Station, Destination Cassiopeia


Valerian

With ‘Chatelet Station, Destination Cassiopeia’ we’re in for the first half of a two-part story that will change the Valerian et Laureline series permanently, as well as rebound, fast and hard, from the underwhelming ‘Heroes of the Equinox’. Interestingly enough, and at the suggestion of Jean-Claude Mezieres, much of the story is very definitely against type, being set upon Earth, in France, and in contemporary times.
The story also separates Valerian and Laureline yet again. He is the one sent back to our old Earth, to investigate the incursion of a clearly alien figure in France that does not appear anywhere in the historical records, and which seems to have a connection with the Cassiopeia system, a hyper-dense system that’s forbidden to hyperspace travel due to the danger.
So Laureline is on her way there in their ship, advancing at sub-light speeds, relying on information and trails to try to approach the source of the problem from the other side. To enable the pair to successfully liaise, and to help deal with the emotional distress they both feel at this enormous separation, they have been altered to enable them to enter ‘phase’, where their minds are in alignment, their thoughts can be exchanged instantly, and their needs be partially satisfied.
In order not to unsettle the readers too quickly, we start with Laureline in space, talking in pensive manner, describing what she’s doing, her experiences, however familiar they are. To someone unseen and unheard that we eventually learn is Val, on his own, in Paris, drinking in bars and finding it impossible to reconcile who he sees with their ancestors (well, technically his: to Laureline they represent 900 years or so of descendents).
Val is here to meet an elusive figure, of already many non-appearances and cancelled appointments. This is the Resident Agent, Galaxity’s permanent Agent in this era. He’s an overweight middle-aged man of orotund tones, relaxed, content, intelligent and manipulative. We are, in short, meeting Mr Albert for the first time, and henceforth we will be following him all the way to the end.
Chatelet Station on the Paris Metro is a real Underground Station. It lends its name to the story by being the scene of an incident that has that line closed down, temporarily. Whilst Val investigates the tunnel, and discovers a fire-breathing dragon that he disintegrates, Albert eavesdrops on a small group of men who look like mobsters but who are high-powered businessmen, representatives of the multi-national Bellson & Gambler.
Unfortunately, Val’s disposal of the dragon has had him knocked unconscious. Albert has to extract him from the hospital, with his disintegrator rifle, by claiming he is mentally deficient, and playing interstellar detective. Later on, Val will repay the trick by claiming his Uncle Albert is mentally deficient to get them a quick lift from a farmer.
Meanwhile, Laureline is following her own trail with nothing as yet to explain a connection between this incidents. For those who might be chafing at this primarily and literally down-to-Earth tale there is a fabulous sequence on the planet Solum, a planet without a stable surface whose sole city is constantly sinking deeper, having to have new stories built continually. At each level is an Immortal creature that is an instalment of the planetary memory, witness to and expositor of its era. Laureline heads deeper into silent caverns to find a clue that leads to a toxic planet that is so worthless it is literally the rubbish tip for a galaxy.
To escape the eye of both the Police and what he suspects is Bellson & Gamble, working in concert with WAAM, another multi-national, Albert has Val sneak out of his hotel and join him for a train journey west to the Marais Poitevin, a region of marshes. B&G and WAAM are already there, having booked out the hotel. With the aid of a feisty farmer’s son, Albert and Val find the next monster, a whale-like creature, which Val destroys, whilst the American businessmen are looking in the wrong place.
What they’re doing, what they’re after, remains open to conjecture, as is what Laureline may find on Zumak, the dumping-planet. Her and Valerian’s phasing moments of contact are becoming harder to maintain, and they are considerably easier for her than him, who is afflicted by increasingly severe headaches, in respect of which our redhead is for once mostly sympathetic, even as she considers it only natural, Val’s brain not being of the best…
Back in Paris, consulting his primitive filing system, Albert sets up a meeting for him and Valerian with his friend and contact, Chatelard, who looks and behaves like an elderly gardener but who is a philosopher of science and mythology. Chatelard draws an elemental connection between the three monsters that have appeared to date, that represent in turn Earth, Fire and Water: he expects there to be a fourth, of Air.
The old man also mentions that he has recently been approached by a beautiful blonde scientist, seeking answers similar to those he’s giving Albert.
Valerian, a man of action not philosophy, is not impressed. Such elements are antithetical as an entire notion to him and his era. Such a shame that he is taking this attitude, for just as Laureline on Zumak is finding a stripped palace/temple with designs corresponding to the four Elements, a beautiful blonde woman is watching him and Albert leaving Chatelard’s.
Val’s disgruntled. He’s out of sorts, his head is aching, he’s unsympathetic to the current investigative mission. He’s walking back in the rain. A car draws up beside him and a beautiful blonde woman offers him a lift, says she’s not from round there (i.e., Paris) and why don’t they find somewhere to go. He gets in her car.
Laureline won’t be the only danger in store from doing that…