Discover the origins of Valerian in the first-ever English translation of Bad Dreams and much more in Valerian: The Complete Collection Volume 1.
By Adam Parker // The marketing machine is building towards the release of the Luc Besson’s movie Valerian and the city of a Thousand Planets. Publishers Cinebook have recently released the first volume in a collected series of the comic series. Valerian: The Complete Collection Volume 1 is a beautiful hard back volume. The hardback is the same dimensions as the previous released soft cover graphic novels. The first six pages feature the first part of an new interview with Luc Besson and the original Valerian and Laureline creators writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. The interview provides insight into the original conception of the series and the upcoming film. The two topics knit together seamlessly. Reading the interview pulled me in, the relaxed and open answer made me feel it was a conversation just for me.
The second part of the volume is a reprint of a 2007 article by Stan Bates. The article focuses on the birth and legacy of the series. It is in depth without being too weighty, covering seven pages. The original inspirations for the series are shared and through previous interviews Christin and Mézières reflect on the legacy of the series, including its influences on Star Wars. Next is a two page overview of the stories collected in Valerian: The Complete Collection Volume 1. These are the previously released The City of Shifting Waters and The Empire of a Thousand Planets. Both are available from online books sellers and all good book shops having been published in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Jumping from the page
The previously printed stories have never looked as good as they do in Valerian: The Complete Collection Volume 1. The use of colour by Evelyn Tran-Lé in Valerian and Laureline novels is a real highlight. Using a simple pallet of two or three colours Tran-Lé is able to instil tone and mood incredibly well. The quality of the gloss pages in this hard back volume has allowed for printing that makes the colours jump from the page. Valerian and Laureline have never looked more vibrant. Within the soft cover novels both line and colour have always been strong but the gloss page printing takes it to another level of quality.
The best kind of bad dream
The highlight of Valerian: The Complete Collection Volume 1 for me is the story that precedes The City of Shifting Waters and The Empire of a Thousand Planets, Bad Dreams. Bad Dreams is the first Valerian and Laureline story ever published, it was originally printed between November 1967 and February 1968 in the French magazine Pilote and this release is it’s first publication in English. Bad Dreams runs shorter than most Valerian and Laureline coming in at 29 pages. Its length has always been a problem in terms of publication but thankfully this collected edition finally sees it translated into English, allowing me to take a closer look at the story.
The story begins in Galaxity, a space-timer ship has been stolen by the Superintendent of the dreams department. Valerian is summoned back to Spatio-Temporal Agency to start the investigations. The first most noticeable thing to anyone familiar with the Valerian and Laureline stories is the art style. it is much more cartoon like and has a look closer to the Pilote stable mate Asterix.The visual tone of Bad Dreams has a much less refined look than the later series.
There are some visual highlights early on such as Valerian travelling in his Spatio-Temporal Craft back too Galaxity. The two panels that show travel sit at a juxtaposition to one another, the first being black and white and the second using a rainbow of colours. This effect works really well as two panels. When Valerian and the Technocrats head to the Dream Department to begin the investigation the lines and art style used to show several dream sequences, that go from good to bad, is expertly done.
The Dream Superintendent is revealed to be Xombul. Xombul also features in the next story The City of Shifting Waters.. Fleeing back in time Xombul heads to 1000AD. Valerian is dispatched back through time to try and stop whatever Xombul’s plot is. In the story so far several external images of Galaxity locations are shown each one jumps from the page when a new one is turned over. The use of bold block colouring for the buildings and distinct futuristic building shapes is an excellent graphic partnership.
France in all its glory
Valerian arrives in the cellar of an inn in France. The four panel sequence of Valerian leaving the cellars is a masterclass of visual story telling. The panels transported me from the future to the middle ages. A tone change occurs through the use of line, shading and simple colour.
Valerian speaks with the inn keeper and obtains a horse. The pursuit of Xombul continues. The next double page contains seventeen panels and as a single spread they are stunning. The initial panel that spans the top quarter of the page shows Valerian passing villages on horseback, as an image alone it is beautiful. The day is at its peak and the hunt for Xombul is on. The end of the first page features a setting sun. The five colours in the panel give a rich warm feel that matches the best sunsets i’ve watched. Page two starts with Valerian deep in a forest at night. Heavy shading dominates the forrest panels. When placed in contrast to the previous pages open expansive vistas the forrest seems even more enclosed.
Valerian awakes in the forrest trapped in a giant leaf he used as a bed. Laureline steps from among the trees and introduces herself into the series. Visually Laureline looks most similar to how she appears in later stories. In the earlier interview and article Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières talk in detail about Laureline’s creation. As a character Laureline was well thought out from the beginning.
Laureline offers to act as Valerian’s guide. They head towards the castle of the sorcerer Alberic who Valerian believes Xombul is heading to. They reach a marsh, and my favourite panel in the story. Valerian and Laureline look across the marsh with Laureline on horseback. The panel works as a great piece of individual art with a clear focus in the foreground that draws the eye to the middle and ultimately far distance. Every time I look to the marsh bank in the foreground I spot something different. The distant castle enveloped in mist is an enticing end point that makes me want to turn the page.
Effortless and inventive action
As the heroes reach the castle Valerian reveals their presence by a lack of stealth. A club wielding brute is soon pursuing them. Over the next six panels a text book inventive action scene unfolds. These are a staple of many Valerian and Laureline stories. Quick thinking, ingenuity and a little luck allow our heroes to enter the castle as the set piece concludes.
The following page shows the search of the castle. The use of angle and point of sight position works well across this run of panels. Being watched is the dominant feeling in the panels. Traps separate Valerian and Laureline. Valerian is now face to face with Xombul. As in The City of Shifting Waters Xombul, in true villain style lays out his scheme to Valerian. Xombul does this over a run of five panels, he is drawn in such a way that he appears frantic and manic. As still images the contorting movement of his face shines through.
As mad as a bag of frogs
Xombul’s plan uses the skills of the sorcerer Alberic. I won’t go into depth of the final act other than a few highlights to let anyone wanting to read Bad Dreams enjoy the climax as I did. Valerian is imprisoned by Xombul and across 12 action packed panels his ingenious escape unfolds. This set piece is my favourite run of panels throughout the story.
Xombul escapes back to Galaxity. Valerian and Laureline pursue him but due to his tampering with their Spatio-Temporal Craft have to arrive three days after Xombul. A half page panels shows Valerian and Laureline Galaxity. Detail and action packs the panel. Over the next two pages the adventure wraps up and bows out on another beautiful sunset panel. This panel is much more calm than the one shown in France. Pastel colors, and our heroes looking out across the vista towards the next forty years of adventures.
Valerian: The Complete Collection Volume 1 is a must buy for anyone who is a fan of the Valerian and Laureline series. The beautiful presentation has never made these stories look as good as this. Enjoying them again is real treat. Readers new to the series will have the opportunity to see the germination of the science fiction comic series.
The inclusion of the first English translation of Bad Dreams is the icing on the Valerian cake. More than one hundred pages of action and adventure remain after the interview, article and Bad Dreams. The stories The City of Shifting Waters and The Empire of a Thousand Planets continue the excellent content. In an era of six issue graphic novels the value for money of this volume is exceptional. This is the perfect jumping on point in preparation for the release of the upcoming movie.