Looking for a “Valerian” fix after last year’s movie, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” I’m delving into the comics that started it all, by Frenchmen Pierre Christin (writer) and Jean-Claude Mezieres (pencils and inks). “The Complete Collection, Volume 7” includes the conclusive trilogy: “At the Edge of the Great Void” (2004), “The Order of the Stones” (2007) and “The Time Opener” (2010). It looks like this will be the final collection from Cinebook, but I’ll be back to review to the uncollected coda volume, “Memories from the Futures.”
Volume 19: “At the Edge of the Great Void” (2004)
The usual anything-can-happen sense of adventure is joined by an appealing pinch of melancholy in the opening pages of the saga’s concluding trilogy. Valerian and Laureline are poor again, eking out an existence as traders on planetoids that skirt the edge of the galaxy, as the title suggests.
There’s certainly warmth and humor here. Teenage Ky-Gai joins our heroes, hitting it off with Laureline and impressing her with seamstress skills that will be crucial as their sudden venture into spacesuit manufacturing takes off.
The random adventuring we’ve come to love is still in place, particularly when Valerian and his loyal Schniarfer are in prison – for trading without a license, naturally – and not worried at all. I shouldn’t be surprised that prison guards in the “V&L” universe are innocent pushovers, a contrast to the scary stereotype. Also, Valerian knows Laureline has a creature – a tracer-tshung – to help him break out.
The vibe of the piece, though, comes from its location. The rocky planetoid features only a prison and trading posts, including a rival post run by the Limboz, a smelly species that speaks in a pidgin language and has an even junkier selection of products than V&L do. “Star Wars’ ” Jawas come to mind, but Christin and Mezieres are allowed this bit of borrowing, considering how much they influenced the Galaxy Far Far Away at the front end of this grand saga.
The story build-up is in the background in here, as the humorously blustery Captain Sing’ha Roog’a gathers her team for a Columbus-like expedition into the Great Void. Meanwhile, a trio of power seekers called the Rubanis Triumvirate (including “The Circles of Power’s” face-painted Na-Zultra) also prepares to enter the void, seeking communion with the mysterious Wolochs.
“At the Edge of the Great Void” creates an air of dark mystery without telling us the details yet. The anticipation of wild (but usually safe, at the end of the day) adventure is there, but it’s tamped down by suspicion that a threat to the whole galaxy looms.
Volume 20: “The Order of the Stones” (2007)
Everyone enters the Great Void, and I’m predisposed to like this story. The parts of the “Star Wars” Legends universe I most hunger for knowledge about are the Unknown Regions and Wild Space, the areas of the galaxy that are the least mapped out, even after millennia of civilization. The lightly charted Unknown Regions include species (such as Grand Admiral Thrawn’s Chiss) that haven’t interacted much with the central government/society, and Wild Space hasn’t been charted at all.
The Great Void of the “V&L” universe is sort of a combination of the two. Captain Roog’a’s expedition (which includes V&L, thanks to Laureline supplying space suits) and the Rubanis Triumvirate both enter the void, where travel is fairly safe in and of itself, but the adventurers are far removed from the center of civilization and it’s creepy to look out the porthole and see pure black instead of stars.
The Wolochs – sentient giant stone monuments – are the most dangerous villains C&M have created, but also the least defined. In a nutshell, they are like the Monoliths from Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001” and “2010,” but instead of creating life, they destroy it. If you want more explanation beyond that, you won’t get it. There’s probably some sort of dark metaphor going on here, but I can’t shake the feeling that the Wolochs are a bit bland.
The best part of the story comes early on when the passengers on Roog’a’s ship share their dreams of what they’ll find in the void. For Laureline, it’s Earth – particularly an open-air cafe by a river in France; she and Valerian have heard rumors that their home planet was warped into the void.
In the comics, Valerian is skeptical of their chances of finding Earth, and OK with the idea of not finding it. Laureline longs to find home, not because she’s miserable without it (her attitude is positive, as always), but because she suspects even more happiness can be found there. (In the “Time Jam” cartoon, Valerian obsesses about Earth more than Laureline does.)
Volume 21: “The Time Opener” (2010)
“The Time Opener” should feel overblown since I think it includes at least one character from each of the previous adventures as it sets up a final showdown between a cobbled together army of sentients and the destruction-minded Wolochs. But here – unlike with “In Uncertain Times,” which I found hard to grasp – it’s easy to follow what’s going on.
Ralph is back, and the Shingouz and the Grumpy Converter have parts to play. Sometimes it feels like fan service; I’m not tired of that one Shingouz having a crush on Laureline, but it is a “greatest hit,” not a new tune.
The good guys defeat the Wolochs partly because of teamwork and partly because of a MacGuffin: The Limboz possess a Time Opener that allows for both victory over the evil giant space stones and the revelation that the Earth still exists, and everything is fine there. It’s not the most original storytelling, but Mezieres shines in the final space and ground battles with dynamic panels featuring all kinds of shapes and sizes that naturally flow together. What a change from the early days of square panels that require arrows to direct the reader.
Best of all, though, is the denouement. Having seen so much of the galaxy, and so many times in galactic history, Galaxity (the capital, located on Earth) now seems a bit staid to V&L, and they quickly realize they want to go back to exploring. They pick the most dangerous destination: the Earth’s “dark ages,” when no space-time agents are present.
Granted, it is convenient that they jump to our (as readers) present day and Mr. Albert is there to take them in, but “V&L” has been both an imaginative and humorously convenient romp from the beginning, so this is more forgivable than with other franchises. C&M have earned it.
The fact that a glitch in Xombul’s time machine has turned Valerian and Laureline into youngsters is beautiful and poignant. It’s not like in “Buffy” Season 10 where young Giles remembers his life as an adult; rather, they are the same people, but without their adult/“future” memories. The story ends – “for good,” the authors tell us – with the kids playing on a teeter-totter and telling Albert what they want to be when they grow up: a pilot (Valerian) and a zoologist (Laureline), the things we know they “will” become.
So it’s both an ending and a beginning – a satisfying full circle – and it’s both sad (their memories are gone) and happy (they accidentally cheated the march of time, and have their whole lives ahead of them). Among mind-trip sci-fi stories with weird endings, the conclusion of the nearly half-century “Valerian and Laureline” saga is among the most emotionally fulfilling.