Curious as to where to turn once you’ve seen Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets? There are 21 volumes of Valerian and Laureline available today, so if you’re just familiar with the film and are new to the series, it can be daunting to figure out where you should begin. Lucily for you, CBR has you covered!
The first eight volumes are all self-contained with minimal continuity. Should you start there, or dive into one of the bigger stories (the two- and three-parters) that change Valerian’s world?
Starting with the first volume will give you the best sense of the evolution of the series and its characters, but be aware that it’s crafted in a very different style from what the series quickly became. Being made in the late 1960s, it’s also very overwritten compared to what we’re used to with comics today.
No matter what, you will eventually want to go back to read the first book, “The City of Shifting Waters.” It sets up a couple things in later books, notably volumes 11 (“The Ghosts of Inverloch”) and 12 (“The Wrath of Hypsis”).
For those who started reading comics more recently, it’s not going to be the right first book, though. It’s style will be too impenetrable unless you’ve already bought into it.
You could also “cheat” this list and just buy the newly-released “Complete Collection” editions from Cinebook, which collect three albums per volume, alongside some creator interviews and analysis. If you do that, skip straight to the third volume to get started.
But if you want to sample one book to get you started, here’s a list of five choices to read first for the maximum excitement and the quickest conversion into Valerian and Laureline fandom.
This list is presented in no specific order.
“Ambassador of the Shadows” (Volume 6)
This is a no-brainer, because it’s the book the movie is based on. Valerian and Laureline accompany an ambassador to Point Central, which is the universe’s version of the United Nations.
Aliens attack and kidnap the ambassador as well as Valerian. Laureline is left on her own to track them down and rescue them.
It’s the first volume to focus on her this much, and it’s also a spectacular one. Jean Claude Mézières packs the series with lots of interesting alien cultures and characters. Pierre Christin’s script is action-packed, with some political twists that make sense.
“The Land Without Stars” (Volume 3)
This is where Christin and Mézières started to get the feeling for where the right balance of text and pictures should be in a “Valerian and Laureline” story. Mézières’ panels get larger, giving his design sense a chance to break out in the book more often.
Christin trusts the images more, while still creating a great high concept. Valerian – drunk from celebrating successfully setting up four colonies on the planet — and Laureline must stop a rogue planet from crashing into the one they’re standing on. Landing on that approaching planet, they find an underground world at war. Stopping that war is the only way to get the planet off its collision course.
Did I mention that it’s a gender war underground? Men battle women. So the pair break apart to investigate the two sides, spending much of the story separated.
This is also the book where Laureline battles her enemies while wearing a bikini on a skiff, predating Empire Strikes Back by a decade.
“Birds of the Master” (Volume 5)
This is as close to a traditional Good Guys vs. Bad Guys as the series gets. In some ways, it also feels like a classic “Star Trek” episode.
Valerian and Laureline crash land on a planet and find themselves in the middle of a bad situation. The local population is enslaved as farmers, and any time they stray from their master’s wishes, a flock of evil looking black birds (“Birds of Madness”) swarms around them.
The book has a very ominous feeling to it, trapped as it is amongst an enslaved population that works in fear of their master’s retribution. Trying to save them and save themselves is a special challenge for Valerian and Laureline.
To match the downtrodden world this story is mostly set on, colorist E. Tranle limits her palette on each page. Whole pages are colored in variations of one color, without muddying up the art. Rainy outdoors pages are gloomy and gray. Inside buildings where fires light up the food for proper cooking, the oranges of the flame are carried a long way out into the room. It’s a nice touch.
“Orphan of the Stars” (Volume 17)
This book is one big chase scene, more or less. It picks up directly after the events of volume 16, but you don’t need to read the first to follow the second. They’re independent stories.
Valerian and Laureline have rescued a little blue alien child from a bad home situation. Now, bounty hunters follow closely, hoping to cash in the crazy high reward the kids’ megarich father put up for their return\\\\they’re being followed by bounty hunters that the father’s high reward for returning his son has attracted. The book starts in the middle of that chase.
The momentum is always pushing the book forward in this story, with a stop to satirize a bit of Hollywood, appropriately enough, as well as the educational system.
Originally published in 1998, it isn’t Mézières’ strongest artwork. His design sense is still there, but all the aliens and people have become a little cartoony, and slightly inconsistent. But the story is fun and easy to follow and gives you a pretty good idea of who the main characters are and how the world works around them.
The previous volume, “The Hostages of Ultralum” is a more typical sci-fi short story in the series, but ties into earlier books not on this list. It has more of a sense of humor to it than the other stories on this list, if that’s more of what you’re looking for.
“The Circles of Power” (Volume 15)
Their ship a broken mess, Valerian and Laureline find themselves stranded on a planet in need of major funds to fix it and keep going.
Thankfully, there happen to see some Shingouz (information brokers, recurring guest stars) to find them some work. The police captain of the corrupt planet wants the pair to go inside the last circle of power on the planet to find out who’s in control of everything. The planet is divided up into five “circles.” That includes the business circle, the industrial circle, the entertainment circle, and the religious/administrative circle. It’s at that last circle that they’ll find out who’s in control and pulling all the strings on the planet.
Oh, and everything on the planet is corrupt, nobody can be trusted, and no place is safe. Good luck!
The reason this book is included in the list is because it uses designs Jean-Claude Mezieres made for an early version of The Fifth Element, when it was originally being considered as Luc Besson’s next picture. When Besson put it aside to do another movie, Mezieres drew this book. Legend has it, he gave Besson this album when it was finished, and Besson liked it so much that he incorporated parts of it for The Fifth Element. Namely, the flying taxis are in this book.
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