While many genre fans are familiar with the historical tongue-in-cheek adventures of the French comic book hero “Astérix“, the stories of his science-fiction competitors, “Valérian and Laureline“, are less well known to those living outside the Francophone world. Created in 1967 by the collaborative team of Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, the series began with a weekly strip, “Les Mauvais Rêves“, initially published across fourteen issues of the seminal anthology magazine “Pilote“. This flawed if promising tale recounted the duties of a covert time-travelling agent, the eponymous Valérian, in Medieval France while introducing readers to his eventual future partner, the peasant girl Laureline. In subsequent decades the duo’s stories grew in scope and ambition, the title changing from “Valérian, agent spatio-temporel” to the more accurate “Valérian et Laureline” in 2007. After some twenty adventures of one kind or another the saga reached a natural and satisfactory conclusion in 2010 with the graphic novel, “L’OuvreTemps“.
The influence of the Valérian saga upon the aesthetic look of European and North American sci-fi cannot be emphasised enough. The director and producer George Lucas – or his designers – pilfered wholesale from the series during the 1975-77 production of the cinematic release, “Star Wars“. Indeed, in terms of its imagery and feel it could be argued that the 20th Century Fox film was the first Valérian movie. I say first because a new dramatisation of the couple’s adventures is on its way from the Paris-born movie-maker Luc Besson. One of his previous science-fiction efforts, 1997’s “The Fifth Element“, very obviously took inspiration from the comic book serials of Christin and Mézières (with a nod to Ridley Scott’s “Bladerunner“). The anglophone production “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is planned for a theatrical release in early 2017 and I have my fingers optimistically crossed that Besson will live up to his auteur reputation (“The Fifth Element“, for all its flaws, is a still an engaging watch and it represents one of the few times that Milla Jovovich’s distinct lack of thespian talent was an advantage).
One note of caution though. What made the Valérian stories so important was the figure of Laureline, a rare independent female character in the SF genre. Despite an initially unpromising and stereotypical start she very much grew in stature and importance as the stories progressed, reflecting the changes that took place in the social mores and attitudes of France and Europe from the 1960s to the 2000s. Pushing the female protagonist into the background in order to conform to the expected Hollywood template would be a retrograde step. The presence of the execrable Rihanna in the cast doesn’t help either.