City Of Shifting Waters – a classic? I just can’t see it.
By Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières
The 28th Century Terran Empire, a world seemingly at peace, where space-time travel is commonplace and so is the Spatio-Temporal Agents Service, patrolling history and the universe to safeguard the Earth and the Empire. Two of the service’s greatest agents are Valerian and Laureline, spirited, brave and always at the heart of any trouble going.
In The City Of Shifting Waters the Galaxity’s only serious criminal Xombul has escaped, stolen a spatio-temporal ship and has headed back to 1986 New York, a crucial time in the Empire’s history, the start of the forgotten era, the time of both the great cataclysm that wiped away the existing civilisation and also the time where space-time travel was invented, an era that saw mankind’s greatest calamity and the technology appear that would eventually save it and allow the current Empire to exist.
The adventures of Valerian and Laureline is, so I read, something of a classic bandes dessine and one of the top selling titles in Darguard’s history, with it’s influence everywhere in modern science fiction. (See this Will Eisner introduction to a previous English language adaptation for just how highly regarded it is).
But to me, it’s a classic that I don’t think has aged particularly well at all. It reads and looks to my uncultured eyes like a badly produced late 70s cartoon series, the kind with badly drawn characters against static backgrounds who always found themselves with every plot device meticulously explained to the point of near irony and every situation the hero finds himself in has some immediately available solution.
(That’s the plot explained right there. From The City Of Shifting Waters, published by Cinebook)
And the rough, overly simplified cartooning just looks plain wrong, almost lazy at points. Although perhaps the most frustrating thing to my eye is the occasional panel or even rarer, the occasional page where something fantastic appears, some lovely line, a figure that jumps out as an example of what Mézières is obviously capable of. For example, in the page above, panel 1, the line of Laureline’s face is fantastic, but the rest of the page just turns me off completely.
Cinebook have been putting out some magnificent series, some good series that have flaws and sadly, just occasionally, a title I finish and wonder whether I’m just plain wrong when I think it’s pretty bloody awful. Valerian and Laureline is one of the latter I’m afraid.
But like I said, it’s an acknowledged classic, it’s a huge seller, it’s lauded across Europe. I’m just one voice, saying what I thought of it. You may argue I’m wrong. It has been known before.