Ambassador of the shadows
Mézières et Christin
Valerian (four albums published ; 48 pages ; full color ; Dargaud U.S., then NBM ; general) « If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. » Our cover boy Valerian was first presented to American readers in the pages of Heavy Metal beginning in January 1981 with the Ambassador of the Shadows episode ; response to the series was lukewarm, however -possibly because of its cartoony art style — and HM stopped running it after that single episode.
When the ill-fated Dargaud U.S.A. came along a year or two later, it released four albums in quick succession (to comparatively good success). Alas, some strange selections made in terms of books released, not to mention the bookstore market's fairly frigid reception of the line, forced Dargaud U.S.A. to close down shortly thereafter.
Now NBM/Flying Buttress, which has had some success with its American edition of Hugo Pratt's classic Corto Maltese series, is trying its luck. Publisher Terry Nantier plans first to « re-release » the four Dargaud editions (actually, he's just distributing the remainder of the Dargaud stock), and then to delve into new territory. The fifth American Valerian album — the first « new » one to the market — will be The Empire of a Thousand Planets, which is actually the third Valerian adventure, or the second album in the French series.
Wait. This is confusing. We'd better give you a Valerian chronology. This is, after all, a time-travel series, and aspects of it are confusing enough without coping with the eccentricities of publishers. How many series do you know that wiped out their own origin ? But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Created for Pilote magazine in 1967, Valerian is an intelligent and visually wildly inventive series. (It's said that George Lucas's Star Wars took more than a hint from it.) It features a handsome and resourceful « Spatio-Temporal Agent, » Valerian, and his sexy, brilliant, female sidekick,' Laureline, as they trek through time and space, trying to prevent disasters that will affect not only the whole universe, but all of time as well. Their home base is 28th century Galaxity, the capital of the known universe.
Only the middle period of albums (the ones done in the early '70s) have been seen here, so Americans aren't aware of how far afield the strip ranges. The earliest adventures were
drawn in a slightly more bigfoot style, and were a bit more fanciful, often even comedic. Later books, by contrast, have become moodier and more slowly paced (although still with frequent touches of humor), as well as more politically and socially aware.
The first Valerian story, The Bad Dreams, is, like the Tintin adventure Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the ugly duckling of the lot. Mezieres's still tentative style (far cartoonier than the norm of later albums), the goofy tone of the script, and the awkward length of the story (30 pages) made it difficult to publish as an album ; it was finally released in France a few years ago, as part of a larger tome on the Valerian series in general. As a result, it's likely to see print here only when NBM gets around to scraping the bottom of the barrel.
The earliest book likely to be translated is therefore the second one, The City of the Moving Witers, which takes place in the post-apocalyptic New York City of.. .1986. (Bear in mind that the story was written in 1968 ! But you'll be delighted to see how Christin and Mezieres worked their way around the problem when « real » time caught up with them.)
This is followed by Empire of the Thousand Planets, NBM's first « new » title, in which Valerian and Laurel ine infiltrate a decadent alien empire. The four Dargaud US. editions — World Without Stars, Welcome to Alflolol, Ambassador of the Shadows, and Heroes of the Equinox — are respectively the fourth, fifth, seventh, and ninth volumes ; they should be well known by now, and therefore don't need any further explanation. This means NBM then has to fill in the sixth (The Birds of the Master) and eighth (On the Fixed Earths).
After Heroes of the Equinox, which spoofed heroic action more than any of its predecessors, it seemed time for a change. And that's what the readers got. With the tenth story, the series moves into a new phase, heralded by more Earthbound, longer adventures. After a two-part tale set mostly in contemporary (at the time, 1980) Paris and New York, a second two-parter turns the whole series upside down as the Spatiotemporal Services' tampering accidentally begins to delete Galaxity's future, leaving Valerian and Laureline stranded in the mid-1980s. Moreover, an evil presence on Earth begins to instigate the nuclear conflagration of which we saw the results back in The City of the Moving Witers. This results in a strange paradox that leads into the next album, as Valerian and Laureline, still stuck in 1985 or so, use their future know-how (and gadgets) to become technological trouble-shooters, ranging from Russia to Finland, from North Africa to Hong Kong, still trying to avoid the future holocaust. But a bitter madman draws them back into galactic exploits at the conclusion of this 62-page tale, Valerian is one of the best-loved series in Europe — certainly the favorite among the SF crowd. First Heavy Metal, then Dargaud U.S.A., now NBM — well, they say third time's the charm !
It's worth noting that Christin, the scenarist, has often worked with Bilal.